South Africa is fast gaining a reputation of being a World Class gourmet destination. The country is huge, and covers many different climate zones, making it a producer of anything from delicate asparagus to juicy mangoes and everything in-between. The vast fields feed dairy and beef cattle, succulent lamb and free range fowl, and the game farms provide a wide range of game as well as the lean and tasty ostrich. And don’t even get me started on the wine…
Visiting South Africa can be a bit overwhelming at first. First of all, there so much to see and do that you will undoubtedly come down with a bout of indecision, but there are also more serious issues at play. How does one justify a luxury holiday to a country with so much poverty and despair? Close to 50% of South Africa’s population live on less than the international poverty line of $2 per day, and real unemployment is as high as 60% in certain areas. Well, the answer is simple really. By selecting hotels and restaurants that promote local employment creation, fair wages and local procurement, you can contribute to a better South Africa. It also goes without saying that choosing restaurants that serve locally produced, organic, free range and biodynamic products is good both for you and for South Africa.
So here’s my hand-picked list of 8 simply stunning South African restaurants that will leave you feeling satisfied both in body and soul.. Enjoy!
1. THE VINEYARD
There are close to 3,500 vineyards in South Africa, and many of them have great restaurants (more than half of the restaurants on the Eat Out Top 10 list are vineyard restaurants) so you will be spoiled for choice in this category! My favourite vineyard, Waterkloof, lies a little off the beaten path with breathtaking views over False Bay, theHottentots-Hollandmountains and the rolling vineyards.
At Waterkloof, the wine is produced according to biodynamic principles and chef Czarnecki follows the same principles in the kitchen. Expect seasonal and locally sourced quality ingredients, expertly paired and presented in a continental fine dining style.
The 5-course tasting menu (paired with the vineyard’s own wines of course) is an excellent choice. If I had to pick one favourite, it would be the Conoglio Rabbit Rillettes with rhubarb relish and pickles, served withCircumstance Viognier 2012.
2. THE TOWNSHIP TAVERN
A visit to South Africa would be incomplete without a visit to one the vibrant townships. Created by the infamous Apartheid (the system of racial segregation enforced through legislation in South Africa by the National Party 1948 – 1991) policies, Soweto (South Western Townships) outside Johannesburg is one of South Africa’s largest and most famous townships.
It is a pulsating, sprawling and contrasting area of middle-class neighbourhoods blended with desperately poor shack dwellings, where hipsters mingle with street-hawkers and the occasional tsotsi (SA slang for small-time gangster).
Sakhumzi serves up township treats like Mogodu (tripe cooked over open fire in a three-legged cast iron pot) and hearty stews, and is frequented by equal amounts of tourists and locals. It is located in a place where you can literally feel the winds of history sweeping past you; Vilakazi Street is the only street in the world that was home to two Nobel Peace Prize winners (Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu) and this is also where the student uprising of 1976 took place (an event later described as the Beginning of the Fall of Apartheid). For a completely authentic experience, try the Rockville breakfast: chicken feet, giblets and pap (a thick porridge made with maize meal).
3. THE BEACH BRAAI
The braai is the holy grail of cooking in South Africa. It is really just another word for barbeque, but South Africans take their braaing very seriously and can have hour-long discussions on the merits of wood versus coal and the right temperature for the perfect braai. One of the best braai restaurants in South Africa must be Strandloper in Langebaan. It is an open-air, simple place right on the beach so kick off your shoes, let your feet dig into the sand and enjoy the live music while the chefs work their magic by the braai.
Classics like whole grilled yellowtail and mussels in white wine are served together with more traditional dishes like smoked snoek (a type of mackerel), fish curry (there is a strong Malay heritage in this part of South Africa due to the slaves that were brought here) and waterblommitjie bredie (a stew made with a local “water flower”).
Dishes are prepared as the meal progresses, so expect a long a leisurely event that can easily stretch over 3-4 hours. You know what they say: “no hurry in Africa”!
4. THE LOCAL
Located in the little town Dullstroom in the Mpumalanga highlands is a quirky, cosy and always fully booked place called Mrs. Simpson’s. The host couple, Bryan and Stephen have created the place in the spirit of divorceé Mrs Simpson, who became the late Duchess of Windsor. She married King Edward VIII who abdicated the English throne to wed her. Handbags, shoes and gloves make up the decor together with an impossible collection of Stuff.
The food is hearty and it is cooked with love and local ingredients. Expect traditional South African fare such as braised chicken livers with peri-peri cream and falling-off-the-bone tender lamb shanks in rosemary jus, with a few international twists thrown in for good measure (Mrs. Simpson was, after all, a lady of many talents). For dessert, don’t miss the typically South African homemade Malva pudding with custard. Be warned though, it is highly addictive!
