South Africa: The Cape and Winelands

This beautiful country is at the top of the ‘must see’ league of world destinations. Foodie tourists will find much to please, with a huge emphasis on local produce and seasonality, and an exceptionally vibrant restaurant scene. Dining is still relatively inexpensive too for visitors from Europe and the US.

safmap2I have visited the Cape nine times since 2002, and the 50 reviews here mostly date from 2010 – 2019. As of 2020 all are still open for business.

 

Cape Town

Aubergine, 39 Barnet St. Tel: +27 (0)21 465 4909
German-born chef proprietor Harald Bresselschmidt has been behind the stoves here since 1996, and this was the sixth time I’d dined in Aubergine since 2002, finding the quality of the food to be matched by its utter consistency. Just as the original interior has had a more glamorous makeover, so the cuisine has evolved, but always based on unshakeable haute-cuisine credentials and never on the latest foodie fads and fashions. Whilst so many of Cape Town’s other star names of the millennium have come and gone, Aubergine continues to thrive thanks to Bresselschmidt’s demanding standards and a team focused on delivering a world class food – and wine – experience. We started with a couple of startlingly good amuses bouche, and then for my first course proper I chose a classic of the menu: aubergine soufflé filled with marinated goat’s cheese ricotta and served with oven braised tomatoes and a vivid rosemary vinaigrette. It was warming and delicious, the flavours creamily soft but not bland. For my main I hummed and hawed, but eventually settled on ’Finest of rabbit’ – beautiful slices of milky-white loin, little braised or confit darker leg meat, and the livers soft and melting, and all served with sage beurre noisette, poppy and mustard leaf gnocchi, and tiny multi-coloured beets. This really was another outstanding dish from Aubergine, so delicate in texture and yet so precise and full of flavour. To finish, I was tempted by a return to soufflé, this time sweet, but instead opted for a wonderfully light chocolate fondant, served with grapefruit galette and caramel ginger ice cream. Never has the now near ubiquitous fondant been elevated to such ethereal heights of lightness, yet decadence. With coffee and petit fours and wines expertly matched by the glass – a Cap Classique rosé from Ambeloui in Hout Bay being a particular star – the total bill of 2,000 Rand for two including service was one of the restaurant world’s great bargains. (2019)

La Mouette, 78 Regent Rd, Sea Point. Tel:+27 (0)21 433 0856
Converted from a large house with dining rooms on two floors, La Mouette sits on a corner in Sea Point, and also has a courtyard garden. We’ve eaten here twice, and for some reason never seem to have the great experience that others rave about. On a recent cool evening we dined in a room that I thought was just slightly gloomy, painted a deep burgundy with quite subdued lighting. As we arrived another table was complaining bitterly about something (I have no idea what) and promptly left mid-meal. British chef Henry Vigar has cooked here for a few years now, offering a very foodie menu written as a bit of a teasing puzzle, with many of the dishes not quite being what they seem on paper. A six course tasting menu is on offer at 595 Rand, but we dined a la carte where three courses costs 450 Rand. Excellent breads were served with a ‘cured butter’, lightly crusted and slightly cheesy. For my first course I chose truffle and cheese croquettes with a roasted garlic aioli. What arrived was, well, a fairly huge bowl of quite heavy cheese croquettes that were beautifully done, crisp and golden, meltingly soft on the inside, though the sting of the garlic had been removed by roasting it. Next, looking for something lighter, I chose a dish described on the menu as a ‘chicken salad’. In fact what turned up was a delicious, hot, and substantial dish with a whole roast chicken breast carved across a bed of braised baby gem lettuce, alongside a parmesan cream and slices of confit potato and chicken bon-bons. For dessert, an Apple Praline turned out to be a trifle-like concoction, with a praline panacotta in the base filled with chunks of caramelised apple, a hazelnut ice cream and thickly foamy but sharp green apple espuma. We drank bottled water and Glen Carlou Chardonnay from a good list dominated by South African wines, plus a few Champagnes. I will give La Mouette another go I suspect (2019). Closed Mondays.

NV-80, The Point, 76 Regent Road, Sea Point. Tel: +27 (0)21 439 7112
Do not come here for a romantic quiet meal. On the first floor of a large modern shopping mall, but open late after the mall shops close, this is a huge and bustling restaurant and bar that is farily clamorous. We were drawn there by the promise of seriously good steaks, and I have to say, it delivered. You’ll be seated by a waitron as soon as a table is available, and as soon as the food starts to arrive you’ll realise quality is surprisingly good. A carpaccio of beef starter was as good as any I’ve had, sprinkled with crispy deep-fried shallots, parmesan and with a nicely balanced truffle dressing. Chalmar aged beef is one of the highlights here, and is really very good indeed, served with potato or pasta and vegetables of your choice from the ‘Sides’ menu. I must have been hungry, because I somehow saved room for a seriously good apple tarte tatin, filled with plump juicy fruit in a rich sticky caramel, and served with chai ice-cream. The short wine list is almost all South African and pretty good value, with an extensive by the glass selection. NV-80 wouldn’t normally be my sort of place, but we stay locally when in Cape Town, and I will definitely be back (2019). A three course steak meal will cost around 500 rand per person excluding wine. Open seven days, lunch and dinner.

Signal at The Cape Grace, V&A Waterfront. Tel: +27 (0)21 410 7080
The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is a vast shopping complex that throngs with crowds from morning until night. Set around the seaport, it is very atmospheric, but also an enormous tourist trap with hawkers outside chain restaurants trying to entice customers through their doors. If you would prefer really good food in a very serene and grown-up calm atmosphere, make you way around over a couple of bridges to the Cape Grace hotel, a 5* Super luxury establishment but one that offers a 3-course lunch for around 350 Rand all in – at 2019’s exchange rate that’s about £17 per person. Settling in with some lovely breads and a bottle of Cape Point’s superb Sauvignon Blanc, I quickly decided on a fabulous but substantial salad of roasted sweet potato, sun-dried tomato, feta and pine nuts with a spicily rich soy, ginger and spring onion dressing. It really was deliciously vivid in flavour, and I literally had to force myself not to finish every morsel of a dish that could well have made a light lunch on its own. Next, ‘line fish of the day’ turned out to be hake, roasted beautifully with crisp skin yet still melting flesh, served with a lemon-zest potato purée and a nice medley of wok-fried vegetables. We shouldn’t have, but is was Sunday lunch, so deciding it would do instead of dinner, I finished with a serviceable baked orange cheesecake with macadamia nut butter and apricot sorbet. With coffees, water, the wine and service, the total bill came to just 1200 Rand for a relaxed and elegant lunch looking out over the millionaire yachts in the marina. A top tip (2019). Open for lunch and dinner daily.

The Test Kitchen, 375 Albert Rd. Tel: +27 (0)21 447 2337
This review comes from a dinner I had hosted by winemaker Bruce Jack, so I was not paying, and ate a meal especially designed to match with his wines. I had a booking to return under my own steam exactly two weeks later, but illness forced me to cancel which was such a pity. The Test Kitchen is part of a foodie complex known as the Old Biscuit Mill, also housing an excellent wine shop and the Test Kitchen’s more casual sister restaurant, The Pot Luck Club. A contemporary space dominated by the open kitchen running down one side, the atmosphere is relaxed and informal. The food here is extremely inventive, with some world cuisine influences, lots of unexpected treatments and combinations, but with a real emphasis on ingredients and flavour. Highlights of this meal included a barbecued langoustine chawanmushi (a Japanese savoury egg custard) with salt-cured apricots that was delicate and married some lovely textures, including a tosazu (an earthy Japanese vinegar) jelly. Lamb in a miso and beer glaze was serious comfort food, with a sage-flavoured veloute and pan-seared sweetbreads. The Test Kitchen is rated as one of the best restaurants in the world and it is correspondingly difficult to secure a booking, but that’s exactly what I will be attempting on my next visit to Cape Town. The tasting menu dinner is 1200 Rand per person. (2015)

