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 ten times since 2002, and the 50 reviews here mostly date from visits in 2023 and 2021. All are still open for business at time of writing.

 

Cape Town

Reviews below from 2023

Cape Town: Bobo’s, Two Oceans Beach, Mouille Point
Mouille Point is an area I’ve visited for many years, its landmark red and white striped lighthouse dominating the esplanade. Just along the road, Bobo’s served as a very acceptable first night dinner choice. It’s a large and quite glamorous restaurant and bar, with a wall of glass facing the ocean. Four of us enjoyed a bottle of De Grendel’s ‘Proposal Hill’ Brut sparkling Cap Classique on the outside terrace before moving through for dinner. Having lunched, we shared starters and desserts. To begin, a portion of large butter-basted garlic prawns with a sizzling chilli and lemon sauce piqued the appetite, then I opted for fish of the day (sea bass) with a cucumber ceviche, garlic alioli and more chilli. The shared dessert of a burnt lemon tart (treated like a crème brûlée) with Greek yoghurt ice cream was good, as was the 2021 ‘Janina’ Chardonnay from Eikendal. Two of the party enjoyed a glass of Vin de Constance with dessert, and the whole bill came out at 1800 Rand per couple including service (about £90).

Cape Town: Aubergine, 39 Barnet St, Gardens
Aubergine is a great survivor. While so many of Cape Town’s trendiest restaurants that I enjoyed on my first visit more than 20 years ago have gone, Aubergine has the same chef, much of the same team, and just delivers time and time again: I never miss it on a visit to the city. A combination of great food and an exceptional wine list, with a wonderfully warm, relaxed hospitality is the order of the day here. There is a multi-course tasting menu, but we chose a la carte on this occasion. Settling in with a bottle of the superb, 48-month aged ‘Ashley’ Cap Classique from Ambeloui, breads and nibbles arrived before my first course proper: loin and leg of rabbit, with slices of creamy loin meat contrasting against little strips of crackling, all on a bed of richly flavoured puy lentils. We drank the superb Ridge Chardonnay from Storm wines with this. For my main course, springbok which is always a real favourite: locally referred to as venison, it is a little less gamy than venison back home, but with wonderful texture and flavour. The Chamonix Pinot Noir from 2008 was one of the gems on the list here, and was superb. Dessert was based around roasted peaches, which were such a good match with the Olerasay straw wine from Mullineux, but before that we couldn’t resist sharing a selection of artisan South African cheeses, and a fascinating half bottle of tawny port from 2008, made as a joint project between Dirk Neipoort and Eben Sadie. With coffees (and there was a bottle of Porseleinberg Syrah in there somewhere too) the bill came to 14,000 rand per couple, expensive for South Africa at around £700, but we had gone very large on the wines which accounted for most of it!

Cape Town: Zest, 2nd floor Piazza Da Luz, 94 Regent Rd, Sea Point
A relatively new restaurant that occupies the top floor of a boutique hotel in Sea Point. One of its big draws is its dining room, open (in summer) to a broad rooftop terrace looking out to sea. Another is that most dishes are cooked on a wood-fired grill, and almost all dishes can be ordered as small or large portions. Putting together a tapas-like selection is as easy as three more regular course. Four of us shared four small plates to start, with a bottle of rosé Cap Classique from Le Lude, that included a fresh and zingy citrus tea-cured linefish with cucumber, radish, dill, and a soy-lime dressing, and some smoky wood-fired roast tomatoes with ricotta and fresh basil. My favourite was charred sweet potato served with crumbled feta and sweetly-roasted walnuts. My main course was a fairly substantial tranche of salmon, cooked on the wood-fired grill so the skin was crisp and crackling-like, but the flesh soft. It came with a slightly pedestrian romesco purée, but grilled cauliflower was nicely cooked alongside. We also drank a bottle of Chardonnay from Capensis Silene in Stellenbosch, quite a bold and buttery style, and along with bottled water, some veggie side dishes and a couple of desserts, the bill of 1800 Rand per couple including tip (around £90) was very fair.