5. THE FARM
Bartholomeus Klip is a working sheep farm in Riebeek Valley, about an hour’s drive from Cape Town. To get the full eating experience here, you must stay overnight. The menus are different each day, but I will give you a “taster”.The feast will start at breakfast, which definitely isn’t a fry-up and toast affair. Honey-glazed nuts; poached figs and pears; and homemade granola compete for space on the buffet with thin omelettes rolled with chicken, caramelised onions and rocket; spinach and egg pastries; smoked trout; local meats and cheeses; and pancakes drizzled with maple syrup, topped with cinnamon-baked apples. If you can handle it, there is also a whole selection of cooked eggs, bacon and sausages made to order.
Mid-afternoon is Afternoon Tea time, with treats like little pink salmon & mayo rolls, mushroom empanadas and freshly baked scones are followed by baked lemon meringue pie and the most indulgent carrot cake ever. If you didn’t have a nap after breakfast, you will definitely need one now!
Each night, the chef prepares a 4-course meal inspired by what is fresh and in season, often from their own farm. How about a grilled beef carpaccio with pecorino shavings, crisp onions and horseradish vinaigrette, followed by a small seasonal soup to start? But leave room for your main course and dessert; you could be treated to a rack of lamb with cauliflower puree, baby marrows, turned potatoes, carrot jus and truffle foam or something equally delicious, followed by a blueberry pannacotta with cinnamon sugar palmiers.
6. THE SAFARI LODGE
Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve regularly appears on many Best Hotels in the World list (like the 2012 Conde Nast Traveler Readers Choice Awards – Best Safari lodge in Africa and 6th in the World), and hosts the crème de la crème including celebrities, royalty and the rich and powerful. Each of their 4 lodges represents an aspect of the Sabi Sabi philosophy of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.
My personal favourite is Tomorrow’s Earth Lodge. It is an amazing, luxurious and minimalistic space where you can’t tell where the buildings end and nature begins. Throughout the day, you are treated to may delicious nibbles and each night, the tables are set under the star-filled sky and lit up by hundreds of little lanterns. Chef Laubscher presents a tantalizing menu that reflects the very latest of international trends, prepared with fresh, local ingredients. There is always one African game dish such as kudu, springbok or even warthog. Don’t worry though, it’s none of the Bambies you saw during your safari drive earlier; all game is sourced from sustainable game farms – not from the reserve. How about a “Dukka spiced Kudu loin on hummus flavoured mashed potato and caramelized root vegetables”? This is the complete safari experience!
7. THE SHOW
Madame Zingara is a burlesque circus that travels around South Africa and puts on amazing dinner party shows in an old-fashioned circus tent wrapped in velvet drapes and glittery glamour.
If it was conceived today it would probably be described as a “pop-up”, but the Madame has been around for much longer than the hipsters have! The show is a mesmerizing concoction of comedians, contortionists and classic soul singers. While you are enjoying the show, your “floor fairy” will keep the food and drink coming. Don’t miss the Madame’s signature dish: Chocolate Chili Fillet, a succulent beef fillet served with a seductive blend of dark Belgian chocolate, rosemary and a hint of chilli!
For the Full Experience, dress up in your favourite weird, funny, naughty or plain stupid outfit. At the Theatre of Dreams, anything goes!
8. THE ROCKSTAR
Voted Best Restaurant in South Africa by Eat Out, and the only African restaurant on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, Chef Luke Dale-Robert’s The Test Kitchen is everyone’s darling. Located in the previously run-down area of Woodstock, The Test Kitchen is an important part of the redevelopment and upliftment of this old industrial area. Chef Dale-Roberts supports local culinary talents and also promotes up and coming designers and artists.
The Test Kitchen is a place for Dale-Roberts and his team to get an outlet for their creative talent. Expect an unexpected mixture of local fare and fine dining classics, all in a Test Kitchen wrapping.
How about “Pan seared springbok, baby beets, almond and red onion stuffing, springbok skilpadjie (liver wrapped in the fatty membrane that surrounds the kidneys), roasted springbok and beetroot extraction” or “Pan fried Kingklip with cauliflower and pine nut purée, sous vide fennel, warm salad of Nicola potato and Patagonian squid, dill velouté, caper and herb salsa”?
About this week’s Guest writer :
Katarina loves to travel, this passion has taken her to many places around the globe. She was born and raised in Sweden then lived, studied and worked in Australia, The UK, Panama and Switzerland before making South Africa her home in 2005. She has a Master’s degree in Sustainable Tourism and has dedicated her career to ensuring that tourism benefits the people, places and communities that make it happen. She is also the founder of My Slow Journey, a platform for travellers that want to Explore near & far, Experience the moment and Embrace life. Follow her on twitter, and facebook here.