Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
South Africa attracts for its safari game reserves, varied landscapes, surfing spots, beautiful Cape Town and the very well-marketed Garden Route. A day in the vineyards of Stellenbosch or Franschhoek is often part of the trip, but the rainbow nation is not necessarily renowned for its gastronomy. However, for the past ten years, the food scene in Cape Town has gone from non-remarkable to exquisite. If there are no restaurants rewarded with Michelin stars in the country, it is simply because the French prestigious guide does not operate on the African continent. Nevertheless, Capetonian restaurants have become used to hitting competing lists of world’s best restaurants such as the Test Kitchen in Woodstock, or La Colombe in Constantia. If it has become quite noticeable, and has also hit the top of these lists, there is still a little gem for the ones in the know… The Chefs Warehouse… Started as one location in the city centre in 2014 by chef Liam Tomlin, and expanded since, the dish-sharing restaurant concept combines delicious food artistically plated in remarkable locations with a fantastic service and a great attention to details.
When you visit South Africa, if you are even remotely interested in food, The Chefs Warehouse has to be on your list! Here is a comprehensive guide to help you decide which location is the best adapted to your taste (if you can resist to simply trying them all!).
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The Chefs Warehouse at Pinchos on Bree [CDB]
The Irish-born Liam Tomlin opened The Chefs Warehouse Canteen, his first Capetonian restaurant in 2014 on Bree Street, in the heart of Cape Town. The concept was unique in the Mother City where the food scene was starting to develop: high-end small dishes to share. After 7 years of success, and emulating other restaurants (see below), the original Canteen has become Pinchos, and Liam gave the keys of the kitchen to South African chef Gordon Logan. The concept has evolved into à la carte Spanish tapas to order. Each of them is carefully crafted, with the best Spanish products (an exception at the Chefs Warehouse where local products are honoured), following the rule of four: “I want to keep it simple, and simple does not mean easy”, says Gordon as he checks on how we are enjoying our meal. He does not use more than four main ingredients in his no-frill dishes. The wine bar allows for the perfect pairing by the sommelier, Lennox Nyengera who has a passion for locally-made and black-owned emerging wine brands in Africa.
Pinchos has become the place to meet and share a glass over tapas, few or many, depending on your appetite. Just one tip: make sure to keep some room for desserts: the Jerez is a soft and fresh discovery and the traditional crema catalana sublimed in its de-structured version.
- No booking, so show up early and get started with a glass of wine to make sure you get a table.
- On a hot day, the terrace is nicely in the shade for an al fresco lunch.
The Chefs Warehouse at Beau Constantia
Then a chef at The Test Kitchen (that since its opening in 2010 has been accustomed to making it high on the world’s best restaurant award lists), Ivor Jones used to eat often at Liam Tomlin’s first Capetonian restaurant, Canteen. He also loved enjoying a wine tasting on the Beau Constantia vineyard about 20 minutes south of Cape Town. So, when Liam called Ivor to start a restaurant together at Beau, it was a no-brainer for the young and talented chef (ranked second best chef 2020 by SA Finest)!
With the same dish-for-two-sharing concept as in Canteen, Ivor Jones and his team have been subliming the organic, ethically-sourced and seasonal ingredients carefully selected in neighbouring farms, often with a subtle Asian twist, dear to Ivor.
A first experience at Chefs Warehouse Beau Constantia is mind-blowing. It is a real feast for the palate of course, but also for the nose and eyes. “I have had the privilege to eat in many Michelin-star restaurants all over the world, and this the best food I have ever had” describes Heather, a dear friend, globetrotter and food connoisseur, with stars in her eyes as we are sipping the last drop of the Stella Beau Constantia wine that topped off an incredible meal. The same stars Ivor has in his eyes when he describes his dishes and talks passionately about his ingredients.
As we keep coming back, we have grown accustomed to excellence. The service is always tip-top; the view on the vineyards and False Bay in the distance, panoramic; the modern style of the dining room with its open kitchen, stylish yet relaxed; and the dishes are always beautifully plated in carefully chosen ceramics, with a perfect balance of flavours. Delicious! What keeps amazing us though, is Ivor’s creativity. Coming up with new dishes is his responsibility. He is simply inspired by flavours as he puts it. To us, it feels like magic! The menu is changed frequently often a dish at a time. With 8 tapas served in four rounds, plus a few desserts (don’t skip on the lavender and honey crème with honeycomb: it is so acclaimed by regulars that Ivor had to promise to always keep it on the menu!), it is quite an achievement to keep surprising his guests over and over again…
- Booking is a must!
