A Hedonist's Guide to Cape Town: Best Restaurants

By Keith Bain & Pippa de Bruyn
Food at Ghazal restaurant, Johannesburg
EAST MEETS SOUTH: Interior décor at Nobu, Cape Town (Barbara Kraft/One&Only Resorts)

1) Overture (French)
Yet another amazing location to drink in the pleasures of the vine at this lofty cellar restaurant, located among the vineyards that carpet the lower slopes of the Stellenbosch Mountains that stretch languidly towards Somerset West, and offering unbelievable value in the wine-paired fixed price menus. Here, a manly kitchen is run by top-rated chef, Bertus Basson, a workaholic who constantly updates and changes his 10-item-per-day menu to ensure that everything is fresh and nothing gets wasted, and explains the occasional appearance of unusual and little-known cuts on the menu such as blesbok tartare and soy-cured swordfish. It's possible to enjoy up to an eight-course blowout gastronomic experience—pausing between each one to imbibe one of the most sensational views anywhere in the vicinity of Stellenbosch (although not quite on a par with Delaire Graff). Sadly, despite the views, the rigour of the kitchen and the brilliance of what's on the plate, service can feel a touch rushed and manic—it's not always easy to enjoy a relaxed meal when your server looks like he's involved in a gruelling marathon. Food 9, Service 67, Atmosphere
Food 9, Service 67, Atmosphere 9

2) Nobu (Japanese)
This may be an international brand but Nobuyuki Matsuhisa's first African restaurant is without any doubt in a league all of its own. Food is simply spectacular; service beyond reproach. Capetonians who haven't eaten here will make all kinds of excuses—particularly around price—but the fact is that anyone who is truly interested in Japanese fine dining must make the effort. An evening here is an event, and starts when you step onto the mezzanine level of a vast two-tier space done out in the classiest Modernist lines, with soaring columns, gigantic circular frames, and upturned pyramidal ceiling lights miles above your head. Upbeat tunes from the live DJ in the hotel's lobby bar create a fresh, contemporary vibe. Below you, the enormously proportioned dining space terminates in an open kitchen where sushi master Hideki Maeda and his team take time from their serious endeavours to chat to anyone who's perched at the sushi counter. While the menu is worth browsing, you'd do well to go straight for the chef 's omakase ("from the heart") selection—a multicourse taste adventure, best enjoyed with a selection of paired sakes, served from beautiful bamboo flasks.
Food 10, Service 10, Atmosphere 9

3) Aubergine (Modern Cape)
Many consider Harald Bresselschmidt the best chef in Cape Town. His impeccably classy yet unstuffy bistro and lounge-bar arrangement occupies the 19th-century home of the first Chief Justice of the Cape, which was once an extensive estate; today, the enclosed courtyard is where you can dine beneath the stars, while the modern interiors work reasonably well within the historic framework. Certainly the venue serves as an elegant backdrop to some downright avant-garde culinary creations; Harald (a German import from the Luxembourg border region) likes to play, and—when it comes to sauces—reduce, reduce, reduce, until he's uncovered a taste that's worth showing off. Yet, while he experiments with combining medallions of springbok with foie gras, or pork and pancetta pralines, he's equally adept at creating uncomplicated dishes, such as his rare fried ostrich medallions. Whatever you do, don't miss his exceptional signature aubergine soufflé with marinated goats milk cheese. Aubergine is tucked away in a city bowl residential neighbourhood that tends to get very quiet after dark, but don't let that put you off—there's good reason it's such a consistent draw for well-travelled gourmands.
Food 9, Service 9, Atmosphere 7

4) Savoy Cabbage (International/Eclectic)
A pseudo-bohemian kitchen carved out of a brick warehouse, this is where quality-sensitive diners head for their fix of upmarket paysanne food, a refined seasonal menu of extremely well-crafted comfort foods, from home-smoked salmon and beer-braised beef short rib, to the finest crème brûlee you'll taste outside France, and a much written-about butterscotch pannacotta. A trendsetter that doesn't try to be trendy, Savoy Cabbage ranks amongst the first local restaurants to have launched Cape Town into the international culinary limelight, having racked up strong praise (notably for the sublime tomato tart, available only in summer) when it launched way back in 1998. On a sidestreet location that's sadly missed by all but the most diligent gourmands, this is an awesome, unusual L-shaped double-volume space that fuses nouveau and contemporary styling with industrial architecture (exposed air ducts and iron girders), achieving a surprisingly romantic, atypical, and slightly fantastical ambience. Sit upstairs, near the bar, for a bird's eye perspective on the flying cabbage leaf light fittings, or stay down below if you'd prefer to keep an eye on Chef Peter Pankhurst's hard-working team in the open, bistro-style kitchen.
Food 9, Service 8, Atmosphere 7

5) The Roundhouse & Rumbullion (French/International)
Two exceptional dining experiences rolled into one fabulous, magical location, lording it high over Camps Bay on the slopes of Lion's Head. Originally built as a guardhouse in 1786, and later used as a hunting lodge by a spoilt and apparently riotously decadent Lord Charles Somerset, The Roundhouse offers you an evening of French fine-dining, complemented by a brilliant selection of wines and imported single malts. Seating is in carefully renovated intimately proportioned rooms with stripped-down appeal; within the curvaceous (and in one case, completely oval) rooms, original wooden floors, kiaat Nguni chairs and starched white linen do little to detract from the main attraction. Gordon Ramsey-mentored chef P.J. Vadas is a whizz in the kitchen, concocting amazing degustation menus night after night, while pastry chef Vanessa Quellec prepares desserts to blow your good intentions. During the day, tables spill out onto the lawns and a cheerful summery atmosphere is accompanied by a more relaxed selection of bistro-style meals ranging from burgers to roasted bone marrow on toast. A great early-evening cocktail venue, too, with sunsets over the Atlantic a formidable sight.
Food 9, Service 8, Atmosphere 9

To discover more of Cape Town's hottest hotels, restaurants, clubs, and bars, order your copy of A Hedonist's Guide to… Cape Town here.

Published: 12 May 2010 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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