The Pot Luck Club, 375 Albert Rd.
The Old Biscuit Mill is a shopping and dining complex in the slowly gentrifying Woodstock industrial area of the city, its most famous tenant being Luke Roberts’ ‘The Test Kitchen’. The Pot Luck Club is part of Roberts’ mini-empire, a casual and buzzing rooftop restaurant reached by a glass-walled lift. The concept is small plates, mixed and matched and served in an order determined by the kitchen once you have chosen your three or four dishes per person. Our party of four assembled quite an array, favourites being seared tuna in a Tom Yum broth, flavoured with basil oil and served with a tamarind sambal (an Indonesian chilli sauce). Crispy squid lulled the palate into a false sense of security with a creamy sweetcorn accompaniment, then a double whammy of spicy Nduja Sausage and even spicier XO Sauce delivered a powerful kick. Voted best dish of the evening, was one of two specials: rock lobster, with a generous portion of steamed tail meat served in lettuce ‘parcels’, and again employing more delicate spicing and eastern flavourings. There are puddings too, ‘Eton Mess’ being predictably not your standard version, but a deconstructed plate featuring crème fraîche Ice cream, fresh strawberry and lemon sorbet, dotted with burnt marshmallow, hibiscus jellies and drizzled with rosé syrup. Most of the plates cost around 150 – 200 rand, though the lobster was 600. From a good list we drank really well, with the Venus, a brut nature from Le Lude at 1900 rand, Alheit’s ‘Cartology’ at 1150, and Restless River’s ‘Ave Maria’ Chardonnay at 1300. Open seven days, lunch only on Sunday’s

Review below from 2021 and 2019

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.

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 950 Rand per person.

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 Colombe as one of South Africa’s best. When he announced he was leaving La Colombe 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. This simple, thatched and bare stone-walled restaurant serves breakfast and lunch daily, wityh a tapas dinner menu from Tuesday to Saturday. The simple cooking that retains a lot of finesse, but focuses on prime ingredients with just a few bells and whistles. My prawns with lemon butter were delicious, with basically Thai flavours running across plump, succulent, de-shelled large prawns. My favourite dish was probably the raviolis with a black truffle with a mushroom filling. It was cooked beautifully, and the light broth in which it was served was suffused with herbs. 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 and corkage is charged at 40 Rand.

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 £6. Simple but tasty.

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.

Notes from 2023 and 2021

Cape Town: Beyond at Buitenverwachting, 37 Klein Constantia Rd
Executive chef Peter Tempelhoff has been a leading light in the Western Cape’s dining scene for as long as I have been visiting (well over 20 years), but is a relatively new incumbent at Buitenverwachting’s fine dining restaurant. I’ve always loved this space, particularly securing an outside table on a broad terrace overlooking the central courtyard of this historic Cape property, sunlight dappled through ancient oaks, a fountain tinkling alongside a chorus of birdsong. Food is always good. At lunch we decided on the two course for 545 Rand menu, which includes a ’chef’s appetizer’ and petit fours. We couldn’t resist adding a lobster tempura to share, served with a spicy Japanese mayonnaise, along with some terrific roasted sweet potato bread and rosemary butter. The chef’s appetizer was a wonderfully tangy little quinoa salad, and then on to the two course proper: buratta with an avocado and tomato salad and tomato espuma. A jarring note was a dressing added at the table, far too heavy with truffle oil flavour, and the dish would have been much better without it. On the other hand, pan-seared kingclip with a lobster velouté was dish of the day; beautifully cooked fish and a seductive sauce studded with little portions of buttery lobster. Wine list encompasses many producers alongside Buitenverwachting’s own.

Bistro Sixteen 82 at Steenberg, Tokai Road 7945.
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 three courses, before wine or service, will cost around 700 Rand per person. Open for breakfast, lunch and early evening only.

La Colombe, Silvermist Estate, Main Road, Constantia.
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 tasting lunch was terrific (1595 Rand per person). 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 £300 for two, which is at the very top end of Cape pricing.

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.

