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 and I converted my brother to become a Cape Town foodie too.
With that, I put together a little Cape Town food blog with all its best restaurants in town and out of town. Completely biased and completely delicious. Book a flight, read this where to eat in Cape Town, book your tables and thank me later.
The Best Cape Town Restaurants (according to me)
New Restaurants, Cape Town
Tjing Tjing Torii
165 Longmarket Street, City Bowl – www.tjingtjing.co.za
Tjing Tjing has long been an institution in the Cape Town bar scene for its cool rooftop bar in the middle of town. It has seen several restaurants downstairs come and go, the latest one to depart my beloved Dear Me. However, now Tjing Tjing Torii has moved in. When you look for places to eat in Cape Town and want for a cool, casual but seriously yummy spot – look no further. Japanese street style dishes are perfect for ordering the entire menu and sharing. Order all the baos and definitely the gyoza.
7 Weltevreden St, Gardens – www.thestack.co.za
Stack is another one of the new restaurants in Cape Town and beautifully located in an old Victorian House. You can have a drink in the beautiful courtyard first before moving inside. The interior combines the beautiful architecture of the house with modern touches and jewel tones and I like it – definitely one of the more romantic restaurants in Cape Town. Food offers some bistro classics with a twist and they make – not to be underestimated – really good fries. An added bonus – they have onsite parking!
81 St. John’s Street, Gardens – www.chefscapetown.co.za
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. Publik for one of the best and most innovative selection of wine by the glass and great charcuterie & cheese platters
2. Kyoto Garden Sushi for the best sushi in Cape Town and awesome Japanese seafood. 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!
Getting Lucky in 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. For those who don’t want to travel far, Cheyne’s was kind enough to open a Lucky Bao bar and Shio in town, serving similar food as Cheyne’s. While the locations are not as cool as the Hout Bay branch, they come in handy when strolling through the Waterkant and are not as busy yet as the originals.
Read more: Why you should stay in Hout Bay.
Main Road – Scott Estate
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!
Main Road – Scott Estate
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.
Oakhurst Farm Park – Main Road
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
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!
Klapmuts Simondium Road – www.babylonstoren.com
Noordhoek Farm Village – Village Lane – www.thefoodbarn.co.za
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.
Cape Town Cafes
I honestly didn’t want to include any cafes because there are plenty of guides out there and since I am not a picky coffee drinker and cafe goer I am really not the right person to ask.
Yours Truly is a regular favorite as is Clarke’s and Truth or Deluxe for the coffee crowd and they are all great options to tide you over. I did want to include something different though which I think shouldn’t be missing from a Cape Town food guide and that you never seem to find on any other blogs – two of my favorite cafes in Cape Town.
Spirit Cafe was founded by the owner of my old yoga studio in Cape Town, Yogaspirit. This is the place for plant-based delicious food, great coffee, and even better juices. They usually have a selection of salads as well as some wraps and bowls and everything is absolutely delicious.
I especially appreciate that they only use glass straws and are more than happy to give you a smoothie or coffee in your own to-go cup – you even get a discount!
There are two locations, one at the Constantia Village below the yoga studio and another one at Dunkley Square in Gardens.
16 Loop Street, City Bowl
Cape town foodies are spoilt for cool choices any given day so I will admit Guilio’s Cafe is a bit of an odd choice. It is located in one of those venues where nothing seems to stick which is a pity because it used to be home to an Italian restaurant in Cape Town with the best sea urchin pasta in the world.
Now it is a daytime cafe in downtown Cape Town for the business crowd that works in the surrounding offices. But not only do they offer fresh, yummy juices but they make THE best open-faced lamb wrap which earns this random little spot a place on my food blog for Cape Town. It comes with mint yogurt, pinenuts, hummus, and the most delicious slow cooked lamb. If only for this dish, I’d be back in a heartbeat.
Fine Dining, Cape Town
The Test Kitchen, Pot Luck Club, Shortmarket Club
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 the best Cape Town restaurant 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 (that is if there was a Michelin guide Cape Town). If you are looking for fine dining in Cape Town, come with patience or be organized enough to make a reservation far in advance.
Luke’s latest addition to the family is in town and aptly called Shortmarket Club (as it is located on Shortmarket Street). The vibe is hip and happening but with a very casual vibe. We had a lovely lunch at the bar and nobody minded that we just ate our way through the starters menu with an extra side of their very yummy bread. If you are in it for some great, innovate food without the fuss or a huge set menu – this is the place to eat.
Speakers Corner, 37 Parliament Street, City Bowl
Also new in the local restaurant scene, FYN is also a top contender for a spot in the top 10 restaurants in Cape Town. I absolutely adore its location in the middle of town which works just as well for lunch as it does for dinner and is not only super sleek but also has great views on Lion’s Head.
The food still needs some tweaking but I loved the Japanese touches like the starter which came as a kaiseki tray with squid noodles and Impala tataki. Our mains and desserts were lovely though could improve with a certain something.
Since I am often a solo diner I loved to see that there were no issues for a fellow solo diner who was enjoying the whole menu by herself. In addition, there are plenty of seats at the long bar counter, an awesome spot to watch the cooks at work and always a great spot if you are eating alone.
75 Kloof Street, Gardens
Janse is new on the fine dining scene and already a contender as one of the top restaurants in Cape Town. It is sleek, dark and modern and definitely a great addition to the Kloof Street restaurant scene.
The menu lists dishes simply by their ingredients, there is no difference between main courses and starters and no indication on how things are prepared. You can start with a minimum of three courses and get up to seven. I’d say, order four at least as the portions are tiny as appropriate for Cape Town fine dining.
What I really loved is the mix of South African ingredients & some interesting international contenders which are explained in a small index on the menu. Do save up for a visit as the prices are steep even on an international scale and you will want to be able to get a few glasses of their artisanal G&Ts.
Where not to eat in Cape Town!
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. There are no best restaurants Camps Bay – all of them are unspectacular (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!
Cape Town Restaurants – Waterfront
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 most definitely not!) there are some nice food options to be found.
For the best restaurants in Cape Town’s Waterfront check Harbour House. 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.
New and shiny is the ultra-chic Silo Hotel. I can’t speak for the hotel yet but they have an awesome rooftop restaurant. If you are looking for Cape Town restaurants with a view, this is the place to be.
If that wasn’t enough the food is rather good if not the most creative and the prices are surprisingly decent for a 5-star hotel and Waterfront location.