Cape Town’s dining game just gets stronger and stronger, thanks to a new generation of inventive chefs mentored by trailblazing local icons like Luke Dale Roberts and Liam Tomlin, who helped put the city on the global culinary map.
Across the city, owner-run fine-dining establishments are popping up as fast as vegan cafes and artisanal, fair-trade coffee bars. Then there are the eateries specialising in anything from waffles to dim sum, burgers to poke bowls. You can even get vegan fast food. Common to all this creativity and innovation is a shared philosophy of sourcing local, seasonal ingredients, reducing the carbon footprint and supporting sustainable, ethically minded producers. For too long, local chefs looked overseas for their culinary identity and inspiration, when all along they had everything they could possibly need right under their noses. Embracing their melting-pot heritage, unique to the southernmost tip of Africa, has become cool at last. Make friends with your hotel concierge, or whet your appetite with my current favourites.
Salsify is located in the Roundhouse, a former hunting lodge (circa 1786) tucked away in the Glen halfway between Camps Bay beach and Lion’s Head. Local and foraged ingredients, including plenty of seafood, are transformed into deceptively simple, flavour-packed dishes by Ryan Cole and his team. Try the beef tartare with nasturtium emulsion, pine-nut dressing and veal fat brioche or the fresh line fish of the day, always given special attention. Lunch (especially the six-course Sunday set menu) offers the best value in the city. salsify.co.za
Japan meets Africa at Fyn, an edgy monochromatic loft dining space in the city centre with highly regarded chef Peter Templehoff at the helm. You’re guaranteed a confident show of spot-on tastes, flavours, textures and styles presented as a five-course Japanese kaiseki–style experience. Say yes to the unusual wine pairings, curated by co-owner Jennifer Hugé. Counter seating with a kitchen view is pure theatre, but book early. fynrestaurant.com
Whichever tasting menu you choose, anticipate French-Asian inspiration at La Colombe, an unlikely mountainside retreat above the Constantia valley. James Gaag’s food is playful, for sure, but novel presentation does not detract from the depth of flavour on every plate, each more effortlessly balanced and delicious than the next. Don’t miss the signature Tuna La Colombe, a play on a tin can filled with marinated, raw tuna. lacolombe.co.za
The crew from The Shortmarket Club, headed up by chef Wesley Randles (in collaboration with Luke-Dale Roberts of the Test Kitchen fame), recently opened The Commissary next door. It’s a no-nonsense casual spot serving gourmet street food like fig-leaf baked ricotta, Korean-fried chicken, and Massaman lamb curry roti. The cocktails are equally tasty.
Like sister restaurant the Test Kitchen, the Pot Luck Club is located in Woodstock’s Old Biscuit Mill complex, but it’s at the top of a repurposed flour silo which means 180-degree views of the city and harbour. Choose the Pot Luck for exciting food in an edgy, talked-about setting, or if you can’t secure a table at the Test Kitchen. New head chef Jason Kosmas, is staying true to the winning formula – South American and Southeast Asian flavours predominate – but has added Mediterranean too, a nod to his roots.