Notes from 2023 and 2021

La Petit Colombe, Leeu Estate.
Since I last ate here in 2019 the whole operation has moved out of Franschhoek town to the majestic surroundings of the seriously manicured Leeu Estate, luxury home to hotel, restaurants and the Leeu-Passant winery. The formula is much the same, and that is the choice of a 14 course ‘Chef’s Experience’, or the reduced menu, which drops four small courses. We went large at 1,795 Rand (about £85 per person) but make no mistake, this is 3* Michelin standard, where such tasting menus in Europe or the USA now run to £300 or more. I won’t attempt to list all the courses, but suffice to say each was exquisite, with not a bum note throughout the whole five hour experience. The first three snack courses are taken with drinks in the lounge, and set the tone for a great meal. My favourite may have been the ‘green olives’, actually a liquid melange of olive oil capers, frozen into olive shapes, then coated with savoury cocoa butter to form a crisp shell. That shell popped in the mouth to release a tsunami of salty, peppery, fruity flavour. Of the courses then taken in the dining room, duck liver (foie) was served as a domino sized block, sandwiched between slices of guava and a Macademia nut crust. Another standout was a quail and langoustine roulade with a cauliflower cream, that had been infused with tandoori spices and flavours. Desserts were stunning – three in all – but it didn’t end there as a sweet trolly was trundled round; a pun really, as this was filled with bijoux little cones of various delicacies and playful tiny chocolate bars. There’s a great wine list, and as this is definitely special occasion dining we did not stint. The sommelier’s recommendation of the fine ‘Lyle’ Cap Classique from Stony Brook in Franschhoek was excellent: very Champagne like, biscuity but dry, then one of the wines of the trip, the Earthborn Chardonnay from Kevin Grant’s Ataraxia estate which was stunningly good. Eben Sadie’s Palladius, the Earthborn Pinot, and a half of Delheim Edelspatz noble Riesling completed an indulgent line-up. With coffees, waters and service, the final bill totted up to a hefty 8,000 rand per couple (about £400) it was brilliant and would have been at least double that price in a Michelin 2 star in the UK

Protégé, Le Quartier Français hotel.
Here 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 Springbok, 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 1195 rand per person, but I rather enjoyed the ‘reduced tasting menu’ (895 Rand per person) 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.

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.

Reviews from 2023 and 2021

In town

Stellenbosch: Sofia Eatery, 7 Church Street
Though Sofia does open for lunch and early dinner, it was one of our favourite breakfast spots. A pavement table lets you watch busy Church street’s comings and goings, shaded from the sun, and enjoy delicious and inventive breakfasts. Highlights for me? Undoubtedly French toast brioche with caramelised pear and ginger, and a dollop of mascarpone that melts into the toffee sauce. Yum. Healthier and still delicious was smashed avocado on ciabatta, topped with scrambled egg and slivers or Parma ham. With coffees and fresh-squeezed orange juice, two will eat breakfast for 350 rand.

De Warenmarkt, Corner Ryneveld and Plein Streets.
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. 700 – 800 Rand for two. Open seven days, Sunday closes at 3pm.

The Fat Butcher, 1 Van Riebeeck St.
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. Closed Sundays.

Stellenbosch winelands

Reviews below from 2023

Stellenbosch: Good to Gather or Rozendal Farm
Sited in the biodynamic Rozendal winery and vinagrier, Good to Gather is an intimate restaurant where you dine en famille under the shade of the courtyard oak trees. It is run by husband-and-wife team Luke Grant, who takes care of service, with wife Jess Shepherd in the kitchen. We were a party of six, with two other larger groups and one or two couples – maybe 24 or 30 maximum covers. The concept here is hyper-local, with many fruits, vegetables and herbs supplied from their own garden, and meats, breads and other items sourced from local artisan producers. The menu changes weekly, sometimes daily depending on produce, and is served as three no-choice courses. Appearing first, several platters featuring excellent sourdough, a smokey baba ganoush, warmed kalamata olives from Tokara estate, a fabulous heirloom tomato galette with sourcream pastry, and a salad that included goats cheese, parmesan, toasted pine nuts and watercress salad. Every item was packed with flavour and presented beautifully. The main event of the evening was a dish laden with thick-cut slices from a whole roast beef tenderloin, melt in the mouth tender, with lovely hot dishes of garden carrots, barley orzotto, courgette and fennel with preserved lemon, and green beans topped with crispy shallots. There was more, but it was an embarrassment of riches. At dessert there is a choice: I opted for an apple and hazelnut tart served with ice cream, which was delicious. There is a short and rather good wine list, but corkage at 85 rand (£4) per bottle can be arranged. The dinner itself costs only 450 rand per person (little over £21), and for the quality of food and charm of the experience, is an unbeatable value and not to be missed option around Stellenbosch.

