If you haven’t had South Africa on your culinary radar, you need to get your stuff together and book a flight now. And if you are concerned about such things better lose a few pounds before you go. It definitely ain’t happening while you will eat your way through the country and ask for seconds along the way.
Especially Cape Town and the surrounding Winelands are serious foodie destinations so when the most serious foodie I know, my brother Stephan, came for a visit after New Year’s I had my work cut out for me. Calculating the number of days he would be there (10), multiply it by the amount of meals per day we would have (2, because we both don’t eat breakfast), minus the days we would be working (3) and the meals we would spend at family homes (5) resulted in 9 lunches and dinners I wanted to be absolutely perfect.
That’s when I realized that I had unfortunately left my little calculation for too long, Cape Town in January is nothing like Cape Town in winter and chances are all the good places will have been booked literally months in advance. That realization gave me a mild panic attack. I know I know… I’m a control freak and a people pleaser so the idea of not getting into the Test Kitchen with my brother was simply horrible (just culinary speaking of course…).
But I shouldn’t have worried. There is plenty of fish in the sea of great restaurants in Cape Town and we ate like kings.
With that, I put together a little guide of the best restaurants in Cape Town and surroundings. Completely biased and completely delicious. Cape Town in winter, book a table and thank me later.
New & Noteworthy
81 Church Street – www.ashrestaurant.co.za
81 St. John’s Street – www.chefscapetown.co.za
THE butchery in town is Frankie Fenner Meat. FFMM’s motto is “Eat proper meat”. That not only means farm fresh, locally sourced meat but it is also the go-to place for unusual cuts. In case you don’t feel like cooking yourself but still want to enjoy all the meaty goodness they have to offer head over to Ash/Publik their restaurant and winebar.
It is a place where big burly tattooed guys discuss the merits of truffle oil and the career of Andre Agassi over a plate of broken hearts. Hearts tartare that is.
It is so hip that you kind of want to hate it but that’s impossible. The food is simple, incredible and even vegetarians will find a little piece of heaven (maybe avoid looking at the meat fridge that is prominently displayed behind the bar!). Best part? The wine list by the glass. It will make you cry happy tears and hug the waiter.
My old hood next to Company Gardens and close to parliament is, unfortunately, a bit of a culinary wasteland. The most exciting thing used to be the weekly Hope Street Market and the stand with the chili poppers.
But then came CHEFS, a genius cafeteria style eatery that changed everything. All they offer are 3 dishes daily – a meat or fish, a vegetarian dish, and a lighter meal as well as a dessert – all served on cute canteen trays. The dishes come with a variety of sides to make for a healthy, complete lunch.
Free water and for those who don’t have to work, white or red wine (not free but reasonably priced). The food is absolutely incredible and I love the simplicity of the whole concept. Worth a trip even if you are not in the area!
Tamboerskloof aka Hipsterville
I have already written a detailed guide about Kloof Streets and the surrounding area. There are so many great places here that you almost cannot go wrong.
Still, if you needed three recommendations in a nutshell:
1. Tamboerswinkel for deconstructed chicken pie, great wine, and breakfast sandwiches.
2. Kyoto Garden Sushi for good sushi and the best Japanese food. Mind you, it is not just great for Japanese food, to me, it always makes the Top 5 in Cape Town but still is completely understated and zen.
3. El Burro’s Taqueria for tacos, ceviche, and margaritas. It’s fun and colorful and really yummy.
While you are in the are, head to Power & the Glory, the ultimate hipster bar. Pretzels inclusive!
Where not to eat!
A word of warning first because every travel guide I have ever seen will tell you that you need to go and hang out in Camps Bay. That this is the spot where all the cool people hang out to eat, drink and be fabulous.
Whoever writes in travel guides that Camps Bay is a great spot to be, is lying. Just know that Camps Bay beach is always crowded and if it is not crowded it is too windy to stay put in one place. The bars are pretentious so are the people and the restaurants crap. All of them (except maybe for the Cod Father but to me they don’t warrant a trip there).
Camps Bay restaurants live off the fact that they are in a prime location which doesn’t necessarily mean you get a great view but it definitely means you will pay exorbitant prices for mediocre food and shotty service. I can live with the prices and the service, there is just no good excuse to have mediocre food in Cape Town.
So repeat after me – I solemnly swear that I will not eat in Camps Bay. If you really want to see it, try to pick a non-windy day and have a glass of wine/ soda on the beach.
If you go eat there don’t complain afterward I didn’t warn you!
Tourist for a day
The V&A Waterfront is an area that can as touristy as Camps Bay, but I have a soft spot for it nonetheless. It always makes me feel like a tourist too but in a good way. While it is still a mall with all the trimmings like KFC, Subway, and Ocean Basket (some ‘insider’ blog once recommended Ocean Basket as a nice restaurant in Cape Town and I almost cried, it is not!) there are some nice food options to be found.
While you won’t find any of the best Cape Town restaurants here, I do love the Harbour House and also Mondiall isn’t a bad option. The prices at both are steep, but again, you are paying for the location too and as the rest is spot on I don’t mind.
