Inside Salsify at The Roundhouse

WORDS Annette Klinger PHOTOS Justin Patrick

The interior of Salsify at The Roundhouse is one of extremes: gritty versus refined, rock ’n’ roll versus classic.

Salsify is no shrinking violet. Not the restaurant and not the eponymous 1,3 m-tall bronze sculpture by Otto du Plessis presiding over the space. Unapologetic, defiant even, the left foot of her curvaceous body is anchored firmly on her right thigh in a classic yoga pose, and her stylised pheasant head casts a steely gaze in the direction of the busy kitchen.

“She was my starting point,” says Sandalene Dale-Roberts, interior designer and wife of superstar chef Luke, whose Woodstock-based eatery The Test Kitchen was recently named 50th in the World’s Best Restaurants awards. “I just love her attitude.”

As with all Luke’s restaurants, Sandalene was tasked with imbuing this space with her signature urban-opulent style, but breathing life into Cape Town’s iconic The Roundhouse wasn’t a straightforward endeavour. It’s a heritage space, for one, which translates into set parameters as far as renovations go. The building is also steeped in a colonial history that’s hard to paint over, as it were – in the early 1800s it was Cape Governor Lord Charles Somerset’s hunting lodge, where, it is said, he often hosted Dr James Barry who, after death, was revealed to be a woman.

When Sandalene’s customary starting point of skimming and finishing the walls was vetoed by the Heritage Trust, she opted for a talking point to build the interior around. Salsify stands in a circular mirrored entrance hall. Above her, the round ceiling from which a chandelier dangles is painted gold. To the side, a Rorschachian spray-painted splotch by artist Louis de Villiers tips you off that this is no buttoned-up interior.

“I approached Louis to have the story of The Roundhouse told in a modern, controversial way,” says Sandalene. The interior showcases his divergent style: The reception area walls feature illustrative portraits of both Somerset (replete with horns) and Barry, and the drinks lounge walls are a juxtaposition of gritty graffiti and illustration.

Visible among it all is Sandalene’s hand. In her factory, her team reupholstered antique chairs in colonial blue, red, mustard and olive-green velvets; manufactured side tables, covered in charcoal leather, in a mid-century modern style; and produced the dining chairs for both the smoking-lounge-esque dining area with its leather-clad walls and the airy sea room, which overlooks the Atlantic.

“I’ve never ever taken so many risks with a job before,” she says. “What I really tried to do here is to show that we can be in a space with a history, but that we can be ourselves and evolve.”