Next generation of innovative and risk taking chefs meld international cuisine and age old recipes in the original melting pot of the world
Zen yet romantic, minimalist interiors set the scene at Kyoto Garden Sushi for sophisticated sushi, sashimi and Japanese specialities, including sake-teamed mussels, miso with seaweed and tofu, and light-as-air tempura Alaskan scallops. It’s the only Asian restaurant in the city that serves genuine wasabi root, grated on a traditional shark skin grater at the table. Call it Japanese fine dining, without the hype of Nobu. kyotogardensushict.com
Nose-to-tail plates first created the buzz at La Tete, although chef Giles Edwards is equally at home cooking vegetables to perfection. The setting is a 1930’s art-deco corner shop, with no-nonsense interiors and an open kitchen producing the likes of ox heart with chips and horseradish, fish soup, broccoli vinaigrette and roasted heirloom tomatoes served on sourdough with homemade ricotta. Order several plates and share. End with Madeleines, still warm from the oven. latete.co.za
Book at Grub & Vine for fine food without the fuss, by chef Matt Manning. Modern bistro classics include braised rainbow trout with pea and bacon fricassee or smoked impala, baby fennel, parsnip puree. Veg-friendly starters include heritage tomato, fig and burrata salad, or chargrilled broccoli, pear and cheese salad. The restaurant is housed in the same building as Frogitt&Vonkel, an elegant wine bar that stocks lesser known, boutique wine labels. grubandvine.co.za
Part of the ultra-contemporary Norval Foundation, a private art gallery-cum-museum, the Skotnes Restaurant is visually stylish, easily accessible and a showcase for local cuisine – albeit it deconstructed variations and modern twists on the traditional. In other words, everything a museum cafe should be. Side dishes, like fire-roasted sweet potatoes with feta and spring onions, almost steal the show, but opt for the ‘bobotie’ made with succulent slow-cooked lamb shoulder and Cape Malay spices. Picnics can be pre-ordered to enjoy in the sculpture garden. norvalfoundation.org/skotnes-restaurant/
Like the original in the city, Chefs Warehouse at Beau Constantia produces a daily changing set menu of global tapas for two with eight plates served as three courses, designed to be shared. Chef Ivor Jones’s love of all things Asian is evident, but you can also dig into Parmesan risotto, walnut cream, raisin and salted lemon beurre noisette. Chef Liam Tomlin is the silent partner in this Chefs Warehouse, which is co-owned by Ivor (ex-The Test Kitchen). beauconstantia.com/eat
At Upper Bloem, named after a street in Bo-Kaap where the chef grew up, Cape Malay influences are a given, but the menu borrows from other culinary traditions too. Sharing plates may include Saldanha Bay mussels with nasturtium, parsley oil and sea essence. Do try the ‘koesusters’ (Cape Malay doughnuts doused in a spicy syrup and shredded coconut) served with coffee cream. ubrestaurant.co.za
Thali is chef Liam Tomlin’s take on Indian tapas, served (as expected) as a set menu for two of eight small sharing plates graduating from mild to fairly spicy. From the homemade poppadoms and potato and sweetcorn chaat with a curry leaf aioli all the way through to fried fish tacos, given a Cape Malay treatment, your taste buds will sing. Save spaces for the curries – smoky lamb curry and a mint and coriander butter chicken curry. thali.co.za
With up to 20 freshly made, original salads on display, The Kitchen in Woodstock is Cape Town’s answer to London’s Ottolenghi. Offering very good value for money, a plate of your choice of three or five salads with falafel or honey-roasted sausages makes a hearty meal. All-day love sandwiches and sweet treats are the best kind of take-out food. lovethekitchen.co.za
Where to Stay
Tucked away on historic Church Square, Labotessa could be in Amsterdam with its tall, narrow 17th-century facade in heritage blue. The newest addition to the city centre offers six elegant, high-ceilinged, French oak-floored suites furnished with Cape antiques and custom-made velvet sofas in forest and teal green. There is also a three-bedroom penthouse, the Governor Suite, with mountain views from the plunge pool and a sleek kitchen for entertaining. At street level you’ll find South Africa’s first Diptyque boutique as well as Starlings, an all-day organic cafe offering room-service breakfast for in-house guests. labotessa.com
Ellerman House in exclusive Bantry Bay has been delivering the ultimate curation of South African food, wine and art to privacy seeking travellers for 25 years. The ocean views and spacious gardens are a bonus. With a private bar, restaurant, wine cellar and spa, it feels more like staying with posh friends, than checking into a hotel – almost everything is included in the rate, too. Most guests stay in the Cape Edwardian mansion, but there are also two ultra-modern villas. The owner’s South African art collection spans original works from the turn of the last century to current contemporary art, including sculptures. Wine is taken very seriously here, too, and the food is overseen by Peter Templehoff, a Relais& Chateaux grande chef who also heads up Fyn Restaurant in the city. ellerman.co.za
Beaming over the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, The Table Bay enjoys the breath-taking views of the Atlantic Ocean and the majestic Table Mountain from its sun-drenched windows. Parquet floors, chintz and marble decor give it a lush Victorian air, a theme that prevails in its capacious suites, mahogany-pool deck, and its comprehensive spa. The striking sun-gold statue of a Cape Fur Seal marks the entrance to the lobby. Reminiscent of a gentleman’s lounge, its posh brasserie, a haven in leather and cast iron, also cradles a well-stocked wine cellar. Two bars, one set by the poolside, call for sublime libations. Afternoon teas are spent with the mellow serenade from the pianist at the lounge. ◼
© This article was first published in Dec-Jan 2020 edition of World Travel Magazine.