Food in Cape Town must visit places

Cape Town’s swathe of food hip newcomers and must-visits.

There are few cooler places to visit right now than Cape Town thanks to an amazing grassroots explosion of artisan food places, cool cafes and young designers doing great things. Over two visits I’ve picked my favourite places to eat and drink while avoiding the tourist trap cliches. This is the ‘Mother City‘ as a hot, cutting-edge urban destination that fully earned its title as the 2014 World Design Capital. It is an old-money town renowned for being edgier than Johannesburg, but a place where anything more than a 20-minute drive is too far away, and where locals joke that it’s called the Mother City because everything takes nine months to happen.

Breakfast and coffee
I love Hemelhuijs (71 Waterkant St) for the handmade gold flatware and the best ever porridge of sago melkkos (milk pudding), but then there is also the thick local bread piled with artichoke hearts, smoked trout and hollandaise or chermoula hummus, avocado, rocket, parmesan and onion jam.

Yes, it sounds too good to be true, but Bacon on Bree (217 Bree St) is a cafe entirely dedicated to bacon! Richard Bosman cures and smokes his own (Duroc crossed with Large Whites if you want to get all breedy on me). Here everything is built around this bacon, whether it’s chicken wings with bacon dipping sauce, their obscenely good lard-brushed and smoked paprika-dusted cheese and bacon toastie, or – honestly – one of the greatest bacon sangers in the world.

For more bacon, head to Jason Bakery (185 Bree St) for the bacon croissant, which is basically a rasher that has been baked inside the buttery layers. It’s approximately 37 times more delicious than it sounds, and it sounds pretty good. Great coffee too!

Olympia Bakery (134 Main Rd, Kalk Bay) is a stalwart down in Kalk Bay. It’s a bit of a drive, but worth it if you like a looser, hippy-cum-surfer vibe.

With its sexy warehouse interior, great espresso coffee and the steampunk staff, Truth Coffee (36 Buitenkant St) is a good option down in the City Bowl (as the locals call the CBD), as is Tribe 112 (112 Buitengracht St), Tribe Coffee Roasting‘s new BMW bike store and cafe. But my favourite coffee is pulled out in Woodstock either at the Tribe roastery (160 Albert Rd), in the cartoon-graffiti’d courtyard of an old foundry, or at Rosetta Roastery (66 Albert Rd, Woodstock) in the Woodstock Exchange. Here you’ll find familiar premium names like Yirgacheffe as well as pour over coffee, a top-rank espresso, and only minimal snorting if you order hot milk with coffee in it. The presence of a small glass cabinet holding Jason Bakery croissants and their little egg and chorizo tarts is another prime attraction.

Bigger bites
One side of Chefs Warehouse and Canteen (92 Bree St) houses a sleek kitchenware and discerning cookbook shop, while the other side is the new home of Liam Tomlin’s casual modern canteen selling what used to be called “tapas”. These small plates, including potted crab and some legendary housemade pork or duck rillettes, or a double-up warm chocolate brownie with chocolate brownie ice cream to finish, are incredible, but then you’d expect everything to sing here as Tomlin used to run Sydney’s Banc, which gave us such culinary luminaries as Brett Graham Colin Fassnidge and Justin North.

Yard (6 Roodehek St, Gardens), morphs through the day from breakfast cafe, to lunch sandwich and taco spot, then a night time burger and ribs joint. Even if the food here wasn’t so darned tasty, the names describing the times of day and foods on offer – Mucky Mary’s Hubcaps, The Bitches Tits and The Dog’s Bollocks – would earn this spot a place in this guide, but the
no-nonsense truck stop tucker here – think prego rolls and Philly cheesesteak – is as good as it is bad. This place is also so alternative that even the local Roodehek Street lamp post is swathed in a crocheted woollen cosy. Sort of like a tea cosy turned lamp post cosy. Very Suzelle DIY!

With its walls loaded with colourful crockery and the best kitsch kitchen tat, including a faded cutting of Michelle Obama hunkering down to eat here, Karen Dudley’s rather excellent The Kitchen (111 Sir Lowry Rd, Woodstock) offers vibrant salads, jugs of homemade cordial, oh, and their famous Love Sandwich – a roll from the local Woodstock Bakery crammed with fillings such as chicken, pesto and salads.