Stellenbosch: Delaire Graff, R310, Helshoogte Pass
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 eaten 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. On a sunny Saturday lunch we settled in on the terrace with the fine Cap Classique fizz, Armilla from Avondale, 2015 vintage, with a selection of breads, dips and nibbles. For my first course from a short menu with around four choices per course, I chose sundried tomato and ricotta toretellini, folded into shards of Parmesan with a mirepoix of tenderstem broccoli, oak smoked Stanford asparagus, with a pine nut and mustard dressing. It really was lovely, the comparative meatiness of the tortollini filling against the piquant flavours of the vegetables. Mains were a tough choice too, but finally oak-fired Bonsmara beef, cut into delectable slices of thick fillet, won the day. With it, a deep, Sherry-enriched jus and a small pile of celeriac and braised leeks, but do not miss the truffled chips as a side order. We drank Rustenberg’s Peter Barlow with that at 1,350 rand per bottle. Dessert was delightful, a caramel tart with pistachio, cherries, and crème fraiche ice cream. With bottled water, coffees and petit fours, a total bill of 5,000 rand including service (around £240) for two was high by Cape standards, but the views, food and service are world class.

Stellenbosch: 96 Winery Road
The name of the restaurant and the address of this winelands pioneering restaurant off the R44 between Somerset West & Stellenbosch. It has always been a place for substantial and honest food 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. Since my last visit in 2019 a small plates menu has been added, offering plenty of choice for lighter eaters. Excellent wine list and BYOB, and prices are moderate.

Stellenbosch: Postcard Café, Stark Conde winery
Set within the immaculate grounds of Stark-Conde, 10 minutes from Stellenbosch town, there is a tasting room, restaurant, and more casual café for light bites, cakes & coffee, and of course, wine. All are arranged around a beautiful lake, with swathes of colourful gardens all around. We had a very simple lunch in the café, which is only open until 4pm each day. Sharing a plate of three local cheeses – hard, soft rind and blue – with melba toasts and figs with a glass of the pleasant field blend white, then coffees with over-sized canalé, the Bordeaux cakes that are a traditional way to use up the egg yolks from the ‘fining’ of wines in barrel using egg whites. Not exceptional, but thoroughly pleasant, and 350 rand (£16) all-in.

Stellenbosch: Clos Malverne winery restaurant, Devon Valley Road
Fabulous vistas from the broad terrace here, worth the price of the meal alone. There are various themed options including an ice-cream and wine pairing session, but a simple (or more elaborate) lunch (or dinner on Fridays and Saturdays only). We lunched and wanted to keep things light, so enjoyed a starter course and dessert, skipping mains. A complimentary glass of house fizz is a nice way to settle in, then my tempura tiger prawns were lovely: only three large prawns, but lots of shaved fennel and pepper and a nutty sesame dressing were lovely. My partner’s seared tuna was pronounced as ‘good’ rather than great. My dessert, however, was a triumph: baked hazelnut praline cheesecake, drizzled in toffee with little studs of light-as-a-feather cocoa meringues and candied orange peel. Very yummy. With two glasses of house Chardonnay, water and coffee, the bill of 600 rand for two (£30) was excellent value.

Somerset West:The Stables at Vergelegen Estate, Lourensford Rd.
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. The Stables is 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.

Somerset West: Chorus at Waterkloof, Sir Lowry’s Pass.
Another of my very favourite dining experiences is to take lunch in this remarkable, towering glass box (air-conditioned) that sits amid the vineyards high above the towns of Somerset West and Strand, with outstanding views to Gordon’s Bay. Food has always been excellent, but in October 2022, well-known chef, Bertus Basson, added the restaurant to his empire and renamed it ‘Chorus’. Food was really good, though I would say not quite matching the best meals I have had there over the years. No formal notes were taken at this lunch, but I wouldn’t hestitate to go: the experience is fabulous because of those views and the building, and the food will certainly be good. Waterkloof’s own wines feature, but not exclusively. Menus start at 895 rand per person. Closed Mondays, lunch every other day, dinner Thursday to Saturday.

