Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Over a few years, Cape Town has become a foodies’ paradise. If the city developed thanks to its ideal conditions to resupply passing ships, today its food scene thrives thanks to its organic green grocers, ethical fisheries, free range cattle farmers, excellent wine regions and inventive chefs putting it all together. From fine dining to casual eateries, do yourself a favour and taste the best of Cape Town! Here is our cherry-picked selection of casual eateries…
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The Belly of the Beast [CBD]
Close to the District 6 Museum, the industrial-yet-sophisticated venue provides a trendy and intimate dining experience for the ones in the know. The Belly of the Beast is born from the passion for gastronomy of South African chefs Neil Swart and Anouchka Horn. After years working at traditional restaurants, the chefs dreamt of running an eatery where they could fully focus on the dishes they curate only for a few people.
Their concept is simple: they decide on the prix-fixe menu based on the sustainable and ethically-sourced ingredients that are delivered daily. From the open kitchen, flavourfully-seasoned-and-beautifully-plated dishes are sent to all diners following the same tempo. The experience starts at 12:30pm for lunch and at 6:45pm in a more extensive version for dinner. Our lunch begins with the signature kabous bread course. It revolves around this delicious bread made from a 3.5-year-old sourdough starter for the perfect texture and greatest digestibility. The fluffy and rich slices coming straight out of the wood-fired oven are surrounded by a perfectly textured chicken liver parfait with dried apricot compote and fresh dill, and a refined kudu carpaccio served with marinated tomatoes and a local parmesan: an expression of Neil’s passion for meat.
With no frills, a yellowtail ceviche with a masala corn salsa and crunchy-yet-melting-in-the-mouth poppadum is brought to our table as a starter.
If Neil loves working with meat, his skills are not in rest when it comes to fish, as proven by the perfectly pan-fried fresh hake that follows. The generous portion is highlighted by a pea cream and charred asparagus, gnocchi and a white wine and truffle foam sauce in a unique handcrafted bowl.
Pastries are Anouchka’s specialty, and a lemon curd ice-cream with macerated berries and meringue on a crumbled shortbread reminds me of a sweet version of the lemon meringue pie of my favourite Parisian bakery, a perfect way to conclude a memorable lunch.
- The Belly of the Beast runs as a zero-waste restaurant, so booking is essential as supplies are ordered only for the specified number of guests for the day: plan to book a month ahead.
Heritage Square eateries [Mazza, La Cantina, Yaki, Penny Noire] @ Local [CBD]
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 casual eateries and food-related stores. Of these, Mazza, La Cantina and Local – the kitchenware store, library and deli – were started by the legendary chef Liam Tomlin, founder of The Chefs Warehouse. 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 such as the wine bar Penny Noire and the Japanese-inspired Yaki, making the cosy inside space and shaded courtyard must-visits for foodies.
Today, chefs Tevin Cooke and Unathi Mbalane co-head the kitchen. Together, they master the cooking techniques for a wild-array of gastronomies. To enjoy it fully, the best bet is to get a sample of different specialties to share, from the Italian fares of La Cantina – a simple menu, varying with the seasons, and well executed – to the sophisticated yakitoris of Yaki and the excellent mezzes of the Middle-Eastern restaurant Mazza.
The latter, Mazza, has its own space, upstairs, overlooking the Local area like we would overlook a souk. Scents of smoky Turkish lamb kofta fill the air and the atmosphere is lively. 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!
The Penny Noire wine bar proposes the ideal wine list to accompany all these dishes. Focused on lesser-known South African winemakers, Penny carefully selects every bottle from the surprising XX white to the excellent and full-bodied red Penny Black. Aiming at starting a discussion around wine, Penny loves chatting casually about her elixirs to please or surprise. Experiencing it under Southern Africa’s oldest vine that provides some shade in the courtyard is a unique experience.