The Food Barn, Farm Village, Noordhoek. Tel: +27 (0)21 789 1390
I was fascinated by the prospect of a visit to The Food Barn, a fairly basic but bright and welcoming restaurant just outside Noordhoek, the town at the other end of the Chapman’s Peak Drive from Cape Town. Chef/Proprietor of The Food Barn is Franck Dangereux, the man who single-handedly built the reputation for La Colome restaurant as one of South Africa’s best, and probably the country’s highest profile chef. When he announced he was leaving La Colome to open this much more prosaic, back-to-basics restaurant it was the equivalent of a 3* Michelin chef giving it all up to open a family diner. It seems Dangereux has opted-out of the rat-race somewhat, and this simple, thatched and bare stone-walled restaurant serves breakfast and lunch daily, dinner only Wednesday to Friday, and the style is for simple cooking that retains a lot of finesse, but focuses on prime ingredients with just a few bells and whistles. My starter of prawns with lemon butter was delicious, with basically Thai flavours running across plump, succulent, de-shelled large prawns. My favourite dish was probably the intermediate course, of raviolis with a black truffle and mushroom filling. It was cooked beautifully, and the light broth in which it was served was suffused with herbs. For my main, more prawns, this time piled into a puff pastry case and served on a bed of a thick, creamy tomato sauce. To finish a chocolate marquise was suitably dense without being at all cloying, the bittersweet flavour creamy and dark. The wine list is very nice too, featuring the wines of nearby Cape Point Vineyards (the house wine made by them only 80 Rand – £7 – per bottle) and corkage is charged at 40 Rand. This is a cracking foodie spot, with everything homemade and a unique atmosphere where both serious foodies and family’s on a night out can feel equally welcome and equally satisfied. 350 Rand (£30) for five courses. (2015)

Chapman’s Peak Hotel, Main Road Hout Bay. Tel: +27 (0)21 790 1036
Its broad, sea-facing terrace is a popular spot from which to enjoy some of Hout Bay’s best seafood, but on an unseasonably blowy February night with sand and spray being kicked along the roadway, we dined indoors. For 25 years this Portuguese-owned hotel and restaurant has served up uncomplicated platters of olive oil, lemon and garlic-infused fresh fish and seafood, as well as steaks and Portuguese Espadas (char-grilled meaty skewers). It also has a rather good wine list that includes pages of rare Cape wines and a Portuguese selection. I started with a plate of calamari which was just fantastic: butter-soft, lightly breaded squid rings crisply fried in plenty of salty, peppery, lemony, garlicky seasoning. My pan-fried fillet of Kingclip with a Teriyaki sauce was good – the fish plump and well cooked, the sauce slightly bland, but the pile of garlic potatoes and green veg was tasty. With water, coffee and a bottle of Danie de Wet’s Limestone Hills Chardonnay the bill for two came to around £50. Simple but tasty. (2012)

Constantia

safmap2Constantia is a southern suburb of Cape Town, just 15 minutes by road or taxi from the city centre, so a very easy place to visit wineries or, in this case, have lunch or dinner.

Catherina’s at Steenberg, Steenberg Road. +27 (0) 21 713 7178

This is the fine dining restaurant of Steeberg wine estate, which also boasts a five-star hotel and golf course, as well as the more casual Bistro 1682. The space is cool and calm and strikes a nice balance between formal and upmarket casual, and I kicked off with a very good dish of three large and succulent prawns in a crisp tempura shell, served with a creamy avocado sauce, in which I detected bit of vanilla sweetness, but also a kick of lemon and coriander. It was light and delicious. I also had a taste of a terrific artichoke salad that was very faloursome with toasted pumpkin seeds, feta and a wholegrain mustard dressing adding some fire. My fish vol-au-vent was just a touch disappointing, the line fish and some large prawns, mixed with some calamari, sat in a saffron and Chardonnay veloute that also seemed to have atouch of chilli tang, but the two credcents of puff pastry had become rather too soggy to give any textural contrast. I was guest of some local winemakers for this dinner so we drank their wines, but expect to pay 1500 – 2000 Rand for three courses for two and a decent bottle of wine (2019). Open seven days, lunch and dinner.

Bistro Sixteen 82 at Steenberg, Tokai Road 7945. Tel: +27 (0)21 713 2211
If Catharina’s is a little too formal, the spectacular Bistro Sixteen 82 is Steenberg’s casual foodie choice. A large, open-fronted dining room facing sparkling fountains, vineyards and the fynbos-covered mountains beyond. Billed as an “interactive wine and food destination,” as well as more formal dining there’s a Raw Bar counter with seating and sashimi, gravadlax, ceviche, carpaccios, oysters and tartars to enjoy. We settled down and I kicked off with a superb dish: a risotto of Namibian prawns. The risotto was deliciously textured, with the merest trace of bite left in the rice, but creamily soft too, especially enriched with a little crème frâiche, and studded not only with succulent small prawns, but juicy and smoky little bursts of flavour from niblets of charred corn. For my main course I had the pan-fried line fish of the day, in this case I was reliably informed by our smiling waiter that it was ‘Santa’, but later investigations proved my hearing needs an overhaul and it was in fact Santer. In any case, it was absolutely delicious, firm and white fleshed but cooked to flaking perfection and served with a homely pea pancake, some flaked smoked trout and a tomato vinaigrette. This was a terrific lunch I must say, and espresso afterwards was top-notch too. Obviously Steenberg’s own wines are the focus of the wine list, and 3 courses, before wine or service, will cost around 400 Rand (2019). Open for breakfast, lunch and early evening only.

Buitenverwachting, Klein Constantia Rd. Tel: +27 (0)21 794 5190
A devastating storm in 2017 more or less destroyed the main terrace of the dining room at one of my absolute favourite Constantia restaurants at the Buitenverwachting estate. That gave the opportunity to revamp very successfully however, with a very chic and contemporary new look inside and on the terrace facing the vineyards, though this substantial property also has coffee shops, wine bars and numerous other facilities built around its gorgeous grounds and original manor house. I attended lunch with a small group of Constantia winemakers, but all of the dishes came from the regular menu, starting with a deliciously piquant Asian tartar of fish, with then quail in variations, a confit leg, roast supreme and slow-braised bon bon, a little foie-like pate with a sweet orange jel and fruity dressing. Several other small plates preceded a superbly cooked loin of springbok with a prune chutney and walnut crumble. Highly recommended and the wine list offers plenty of choices beyond the estate’s own wines.  A la carte for two will run to around 1500 – 2000 Rand for two with a bottle of wine (2019). Closed Sundays.

La Colombe, Silvermist Estate, Main Road, Constantia. Tel: +27 (0)21 794 2390.
For many years rated as the best restaurant in Cape Town, my visit to its former location (and previous management) was a huge disappointment, but this lunch was terrific. Signature dishes are still there, like their playful tuna, served in a can, but actually a tataki served with an umami broth, avocado, lemon and shiitake mushrooms, and the tasting menu we enjoyed included highlights like a dish of sweetbreads and grass-fed beef, served with chipotle, sweetcorn, buttermilk and fragrant with coriander. As my last lunch with family in Cape Town before flying home that evening, I did not take extensive notes, but thoroughly enjoyed the meal which came in around £250 for two, which is at the very top end of Cape pricing. (2017)

The Greenhouse at The Cellars Hohenhort. Tel: +27 (0)21 794 2137
This is the fine dining restaurant within one of the Cape’s most beautiful and exclusive hotels, made up of a series of Cape Dutch buildings set in old, established gardens, and feeling like it is a million miles from the bustle of Cape Town. We settled into the comfortable dining room with large picture windows overlooking the gardens and decided fairly quickly on the African Hunter tasting menu with its matching wine flights. Service was charming and attentive, and we kicked things off with a carpaccio of tuna and perlemoen (local abalone) served on a glass block as wafer-thin strips of fish interspersed with strips of cucumber, alongside little heaps of pickled daikon radish, wasabi bavarois and soya caviar. A glass of Klein Constantia Estate Brut 2006 was perfect. Next, a glass of Constantia Uitsig’s Unwooded Chardonnay was poured to match with a wonderfully meaty but light terrine of quail and guinea fowl, accompanied by marinated baby beets, a creamy foie gras mousse and tangy apple jelly. For the next course of Franschhoek salmon trout cooked ‘sous vide’ with smoked potatoes, a Champagne velouté and deliciously piercing lemon marmalade, a glass of Eagles Nest Viognier was again a great choice in a menu that was starting to suggest a seriously good kitchen and sommelier combination. Refreshed by a rose, geranium and Champagne granite, the main course was a melt-in-the-mouth loin of almond crusted springbok, served with roasted figs, butternut squash puree and an Amaretto jus, reduced to a richness just hinting at the almondy flavour of the liqueur. The first of two desserts, served with a glass of the estate’s own late harvest Vin de Hohenhort was a Camembert cheese cake topped with roast pineapple ice cream. This was elegant, sophisticated cooking of the highest order. With the bill for two (not including wine) at around £200, a strong recommendation. (2019)

Franschhoek

safmap2There’s no doubt Franschhoek, less than an hour from Cape Town, has established itself as the ultimate foodie destination and a very upmarket playground for the somewhat rich, if not necessarily famous. It is a beautiful region that celebrates its French origins, with some of the Cape’s most exclusive accommodations and restaurants.

