Catherine Marshall uncovers Cape Town’s best restaurants and bars.
In Cape Town, you can steer yourself by the city’s looming, majestic centrepiece, Table Mountain. It’s an incomparable feature, presiding over a city that’s taken root in its skirts and fanned out behind it into an expansive, low-slung landscape known as the Cape Flats.
Every one of the city’s landmarks delivers an arresting assessment of the mountain: the compressed side view from the top of Lion’s Head; the unrestrained panorama from Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned; and the embracing sight of it framing DHL Newlands stadium as a cricketer reaches a century and fans jump to their feet.
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She’s a moody girl, this mountain, prone to tempers in which her visage is obscured by fog; susceptible to the bank of clouds that descends upon her level summit like a well-laid white linen tablecloth. But she delivers beyond all expectations on perfect days, her flanks rising like a masterpiece against flawless blue skies. And all around her circumference, Capetonians – a vibrant mishmash of people whose ancestors are Xhosa, Malay, Indian, Dutch and British – breathe life into this most beautiful of cities.
Here’s how to capture Cape Town’s flavour without losing sight of that mountain.
Flavour, not bitterness, is the mantra driving the team at Truth Coffee Roasting (36 Buitenkant Street, Cape Town), a steampunk-themed café and roastery declared by some reviewers to be the best – and coolest – on Earth. It’s certainly one of the most eco-minded, as it’s possibly the only roastery in the world to run its roasters on biofuel (frying oil collected from restaurants and recycled). Sit down amid fabulous industrial décor and order brews named Potion Coffee, Silky Vengeance and – appropriately for early mornings – Resurrection Baby!
New and Australian-owned, Outrage of Modesty (88 Shortmarket Street, Cape Town) has already inspired a loyal following among those who appreciate small bars cocooned within moody, intimate spaces. Located in the revitalised CBD, this establishment is open from Tuesday to Saturday and serves drinks filled with inventive, unexpected ingredients such as buchu (a native plant), foraged pine needles, naartjie (a citrus fruit) and that South African specialty, biltong (cured meat).
Guests gather around chef Julia Hattingh’s 18-seat dining room table for a five-course meal matched with local boutique wines at Reverie Social Table (226a Lower Main Road, Observatory), an eatery in a small heritage building on the border of the Observatory and Salt River neighbourhoods. Dishes might include seared tuna with avocado and granadilla salad or smoked aubergine and yoghurt soup. The table d’hôte dining style encourages participants to stow their mobile devices and engage with their fellow diners.
Sneak upstairs for a nightcap at attic-cum-rooftop bar Tjing Tjing (165 Longmarket Street, Cape Town). Located in a 200-year-old heritage building in the CBD, this establishment mixes old and new – leather, wood and metal surfaces, black-and-white photographs, electronica and indie music, Asian-inspired tapas and modish cocktails – to create an inviting venue.
Cape of good food
For traditional fare, book a table at Eziko (corner of Washington Street and Jungle Walk, Langa), a casual Xhosa eatery. You’ll feast on a variety of dishes typically eaten by South Africa’s second-largest ethnic group: chicken curry with umngqusho (a mixture of crushed corn kernels and beans) and pap (maize-meal porridge), skaapkop (sheep’s head), umleqwa (boiled farm chicken) and ulusu (tripe). Eziko – which means “hearth” in Xhosa – also runs a cooking and catering school and provides unemployed people with vocational skills.
On the top floor of a former silo at The Old Biscuit Mill, The Pot Luck Club (373-375 Albert Road, Woodstock) is a tapas-and-cocktails venue flanked by train tracks on one side and Table Mountain on the other. However, your attention is soon drawn back inside by a menu that fuses South African, South American and Asian flavours. Local octopus from Kalk Bay is paired with doenjang mayo and octopus teriyaki; Korean fried cauliflower with South African amasi (fermented milk) and miso dip; and springbok carpaccio with burnt honey and soy dressing.
Catch of the day
Watch the tugboats and trawlers pulling into Hout Bay while you tuck into the city’s quintessential dish, snoek and chips, at Fish on the Rocks (Harbour Road, Hout Bay). This briny, flavoursome fish is in such demand that members of the public buy it fresh off the boats in Cape Town. The queue at Fish on the Rocks – located inside an old fishing supply store – is bound to be long but the bounty is worth the wait.
Craft beers are flourishing in Cape Town and the city’s groovy Long Street – crammed with restaurants, bars and clubs – is a good place for a pub crawl. Stop in at Beerhouse (223 Long Street, Cape Town), a venue leading the charge, for a wide selection of international beers and local inventions such as Soweto Gold Lager and First Light Golden Ale from Devil’s Peak.
If you like your surroundings to be elegant – whether for a morning coffee and pastry or a cheeky pre-dinner drink – head to The Twankey Bar (1 Wale Street, Cape Town) at the Taj Cape Town in the CBD. The coffee blend has been created by Truth Coffee Roasting and the West Coast and Namibian oysters, shucked to order, are some of the finest.
Cape Town’s story is told through the conceptual dishes served at Greenhouse (93 Brommersvlei Road, Constantia), a fine-dining institution in The Cellars-Hohenort hotel. There’s the octopus in swirls of dry ice and ginger ink that evokes the sea monster said to have tormented sailors rounding Cape Point; cheeses that explore the Cape’s French heritage; tender lamb farmed in the one-time frontier region of Klein Karoo; and kingklip (cusk-eel) doused with flavours brought to the Cape by Malay immigrants. Dinner is served Tuesday to Saturday from 6pm.
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