Article updated on December 30, 2022
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.
The Bailey [CBD]
Right across from the very first venue of Chefs Warehouse on Bree Street (R.I.P. we do miss you Canteen!), the legendary chef and entrepreneur Liam Tomlin brings some exquisite French flare to Cape Town. The dark green three-story building dating back to 1862, proposes different universes, from a bistro to a whiskey bar via the second floor, The Bailey Brasserie. It breathes a sophisticated atmosphere with its red velvet armchairs, leather chairs, and dark wooden table covered in tablecloths. The excellent maître d’, seconded by waiters in classic uniforms complete the scene for an immediate travel to Paris.
Past the oysters, caviar or crayfish cocktails, steak tartare, escargots and foie gras are just a few of the starters to choose from. We opt for the pan seared quail served with glazed sweetbread, a lyonnaise tartlet and sauce soubise, and a grilled artichoke. The very French sauce soubise is perfectly executed – even if its pronunciation gives a bit of a hard time to the young chef presenting the beautifully plated dishes. Wine advice is simply perfect, and if some foreign bottles are available, most of the wine list focuses on carefully selected wines from South African producers.
For the mains we opt for a duck leg confit and a locally caught line fish which comes in a grilled version on a pancetta and spring onion ragout. If The Bailey calls itself a brasserie and has definitely adopted some of its emblematic dishes, the service is more relaxed. Still, the traditional exercises are performed at the table such as the preparation of the steak tartare or the crêpes Suzettes, in the purest French tradition!
- Make sure to check out the Old Bailey Whiskey Bar for a pre-dinner drink or digestive.
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.
At Hacienda, Mexican dishes with a sophisticated twist are carefully crafted. The menu goes way beyond the traditional tacos, tortillas, frijoles, and nachos. The chef takes inspiration from the southern Baja region of Mexico, known for its excellent fish tacos.
To accompany this must-taste, the chef takes us to Oaxaca, the gastronomic capital of Mexico, with a mole, a complex sauce made of no less than 30 different ingredients that are fed every day. Scooped up with a fresh warm tortilla, its flavour is quite unique. Instead of the regular wine pairing, Hacienda proposes a tequila pairing: a lightly aromatic Patron Reposad Tequila pairs perfectly with the beautifully plated and delicate seabass ceviche topped off with avocado cream, salmon roe and pico de gallo. In Cape Town, the Baja fish tacos.go local in their crispy tempura lobster, paired with a Gran Patron Piedra, a premium tequila aged for more than 3 years and goes towards a whiskey flavour.
As the dishes are presented, the tequilas get more complex and refined. A vintage is a spectacular finish with the marinated lamb chop and cinnamon sweet potatoes. The wooded aromas of the tequila highlight the smokey taste of the meat for an original and sunny pairing.
- The set menu of Hacienda for 2 is a highlight!
ëlgr [Kloof Street]
Kloof Street has turned into Cape Town’s food district and as such is the perfect location to welcome chef Jesper Nilsson’s ëlgr restaurant. His cosy venue – think Scandinavian design – is one of the places where tasty no-frill food and secretive local wines can be enjoyed and paired.
Originally from Sweden, Jesper brings his world travels to the table via New Zealand and crafts original recipes with local and seasonal South African ingredients. The best part of ëlgr is how closely the chef and the sommelier collaborate together. Le Roi van de Vyver, who hails from the famous Stellenbosch wine region, finds unexpected wines from small and local South African producers to highlight Jesper’s creations.
The well-orchestrated duo knows how to play the part: Chef Jesper brings a generous board of cold cuts our table while Le Roi presents a Pinot Gris in its finest details, from its flavours to the story of the specific wine maker. As another option, a Syrah by Sam Lambson with its black pepper kick and plums on the nose pairs surprisingly well with the cold cuts. For our next sharing dish, a biodynamic Ou Steen Chenin Blanc 2019 cuts brilliantly through the acidity and bitterness of the green radicchio – that without this very specific wine pairing would probably not be the best experience. A Cape White Blend enhances the soft and fluffy (yes, fluffy) textures of the beef tartare.
More dishes follow and the wine flows while more and more people flock in to enjoy different sharing dishes or cocktails at the outside bar.
- As the menu at ëlgr does not really describe how most of the ingredients are served, your safest bet is to go for the Chef’s Choice Sharing Menu and top it off with the paired wines..
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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