La Petit Colombe, Le Quartier Français hotel. Tel: +27 (0)21 202 3395
In many ways I enjoyed this meal more than both times I’ve eaten in the original La Colombe. An airy, chic and simple dining room extends into a broad conservatory area looking onto a pretty sculpture garden. One nine-course menu is offered, with the option of taking a reduced menu, choosing to drop four dishes – though little amuses and treat soon ramp even this up to a multi-course experience. At lunchtime we chose the reduced choice as we settled in with glasses of Moreson MCC sparkling rose and nibbled on caraway sourdough and home-churned butter. First course was possibly my favourite: an exquisite, jewel-like presentation of tuna carpaccio, with little gels, creams and slices of naartjie (satsuma), avocado, aubergine and miso. It was a sensation of sweet and sour flavours, piquant, tangy and delicious. Next, a little dome of alternating slices of pork and scallop was sweet and earthy, the pork marinated in a Korean red chilli paste known as gochujang, before a light but fully-flavoured tranche of seabass fillet, with parsnip, squid, mussels, leeks and chorizo. That sounds like a lot, but each small element studded the plate and neither overpowered, or was outdone by the crisp-skinned fish: some of the squid deep fried and crunchy, some soft and curled into little tubes, slivers of chorizo and a tempura mussel all adding texture and flavour. Between those two course is one called ‘Meet the Chefs’ which sounds a little contrived, but which in fact was a delight: you are escorted up to a chef’s table, where one of the team of 17 in the kitchen explains how things work and presents a small dish: in this case a take on egg and soldiers, but not like any other. For dessert, a creamy goat’s cheese ice-cream with fresh guava and tamarind was delicious, the dish studded with flakes of kouign amann, a flaky butter pastry. Throughout I let the sommelier choose wines to match including an elegant barrel-fermented Sauvignon, peppery Cinsault from Swartland, 10-year-old Chenin Blanc and dessert Chardonnay, all of which worked really well. (2019) The Chef’s menu is 1550 rand per person at lunch or dinner and other menus are available. Note that the restaurant relocated to the Leeu Estate, just out of town, during Covid-19. I do not know if this move will become permanent.

Protégé, Le Quartier Français hotel. Tel: +27 (021) 224 0801
On the other side of Le Quartier’s entrance hall is the more casual arm of La Petite Colombe, where chef Jess van Dyk oversees some really good ‘fusion’ cuisine, still based around seasonality and local ingredients, but borrowing many Oriental influences. I really enjoyed the array of tapas-sized dishes on my visit, like a dish of flavour-packed Korean fried chicken, served with coriander and buttermilk, or the more substantial loin of Ssringbok, a beautifully cooked small tranche of melt-in-the-mouth meat, served with red cabbage, baby spinach, smoked mashed potato and some slivers of sweet/sour stone fruits. The tasting menu is 795 rand per person, but I rather enjoyed the ‘reduced tasting menu’ of slightly fewer courses, but you choose these yourself from the full Chef’s tasting menu. I was hosted by Mullineux wines on this visit and did not see the wine list. (2019).

Foliage, 11 Huguenot Street. Tel: +27 (0)21 876 2328
One of the stand-out meals of my three weeks in the Cape, chef Chris Erasmus is cooking up a storm in his chic restaurant in the centre of the town, with its polished concrete floors and industrial warehouse vibe it is very contemporary, the brigade working away efficiently in the open kitchen. Most dishes here include foraged ingredients, and there’s a panoply of global influence at play in the cuisine, all adding up to a fresh and superb foodie experience. On a warm evening I kicked off with a salad of rainbow coloured beets that had been charcoal roasted with artichoke, turnip and lemon, dressed with a 17-year-old balsamic and studded with pearls of an apple and parsley purée: a simple, uncluttered and totally satisfying dish encompassing so many vivid flavours and contrasting textures. My main course dukkah-crusted red mullet was served with samphire and foraged beach spinach, surprisingly lovely caramelised bananas (I feared a clash, but there was none), and a fresh, cleansing courgette purée. With desserts, coffees and a bottle of wine from a strong local list, the bill of 850 Rand for two was great value once again (2017)

Reuben’s, 2 Daniel Hugo St. Tel: +27 21 876 3772
Reuben Riffel closed his original Franschhoek restaurant several years ago to open in Cape Town and to run a small group of restaurants carrying his name. He re-opened in the town shortly before my 2019 visit. I used to enjoy his cooking very much in the original location, so this new Reuben’s may be worthy of consideration although I have not eaten here.

Café Bon Bon, La Petite Dauphine Farm. Tel: +27 (0)21 876 3936
This terrific spot is just a few minutes’ drive from the centre of town, based on a neatly manicured but working farm, with vines and citrus groves extending out from the broad, shady patio were breakfast and lunch is served. The setting is beautiful, with views to the mountains, and the food of a very high standard. I kept things simple one very hot lunchtime with a plate of pasta, but it really was good: a little heap of nicely cooked pasta with a liberal dousing in pan-fried artichoke hearts, plump, sweet little tomatoes, olive oil and plenty of lemon zest and parmesan shavings. The sauce was clean, tangy and appetising, and perfect with Porcupine Ridge Sauvignon Blanc at a bargain basement 75 Rand per bottle. Baked cheesecake was good but unexciting, though coffee was excellent. In all, with water and two courses for two people, a very reasonable 340 Rand. A delightful lunchtime spot, and worth reserving a table in season. (2012)

Le Bon Vivant, 23 Dirkie Uys, Street. Tel: +27 (0)21 876 2717
Packed on the Thursday night I visited, Le Bon Vivant certainly pulls in the crowds for a fine dining experience at very modest prices. Chef/proprietor Pierre Hendriks offers a five-course ‘surprise menu’ at 350 Rand or an a la carte option. We went for the latter, enjoying excellent bread and dips and a glass of Pierre Jourdan fizz whilst we perused the menu. Finally I chose a foie gras & duck roll, made from foie gras and duck leg confit, served with a lovely little foie gras ball covered in sweet, crunchy praline, caramelized popcorn and oven baked plums. This was presented beautifully (as is everything here) and the flavours and textures worked well. Next up, I was disappointed to hear the Monkfish was unavailable and had been replaced with Kingklip, ubiquitous in South Africa and a nicely meaty fish, but often lacking flavour. However, I went ahead with the choice and it was a good one: the fish was cooked just beautifully with a crisp, caramelised edge to the flesh, melting and just translucent in the centre, and rich with pancetta, anchovy beignets, wonderfully soft and creamy potato gaufrettes and a tangy, bittersweet orange butter sauce. For dessert, it was well worth a 15 minute wait for Berry soufflé served with a berry cocktail and white chocolate sorbet. With water, another couple of glasses of white wine and a half bottle of Nederburg Nobel Late Harvest the bill strayed just over 700 rand for two. Fantastic food (even if the kitchen seemed under pressure and there were some sizeable delays) (2012).

Stellenbosch and Somerset West

safmap2Stellenbosch is at the heart of the wine industry. It is a substantial university town with a cosmopolitan vibe. I’ve stayed in various accommodations over the years, including two highly recommendable hotels, Coopmanhuijs, and just across the road, Oude Werf. Both are in the old town within easy walking distance of good restaurants and a plethora of galleries and upmarket shopping. Many of these reviews are from winery restaurants, all just a short drive from the town.