Reviews below form 2021

Stellenbosch: Rust en Vrede Estate, Annandale Rd. 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 more recent 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, 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 a put down. 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. 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 set menu is 990 Rand per person. Open Tuesday – Saturday, evenings only.

Stellenbosch: Jordan Estate, Kloof Road. Tel: +27 (0)21 881 3441
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.

The West Coast (Paternoster) and Swartland

safmap2The reviews in this section come from idyllic trips to the beautiful, peaceful West Coast, just 90 minutes north of Cape Town.

Reviews below from 2023

Hermon: Bartholomeus Klip
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.

Paternoster: Ah! Guest House, 1 Mosselbank St
This small guest house yards from the beach is an immaculate and comfortable place to stay, but the real bonus here is arranging with owner/chef Arnold to have dinner there, prepared by Arnold and his partner Annalise. Note that he cooks only once or twice per week, so being flexible with dates is essential – but well worth it. This was among the best meals of our entire trip, taken family style around a long table in the kitchen. First course was a fabulous ballotine of quail and pistachio, served with a dumpling of leg meat, the plate dotted with tangy lemon jelly and a rich reduction. One of my favourite dishes of the evening was an open lasagne, the pasta made fresh as we sat and chatted, and then draped around the richest ragu, just packed with flavour. The main course was beef, cooked sous-vide but than pan-roasted in plenty of butter, with creamy mash and a savoury dukah. Bringing a superb meal to an end, Arnold described it as tiramisu, but in fact it was a beautifully set panacotta, flavoured as a tiramisu, with a tuille shard and shortbready crumb. There is a small selection of wines to purchase, but BYO is welcome too. Breakfast is also epic.

Paternoster: The Noisy Oyster, 62 St Augustine Rd
80% of the charm of the Noisy Oyster, where we always eat on a visit to Paternoster, is the setting: all tables are in a twinkling outdoor courtyard, festooned with fairy lights and with wood-burning fireplaces dotted throughout to take the chill off of the evening if necessary. Food is very good, in a comfort food style, without hitting the gastro-heights. On this visit I started with pan-seared baby calamari, that had been tossed in a lemony basil pesto with caperberries and a sprinkle of breadcrumbs to add texture. Following up, hake was simply but very nicely roasted, a nutty, buttery exterior concealing beautifully flaky fish. It was served on a bed of new potatoes, green beans and tomato. The wine list is short and to the point, and not particularly local (we are close to Swartland here), but the pink from Waterkloof at 240 rand (£12) and unusual Chardonnay/Pinot Noir white from Haut-Cabriere at 260 rand hit the spot. With desserts, water and coffee, the bill for four came to 2,100 rand – a little under £100 before tip.

Paternoster: The Waffle Wharf, 25 St Augustine Rd, Bek Bay
So, throwing this in as an extra rather than a full recommendation, as all we had was a beer and a shared portion of tempura hake ‘fish fingers’ with homemade tartare sauce. Delicious they were too, the batter crisp and the fish moistly melting in the mouth. It’s part of a development of the old fish canning factory into galleries, shopping and eating at one end of town, and a visit makes for a pleasant few hours.

Reviews below from 2019

Riebeek Kasteel: The Royal Hotel.
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 cookedT. 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. 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 is a very good one.

Paternoster: Voorstrand, Strandloper Street, 7381
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. With a bottle of the top priced white wine on the list (Sauvignon Blanc at 120 Rand) and coffees the meal cost less than 500 Rand. Definitely not haute cuisine, but for what it is I could recommend it.

Paternoster: Gaaitjie, off Sampson Street.
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, and one immediately gets the impression that this place is serious about its food. A little pot-baked loaf of 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. 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 locally sourced, and most of the wines too. The total including service came to around 700 Rand with two large glasses of wine, for a very good meal that would probably have been even better had I chosen more wisely. Open Thursday to Sunday only for lunch and dinner.

