A restaurant guide to the Western Cape of South Africa
South Africa is known to be a meat lovers’ paradise and South African cuisine has been influenced by multiple cultures over the past couple of centuries, including the Dutch, the English, the Indian and the Muslim culture. One thing’s for sure though, you’ll always find meat anywhere you go.
The first thing locals will mention if you ask about food is a Braai – or a barbecue in Afrikans. Braaing is usually a social event at someone’s house but you’ll find restaurants and hotels who make them, especially in the eastern part of the country, where safaris take place.
That being said, South Africa is starting to earn a solid reputation in the food and restaurant world. The Western Cape has an overwhelming amount of restaurants to visit. We had the honour of trying a few and here are our recommendations.
Cape Town has a lot of fine dining restaurants but also some more casual options. What they all have in common is that they always serve a set menu (even for dinner). The only existential choice you’ll have to make is wine pairing or no wine pairing? Locals all seem to choose the wine pairing, so we say go for it.
Upperbloem is the sister (and more relaxed) restaurant of upscale La Mouette. Both restaurants share the same chef director but Upperbloem’s reign were given to the young rising star Andre Hill, who was previously at La Mouette.
The restaurant is located in the city’s port as to represent the area’s multiculturism, although the chef only uses local ingredients. Think Ostrich dumpling or Hake bahji – but the braised short ribs with bone marrow crust were a big winner.
A three-course but nine plates set menu is how the restaurant rolls (R395/pp – £21/pp), which is basically their equivalent of tapas style or sharing plates.
Thali means an Indian-style meal made of a selection of dishes which are served on a platter, and this is exactly what this restaurant is about. Indian food is not a random choice in South Africa, as both countries have a bit of history (Gandhi spent a big part of his life in South Africa).
If it was up to us, their sweetcorn badji should become their signature dish. (R650 for two/ £35 for two).
As we previously mentioned, South African cuisine is heavily meat focused. The Kitchen on the other hand makes a great little meat break (if needed). But if not, no need to panic, as it’s not a vegetarian restaurant.
The beautiful place, located in the trendy neighbourhood of Woodstock, makes a great lunch stop. Founder and chef Karen Dudley has various salad options with international influences displayed on the counter. Falafels, lentils, feta and tomatoes are all beautifully presented. She also has an unconditional love for amazing sandwiches.
This 20-seater joint offers a new seasonal tasting menu each month. A zero waste policy is quite noticeable as you have to pre-pay your spot (as to avoid no shows). The menu by duo chefs Anouchka Horn and Neil Swart also featured beautiful nose to tail dishes. The menu includes some real hearty dishes like the Karoo Lamb and the bay mussels. Every diner’s meal starts at the same time, which makes you feel at home.
This place is slightly off the beaten track. You need to take your car and get to Cape Town’s township, Gugulethu, to try this braai restaurant. Originally, braais (or barbecues) started in South Africa’s townships in front of butchers – so people could try their meats. Mzoli’s is exactly that. If you’re interested in authentic, gritty places, this spot is for you. Walk into the butcher, pick your meat at the counter (they have Boerewors sausages, chicken, steaks, etc.), pay for it, walk down a little alley and give it to the guy in charge of grilling the meat. You’ll have to wait 20 minutes before coming back and get a spoon of chakalaka (onions, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, beans and spices served cold). The vibe is just brilliant, people are friendly and the food is just right.
Franschhoek or Stellenbosch are cities in South Africa’s wine land (an hour drive from Cape Town). It all started during the 17th century, when the Protestants were persecuted by the Catholics in France. 168 Protestant families fled France to join the Dutch living in South Africa at the time. They were given the land known today as Franshhoek to do what they did best: wine. (I thought I’d start with some background on the region because a bit of history never hurts!). Today the city has some excellent vineyards but also some of the country’s best restaurants. Here is our pick.
La Petite Colombe (sister restaurant to La Colombe in Cape Town) is a beautiful and sophisticated restaurant located in the heart of Franschhoek. It makes the perfect dinner stop after a day of winery hopping in the area. We went for the cheaper option which is their lunch set menu at R495/person (£27/person). Head chef, John Norris Rogers, who is influenced by French and Japanese cuisine, is also extremely creative when it comes to presentation. Our Spring menu started with three amuses bouches presented on a seasonal flower trolley and our palate cleanser was brought to us in a chest with liquid nitrogen smoke coming out of it. The waiter asked us “not to take the presentation too seriously” but we have to say that the food itself was no joke. The quail, langoustine, mussel and ham combo was perfectly balanced and we’ll never forget their chicken chawanmushi.
This place is perfect for lunch during a wine tour, as the Maison wine estate is also an excellent winery. Order their wine tasting for R100/person (£5.50) and you’ll get 6 pours of Blanc de Noir, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Shiraz and a straw wine. Sit outdoors on their beautiful terrace, which overlooks their vineyard and is surrounded by soft and puffy-looking chickens. Either try chef David Schneider’s set menu or their snack menu, which includes a beautiful homemade charcuterie board (R105/£5.60)
Want to try
Unfortunately we did not have enough time or meals per day to try everything on our list. Here is what we missed in case you have a bit more time than we did.
Test Kitchen, La Colombe, La Tête, Chefs Warehouse in Beau Constantia, Foxcroft in Cape Town.
Wolfgat in Paternorster (2 hours north of Cape Town).