In town

De Warenmarkt, Corner Ryneveld and Plein Streets. +27 (0) 21 883 2274
More restaurant and bar than market, though there is indeed a very good deli section with bakery, butchery and coffee roaster too. It’s a relaxed friendly place, bustling on my lunchtime visit when we sat at the bar to share a bottle of the Terrasse white blend from Keermont Esate and some substantial salad paltes. A summer salad involving lots of crunchy leaves and slices of strawberry was pronounced very successful, my Caprese was piled high with mozzarella, sweet and ripe tomatoes, torn basil, and drizzled with a slight gluey balsamic that didn’t do it favours. A chilled place for casual eats, snacks and a good wine selection, with a small pavement terrace. A good choice when fine dining or more substantial fare is not required (2019). 700 – 800 Rand for two. Open seven days, Sunday closes at 3pm.
 
The Wijnhuis, Corner of Church & Andringa Streets. + 27 (0) 21 887 5844
A key place in Stellenbosch, with a 500 bottle wine list (20 available by the glass) and atmospheric with its internal tree-filled courtyard and broad verandah above with plenty of extra seating and retractable roof. Smart but casual dining, efficient and friendly service and an extensive winelist make it a very popular choice. A Kudu carpaccio was superb, the meat soft and delicate but with just enough gamy flavour in the background, drizzled with a mustard mayo, peppadews, torn Parma ham and melon. My main was pan-fried springbok loin, wrapped in Parma ham, in a nicely glazed Pinotage sauce, with sides of crisp, thin fries and garlic- and chilli-fried broccoli. Finishing with a Roibos tea, this was excellent quality casual food. Around 1,000 Rand for two (2019). Open seven days.

Jardine, 1 Andringa Street.  +27 (0)21 886 5020
Having masterminded some great food for the restaurant on the Jordan Estate for many years, George Jardine opened his small, low-key restaurant in the heart of Stellenbosch a few years ago and I’ve enjoyed two really good meals there. I started light, with a salad of compressed watermelon, served with whipped feta cheese, layered with torn basil and drizzled with a dressing of local olive oil and watermelon juice. It was refreshing an tasty, a good melange of flavour and texture. My main course was a real star here, a roast loin of springbok, beautifully soft and tender to the knife, with a little fondant of sweet potato and a dressing/salad of new season figs, small, black and hugely sweet, and nibbed hazelnuts. I passed on dessert this time round, but at 380 Rand for two courses, or 420 Rand for three, adding dessert would certainly be the sensible move if your appetite is up for it. A well-chosen, small list of wines here, all South African and grouped by varietal, the Craven Cinsault at 330 Rand a fine choice (2019). Lunch and dinner, Monday – Saturday.

Green Goose Eatery, 5 Mill St. Tel: +27 (0)87 807 7092
Opened just weeks before my 2019 visit, this is a restaurant and bar on a large corner site with verandah, serving fresh, simple modern fine-dining in a minimalist room. An open kitchen and pizza oven produce the food, mostly small plates of mix and match tapas-style. Lots of fusion dishes here, like a very good, tangy and piquant tuna ceviche, made with fresh yellowfin tuna with a soy dressing, edamame and crunchy radish. My wood-fired baby chicen was melt-in-the-mouth delicious, served with corn & quinoa, a spicy sumac butternut squash and cooling yoghurt dressing. The wine list is short, artisan and funky – we drank Trizanne Signature Wines’ Semillon Sauvignon at 350 rand – and a three course dinner will set you back 300 – 400 Rand per person (2019). Closed Sunday and Monday lunch.

The Fat Butcher, 1 Van Riebeeck St. Tel: +27 (0)21 883 3857
Well, I hardly need tell you that meat, and in particular steak, is what this place is all about. Don’t get me wrong, fish eaters and even vegetarians will find options on the menu, but prime pasteur-reared beef is the obsession, cut and grilled to your liking. A number of ‘specials’ come with various marinades, sauces and dressing, or you can keep it simple with a steak and big bowl of fabulous chips. I chose one of the specials, a three-inch thick fillet, with foraged wild mushrooms, Dijon mustard, sherry, white truffle oil, Kataifi & black truffle. It was substantial (though far from one of the largest cuts here) and just superbly done. I ate here with a bunch of winemakers drinking their wines, but I did have a glance at the very extensive list, including dozens of by the glass options. A nice final touch was a member of staff handing out handfuls of jelly-beans as you exit into the warm Stellenbosch night. My 300g special steak was 315 Rand, a 500g version is 550 Rand (2019). Closed Sundays.

The Basic Bistro, 31 Church St, Stellenbosch 7600. Tel: +27 (0)21 883 3629
Another one of my “Let’s just have something casual and simple,” recommendations, nevertheless Basic Bistro on a lovely street in the leafiest part of Stellenbosch town does a fine job. There is a pavement terrace and small indoor space, with simple decor and a friendly and quite buzzy atmosphere, but something tells you they take their grub pretty seriously, especially burgers, pastas and a small array of fancier mains. I really enjoyed a hearty bowl of Tequila chicken pasta with a cherry tomatoes and cream sauce. The penne was cooked perfectly, and the chunks of chicken had a lovely sweet and sour edge from the tequila, the rich and nicely tart sauce from plenty of fresh tomato really moreish. This dish cost only 65 Rand and the remainder of a bottle of Savage Wines red from a tasting earlier that day was delicious with it, at a corkage charge of 30 Rand. (2019)

Oppie Dorp, 137 Dorp Street, Stellenbosch. Tel: +27 (0)21 883 3889
Opened in November 2012 Oppie Dorp has clearly been an instant success as it was jam packed on the Monday evening when I visited, and I can understand why. An outdoor terrace and large, L-shaped room must seat around 70 or more so it is noisy and lively, and the menu was full of interesting choices plus lots of specials as described by owner Jean Pierre. I started with a Springbok carpaccio – a substantial plate of delicious meat, sprinkled with flaked almonds and flaked Parmesan, and doused in a honey vinaigrette. It also came with two perhaps unnecessary slices of watermelon and some sweet bread and butter. For my main course, leg of lamb had been slow roasted and sliced down, and was served with a sweet and fruity sauce that was also dark and rich, perhaps with a touch of cocoa added? It was really meltingly delicious meat, lightly gamy and full of flavour, but so soft in the mouth. A filo shell of shredded, slow-roasted shoulder meat was again perhaps a touch too much for me personally (the main meat was a substantial portion) and some pan-fried potatoes. We took our own wine here (most Cape restaurants will allow BYO at around 40 Rand corkage), and the total bill came to 200 Rand per person for two courses. Very good food in a hip and happening downtown restaurant. (2013)

In the wine lands

96 Winery Road, Stellenbosch. Tel: +27 (0)21 842 2020
A big vote of confidence goes to this excellent steakhouse off the R44 between Somerset West & Stellenbosch, where substantial and honest food is served in a very convivial atmosphere. Owned by winemakers Ken Forrester and Martin Meinert, steaks are taken very seriously here, dry-aged in-house and lovingly explained to diners before you are invited to choose cut, weight and cooking preference. If your waistline can stand it, the “grand dessert” platter is a must-have: half a dozen perfect little desserts including a gorgeously creamy crème brûlée – always the test of a good kitchen. Excellent wine list and BYOB, and prices are moderate. (2019)

Delaire Graff, R310, Helshoogte Pass. Tel: +27 (0)21 885-8160
Conspicuous luxury is the order of the day at the mind-blowing Delaire Graff wine estate, complete with Relais & Chateaux hotel and top-end restaurant. I have eaaten here numerous times and enjoyed every one of them, including the astonishing collection of artworks and architectural beauty of the building. All that can perhaps be explained when one knows that it is owned by Laurence Graff, Chairman of Graff Diamonds International, who purchased it in 2003 and has spent untold millions to transform it into one of the winelands’ top destinations. There is a broad terrace for lunch, and a well-padded main dining room with soaring ceilings and massive artworks and sculptures. From a menu running to around 30 dishes, I settled on a starter of Buffalo Mozzarella, but served not as a salad but as a deep and warm soup/stew, rich with caramelised cauliflower, charred aubergine and tomato forming a wholesome sauce as the Mozzarella shape-shifted from solid to meltingly elastic. It was an unusual and satisfying dish. For my main course, an unusual assembly of chicken thighs, crayfish and west coast mussels called out to me, served with gnocchi, garlic flowers and a subtle mango garnish. It was very good, the darker meat of the chicken thighs being a clever choice against the plump, juicy white flesh of the crayfish and the sweet, soft flavours and textures of the mussels. I don’t always like fruit with savoury hot dishes, but the mango added exotic and not too sweet a contrast and the gnocchi were delicious. We did not have a sweet, and drank Delaire Graff wines. A meal here for three course before wine, coffee or service will cost around 550 Rand per person. (2019)

Camphors at Vergelegen Estate, Lourensford Rd, Somerset West. Tel: +27 (0)21 847 2131
I’ve eaten at the Stables casual dining restaurant before, enjoying an excellent venison burger, but Camphors is the fine dining option, and quite superb it is too – to match the outstanding wines on offer from the estate. Exotic Mushrooms, celeriac and beef was a fine little dish of flavour and texture, followed up by hake, lightly battered and served with tempura shellfish and a creamy sweetcorn veloute. The main of Karro lamb was braaied to charriness on the outside, but yielding and soft in the middle, a little medeley of carrot and baba ganouche the perfect foil. Estate grapes made for a cleansing, but still quite decadent pudding, served with little firey ginger creams and almond ice cream and tuilles. Camphors offers ‘Full tour’ or ‘Reduced tour’ tasting menus at 895 and 595 Rand respectively. On this visit I was hosted by Vergelegen’s winemaker and did not see the wine list (2019). Open Wednesday to Saturday for lunch, Friday and Saturday for dinner in summer only.