- Depending on the time of the year, seating a bit before sunset is great, even if our preference goes for lunchtime to keep enjoying the views on the Constantia vineyards.
- Ivor Jones has recently launched a vegan menu that is absolutely delightful.
- It sounds like an awkward tip, but make sure to check out the restrooms: best view ever!
The Chefs Warehouse at Maison [Franschhoek]
Franschhoek with its French background is reputed for being the South African capital of gastronomy. Only an hour away from Cape Town, nested amongst dramatic mountains, it is only fair that the Chefs Warehouse set up a restaurant there back in 2017, on the Maison vineyard. What a great location amidst the orchards and vines run by dedicated local suppliers for the chef David Schneider to express his art! After working at the Test Kitchen (under chef Luke Dale Roberts) and the Pot Luck Club, David joined the Chefs Warehouse team via Canteen and Beau before becoming the head chef and co-owner of the Franschhoek location. With a passion for South African products and even more so for the ones growing on the surrounding farms, the working estate at Maison is the ideal location for David to treat his guests as if they were home. His whole goal is to highlight his ingredients in the best possible way. His inspiration starts with a simple list of what is seasonally available, and develops from there. David wants his guests to focus on sharing the moment without being distracted by over-the-top snooty dishes highlighting the ego of the chef more than the quality of the products. Even though it is hard to not get distracted by the artfully crafted and plated courses, David and his team succeed in turning the whole meal into an experience centred around sharing his delicious and perfectly balanced cuisine. The country location with its relaxed garden by the vineyard under centennial oak trees where Shimeji, the black pig roams freely often followed by fluffy chicks, and its dining room with the wood-dominated interior and designed furniture by Chris Weylandts (Maison is actually the family home of the famous designer) invite guests to savour the moment and linger around.
- Our favourite meal at Maison is lunch on the terrace, before a coffee and dessert shared in the garden under the oak trees.
- Don’t forget to check out the deli. A former butcher, David cures, smokes and prepares his own cold cuts, as well as condiments. If this is not practical with your travel plans, make sure to check out the excellent book selection. This way, you can take a bit of Maison home. After all, isn’t it where it belongs?!
The Chefs Warehouse at Tintswalo Atlantic [Hout Bay]
With the Atlantic Ocean always in sight, surprisingly, Cape Town does not have too many good restaurants on the coastline (for foodies, unfortunately, neither the Waterfront nor Camps Bay really cuts it…). This is now sorted thanks to a partnership between the Chefs Warehouse and Tintswalo Atlantic, the 5-star award-winning boutique hotel nested opposite Hout Bay, at the start of the breath-taking Chapman’s Peak drive. The secluded and exclusive lodge is built on stilts on a pebbled beach. When seated at the terrace of the restaurant, it feels like being at sea. The beautiful cove with Sentinel Peak and Hout Bay sprawling at its foot sets the decor. In season, whales can be spotted, and if you look closely, you will see dolphins and sea lions for sure.
The sunset is not to be missed, and is even better enjoyed with the signature oysters from Saldanha Bay (150 km North) at this recently opened Chefs Warehouse location, headed by the young and dedicated chef Braam Beyers. Served in four courses, the menu evolves with the seasons. With such a setting, the fine-dining menu of dishes for two to share is carefully crafted around noble ingredients, with a predilection for seafood – think langoustine, line-fish, catch of the day, etc. and also springbok and other fine meats…
The Chefs Warehouse Tintswalo with its expansive ocean views and elegant setting is definitely the place for romantic dinners and to celebrate special occasions.
- Booking is essential.
- Make sure you sit on time for sunset, and ask for a table on the first row. Should the weather turn bad, the elegant dining room is lovely.
- This is the best place to savour the signature oysters.