There’s a lot of buzz about Downtown Ramen (103 Harrington St, Zonnebloem), a stripped-back ramen joint above Lefty’s Dive Bar (see Dinner Date). It offers no more than a couple of pork and vego ramen options with a few stuffed bao and drinks.

Cape Town’s best vegan cafe is Raw ‘N’ Roxy (300 Albert Rd, Woodstock) and is the place to head for green smoothies, kale chips and raw goodness. They even do ‘un-cooking’ classes.

Babylonstoren (R45, Simondium) is a short drive out of town, but visiting the cafe and restaurant in the huge, beautifully envisioned and executed kitchen gardens surrounded by classic white Cape Dutch barns and a soaring greenhouse is worth the effort. This is one of those few places where you can have absolute confidence when you read the words “from our own garden”, whether it’s the fruit in the juices, the herbs and flowers in the cordials or the ingredients in any of three colour-driven plates, such as the green plate that might combine a cold soup of cucumber with dill, fennel, apple, pear, green tomato and kohlrabi. Desserts are less constrained with the garden’s figs served with chocolate and rose ice cream and another platter of mixed fruit dolloped with gorgonzola ice cream. They also make their own biltong, butter and bread, so expect to leave well-ladened – especially if you find the end room with amazing printed hessian tablecloths and cool flatware. A must visit!

Dinner date
While Luke Dale-Robert’s The Test Kitchen (375 Albert Rd, Woodstock) is the only Cape Town spot in the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list, his glass-walled penthouse dining room Pot Luck Club (373-375 Albert Rd, Woodstock) on top of the Old Biscuit Mill is sleeker and, dare I say it, a lot more fun. The food is almost as loud and boisterous, whether the team is playing with Korean flavours (how do smoked pork belly with kimchi apple or doenjang-glazed short ribs sound?) or matching their fried chicken with spicy mayo and pineapple pickle.

Ranked 28 in the world Dale-Roberts’ The Test Kitchen is a relaxed fine diner with a distinctly Southern African feel. Here, he turns ingredients such as locally caught snoek (mackerel) into a curried sauce for tuna with tosazu (Japanese vinegar) jelly and salt-cured apricot, or springbok with black-pudding-stuffed sprouts, carrots and venison jus into another ballsy, but extremely pretty dish.

Dinner at La Colombe (Silvermist Wine Estate, Constantia Main Rd, Constantia Nek) turned out to be one of the most fun nights I’ve ever had in Cape Town with a seven course dego menu that contained no misses. Karoo lamb or a naartjie (think tangerine) puree might wave the flag for local ingredients but you’ll also find French ideas given a modern twist such as a wonderful dish of foie gras with citrus glazed snow crab, butter endive, hazelnut crumble and the light fragrance of jasmine tea. Book an early table to take advantage of the amazing views.

Two Italians, the chef from Livorno, Italy, have opened Pesce Azzuro (113 Roodebloem Rd, Woodstock), a simple and very hard-to-get-into dining room specialising in fish in a very cool area of town. Expect to find everything from local yellowtail or mackerel to kabeljou (cobia) – and pretty much everything else homemade.

Not after any palaver? Then head for the chicken waffles at Lefty’s Dive Bar (105 Harrington St, Zonnebloem), a dude bar full of more than its fair share of retro furniture, ribs, beer, sleeves and beards.

Bar hopping
The Orphanage (227 Bree St), a pioneer of Cape Town’s small bar scene, is all moody interior and antique glass. Downstairs is glossier and louder. In both rooms the cocktails are twists on classics and made with both care and finesse.

It’s not just bacon that has inspired single ingredient places in Cape Town. Mark Mulholland’s passion for gin runs to similar lengths at Mother’s Ruin (219 Bree St). A trained “nose” for the perfume industry he’s now set up this bar and is happy to spend time discussing the different merits of gins from around the world, as well as the slew of premium boutique local offerings that South Africa is now producing. Try the citrus notes of a Woodstock gin and tonic garnished with thyme and Cape gooseberries to have your eyes opened to the elegant potential of the local distillations.