The Stables at Vergelegen Estate, Lourensford Rd. Tel: +27 (0)21 847 2100
What a surprise to drive into the Vergelegen estate, which I haven’t visited for some time to find it is now a vast tourism destination with a small charge just to enter the grounds, then purpose built complex of restaurants, gardens, shops and visitor facilities. On a Tuesday lunch time the fine dining restaurant Camphors (above) is closed, so we ate in the more casual bistro called The Stables, a big open and airy space with terrace seating too and views to the formal gardens and mountains beyond. From a casual menu of grills and fairly simple dishes I chose the burger, as one being ferried past me by a passing waitress looked so good. Indeed it was, with a brioche bun filled with a succulent ground beef burger of fantastic quality, seared and with a little bite on the outside and butter soft inside, served with a mushroom ketchup and relishes and a side of very good beer-battered onion rings and chips. With generous glasses of Vergelegen red to wash the burgers down, the bill came to just 350 rand for a substantial and high quality casual lunch. (2015)

Waterkloof, Sir Lowry’s Pass, Somerset West. Tel: +27 (0)21 858 1292
sa-foodWaterkloof winery is a striking modern building around 30 minutes from Stellenbosch. It’s top floor restaurant has a wall of glass which frames absolutely magnificent views over the organic vineyards and an absolutely breathtaking panorama of the coast encompassing the wide sweep of Gordon’s Bay shimmering in the distance. The restaurant is excellent, and following a previous fine meal there I was keen to return. We booked for Sunday lunch and secured a table at the window. All of Waterkloof’s extensive wine portfolio is on offer at prices more or less the same as retail, and everything available by the glass or bottle. After a little amuse of a steak tartare served with a crisp Parmesan biscuit and anchovy mayonnaise that was delicately soft in texture and flavour, my first course was a triumph: described as ‘Smiling Valley Marron’, it was the whole, plump tail and claw of a large crayfish, served with a wonderfully rich but sharp goat’s cheese crumble topped with citrus peel and herbs, and a marron beignet, hot with a light batter and succulent, moreish flavour. The Marie rose sauce had plenty of fresh, homemade tang. For my main course I chose poached monkfish served with a pistachio crumble and saffron sauce. This was such a nice dish too, the monkfish very well cooked to be buttery and textured, but still soft and not overcooked. The pistachio and saffron were very sympathetic flavours too in a simple, fresh and elegant dish. After a little panacotta and passionfruit pre-dessert, a bitter chocolate fondant was thankfully a small but delicious portion, and it was inventively accompanied by summer berries both raw and as two textures of mousse and panacotta cream, enlivened with a sprinkle of Espelette pepper. Three courses costs 500 Rand. (2017)

Rust en Vrede Estate, Annandale Rd, Stellenbosch. Tel: +27 (0)21 881 3757
Arguably my best meal in a three week tour in 2010 came at Rust en Vrede and I’d long wanted to return. Unfortunately my 2017 visit was disappointing – the food lacked distinction, but the main issue was the pretentious attitude from all the staff with whom I interacted, especially the sommelier: I love Champagne, as regular readers will know, but in South Africa I much prefer to drink the local ‘MCC’ traditional method sparkling wines, harder to find back home, and with some terrific quality to be found. The sommelier requested our pre-dinner drink order. With no list in front of me, I requested to know which MCCs were on offer. To say the sommelier was sniffy is an understatement, as he informed me that “At Rust en Vrede we only list Champagne.” The tone, the attitude, the intention was, unmistakably, to suggest his superior knowledge and my lack of it. Long, low and chic, the restaurant is formed from the old cellars, with the kitchen quite literally taking centre stage. The food, billed as “a contemporary take on the classics,” was good, but as I say, unexceptional and unfortunately our waitress for the evening turned out to be every bit as unwelcoming as the sommelier, and inattentive too. It’s such a shame. Previously I’d enjoyed such a good meal, and poor service is rare in the Cape, but the experience of our party of four meant we left quite certain we would not return. The four course set menu is 830 Rand per person (2017). Open Tuesday – Saturday, evenings only.

Haskell Vineyards Long Table, Annandale Rd. Tel: +27 (0)21 881 3746
I really enjoyed my lunch here, taken on a cool and windy day, a blazing fire burned indoors, but we dined on the covered terrace enjoying the slightly damp views to the vineyard. The food here is pretty serious, cooked by chef Corli Els (ex-Guardian’s Peak, one of the region’s most respected restaurants). The ambiance is casual and relaxed. From a fairly large selection that covers one side of A4 with around 10 choices at each course, I settled pretty quickly on a dish of pickled baby beetroots served with a goat’s cheese panacotta. The pickled baby beets were fully flavoured and not too vinegary, and their dense texture and vibrant flavour sat nicely against the creamy, softly set, but well-flavoured cheese. I could have wished for a slightly more pungent flavour, but the combination was good. Served with it, a little cashew pastry with beetroot jelly was a lovely complement of textures. For my main course I opted for Venison medallions, in this case Springbok, served as several small and deliciously soft and sweet discs of loin meat, each topped with a cassis reduction studied with blueberries. Potato croquets and baby vegetables were the clever and not too heavy accompaniments. We drank the estate’s wines, which feature prominently on the wine list along with an imported selection. Three courses without wine, coffee or service will cost around 200 – 250 Rand. (2013)

Jordan Estate, Kloof Road, Stellenbosch. Tel: +27 (0)21 881 3441
When top Cape Town chef George Jardine (originally from Scotland) announced he was setting up his own restaurant on Jordan Estate it got Cape foodies buzzing, especially as Jardine himself cooks here, having moved his family to the winelands and out of the city. The dining room is a long, curving space with picture windows over the dam and vineyards, but at lunch-time we nabbed one of the coveted tables on the terrace, shaded by large parasols (dinner is served on Thursday and Friday evenings only). Jardine is an artisan and deadly serious about his food. A wood-fired oven and custom-built chargrill are at the heart of the kitchen, and a walk-in cheese store is a highlight: those who choose it are invited in to sample the home-grown and imported produce before making up their own cheese plate. From a short menu (three courses for 225 Rand), I commenced with barrel-smoked yellowtail. The fish itself was deliciously moist and flaked into delicate chunks, but a tangy shallot and garlic shoot dressing added a decisive, but not overpowering bite. I continued the fishy theme with butter-roasted hake, scented profusely with thyme, served with potatoes and fennel and rich bouillabaisse sauce. The food was relatively simple, allowing full focus on the ingredients and immaculate cooking. Jordan’s wines are available at modest mark-ups, including older vintages, but so too are a broad selection of the Cape’s best estates. A fine lunch spot this. (2010)

