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Cape Town on South Africa’s west coast, flanked by Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean, is known for its excellent fresh produce, fish and wines. An emerging food scene has appeared out of the rubble of years of political isolation and 27-years after the fall of apartheid, the city is coming to terms with its complicated and rich culinary heritage.
What makes up the South African plate, and particularly the Cape Town kitchen? Food and the politics of food and identity colour this conversation. Could one say that the gatsby, a hearty foot-long bread roll traditionally filled with fries and inexpensive ingredients like polony and atchar, is the quintessential Cape Town dish? What about the nation’s favourite, braai (barbeque) and the myriad Xhosa meals that aren’t often featured on local restaurant menus? Indigenous, Black, Cape Malay, Afrikaner and English colonial influences have mingled to some degree but you’d be hard-pressed to find too many restaurants taking on a truly South African profile. Changes are afoot though.
Chef Kobus van der Merwe, whose 7-table Wolfgat in Paternoster, a fishing village two hours out of the city, received critical acclaim from the likes of The World Restaurant Awards where it was named “Restaurant of the Year” earlier this year, for his honed-in approach known as “strandveld” cookery – food from the beach and its immediate surrounding areas. “We cook very intuitively, with the unique West Coast landscape, the seasons and the weather as our inspiration,” Van der Merwe says. “Our aim is to capture this unique location's special sense of place and to share it with our guests. The dishes are simple, often compromised of only three or four ingredients, showcasing indigenous herbs, seaweeds and succulents.”
Van der Merwe enjoys the region for its unique natural beauty and the people who live there, he says. “I like the fact that it feels quite remote, yet you're a two-hour drive from the city. The pace of living is also much slower here, which is great.”
Below, you can enjoy a selection of the best places in Cape Town and surroundings for food travellers, recommended by chef Kobus van der Merwe.
“Although Cape Town City Centre isn’t nearly as inclusive as it should be, when I explore the CBD on foot I'm always pleasantly surprised at the vibrant side-streets with small cafés offering a variety of different cultural tastes and pan-African treats, from Cape Malay to Ethiopian and beyond,” Van der Merwe says. Try Addis in Cape for Ethiopian food and Andalousse for delicious Moroccan cuisine.
Addis in Cape
41 Church Street, CBD
148 Victoria Road, Woodstock
Cape Town comprises various cultural groups and one of the most celebrated cuisines locally, is made by the Cape Malay community. There are several dishes not to miss such as the samosas, rotis (thick, layered flat bread more similar to a paratha), boeber (sweet milky sago and vermicelli), bobotie (spiced ground meat with a savoury custard on top), pickled fish, denningvleis (slow-cooked lamb with tamarind and other spices), and koe’sisters (spiced donuts coated in desiccated coconut). “Your best bet would probably be to stumble upon a bazaar or fête where these are prepared by home cooks. Bo-Kaap restaurants such as Biesmiellah and Bo-Kaap Kombuis also offer many of these traditional meals."
2 Wale St & Pentz St Bo-Kaap, Schotsche Kloof
7 August St, Schotsche Kloof
Van der Merwe suggests a visit to the bountiful weekend markets such as the OZFM Market at Granger Bay for the flowers and produce and the city’s beloved Atlas Trading (104 Wale St, Schotsche Kloof, ) for spices and botterpitjies (pips from the Nara melon).
Seaside & CBD
For breakfast and pastries, chef Van Der Merwe suggests Bob’s Bagel Café in Kalk Bay, a seaside village 30 minutes outside Cape Town.
Bob’s Bagel Café
6 Rouxville Rd, Kalk Bay
“On the formal fine dining restaurant scene, I love what Arno Janse and Liezel Odendaal are doing at Janse & Co in Kloof Street, using locally-sourced ingredients,” he says.
Janse & Co
75 Kloof Street, Gardens
FYN is another fine dining establishment he recommends: "Here you can find a very unique cuisine made with South African ingredients and Japanese techniques. A must-try!".
5th Floor, Speakers Corner, 37 Parliament St, CBD
If you want to treat yourself to tasting contemporary versions of the classics in a cosy club-like atmosphere, the perfect venue for you according to chef Van Der Merwe is The Shortmarket Club.
The Shortmarket Club
88 Shortmarket St, CBD
For a romantic meal, Van der Merwe suggests sharing the generous feast at Chef's Warehouse in Bree Street. The seating is pretty simple and you won’t want to linger for an after-dinner drink, but the food by Liam Tomlin is excellent. They don’t take reservations, so try to get here before the busiest hours at lunch or dinner.
Chef's Warehouse and Canteen
92 Bree street, Cape Town, 8000
For family gatherings, he recommends a long table at Olympia Café sharing bowls of mussels with fresh bread. "Seafood is after all, very typically Cape Town" he says.
134 Main Rd, Kalk Bay, Cape Town