Whether you’re looking for interesting urban work wear, a good coffee or to have your Buell air-cooled cylinders bored and honed by the custom-build motorcycle experts at The House of Machines (84 Shortmarket St), do it early because come nightfall this place becomes a full-on prohibition-style saloon. Quick it won’t be, but the wait is more than worth it as this place has the most intense and interesting bartenders in Cape Town, who you’ll find prowling behind the bar, burning stuff to scent cut-crystal high ball glasses, and muttering about turn of the century recipes – last century that is.

Aces ’n’ Spades (62 Hout St) is another seedy-chic spot, but with a rock bar dive feel. They have a good range of brown liquors and beer, plus occasional open mic nights, regular rock karaoke and a “howl at the moon” crowd enjoying about the best soundtrack for loud drinking that you could imagine.

Day tripper
As a wine region, Constantia is stupidly close to the city centre, as if Toorak or Rose Bay had their own vineyards. Given that Constantia is the requisite 20-minute drive from the city, it’s a definite must-do for an afternoon or day trip. Just ignore the bigger wineries in favour of the smaller players.

By the gates of the monstrous Groot Constantia “wine experience” is the tiny High Constantia (Groot Constantia Rd), where you can taste clean citrusy methode champenoise sparklings and excellent petit verdot on a vine-shrouded balcony overlooking the local nunnery. A much better choice! The other two wineries you must visit here are at opposite ends of both style and age.

There have been vines at Klein Constantia (Klein Constantia Rd) since 1685 with their most famous drop, a wonderful dessert wine, rivalling Yquem and Tokay varietals for the attention of European kings and emperors. New winemaker, Matthew Day, is making some other exceptional wines here using the post-phylloxera vines as well as bringing a more complex and elegant style to their revered sweet Vin de Constance. On the other hand Beau Constantia (Constantia Main Rd, Glen Alpine) feels like an uber-cool 21st century jetset spy pad in stone and wood as well as boasting some of the best views, great wine blends, and a really good – and this may come as a surprise, given the dinky size of this modern cellar door – pop-up sushi bar! This makes it the perfect last stop as you’ll want to linger and then stick around for dinner.

If you’re looking to eat in the middle of the day take a picnic and spread the rug overlooking Eagles’ Nest (Constantia Main Rd) or stop for a crisp glass of wine and a charcuterie or cheese board looking down over rows and rows of vines at Glen Constantia (Constantia Main Rd). After this you won’t care when you get back to Cape Town and all the power goes out because of load-shedding.

Sweet dreams
Set in expansive lush gardens right in the lee of Table Mountain and built around an old homestead, The Vineyard (Colinton Rd, Newlands) is a wonderful and quite luxurious oasis. It’s also one of my favourite hotels in the world for both this, and the excellent “don’t worry, we’ll sort that” service. Plus the Newlands location makes it close to the cricket and rugby grounds. It’s also perfectly positioned between the Constantia Wine Farms and Woodstock. Yes, in true Cape Town style nothing is more than 20 minutes away!

Cape Town favourites
Simple pleasures at these local Cape Town institutions will always keep you coming back for more.

  • Giovanni’s Deliworld (103 Main Rd, Green Point) is a great place to shoot the breeze with locals and grab a coffee. There’s also a good deli counter and alimentary round the back.
  • Foresters Arms (52 Newlands Ave, Newlands) is a sprawling pub that looks like it’s straight out of the English home-counties with its mock Tudor exterior, woody interior and open fireplaces. It’s the place to come for a beer before the cricket or rugby at either of two famous local Newlands stadia
  • Sweet, spicy Cape Malay dishes such as bobotie and curry are famous across South Africa, and the colourfully-painted streets of the suburb of Bo-Kaap are its home. Also check out the very old fashioned Atlas Trading Co. (94 Wale St, Schotsche Kloof) for all manner of local spice mixes.
  • Nothing beats calamari on the deck at sunset at Chapmans Peak Hotel (Chapmans Peak Dr, Hout Bay). Ocean views west and a simple menu where oysters, calamari and fries are the go-tos.

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