Blessed with a year-round growing season, wedged between fertile mountainside pastures and abundant seas, and home to a diversity of ethnic communities that lend their culinary traditions to the food, South Africa’s southernmost city is a phenomenal place to eat. Cape Towners love their restaurants, and the town boasts a wealth of star chefs serving relaxed lunches and sophisticated dinners. And with a world-class wine region just at Cape Town’s doorstep, the drinking is just as superb as the dining. Here are seven great choices.
Chef Matt Manning worked at Cape Town’s acclaimed La Colombe before becoming a private chef. Now he’s returned to restaurants with this charming upstairs spot. From an open kitchen, Manning cooks in an unfussy style that highlights the excellence of his ingredients, spinning farmers’ deliveries into dishes like his terrific riff on a caprese salad: heirloom tomatoes with burrata, basil and ripe baby figs. Pea shoots add freshness to a hefty seared hake fillet atop bacon-accented lentils. Tender and aromatic, roasted baby chicken comes with turnip purée, parsnip chips and charred endive in a satisfying interplay of textures and flavors.
Even in summer, his fare is hearty. The Karoo region’s famed lamb is served in its own jus with gorgeous little turnips, potatoes and cauliflower cream. An almond cake, fig and honeycomb dessert is spiced like autumn. To go with it all, sommelier Keize Mumba has put together a fun list, with categories like “Juicy & Crunchy,” which includes a cool-climate Newton Johnson Albariño of balanced minerals and fruit. The small, spare room gets loud and lively at dinner, but the attentive staff retain their good nature. Closed Sunday and Monday. Reservations recommended.
Grub & Vine
103 Bree Street. Tel. (27) 87-898-2207
At this new hot spot with an open kitchen and an Africa-meets-Scandinavia design, the menu is set: nine dishes in three savory courses. The only choice is dessert. But trust in chefs Henry Vigar and Andre Hill. In their elevated take on Cape Malay cuisine, even the bread course enthralls: wild garlic flatbread and seaweed butter; spinach-stuffed puffs called dhaltjies (chilli bites) on curried eggplant; papadum with a teriyaki-glazed pâté made with a local fish called snoek. The chefs use a high-low approach to great effect. Karoo lamb “kebab” is actually a Scotch egg, the meat wrapped around a hard-cooked quail egg with a luscious hay-smoked-tomato relish. Cured sea bass in a spiced emulsion with an elegant diced vegetable salad is a crudo-style Malay fish curry. And you’ve never cut into more tender beef than the medallions here. They’re served atop an onion purée draped in a crumble of biltong, or South African jerky.
The wine list offers classics and mavericks. Go for the velvet-and-spice Trizanne Signature Reserve Syrah, saving your last sips to enjoy with the most delightful restaurant dessert in Cape Town: buttermilk-semifreddo-stuffed gingerbread, a smart spin on the ice cream sandwich, with white chocolate “sand” to dip in. Closed Tuesday lunch, Sunday and Monday. Reservations recommended.
Upper Bloem Restaurant
Shop 1, Winston Place, 65 Main Road, Greenpoint. Tel. (27) 21-433-1442
Luke Dale-Roberts’ warehouse-like spot up a flight of stairs in City Centre offers stylish touches: a cocktail trolley, stained glass, framed butterflies. From your elevated banquette, watch waiters pour flaming whiskey sauce over prime rib prepped tableside. That’s video-worthy, but all the food is picturesque, and tasty to boot. A lone langoustine emerges from a pool of what the menu calls salsa macha, a riff on the nut-laced chile sauce from Veracruz, though the dish feels more Provençal with its olives, oven-roasted tomatoes, basil and charred eggplant purée. Pan-crisp yellowtail, its skin well lacquered, rests on an aromatic bed of leeks, fennel and mussels across from a frilly crab and artichoke ravioli, streaks of oyster Champagne velouté between. A vegetarian entree of tandoori cauliflower tastes nearly as meaty as that prime rib does. Let the waiter talk you into a side of the decadent duck-fat potatoes that normally come with the beef.
At dessert, refresh your palate with roasted peach glistening with honey nestled in pine nut ice cream and a delicious lemon ricotta. Strewed with tiny thyme flowers, it’s as pretty as can be. Closed Sunday. Reservations recommended.
The Shortmarket Club
88 Shortmarket Street. Tel. (27) 21-447-2874
This one by prolific chef Luke Dale-Roberts is popular, in part for its location: the glassed-in top of a former grain silo at the Old Biscuit Mill, a factory turned stylish mall. Go for lunch to feast on views of the city ringed in mountains. The meal, best lubricated by clever martinis — ginger and ginseng, Thai green curry — is a parade of small plates, and the bar-food-style dishes work better than the fancified ones. The standout is grilled eggplant in a sweet, funky dashi, tempura-fried scallops on the side.
