'Country' Treasures by Robyn Cohen, Cape Times

Tuesday morning and the Rhubarb Room is buzzing. It is a few days before Christmas and the compact café/gift and clothing shop is jammed with people who are not merely browsing, but feverishly buying Christmas stocking fillers and home décor. Recession? Not here.

The shop is tucked away, up a steep staircase on the edge of the Bo-Kaap at 142 Buitengragt Service Street(off Whale Street). If you are looking for an interesting spot, you might see the quirky signage and wander in, but it is the type of place you hear about from someone else.

You see unusual towel rails in a friend's home. The rails are from India, she tells you. They are available at the Rhubarb Room, and so are the funky tea towels. You go shopping and you are amazed at what you find. Unable to decide what to buy, you sit down and have a cappuccino(R15) and a muffin(R12).

When I walked into the Rhubarb Room, it reminded me of the ubiquitous café/gift/homeware emporium that one encounters in country towns in South Africa. Stylish, sophisticated, with impeccably chosen goods, they offer treasures which are not easily found in retail chains. I can think of Portofino in Jeffrey's Bay and the Chameleon in Humansdorp, which sell to-drool-for goods and feed you at the same time with gourmet fare. So it was no surprise to find out that Soné Jacobs, who is co-owner of The Rhubarb Room, grew up in Bredasdorp where her family operates one of these food and décor meccas.

Jacobs is a chef by training and, wanting to set up home in Cape Town with her fiancé (also from Bredasdorp), she decided to recreate the country feeling in the Mother City. Through mutual friends, she was introduced to Lauren Marshall, who was working as a marketing manager at a retail chain. She wanted to start her own business.

Jacobs & Marshall clicked. Marshall's mother - an interior designer - ran part of her operation on the site and she was happy for them to use the space. Eighteen months ago, they set up shop. The inpiration for the name - Rhubarb Room - came from the fact that the building was painted bright, glossy red. "Lauren came up with the name," explains Jacobs. "Rhubarb Room is a unique name in South Africa - largely unknown and it was easy to register a business because no one had used it."

They carry a select women's range of clothing and designer children's clothes. In addition, the shop offers a bridal and gift registry and does a brisk business conjuring up stunning gift packages with glass, silverware, cutlery and other doodads.

The venue has become popular for birthday and kitchen teas, hen parties and book club gigs. The small menu includes cakes and muffins of the day and sandwiches made to order; good quality coffee by illy and leaf teas served in glass teapots.

The Rhubarb Room is at 142 Buitengracht Service Street. Open 9am to 5pm from Monday to Friday, and 9am to 2pm on Saturdays. Closed on Sundays. Call 021 424 2004.