The last year has seen a continued trend towards easy eating and bistro/caf√©-style restaurants. The age of dining in grand style is taking a back seat to places that offer rustic, homely cuisine ‚ but often presented in designer surroundings. Quirky spaces are ever more popular, while the food becomes ever more comforting. Wine lists are shorter but they are often a personal selection by the chef/owner. Here is a list of 15 interesting restaurants that have opened in the last 12 months. They haven’t been chosen specifically for their cuisine ‚ although you should certainly eat well at them ‚ but rather for their personality‚ all of them are intriguing in their own fashion.
3 Barrack Street, Cape Town
Tel 021 461 3168
The two neat (if a little functional) rooms off a busy downtown street are the unprepossessing home to this Sicilian specialist. Aldo is your amiable host and interpreter, while his wife, Cetti, cooks from her Sicilian roots in the kitchen. The results are fabulous, with many of the dishes pleasantly far removed from the generic veal-pasta-pizza options that we know so well at the usual Italian restaurants. Il Cappero is a dab hand at fi sh dishes, and the real home-made cannoli for dessert is a must: crisp pastry cones filled with sweet ricotta, fruit, dark chocolate chips and nuts. Prices are fair throughout (average spend R150) and the wine list is basic but with very friendly prices and also a few Italian options.
165 Longmarket Street, Cape Town
Tel 021 422 4920
A pretty inner-city designer space that specialises in organic and free-range, and offers provenance wherever possible. There’s a deli section (with cheeses and charcuterie listed on a blackboard wall), fresh breads daily and very good coffees; a comfortable upstairs lounge has a large, formal table for groups and a striking, all-white functions venue; and finally a trendy and very quirky bar on the roof level with its own deck and pizza oven. A well-selected wine list (and pairing suggestions) includes a reasonable by-theglass selection. The food prices are on the higher end of the scale for the upmarket caf√© food served (mains R100‚R125) but the quality ‚ which is better than many similar caf√©s ‚ certainly makes up for it.
50 Waterkant Street, Cape Town
Tel 021 419 2633
The owner and chef are both Peruvian and the menu is “authentic homestyle” Peruvian. The rather bare space is done out in deep browns and blues and features posters of famed homeland landmarks ‚ the street scenes have blank outlines of people inviting you to “image yourself there”. The nation’s famous ceviche leads the way, along with causas (mashed potato with lime, chilli, shredded chicken, mayonnaise and avocado), tiradito (thinly sliced fish in lime) and arroz chaufa (fried rice with chicken or beef). Much use is made of the continent’s native potato as well as very deftly cooked quinoa (the restaurant name is the phonetic expression of this grain). Main courses are not as good as the starters, but it’s great to have this cuisine available and there are great value lunch specials (for under R100). Limited wines, but enjoy a pisco sour cocktail!
Queen Victoria Hotel, Portswood Ridge,
V&A Waterfront, Cape Town
Tel 021 418 1466
One of Cape Town’s new boutique hotels is home to this pretty, intimate restaurant. The space is seductive ‚ modern in its monochrome, mirrors and marble but far from austere. It’s not often you get food suggestions from the waiter after ordering a bottle of wine from the well-selected list (though the training later slipped when he asserted that Constantia was in Stellenbosch). The menu aims to change according to the season, with a promise of locally sourced ingredients. Prices are on the high side (mains over R150) and the food is somewhat inconsistent ‚ as if they are pushing their technique and kitchen skills a little too hard. But as a romantic destination goes, Dash is just the ticket.
The Test Kitchen
The Old Biscuit Mill, 375 Albert Road,
Woodstock, Cape Town
Tel 021 447 2337
An ‚atelier’ rather than a conventional restaurant, in a small warehouse space carefully filled with modern-urban design touches like oxidised metal table tops offset by rich leather, felt lampshades and modern artworks. Kitchen-side counter-top seating captures the heart of the matter: this is a restaurant with excellent modern cuisine as its reason for being, and the chefs nearly outnumber the customers.
The menu is not static, changing according to the season, and Luke Dale-Roberts has an affinity for Asian technique and flavour. For dinner, choose three or five courses with or without wine (food only R345 or R440); or an eight-course gourmand menu (R550); while lunches are simpler affairs. Wine selection is good, with an eye for smaller and more interesting producers.
59 Dorp Street, Stellenbosch
Tel 021 882 8124
A wonderfully creative space designed by famed landscape artist Strijdom van der Merwe is now home to Etienne Bonthuys (formerly of Tokara). This is certainly Stellenbosch’s most fascinating post-modern restaurant. It’s an old townhouse transformed into an ‚unfinished’ restaurant/art gallery with elongated wooden beams jutting from the ceiling, huge irregularly shaped ‚warehouse’ iron doors and sliding panels with pictures of Van der Merwe’s landscape art. Service is good and the menu features bistro options like steak and chips alongside his designer (and signature) meat and seafood combinations, rich sauces and predilection for Asian flavours. Quality varies, and the plates are sometimes violently colourful, so ideal for the more adventurous diner. Good value, with many mains under R100 and a similarly well-priced wine list.
The Island Caf√©
Turbine Hotel, Thesen Island, Knysna
Tel 044 302 5745
This boutique hotel is built in and around an old power-generating facility, and the modern spaces have been designed to fit in-between the colourfully painted boilers, pipes, gauges and dials ‚ it’s really unusual and loads of fun. A quirky bar with deck overlooking the lagoon serves a (tasty) tapas menu, and The Island Caf√©, with its big-windowed, conservatory-style marina views, presents a concise A4 printed menu with unintimidating bistro-based options of fair quality and reasonable prices (average spend R185). The starters are superior to the mains and the service is good, as is the well-selected (and Platinum Diners Club-awarded) wine list. But the space alone makes a visit here worthwhile.
