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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And that was our staycation in Kensington. Thanks for the inspiration, Xavier.
Our stay at Fishbird Villa was complimentary. Opinions expressed are mine.