Hermanus / Hemel-en-Aarde

Reviews from 2023 and 2021

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Hermanus: Lemonicious, Village Square, Marine Drive
Once know as ‘Lemon Butta’, the food and ambiance remains much the same as my previous visit in 2017. It’s a busy first floor restaurant in the centre of Hermanus offering an extremely eclectic mix from sushi to burgers, but usually 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, but on the other hand it has beautiful views out to Walker Bay and friendly, efficient service. Tempura king prawns were very good, the batter nice and fluffy and crisp, the prawns big and succulent, served with a zesty and spicy dipping sauce. We’d taken along some red wine (BYO 30 Rand per bottle), so went for the fillet steak, nicely charry and cooked as requested, served with crunchy onion rings and unexciting but absolutely acceptable French fries. With sparkling water and 2 bottles of corkage to cover, the total bill including service was 700 rand for two (£35).

Hermanus: The Pavilion at the Marine Hotel, Marine Drive
Twenty years ago I had one of the best meals of my first South African trip at Hermanus’s grand Marine hotel. But that fine dining restaurant closed and was replaced by one that disappointed on two subsequent visits, so it was struck off the list. However I’d heard that there had been another regime change and the food was much simpler, but back on track, so we gave it a go – and I’m glad I did. Don’t get me wrong; this is not quite a destination restaurant that demands a visit, but the food, service and atmosphere were all good – and it offers BYO at 100 rand (£5). I’m a sucker for a soufflé, and was doubly blessed with a starter twice-baked version with a cheese foundue sauce and slivers of brandy caramelised apple. It was good, but the dessert version: passion fruit curd soufflé with frozen white chocolate ice cream and ginger biscuit was better, especially when a chocolate caramel sauce was drizzled over. In between I went for Bontebok, as we’d taken along a mature Syrah from Seven Springs to drink. Three chunky discs of loin meat were served with crispy potatoes, grilled zucchini, and a rich onion marmalade, though the pool of butternut purée it all sat in was perhaps a step too far. Still, it was a fine evening and such a modest bill for these surroundings, running to around 500 rand (£25) per person for food only.

Hermanus: Spookfontein, 33 Hemel en Aarde Rd
Housed within the Spookfontein winery, the emphasis is 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. Only Spookfontein’s own wines featured on the short lunchtime list, at close to cellar door prices. We tried the Chardonnay at 300 rand (£15), though the wine was fine, but relatively unexciting. We really only wanted a one course light lunch, so I had some hake fillets served with ‘mushy peas’ and a piquant aioli, others in the party had gnocchi, served with purees of carrot, butternut squash and goat’s cheese cream, and roasted aubergine served with cauliflower puree and salsa verde for example. Load-shedding kicked in just as we were about to order coffee, so we departed with a modest bill of 550 rand for two, including water and service. Open lunchtimes only.

Creation, Hemel en Aarde Rd.
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. Various wine and food matched small course tasting menus cost around 1200-1300 Rand per person.

Newton Johnson, Hemel en Aarde Rd.
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. 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. 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.

The Garden Route

Reviews from 2021

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Knysna: 34 South, The Waterfront.
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. Its 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 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.

Knysna: East Head Café, 25 George Rex Drive.
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. Open daily from breakfast through lunch.

Knysna: 2 Stories at the Mount Knysna Hotel, 5 Glen View Rd.
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 accommodations that line this street with their stunning views over the coast. 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 served with a cream and peppercorn sauce, flambéed and reduced. It was excellent, a fine quality of meat and good piquancy 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. Open to non-residents with prior booking.

Plettenberg Bay: Seafood at the Plettenberg, 40 Church St.
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 throughout our meal a procession of less reasonable guests turned up, demanding they be seated outside. That included 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 arriving guests continually caused a fuss about the issue which distracted the staff and slightly spoiled our enjoyment. Anyway: onto the food. On a hot summer’s day 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 homemade 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. Open seven days, lunch and dinner.

The review below is several years old, but I have left it here as it’s a special place and still receiving good reviews as of my 2021 visit.

Wilderness: Serendipity, Freesia Avenue
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 various 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. We drank Fairview’s “Oom Pagel” Viognier, and finished with coffees and petit-fours.