If you are keen on a snack to go head to the V&A Food Market. Here you will find plenty of options for take-away with local favorites and small portions perfect for trying everything.
Getting Lucky in Hout Bay
Cheyne’s & Lucky Bao
Main Road – Scott Estate – Hout Bay
Oakhurst Farm Park – Main Road – Hout Bay
Hout Bay is one of my favorite suburbs of Cape Town as you know since some of my favorite families live there. So I am usually not short on great options for dinner at home, however, even as a visitor it is an area not to be missed.
Cheyne Morrisby is a rock star chef I already knew when he had a tiny place on Bree Street where he offered private dinners. Now he has his own Pacific rim tapas restaurant called Cheyne’s in Hout Bay and quite frankly it is worth the trip (it is a bit of a trip if you are staying in town).
The menu is awesome and innovative as are the cocktails and the staff is fun, friendly and incredibly knowledgeable about their food. Desserts are called happy endings and you need to have the peanut butter milkshake even if you, like me, don’t care for milkshakes.
Next to Cheyne’s you will find its baby sister Lucky Bao. I like it when great chefs open little secondary eateries where you can still get their signature style but in a more relaxed setting. Lucky Bao does just that – Cheyne’s signature food in a street style version.
For those who will object because you are secretly scared of street food a) you really shouldn’t be! and b) don’t worry because this is fancy street served on pretty charcoal plates. However, cutlery is optional, a big plus in my books. Definitely, have a Tofu Bao and try the nori dusted fries!
I make a mean pizza and to say I am spoilt is an understatement.
However, I will make an exception for Massimo’s pizza, another Hout Bay classic. They not only make a great pizza (also in various gluten free versions) but also have the best dessert even for non-dessert lovers: chocolate thimbles filled with different chocolate liquors.
The best part of Massimo’s though is Massimo, his wife, and their staff as well as their community engagement. Many of their pizzas have a good cause to them and part of the price is donated to that cause.
Out of Towner
Noordhoek Farm Village – Village Lane – www.thefoodbarn.co.za
Klapmuts Simondium Road – www.babylonstoren.com
Cape Town Winelands and surroundings are not only known for great wines and stunning food but also home to some of the best restaurants in the Western Cape.
So very worth the trip – just make sure you have a designated driver!
The Foodbarn always pops up on Cape Town’s best of lists but somehow quietly so. Maybe because it is in sleepy Noordhoek, set in an understated barn or because it just refuses to be loud and flashy, gawking for publicity. All of that makes it even more charming and the food is a revelation.
If you can take something great like an oyster and turn it into something even better when combined on a plate, you are a hero in my books. And the dessert… I am drooling and crying (because I am far away) was one of the best I have ever had. Don’t make the mistake to order only one and share. Do not ever share the dessert here!*
*Unless you have had your own before and decide to have a little second dessert (which I may or may not have done here before). If hobbits can have second breakfast, you can have a second dessert.
The Golden Triangle
The Test Kitchen, Pot Luck Club, Naturalis – The Old Biscuit Mill
While my brother had initially declared he didn’t care where we would or wouldn’t eat, he did do his research and all of a sudden announced that we had to eat at The Test Kitchen. Yes, of course, we had to eat at The Test Kitchen, the only problem being that this is not only one of the best Cape Town restaurants but also South Africa’s number 1 restaurant and booked out months in advance.
After spending too much time and money at my favorite wine shop in the Old Biscuit Mill, Stephan had become good friends with Nigel the own and thought to take advantage of his newfound connection. “Nigel, can’t you help us to get into Test Kitchen? Pleeeeeeeease!” The Test Kitchen is basically opposite Nigel’s store and while you may assume it is his extended living room he, unfortunately, has no reign over the seating arrangements inside. However, he did advise us to come early for lunch and request to fill in for any no-shows.
We did just that the next day. Stephan found the manager, told him of our heart’s desire to eat here, and then we waited. We also managed to secure the last table at Luke Dale Robert’s second baby Pot Luck Club upstairs as a backup option (and that is one fancy backup!) and then we waited some more. I also did a lot of smiling and batting my eyelashes at the manager (he was quite cute, so I wasn’t selling out for a table!!).
Eventually, we just sat in front of the restaurant and stared at the door for about an hour. While a watched pot never boils, the door did eventually open and the manager came towards us with a huge smile: we were in!
What can I say? It was worth the wait and yet as if to make up for it the manager who was also the designated truffle shaver gave me an extra sprinkle on my amuse bouche. I also had one of the best dessert, no THE best dessert of my life – a tropical island in my mouth. Stephan even declared upon eating his tropical island that the meal had just moved from 1 to 2 Michelin stars for him.
For those who don’t get so lucky and/or don’t have the patience to wait, I recommend a visit to Luke’s latest addition to the family: Naturalis. What looks more like a container is actually a tiny lunch place that offers the most amazing vegetable salads, charcuterie, pâtés, and homemade lemonade. You pay by weight, but I recommend you eat first because chances are high you may want seconds. For a regular weekday, a cheaper alternative or for those without reservations or patience Naturalis is an amazing alternative.