Crispy calamari comes with an addictive XO curry sauce. Smoky and tender, the peri-peri chicken, sprinkled with slivered almonds and creamy feta, is also aces. So are the chickpea Parmesan fries with their garlicky aioli and housemade ketchup. But skip the spring vegetable salad. In a garish pool of beet gastrique, it resembles a pile of fresh-pulled weeds, and not in a good way. Instead, put faith in dessert. Given toasted hazelnuts, salted caramel and smoked-cinammon ice cream, an apple tart has never been better dressed. Closed first two weeks of June. Reservations recommended.
The Pot Luck Club
Silo Top Floor, the Old Biscuit Mill, 373-375 Albert Road, Woodstock. Tel. (27) 21-447-0804
Overlooking crystal-blue Camps Bay in Table Mountain National Park, the historic Roundhouse, a former guardhouse built for the Dutch East India Company in 1786, has long been a destination restaurant. Now, adding to his ever-expanding empire, Luke Dale-Roberts has taken it over.
Go for a luxurious wine-fueled lunch with the vista spread out before you. An Orpheus & the Raven’s plush yet bright Chenin Blanc, made with fruit from old bush vines, is the partner for pan-seared scallops on a platter of textures: tangled crispy onions, pops of pomegranate and pine nuts, creamy cauliflower purée and saffron yogurt. A waiter grates on lime zest, which contrasts and boosts the scallops’ richness. Earthy and lithe, Catherine Marshall “Clay Soils” Pinot Noir tastes like cranberries smashed on the ground after a braai (a South African barbecue). It goes with the toothsome roast quail with black garlic and lentils, but it’s versatile enough for fish. Kingklip, a meaty local catch, gets an all-seasons treatment with asparagus and compressed cucumber as well as cabbage, broccoli and sous-vide potatoes with the purest spud flavor. Smoked mussels and a grating of bottarga amplify the umami in the dish. The chef likes to layer on elements like that. For dessert, it’s two things: both the mango lassi and the extraordinary goat’s milk ice cream that add cool, sweet ripples to roasted pineapple and coconut caramel cake. Closed Sunday and Monday. Reservations recommended.
Salsify at the Roundhouse
The Roundhouse, Roundhouse Road, Camps Bay. Tel. (27) 21-010-6444
Sit in the garden. It’s the quietest part of a restaurant that draws a crowd as energetic as the fare. First, a cocktail. The foam-topped rose gin fizz packs a floral punch. Then the dishes arrive, and they just keep coming at this South Indian go-to by Chefs Warehouse star Liam Tomlin, located in the Gardens neighborhood. Swipe saffron-rich sweet corn bhaji, a nubby fritter, in a cream sauce zippy with cumin. Pull a grilled lamb skewer from a smoking pot and eat it with sweet-tart pickled onions and the world’s most mouthwatering chile paste. Use paratha to scoop up dal smoky with paprika and spoon-soft cauliflower earthy with fenugreek. This being South Africa, the food sees influences from beyond India.
Fusion moments include fish tacos drizzled in tahini and a duck kati roll that tastes Southeast Asian with its cucumber, peanut and mint. There are so many fantastic flavors here, but the best dish is the seafood curry. Go ahead and suck every bit of sludgy sauce from that prawn’s head. For dessert, why not finish with bonbons? You can guess at the India-evocative flavors: mango, tamarind and black pepper caramel; pineapple, turmeric and chile pâte de fruit; and more. Or finish with a nightcap, like the rum-laced dirty mango lassi. Closed Monday lunch and Sunday. Reservations recommended.
3 Park Road, Gardens. Tel. (27) 21-286-2110
Sleek and sexy, this indoor-outdoor restaurant brings ethical sourcing and stylish dining to a shopping-worthy strip in Gardens. Tuck in for heirloom tomatoes with olive-oil granita and fresh, smoked seaweed — an unami fest if ever there was one. Or go for the housemade charcuterie plate. Those links and hunks you see hanging in the glass-enclosed case on your way in yield mortadella, funky venison sausage, blond bresaola cured from chicken and more, served with a mustard of such vibrancy you’ll wish you could take a jar home with you.
Vegetables hold their own against meat here, though. Grilled eggplant with nasturtium and furikake-dusted flatbread is floral and pretty, with some deep, dark undertones. Pan-fried himo togarashi — a mellow, green Japanese chile — acts like an entree, propped up by parsnip chips and manchego-cheese custard. The beet dish harbors secrets: What look like humble hunks of root turn out to be ribbons of the same, rolled into burgundy waves of sweet earthiness, housemade miso and ginger cake adding oomph and gorgeous purple basil leaves boosting visual appeal. As for the meats, beeline for the suckling pig, a nearly Alsatian dish dressed in piquant mustard, cabbage and dill. A nap will probably follow. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday lunch, Sunday and Monday. Reservations recommended.
Janse & Co
75 Kloof Street, Gardens. Tel. (27) 21-422-0384