I’ve always been intrigued by Kensington, a suburb just east of downtown Joburg. Kensington is similar in many ways to Melville, where I used to live, and Brixton, where I live now: An older neighborhood, filled with big trees and houses with pressed-steel ceilings, populated by lots of quirky artists and other creative types. Kensington is only about 20 minutes’ drive away but I feel like I haven’t spent enough time there over the years to really get to know it.

So when Xavier Duménil invited Thorsten and me to stay at his new guesthouse, the Fishbird Villa, I jumped at the chance for a Kensington staycation.

Percy, manager of the Fishbird Villa in Kensington.
Percy Ngwenya, manager of the guesthouse, in front of the Fishbird Villa.

Staying at Fishbird Villa

Fishbird Villa was built in the 1920s, at the beginning of the Art Deco era, and Xavier has completely renovated the house over the past two years and filled it with Art-Deco-era furnishings. It’s delightful — perched at the top of a ridge, like many houses in Kensington, with beautiful views over the city. Staying at Fishbird for a night made me feel like going out the next day and buying my own Joburg guesthouse to renovate.

View of Kensington from Fishbird
Looking out over Joburg’s ridges from beneath a stately jacaranda tree. The sparkling lap pool down below is also part of Fishbird; sadly it’s winter now and too cold to swim.
Outdoor seating at Fishbird
Outdoor seating with a view.
The Fishbird entrance hall, filled with fabulous retro glass.
Our room at the Fishbird Villa
Our room at Fishbird Villa. I absolutely love the Art Deco desk.
Bathroom at Fishbird
I checked out the four guest rooms at Fishbird and they all have beautiful bathrooms. This one was my favorite.
Thorsten in the breakfast room at Fishbird Villa
Thorsten sketching in the Fishbird breakfast room.

Fishbird is named for a wooden sculpture, carved by acclaimed Limpopo artist Thomas Kubayi, that’s on display outside the guesthouse. For some reason I didn’t get a good photo of the sculpture but I love Thorsten’s sketch of it.

Fishbird sketch by the Thinking Hand.
See more of Thorsten’s sketches at @theThinking_Hand.

There’s something especially lavish about spending the night out in your own city. Thorsten and I enjoyed admiring all the perfectly restored Art Deco furniture, sleeping in the luxurious king-sized bed, sipping our coffee from fancy cups, and showering in the sparkling white walk-in shower.

The rooms at Fishbird range from R800-900 ($42-48) per person per night for bed and breakfast. See Fishbird’s listing on Curiocity Africa.

Things We Did in Kensington

One of the main reasons I wanted to do this staycation was to have a full day to properly explore the suburb. Kensington is known for its antique shops and I wanted to check out a few of those. Unfortunately I locked us out of the house as we were preparing to leave home, giving us less shopping/eating time than expected. But we still hit a couple of great spots.

Portuguese Food: O’Vincente and Pastelaria Princesa

Kensington is also known for its Portuguese food. Thorsten and I went for lunch at O’Vicente, an authentic hole-in-the-wall that feels like it’s been there forever.

O'Vicente from the outside
O’Vicente is at 16 Sovereign Street.
Inside O'Vicente
I’ve never been to Portugal, but I imagine there are many restaurants there that look like this inside. The menu is in Portuguese with English translations. It was very busy, even at off hours on a Saturday.

I had a delicious grilled calamari platter at O’Vicente and Thorsten had grilled sardines. Highly recommended.

Later on we popped into Pastelaria Princesa, Kensington’s iconic Portuguese café/bakery on Queen Street (the suburb’s main drag), to pick up some pastéis de nata for dinner at our friend Gail’s house. I had been to Princesa before but had forgotten how cool the bakery is.

Outside Pastelaria Princesa
The bakery at Princesa, which is at 146 Queen Street. The larger restaurant is just to the left in a separate building.
Baked goods at Pastelaria Princesa
Princesa baked goods. I don’t know why I didn’t photograph the pastéis de nata, which were in a separate case. They are so freaking good.
Inside Princesa
There were two older men having coffee while we were there, chatting in Portuguese.

Thrifting and Antiques: Layahya and Kensington Trading

Late on Saturday afternoon we wandered into a tiny second-hand shop — more of a stall, really — called Layahya Second Hand Boutique. Layahya was filled with second-hand shoes and coats and I loved shopping there.

Layahya boutique on Queen Street
Layahya is at 136 Queen Street.
Thorsten ponders the shoes at Layahya.
Thorsten ponders the shoe selection at Layahya.
Heather in new coat
My amazing find from Layahya: this vintage karakul wool coat with a real (we think) fur collar for R450 (about $25). I wore it to the National Arts Festival and it was insanely warm.

Most of Kensington’s antique shops were closed when we tried to visit them on Sunday morning. But luckily Kensington Trading, the store I had been most excited to check out, was open.

Joel Kaufmann outside Kensington Trading
Joel Kaufmann, owner of Kensington Trading, with his well-dressed mannequin.

Kensington Trading, which I learned about through this great write-up in the Johannesburg In Your Pocket Guide, is a one-stop shop for cool old things. The store sells well curated selections of vintage clothing, vinyl, furniture, art, accessories, and anything else that can be acquired second-hand. Thorsten and I walked out with a hand-made leather satchel, a corkscrew, a hat, and several items of clothing. Also the owners are charming and fun to talk to. I can’t recommend it enough.

Vinyl at Kensington Trading
The funky vinyl room at Kensington Trading.

And that was our staycation in Kensington. Thanks for the inspiration, Xavier.

Our stay at Fishbird Villa was complimentary. Opinions expressed are mine.


  1. Albert

    When I just moved to Joburg around 20 years ago I worked in nearby Bedfordview and loved exploring all the haunts in Queen street, Kensington . Glad it is still going strong. Kensington must be the longest suburb in town, stretching from almost in downtown all the way east. Nice article.

    • 2summers

      You’re right – I also felt like it goes on forever!

  2. dizzylexa

    Great blog on my hood – I did a little exploring myself today, the teapot is still there. Got Terry an album and spent sometime discussing the worlds issues with Joel. We need to do a retake on the dinner due to the fact that, that power outage just happened at the wrong time.

    • 2summers

      Dinner was great, power outage aside! So did you buy the teapot?

      • dizzylexa

        No, it’s missing the lid but did send a photo of it to Peter.

  3. AutumnAshbough

    What a lovely view from an insanely cheap guest house. And you got breakfast there as well?

    • 2summers

      Yes! Full English breakfast.

  4. Dieter Aab

    Thank you for visiting my home suburb, where I spent 11 years of my childhood. Some good memories you stirred up.

    • 2summers

      Thanks for reading, Dieter 🙂

  5. Barend van der Merwe

    I love how I learn so much about my own country from “an American”. If I can believe my mom, I was born in Gauteng. But I know so little about it. I remember I visited Mellville once. That was in 2017. I wonder how it looks these days.

    Thanks again for another wonderful read and pics.

    • 2summers

      Melville looks much the same except a lot of the shops and restaurants have closed. Hopefully they’ll come back.

  6. Peggy Laws

    Good to see a positive blog on my Suburb. It has changed a lot over the years but there are still some absolute gems here. You must try out Cut&Craft restaurant in Queen Street next time you are over this side.

    • 2summers

      Oh yes, I’ve been to Cut & Craft and really liked it. Need to blog about it sometime!


Leave a Reply