Terroir at Kleine Zalze, Stellenbosch. Tel: +27 (21) 880 0740
I stayed in the large but strangely gloomy hotel here on this large wine, golf and residential estate, where sleep in my fairway-side room was in interrupted before dawn each morning by lawn mowing and other groundwork. I could not put my hand on heart and recommend a stay here I must say, but it is well worth a visit to the fine dining restaurant of the estate. From a blackboard of around 16 starter and main choices, expertly explained by our server, I choose a wonderful salad of aged goat’s cheese that had been fashioned into little nut-crusted balls and gently fried so that the cheese was just giving inside, served with a glorious salad of which the main ingredient were wonderfully sweet figs that had been marinated in Port and red wine. Unctuous yet fresh, this was a terrific start to the meal. My main course fillet of beef was beautiful meat, perfectly cooked, served with a sauce of wild mushrooms and with a mushroom cream, and the steak topped with a ravioli stuffed with a creamy foie mousse. With mains at around 150 Rand and starters at around 100 there is very good value here, and a very nice wine list too – not just Kleine Zalze’s own wines, but a broad Cape selection including interesting older bottles. Boekenhoutskloof’s 2003 Semillon was absolutely a point at just over 300 Rand. Excellent coffees brought a fine lunch to a conclusion. (2010)

Guardian’s Peak, Annandale Rd, Stellenbosch. Tel: (0)21 881 3899
Another winery restaurant with breathtaking views from a large, open-fronted conservatory with indoor misting creating a cool and relaxing vibe. The menu formula is simple – once you get the hang of it. Basically it lists all of Guardian Peak’s own wines, and under each one starter and one main. You purchase the food you want, and a glass of the matching wine is included in the price. Only Guardian Peak’s own wines are served which is limiting and seems a little narrow-minded, but it is no great hardship as the decent Sauvignon Blanc and interesting Malbec-Tannat blend that I sampled were enjoyable. Choice or a BYO option would be good. I started with a half-portion of pasta, where open ravioli sheets were draped across a fresh and tasty stew of butternut squash, pumpkin seeds and onion. The pasta was soft, the flavours good, in a reasonably light lunchtime dish. For mains, loin of lamb was very tasty, charry-grilled and served on a crushed potato and chick pea base that was dense and hearty, with stewed peppers and other veggies on the side. Good espresso rounded off an enjoyable meal in a spectacular setting, where friendly service made up for a few hiccups in the smooth delivery of food. Two courses with wine and coffee for two comes in around 400 Rand. (2010)

Swartland

safmap2Hermon: Bartholomeus Klip. Tel: +27 (0)82 529 8539
This is a truly magical guest house on a working farm and reserve, not too far from the Swartland vineyards to the north, and Stellenbosch to the south, but pretty isolated from everything by the miles of dirt road needed to reach it. My visit and stay here was a brilliant experience, which will be written up separately. Though you can book in only for dinner, really the conservatory dining room is for the dozen or so guests that the farm can accommodate, with everyone on a full (and utterly delicious) board basis, starting from around £250/£300 per night depending on season. It is an absolutely beautiful destination and offers hearty but quite sophisticated food from a short menu. On my visit we kicked off with various little breads and canapés, before a lightly-grilled carpaccio of beef, cut thick and deliciously charry yet pink, with lots of pecorino shavings, a pile of deep-fried, crispy battered onion slivers and a creamy, tangy mustard dressing. This was a dish of heroic proportions, but after a day of travelling and a pre-dinner game drive, it went down very well. The main course of caramelised duck breast with braised red cabbage and a potato rosti was good, the duck moistened with an orange jus, though again portions were very large and a little more elegance on the plate would have helped. Roasted peach with vanilla yoghurt and peach chips was a thankfully lighter end to the meal, allowing us to linger over coffee and petit fours in one of the Klip’s comfortable lounges before bed. The wine list if fairly short, but very nicely chosen, and majoring on local producers so top names like Eben Sadie, AA Badenhorst, Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards and Mullineux are plentiful, and prices start from just 70 Rand rising to around 350 Rand. (2019)

Malmesbury: Bill & Co., 1 Plein St. +27 (0)82 758 3598
Co-owned by winemaker David Sadie and his brother this mini-complex is a cool and urban welcome addition to the town of Malmesbury, delicatessen, bakery, wine bar and excellent casual dining restaurant with terrace. I ate there with David and bunch of other Swartland winemakers, drinking their wines along with dinner, but that after a mammoth tasting session, so the fast-paced evening was a little bit of a blur – some detail is hazy! It’s a simple, contemporary and quite funky setting, food mostly locally sourced, much of it organic and farm-produced. Simple, hearty and tasty would be the three little words. Definitely worth a go if in the area (2019). Inexpensive, lunch every day dinner at weekends.

Riebeek Kasteel: The Royal Hotel. Tel: +27 (0)22 4481 378
The Royal is a 150-year-old Colonial hotel that dominates the small village of Riebeek Kasteel in the heart of the Swartland wine route. For this sleepy town it offers surprisingly upmarket and luxurious accommodation, and a pretty good restaurant too that is open to non-residents. I had dinner with some of the Swartland winemakers, that began with a carpaccio of ostrich with a pepperdew and orange dressing and baby leaves. There was plenty of meat on the plate, though in truth it was not particularly full flavoured, the welcome dressing and a liberal sprinkling of Parmesan shavings really were needed to add a bit of punch. To follow, I choose Kingklip, pan fried and served with pickled ginger and basil mash, and a lemon and parsley butter sauce. The generous portion of fish was fresh and well cooked, good flavour and enriched by the flavoursome sauce. The mash was silky and smooth, more of a puree, and the ginger and basil gave very good flavouring highlights. To finish, a frozen berry and vanilla terrine was really nice, just about cuttable in its fairly frozen state, to melt creamily in the mouth. A hazelnut praline was a tad limp rather than crunchy, but the flavour was good. This was not hugely refined cooking, but it was good and modern, and showed a kitchen with skill. I drank my hosts’ wines, but they tell me the wine list has really been improved and is a very good one, mostly with local wines and a good selection from the rest of the Cape, plus some European wines too. Dinner will cost around 200 – 250 Rand per person. (2017)

Hermanus / Hemel-en-Aarde

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Creation, Hemel en Aarde Rd. Tel: +27 (0)28 212 1107
Further out of town on the main winery road, this hilltop winery and restaurant had only just opened when I first visited about a decade ago. Returning in 2019 and the tasting room, restaurant and terrace were packed, it obviously having become a major tourist draw – bookings are more or less essential. As well as Creation’s wines, visitors come here for fantastic small plates of food and, in particular, the food and wine pairings devised by owner Carolyn Martin. Food and matched wine lunches are offered Monday to Saturday, open from 11am to 5pm. You can opt for wine and chocolate pairings, wine and charcuterie pairings and a number of others, or go for a more a la carte selection. The food is really very good, the first of several courses being three little bowls of different soups, the final course being an identical presentation with the three bowls this time filled with different ice creams. It’s playful, thought-provoking, and educational, but more than that, it’s delicious. Don’t miss their extensive collection of recipes online either. (2019). A tasting menu of seven small courses matched to seven wines, costs 795 Rand.

Ell at Spookfontein, 33 Hemel en Aarde Rd. Tel: +27 (0)73 067 7936
Housed within the Spookfontein winery, Ell bills itself as an “Ethical eatery” with an emphasis on organic and locally produced ingredients. It is a beautiful space, perched high on the hill with lovely views of the valley through a wall of windows, the exposed brick interior and lofty, beamed ceiling give a barn-like vibe. A large open kitchen and tasting bar sit along one wall. The food is casual, including a wood-fired pizza oven. On my visit the newly opened restaurant was not licensed, but you can buy any of Spookfontein’s wines at cellar door prices and drink them with your meal. We tasted through them and chose the excellent Cabernet Franc at 80 rand for the bottle. Some good lavache bread and dips kept us going until my ‘rustic fishcakes’ arrived – three sizeable cakes served with a creamy and tangy sauce and salad, but the fishcakes themselves were a little bit tasteless if truth be told. For dessert Pavlova was also slightly disappointing I thought: a fairly industrial disc of meringue with sliced not fabulously ripe strawberries and a slightly thin cream topping. Not entirely convincing food-wise I must say, but the setting is wonderful and this might well be worth another visit to see if the kitchen really finds its feet (2017). Around 500 rand for lunch with wine.