- Local functions as a food court: browse around, make new friends, and sit to enjoy the low-key vibe and great food & drinks.
- Mazza is a great place for dinner and we may like it even better for lunch when the spot is a bit quieter.
Chapter One [Kloof Street]
Kloof Street has turned into Cape Town’s food district and as such, it is the perfect location to welcome chefs Eloise Martin & Jason Labuschagne’s Chapter One, a modern, casual and multi-cultural restaurant.
Along them, chef Brandon Erasmus, brings his experience working at the world-renowned The Test Kitchen and The Potluck Club to cater a fantastic experience revolving around a sharing concept. The menu does not fall into one category: with simple, local, organic, fresh and high-quality ingredients provided by small suppliers, food is inspired by dishes from all over the world with a great focus on cooking techniques and presentation.
Chef Jason brings beautifully plated dishes on the large and comfortable table. As he lines up three starters, the great attention to colours and textures stands out. Passionate, he describes the dishes with stars in his eyes, from the cooking techniques to the ingredients. Cooking is caring, and Jason does care a lot! He wants to maintain the same level of personal connection with both his guests and his suppliers.
The Chapter One team loves to experiment with food often using one ingredient prepared in many different ways in the same sophisticated tapas. The Marrow Bone dish with bone marrow mousse dumpling – retaining all the flavours without the texture – served on a baby marrow velouté spiced up by pickled baby marrow is bold and delicious. The signature starter, the goat cheese mousse wrapped in a phyllo dough is balanced by glazed walnuts for the crunchiness and a herb salad for the freshness. The smoked snoek croquettes is a yet another perfect example of the various cooking techniques mastered by the chefs with its cauliflower, prepared as a velouté, a tempura and also shaved.
With their background working on a wine farm, Jason and Eloise have cherry-picked original and affordable wines. Instead of a wine pairing, focus is put on advising on a wine that can pair with the ordered dishes, such as a Riesling Hartenberg from Stellenbosch with an acidity that balances with the starters, or a surprising pinotage rosé to highlight the pan seared duck breast on a parsnip purée and a smear of cherry molasses.
- For a great meal, that will leave you satisfied and not uncomfortable, plan on 6 courses to share: 3 starters, 2 mains and a dessert.
Nish Nush [CBD]
With everything there is to experience in Cape Town, for the ones who do not quite have time to properly sit for a meal, Nish Nush is ideal for a quick and satisfying bite.
Israeli-born Ofer Hollinger has been preparing the best falafels and shawarmas of Cape Town at his hole in the wall along the trendy Bree Street in the heart of the City Bowl. It all started when he realized he could not find his homeland specialties as they taste back home, and he decided to take the matter in his own hands. The homemade pita breads are stuffed with the delicious homemade hummus and chili paste, and topped off with either the slow-roasted shawarma or the yummy fried falafel. Nish Nush is very popular with locals and tourists alike, either for a quick lunch or to grab a late night snack.
- Every Saturday, Ofer also mans his stall at the Neighborgood Market in Woodstock.
Bo Kaap deli [Bo Kaap]
The low-key café in colourful Bo Kaap proposes all-day breakfast items, lunch fares and sweets including the local specialties and must-tries koeksisters and milk-tarts, along with hot drinks prepared by the onsite barista. Bokaap deli is the perfect place to take in the vibes of the Muslim neighbourhood, seating outside and feeling the vibrant community or chatting to many of the foreigners who call Cape Town’s City Bowl home. To truly taste Bo Kaap, the Masala steak on a bun is the Cape Malay take on a classic burger and the Masala mince shakshuka is also full of the fragrant but not-so-hot local spices. Whatever you choose, make sure to keep some room for some dessert! To change from the regular coffee variations, a dirty chai (or your regular latte chai with a shot of espresso and a ton of cinnamon) or red flat white (the rooibos version of it) are ideal to accompany a sweet.
- To get super fresh koeksisters, show up from 8:30am.
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