Set on a side street of the trendy Kloof Street, the recognizable blue façade opens on an unexpected world as soon as you step in, leading you all the way out to a lovely courtyard. Decorated with authentic objects brought back from India by Liam and his wife and Jack-of-all-trade right arm Jan Tomlin, Thali brings the best of India to your table. Its literal translation refers to a complete meal composed of many different dishes, fitting perfectly with the dish-sharing concept of the Chefs Warehouse. Actually, the colourful, flavourful and plentiful dishes are brought on a thali (also referring to the metal serving tray). Don’t worry: if Indian food can be spicy hot, the gifted head chef Nathanael Coe balances herbs and spices to perfection! The humble and caring head chef, who made his debuts at Singita and Canteen, manages the diverse kitchen team as a family. The new dishes he composes are tasted by the whole crew, and more often than not, by Liam himself, before they are added to the menu.
The three rounds build up on flavours, starting with the smoky lamb seekh signature kebab, and ending with a unique curry. As I notice a green apple dust topping of yet another delicious dish, I look at Nate interrogatively: “I throw away as little as possible”, explains the chef (who runs a soup kitchen with his mother in his free time), “this is obtained from leftover peels”, he details with a satisfied smile.
Whether it is the team spirit that emanates from the open kitchen, the low-key atmosphere or the hearty yet refined Indian dishes, Thali is a cosy and friendly place to enjoy and share.
- No bookings.
- Come early (the kitchen opens at 5pm) to ensure a table and to enjoy the lovely outdoor seating in the courtyard with one of the signature cocktails. The chili-tequila mojito is worth trying as well as the Whiskey Sour. The non-alcoholic lassis are always excellent.
La cantina @ Local [CDB]
First of all, what is Local all about? Nested on Heritage Square, located at the crossing of trendy Bree and Shortmarket Streets in the heart of the Cape Town city bowl, Local is a collection of eateries and food-related stores. Of these, Mazza, La Cantina and Local (the kitchenware store, library and deli) are owned by chef Liam Tomlin. The other stores sharing this inviting and warm space where it just feels good to hang out are run by some of his trusted friends: for instance, the wine bar Penny Noire is managed by the excellent and sympathetic Penny who used to run the hospitality at Canteen and has studied to become a sommelier since.
So let’s get back to La Cantina, headed by chef Marco Cardoso. Initially waitressing at Beau to fund his chef studies, the South African mastered Indian food at Thali, and later honed his skills at Canteen. Today, Marco is delighting his guests with Italian fares at La Cantina, the casual eatery with its open kitchen. Most ingredients are local but for a few Italian specialties. The menu is simple, varying with the seasons, and well executed.
- Local functions a bit as a food court especially inside: browse around, make new friends, and sit to enjoy the low-key vibe and great food and drinks.
Mazza @ Local [CDB]
It was supposed to open in Beirut, but COVID-19 happened and plans have changed… We are very happy to have another of Liam Tomlin’s eateries in Cape Town, on the vibrant Heritage Square in the CDB. Mazza is 100% Middle Eastern-focused, and “all of our ingredients come from around Cape Town, but for the orange blossoms which do come from the Middle East”, explains the head chef Geoffrey Abrahams who runs the show with head chef Teenola Govender. His years between some of the best restaurants of Cape Town and Dubai have inspired him, and the menu that keeps expanding is just a start. Upstairs, overlooking the Local area like we would overlook a souk, scents of smoky Turkish lamb kofta fill the air and the atmosphere is cosy. The dips are all excellent, from the tahini yogurt dip to the Mazza hummus with crispy chickpeas slowly dried in the oven and the succulent labneh. If you still have room for dessert, do not skip on the pistachio, semolina and orange blossom cake!
- Mazza is a great place for dinner and we may like it even better for lunch when the spot is a bit quieter.
Liam Tomlin is taking his method one step further. The chef has the rare ability to spot talents and give them room to grow. This is how he has been able to successfully expand his brand from one restaurant on Bree Street into seven of the best places to eat in Cape Town (and now even one in Barcelona), each with its own vibe, cuisine and style; all of them with the same attention to details and research for excellence. When many restaurants are closing because of the pandemic, the Chefs Warehouse is becoming a brand, setting up an internship program to allow young adults who cannot afford cooking schools to develop themselves and get a future in the food industry, giving back to the community. We are already looking forward to coming back to our favourite restaurants, and experiencing Liam’s new concepts and seeing what this future generation of chefs will get cooking!
- To learn from the chefs, some cooking classes are help throughout the year at the Ginger & Lime food studio in Cape Town.
- Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area! Here is a short tutorial to download it.
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