Newton Johnson, Hemel en Aarde Rd. Tel: +27 (0)21 200 2148
The restaurant at the excellent Pinot, Chardonnay and Syrah specialist Newton Johnson is perched high on the side of the Galpin Peak mountain, with sweeping views down the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley to the Atlantic. The estate’s wines are featured of course, but so too is a selection of other wines from the Cape. When I ate here, Chef/Patron Eric Bulpitt was in charge with his hearty fare, but since a new chef is in place, Rickey Broekhoven, whose food I have not eaten. This review is based on ny 2017 visit, so I cannot vouch for the new regime. Simply but attractively furnished to frame the best of those views, and serving breakfast, lunch and dinner on some evenings (check), it has consistently provided some of best meals of the region from the central open kitchen. I started with duck liver crème caramel, a soulful mound of creamy pâté, with a caramel glaze, served in a little pool of thyme-flavoured caramel sauce with shards of sourdough toast. Delicious and filling, but thankfully I had plenty of capacity for a stand-out main course: aged Chalmar beef sirloin, so wonderfully rare, but melt-in-the-mouth soft, just the merest caramelisation of the outer edges, served with onions ‘cooked as tagliatelle’ in long, thin strips and a wood sorrel sauce. Dessert was the denouement of a great meal – 70% cocoa chocolate soufflé served with berry ice cream and crème Anglaise, inspiring several other onlooking diners to rethink their dessert order. With glasses of bubbly then of Newton Johnson’s excellent Rhone blend, water and coffee, the bill totted up to 800 rand (2017).

Lemon Butta, Village Square, Marine Drive. Tel: +27 (28) 312 3611
Note: now apparently renamed ‘Lemonicious’ I am not sure if the ownership or style of food is the same as in my 2017 visit. This busy first floor restaurant in the centre of Hermanus offers an unusual Japanese/Italian/seafood mix that on my very brief experience was reasonably well done. It’s a large, open space with an open kitchen at one end and is definitely not the place for a quiet dinner a deux. Having eaten so well at Newton Johnson during the day we really weren’t at all hungry, so a 50cl pitcher of Seven Springs Sauvignon Blanc and a stack of tempura king prawns was ordered. The tempura batter was good, though could have been just a touch crisper, but the prawns were big, succulent and nicely prepared and cooked, with a zesty and spicy Tonkatsu dipping sauce. The total bill with water and service was well under 400 rand. (2017)

The Pavilion at the Marine Hotel, Hermanus. Tel: +27 28 313 1000
I’ll leave this review in place for now, but ironically I returned to the Pavilion to have the exceptionally good (and good value) tasting dinner only to be informed part way through an absolutely delightful meal that it was their last ever evening, and next day it was closing to be re-opened as a casual bistro. I have to say that’s such a shame, as the food was every bit as good, the wine matches excellent, and the service impeccable (though one report has reached me that the Bistro is still excellent). It’s true, however, that on a Friday evening on a big holiday weekend for the Cape, we were one of only three tables occupied in a restaurant that must have the capacity for 60 or more. I guess that tells the story, but for dishes like Franschhoek salmon trout crème brûlée with basil and orange noodles, wakame salad and crispy rice cakes there is still the option of visiting the Pavilion’s sister restaurant where I believe the ‘fine dining’ concept is to be retained, the Greenhouse in Constantia – see above. (2017)

The West Coast (Paternoster)

safmap2The reviews in this section come from idyllic trips to the beautiful, peaceful West Coast in 2013, 2015 and 2017, when I stayed in the elegant Strandloper Ocean boutique hotel.

Noisy Oyster, 62 St Augustine Road. Tel: +27 (0)22 752 2196
Widely regarded as one of the best places in town, the Noisy Oyster did not disappoint with excellent food and a lovely atmosphere. Perched close to the main crossroads in this tiny town, enter and you will almost certainly be shown through the restaurant and out into a lovely garden setting where a large open fire and various fire-pits warm up the chill of the evening and enough fairy lights to illuminate Cape Town are twined round every tree. Seating is on picnic style benches and tables which, with plenty of cushions, are comfortable enough. The nearby port of Saldanha provides the oysters which for many are a must have here, but I personally avoid the bivalves after a bad experience, so instead went for fillets of pan-fried sardines with an aioli dip: delicious, fantastically fresh and the aioli nicely pungent and herby too. For my main course, a whole stumpnose – a freshly caught white fish – was succulent and juicily delicious, just perfectly cooked, served with a mound of rustic potato wedges and a tangy pesto-like sauce. My partner’s fillet of Cob was also pronounced delicious. Our waitress said we must have dessert, and as her stumpnose recommendation had been so good I succumbed, a good choice with the chocolate and almond torte full of flavour and texture from nibbed almond throughout, a scoop of very good and rich vanilla ice cream perfect with it too. A bottle of Reyneke Organic white at 180 Rand and coffees gave a total bill, including service, still under 600 Rand in total. (2017)

Strandloper Ocean Lounge, Patterson Slot. Tel: +27 (0)22 752 2237
The Strandloper Ocean is the town’s only 5* boutique hotel (where we stayed and thoroughly enjoyed our sea facing suite). I am not entirely sure that the restaurant here opens every night, though possibly it does in the peak summer season: on my visit the Saturday night ‘Crayfish special’ seemed to be the only evening opening. The atmosphere was certainly lovely in the beach-facing dining room, lit by candles and fairy lights, sparkling off crisp white linen, crystal and silverware. A mix of hotel and outside guests occupied the eight or so tables. An amuse bouche of a very spicy and tasty gazpacho, herby olive focaccia and a tsatsiki-like dip slipped down a treat before a first course (chosen from a very limited menu) of spicy tiger prawns, roasted in plenty of garlic and olive oil and served with a spicy and pungent pil-pil (garlic and chilli) sauce. The prawns were good, but the sauce perhaps just overpowering their delicate flavour. Next up, the crayfish: a real speciality of Paternoster with small boats landing them and street hawkers offering them live, straight from the boats. These were hugely meaty and delicious, served with a caper butter and a mound of slightly incongruous mashed potato. The Malva pudding to finish was glorious – a Cape speciality sponge pudding flavoured with apricot jam, this one particularly light and deliciously doused in a light syrup. Wines are limited to a handful of choices with all five white choices, oddly, from one estate: Steenberg in faraway Constantia. The Sauvignon Blanc cost 180 Rand, whilst dinner came in around 300 Rand per person. This was a nice evening, though the food rated as ‘good’ rather than great overall. (2017)

Voorstrand, Strandloper Street, 7381. Tel: +27 (0)22 7522 038
To describe Voorstrand as a ‘beach hut’ would be a little romantic/disingenuous: though the bright red wooden building is built right on the beach (and thus its terrace is a very popular place for sundowners) it is a fairly slick and professional operation. I could see into its busy, well-staffed and well-equipped kitchen and waiting staff work with practised efficiency. Still the beach-hut vibe is played up with very simple decor, tables and chairs, oil lamps providing the only light after dark. I really enjoyed my meal here because it has a very nice atmosphere and the food was tasty and cheap (just what was needed after a week of conspicuous gourmet consumption) but if truth be told it is basically pub food done well: my ‘tempura prawns’ were not tempura at all, but simply dressed in breadcrumbs and, I suspect, had come prepared by another industrial kitchen. With my fish (very good, fried with a lemon butter sauce) were some obviously not hand-cut catering chips, and cheese cake for dessert was very good but again, I suspect not home made. With a bottle of the top priced white wine on the list (Sauvignon Blanc at 120 Rand) and coffees the meal cost less than 400 Rand. Definitely not haute cuisine, more like pub food, and other restaurants in Paternoster did much better food, but still I enjoyed this meal and Voorstrand and, given those caveats, would recommend it. (2017)

Rueben’s at the Abalone House Hotel, 3 Kriedoring St. Tel: +27 (0)22 752 2044
What an odd place. The hotel is known for its idiosyncratic charm, and the indoor dining room certainly reflects that: chintzy and hushed, it is crowded with ‘stuff’ – furniture and knick-knacks – and the lighting is so poor from table lamps that I saw two tables trying to read the menu by the light of their smart-phone. The food did not live up to the original Reuben’s in Franschhoek on my visit either sadly, being competent bistro fare by and large, pork belly well cooked but potatoes slightly burnt and a ginger-flavoured sauce a slightly odd choice. It’s probably the most expensive restaurant in Paternoster too, which all adds up to a less than happy picture. I might try it again for lunch on the terrace some time. (2015)