Babylonstoren Wine Estate, R45,
Tel 021 863 1804
On a sprawling farm replete with very traditional Cape whitewashed buildings, courtyards, expansive gardens and vineyards, a designer-renovated shed is now the restaurant, combining remnants of whitewashed stone walls and even a watering trough. The central concept here is garden-to-plate eating, so “Fresh from the Garden” leads the way; here ultra-fresh salad ingredients are paired with vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers ‚ and titled “Green”, “Yellow” and “Red” (R55) according to the dominant colouration. Mains are meat-led (“from our good farmers”) and these are fair and in hearty portions (about R100‚R150). Wines are mostly from the immediate Klapmuts neighbours and service is very good.
82 Longships Drive, Plettenberg Bay
Tel 044 533 4945
Scotty’s is an ultra-casual caf√© that has quickly gained an enthusiastic fan base. It’s a tiled room with sliding doors, a TV in the corner and a bar along the side, smatterings of Scottish terrier iconography, and a covered veranda ‚ so not much to look at. Yet it has an honesty, suggested by the blackboard menu listing good comfort food at reasonable prices, cooked by chefs who care about what they make. The wine list is similarly well priced with a reasonable selection and decent glassware. The brief menu lists tapas on the one side, the likes of Parma ham, smoked trout or artichoke, olives or risotto balls (between R15 and R25); the other side lists lunch as battered hake and chips, a soup, spaghetti Bolognese or a good burger (around R65‚R85).
Cube Tasting Kitchen
Parktown North Heights, 17 4th Ave,
Parktown North, Johannesburg
Tel 082 422 8158
Chef Dario D’Angeli is back with something different: an open kitchen onto a small dining room in modern monochromes, light modern art and quiet background music. It’s an intimate space with plentiful, interactive service (the chefs also present plates) ‚ as there are many intricacies on the highly creative plates to be explained to you. The menu changes every six weeks and is experimental in combination, texture and flavour. Every diner receives only the tasting menu (no √† la carte, R450 for about eight courses) over a dinner that lasts for a minimum of three hours. There is no wine list, so take your own (the menu is emailed to allow pairing) and be prepared for an exciting journey into cuisine.
Shop 24E, 4th Avenue, Parkhurst,
Tel 011 327 4558
A warm and convivial, cheek-by-jowl eatery filled with Parisian caf√© music, dark wood and white-clothed tables. The menu appears on blackboards and is a rather eclectic collection of dishes of a Mediterranean nature (even including some Asian influences) at more fulsome ‚restaurant’ prices. The food is bold and full-flavoured, the service good, personable and quick, and the wine list is a cut above ordinary with blackboard specialities, though it is expensive. A number of classic bistro dishes are listed: bouillabaisse (though at the princely sum of R195), confi t duck (also pricey at R159) and moules frites (ditto at R119). Pastas, a curry and spring rolls are also offered ‚ so essentially something to please all palates. The roast chicken is a must.
Off St Francis Drive at Air Park,
St Francis Bay
Tel 042 294 0868
It’s curious to come across vineyards in St Francis, but alongside the new plantings you’ll also find this very modern, light-themed restaurant that ‚lets the outside in’ through large windows and doors, high volumes and a monochromatic decor.
There’s a contemporary-rustic aesthetic to the whole in its stone and wrought iron and wicker, plus big fireplaces. The wine list is limited, but well priced, as is the menu with its rather creative global selection of modern cuisine. Expect to spend about R225 per head and, while the foundation cooking is sound, some of the embellishments can fall short. Still, a great option for a winelands lunch where you’d least expect it.
Corner of Victoria Avenue and 11th
Street, Parkmore, Johannesburg
Tel 011 783 1570
Situated in a converted car workshop, this eatery oozes industrial cool ‚ retro music, stylish light fittings and chandeliers that contrast with the cement floor. Plus there’s a roller-door entrance and a gaping hole in the ceiling. The walls look as though they’ve recently had tiles chipped off them and the kitchen is open-plan ‚ it’s small and tables are bare apart from linen napkins, knife and fork. The concise menu is displayed on a chalkboard outside, and the value is very good indeed ‚ three courses for around R150. The style of the cuisine is rustic bistro with strong primary cooking. You get the feeling that they care for real flavours here. No wine licence at the time of writing, so take your own.
The Green Peppercorn
Morningside Centre, corner of
Outspan and Rivonia roads,
Tel 087 940 3899
In a mall, the ‚interior’ restaurant space here is actually very small, featuring a wall of appealing booths, while the rest is a sprawl of tables onto the deck for an ‚inside-out’ feeling with parking-lot views. The open layout certainly raises the decibel level and very neatly dressed waiters try their best to cope with the throngs who arrive for the colourful, exuberant food that sometimes moves into the gourmet zone. It’s a good few steps ahead of the usual mall caf√© fare and includes one-plate meals, hearty salads and meal-sized sandwiches, as well as mains at moderate prices (average spend R145). There is a reasonable wine list with a modern feel in the selection and a number of champagnes too.
35 Newport Avenue, Glenashley,
Tel 031 562 1951
This Italian eatery is a single-roomed ultra-designer affair, with modern lights over a screeded floor, wood-clad walls and similarly blonde wooden tables creating a cabin-like impression. A woodburning pizza oven in another corner sits alongside a deli-like area where wine bottles and foodstuffs are stacked ‚ and throughout there’s strong sense of playfulness, like fake legs of ham hanging at the bathrooms and a pen in the shape of a pizza when the bill is presented. Unlike most South African pizzerias, Craft has good thin-based pizzas (average price R75) and the other items are tasty in a robust fashion. A very small wine list is divided into irreverent categories to fit the joyous mood.