Gaaitjie, off Sampson Street. Tel: +27 (0)22 752 2242
A beach-front restaurant, Gaaitjie (pronounced Hai-tee) is a small 1940s cottage now running as two dining rooms, with an open kitchen in the middle, where chef/proprietor Suzi Holtzhausen and her team focus on local ingredients, particularly seafood, served with bubbling enthusiasm by front of house manager Letitia who could, I suspect, sell coals to Newcastle. The decor is simple and minimal, with white-washed walls and simple wooden tables, and one immediately gets the impression that this place is serious about its food. A little pot-baked loaf of lovely bread with caramelised onions and sesame seeds was brought to the table as we chose from the short menu. I choose an Angelfish Sambal, that was sensationally good: a fine, warm tower mixing flaked fish, avocado and finely chopped spring onion and other vegetables was wrapped in a paper thin omelette and doused in a gently curried dressing and sprinkling of what I think were Nigella seeds. A sweet chutney studded with crisp vegetable flakes added more texture and flavour to an absolutely superb and explosively tasty starter. I then made a big mistake: after four straight nights of all fish and seafood meals, I decided the fillet of beef with a rich and deep Chasseur sauce was the way to go with a glass of red wine. It was good – very good perhaps – but I think the fish dishes would have been more exciting. To finish, a lovely plum and apple crumble with vanilla ice cream. The menu is very local (and prides itself on being so) from Swartland and Darling, and we drank by the glass white and red, at around 30 Rand per generous glass. The total including service came to around 600 Rand, for a very good meal that would probably have been even better had I chosen more wisely, but the seriousness of the intentions and focus on ingredients makes this one not to miss. 225 Rand for three courses. Open Thursday to Sunday only for lunch and dinner. (2013)

The Garden Route

Some reviews in this section date from way back 2006, but all three are still receiveing good reviews as of June 2020.

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Knysna: 34 South, The Waterfront. Tel: +27 (0)44 382 7331
God, this place was disappointing. Right on the waterfront in Knysna, a bustling town on the garden route, 34 South is a delicatessen, wine shop, wine bar and restaurant complex where I’d eaten an excellent ‘Pacific Rim’ style light and fresh meal a decade before. It’s tables still spill onto a wharfside terrace, but developement of the region makes it feel crammed, touristy and over-commercial. Unfortunately that rings true on the food on my 2019 return visit: the foodie ambience and menus and blackboards still promise a gastronomic experience, but nothing could be further from the truth, with poor and lacklustre food and very inattentive and chaotic service. A smoked chicken and avocado salad had a processed feel, the house wine was only just palatable, though cheesecake and Illy coffee were as good as they could be. But the fact is 34 South’s cooking doesn’t elevate above others on the touristy Knysna’s waterfront. (2019)

Knysna: East Head Café, 25 George Rex Drive. Tel: +27 (0)44 384 0933
The Knysna Heads is a scenic area, overlooking the Knysna lagoon, and a short drive or taxi from the town centre. We stayed in the area and were delighted to discover this fabulous café, much more than a café really, as it serves a full range of meals in the large dining room, but preferably, on the outdoor terrace with views over the lagoon. Seated there are rustic picnic tables, chilled water and our bottle of Badenhorst’s ‘Secateurs’ Chenin arrived promptly while we enjoyed the sun and the view and perused the short menu. Fish and chips seemed to be what 9 out of 10 people were having, and it did look delicious, but we went for the fat, juicy, prawn tempura, the batter puffy and crisp, and served with sticky coconut rice and three little bowls of Asian dipping sauces, the whole thing a delight. Sharing a baked vanilla cheescake to finish with coffees, the bill was less than 800 Rand (£40) and showed even more starkly what a tourist trap 34 South had become (2019). Open daily from breakfast through lunch.

Knysna: 2 Stories at the Mount Knysna Hotel, 5 Glen View Rd. Tel: +27 (0)44 384 1217
Up in the cliffs of the Kynsna Heads, again this is out of town but we were staying a few doors along in one of many boutique accomodations that line this street, with their stunning views over the coast, so we booked it for our first night’s stay. The restaurant has an open kitchen dominating the room, with most tables affording view to the coast. There was a slightly amateurish feel to the service I confess (our waiter turned out to be the owner’s teenage son), but the welcome was warm and food good, the talented young chef and her assistant working at pace. The menu is fairly short, and seasonal, though steaks are a speciality. After a fresh and good quality Caprese salad, with flavoursome tomatoes, I chose the Pepper Flambé, a 250g fillet steak, seared in the pan and service with a reduced creamy and peppercorn sauce, flambéed and reduced. It was excellent, a fine quality of meat and good creaminess to the sauce. It’s a short and unremarkable wine list, but there is certainly enough choice to suit most, we opted for a bottle of Vergelegen reserve red, and the whole bill came in under 1,000 Rand (2019). Open to non-residents with prior booking.

Plettenberg Bay: Seafood at the Plettenberg, 40 Church St. Tel: +27 (0)44 533 2030
The Plettenberg is the top hotel in the pretty seaside town of Plettenberg Bay. We’d reserved, requesting a table on the terrace overlooking the ocean, but when we arrived it was packed and we could only sit inside with a partial ocean view. A bit disappointing, but through the rest of the meal a procession of less reasonable guests turned up, demanding they be seated outside, including one irrate older gentleman who dragged a heavy chair out onto the terrace and insisted they then provide a table for him. Mr Angry might be an exception, but throughout our meal arriving guests caused a fuss about the issue, and I imagine similar scenes are a regular occurence. It really distracted the staff, spoiled our enjoyment, and makes me wonder why the restaurant does not have a better system in place. Anyway: onto the food. On a hot summer’s day, for lunch, I began with an heirloom tomato gazpacho which was cooling, zippy and fresh, with little studs of pickled tomato, pine nuts, peas and edible flowers possibly unnecessary, but on balance, welcome additions. Nearby Plettenberg is the source of much of the seafood and sustainable fish on the menu – though there are meat choices too. I opted for homeade linguine, served with a rich broth of mussels, calamari and prawns, and spiced with chorizo. It was very good. The wine list at all of the top restaurants in this chain is good. We kicked of with glasses of l’Ormarins MCC at 80 Rand each, then a bottle of the always excellent Sauvignon Blanc from Iona Estate at 430 Rand. If you can avoid the distraction of squabbling guests, a refined and lovely place to lunch (2019). Open seven days, lunch and dinner.

Wilderness: Serendipity, Freesia Avenue. Tel: +27 (0)44 877 0433
Since opening in 2001, Lizelle and Rudolf are a husband and wife team who have made Serendipity into the “Top 100” of all South African restaurants in the 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 wine Spectator restaurant guides. Lizelle is an ex-teacher at the Prue Leith School of cookery, who operates her fine dining restaurant from two rooms and the domestic kitchen of her parent’s beautiful home on the shore of the Lagoon at Wilderness, one of the most beautiful parts of the Garden Route. Despite the domestic setting this is a very slick and professional operation, with leather-bound menus and wine list, beautifully dressed tables and a small army of staff. I have to say my dinner was excellent, and up with the best that Cape Town and Franschhoek can offer. The nouvelle South African cuisine is beautifully done, like my salad of warm caramelised baby onions, served with a green salad and shaved Pecorino and Biltong (dried beef) doused in a vivid dressing. After a creamy butternut soup and sweet and tangy pineapple sorbet, my main course of fig & bacon-stuffed pork loin was superbly cooked, with crackling intact. For dessert, I chose a milky, baked Malva pudding, which had been doused with syrup and enriched with cinnamon, served with home-made nutmeg ice cream. With a bottle of Fairview “Oom Pagel” Viognier, coffees and petit-fours, the bill for two came to less than 500 Rand. (2006)

George: The Old Townhouse, 20 Market Street. Tel: +27 (0)44 874 3663
There’s an old-school feel about the Old Townhouse, with its dark wooden interior and schmaltzy background music, but the aromas from the kitchen where very welcoming and in fact this established local restaurant turned out very solid, well-cooked food from prime ingredients. My fillet steak was from Karoo beef and was of excellent quality, served with a little courgette and cauliflower filo basket and some good fried potato wedges. A double chocolate cheesecake went down very nicely, layered with coconut and with a very thin pastry base. The wine list is really quite good and well-chosen, and there were no complaints at all when I sent back a corked bottle of Whale Haven Pinot Noir, with the owner taking pains to make sure the second bottle was sound. Moderately priced, a little middle-aged and frumpy for some tastes I’m sure, but a good kitchen and friendly welcome deserve praise. (2006)