Cape Town Fine Dining: Top Picks!

Text & Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The excellent the food scene of the Mother City has been consistently ranking high on the lists of world’s best restaurants. If South Africa attracts for its safari game reserves, beautiful Cape Town and the very well-marketed Garden Route, make sure to not miss out on these gems when you are in town…

FYN

Passed the concierge, the stylish elevator takes us up to the fifth floor of the Speaker’s Corner building in the heart of the Cape Town City Bowl. Three small letters on the dark wall: FYN. Play on word echoing fynbos, the floral kingdom of Table Mountain National Park that pops through the majestic floor-to-ceiling windows, and understatement of the experience we are about to live…

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After marvelling at the sunset over Lion’s Head over a glass of champagne in the sleek dining room where 6,000 poplar-wood discs are strung on ropes for an enjoyable acoustics and a warm decor, our first course sticks out, literally: visually stunning canapés on porcupine quills. The minced guinea fowl in yakitori style that we dip in a rich yolk and tare dressing is a marvel. On the side, a rich ostrich egg chawanmushi (read Japanese custard), topped off by a teaspoon of exquisite caviar.

The menu is a wonderful and travel tale in style. Guinea fowl, springbok, abalone, ostrich, Saldanha bay oyster and yakitori, tonkatsu, tsukune, daikon… South African ingredients meet Japanese inspiration in unexpected combinations. The wine list is elegant and carefully selected by co-owner, general manager and wine magician Jennifer Hugé (her résumé comprises almost 20 years at La Colombe, a fine dining institution in Cape Town, as sommelier and manager). She can get her hands on some elixirs crafted by some of the best winemakers in South Africa – and beyond with an excellent selection of French wines, maybe from her roots even if South Africa has been her home for more than 20 years. Studying the menu, we notice that the wine pairing is an amazing selection of exclusive gems wonderfully and originally matched with the sublime dishes created by chef Peter Tempelhoff and his team in the open kitchen of FYN. If the theme remains, his polished menu changes constantly, and Peter manages to prepare high-wire dishes that are quite healthy and rather low in carbs and fat, yet very satisfying and full of umami. A dream come true!

We scoop up a surprising and astonishing mushroom crème brûlée with the signature Hokkaido milk bun, a rich brioche-style bread that pairs wonderfully with a perfectly aged 2011 Mooiplaas Chenin Blanc from the nearby Stellenbosch region. The yellowfin tuna sashimi beautifully plated as a flower decorated with delicate elderflowers is paired sublimely with a Cape Point Reserve Sauvignon Blanc… 2013! Refined and green, 10% of Semillon does the trick and allows the Sauvignon Blanc to age to perfection as Jennifer points out.

The ballet of dishes is only starting, turning the evening in a kaiseki-style feast. On an elegant tray, a dashi poached langoustine – no need to say: simply perfectly poached for the most delicate texture –on an exotic mango & bamboo-based vinaigrette stands by a rare to find abalone and some maki-style chokka’s with a refined and delicious truffle and ink mayonnaise. The clean taste, with a little spicy kick and a hint of citrus of a ‘Chi’ Riesling 2021 from Elgin, South Africa enhances these delicate and sophisticated dishes.

Hard to believe we are just reaching the main courses. The stage is taken by some local stars: the kingklip, a local South African white fish, followed by a tender springbok in a tasty kelp jus, and even pap, the corn-based staple food of the continent is dressed stylishly for the occasion. The festival of wines does not discontinue, each with its specific colour, flavours and savours, such as a Sons of Sugarland Barbera 2021or a rare Rijk’s Pinotage and Syrah blend.

In the open kitchen, the final touches to the last treat of this evening are put together skilfully: a Madagascan chocolate with coffee flavours and sweet potato crisps served with a spiced cherry sorbet, and a glass of a sweet Tierhoek ‘Straw Wine’.

As we are reflecting on the evening, sipping a special sake recommended by Jennifer, it feels like we have just attended a magic show perfectly orchestrated by an excellent team, from the kitchen to the cellar and room. It was way more than FYN!

Salsify

Chef Ryan Cole is accustomed to working at award-winning restaurants. Years in London, working at the Michelin-starred The Square and at Cape Town’s acclaimed The Test Kitchen along star chef Luke Dale-Roberts, he is now dedicated to Salsify (pronounce “salsifee”) they have co-owned since 2018.

The venue is a hidden gem, hosted in the national heritage roundhouse, one of Cape Town’s oldest buildings. It is easy to understand why the Dutch East India Company, the VOC, chose this location to establish a guarding post in 1786: the views on Camps Bay and Table Mountain’s Twelve Apostles are commanding, especially at sunset!

The muse of Salsify comes through history almost a century later though. While Lord Charles Somerset, the governor of the British Cape Colony turned the roundhouse into his hunting lodge, his personal physician, Dr. James Barry, was in fact a woman who had lived all of her adulthood as a man in order to become a surgeon (eventually raising to the second-highest medical office in the British Army!). Some imbroglios emerged when the two started an affair as homosexuality was also illegal… The unexpected and bold graffities by Louis de Villiers, welcoming diners fall into place as they pay tribute to Somerset and Dr. Barry, aka Margaret Bulkley. The Lady Salsify statue with its masculine head and female body is a tribute to this strong woman whose real gender was only discovered post-mortem. The artwork is a pertinent introduction to the cuisine, also characterised by contrast and tribute: Chef Ryan Cole heads a young and dynamic team where noble, seasonal and locally-supplied ingredients take a modern twist in the classical dining room. “I cook what I enjoy in a rather minimalistic way”, Ryan explains as he chats to us while we are enjoying pre-dinner bubbles with a view. His cuisine does not really fall into a category: the mises en bouche range from local snoek fish to Thai-inspired yellowtail, Cape Malay-flavoured tacos and tartare-style canapés.

Beyond the wine list that gives the best share to South African wines, wine pairings highlight the 8-course chef’s menu. The boutique wine pairing showcases up and coming domestic winemakers while the gem series wine pairing focuses on specialty and aged South African classics. The latter constantly evolves as the cherry-picked old bottles are not many… As a consequence, the menu is also ever-changing, celebrating the seasons and also highlighting these superb wines.

The smoked beef tartare with miso egg yolk topped by a porcini mousse is paired with a 2013 Elgin Radford Dale Pinot Noir that is just perfect to savour: delicate, silky and elegant. A perfect tribute to Burgundy, the millennium-old land of Pinot Noir!

Also aged to its peak, an 11-year-old vintage Chardonnay by Rupert and Rothschild highlights the seared tuna in its ponzu reduction and furikake.

Our waiter Simba orchestrates the tempo to leave us some time to enjoy all of these flavours and savours while Table Mountain takes a warm hue in the last sun rays. He comes back with yet another type of glass precisely chosen to enhance a 2009 Ken Forrester ‘FMC’ Chenin Blanc to go along a pan-roasted hake on an apricot, potato and curry leaf emulsion, fished in the nearby False Bay by Ryan Cole’s brother, head of a small commercial fishery.

Beautifully plated dishes, artworks themselves keep being brought to our table: langoustine, wild rosemary cured lamb, a perfectly cooked pan-seared springbok loin, paired with a 2014 Bordeaux-style MR de Compostella by Mvemve Raats.

To conclude, a 2018 Klein Constantia “Vin de Constance” nectar accompanies the dessert, a nectarine clafoutis with sheep’s milk ice-cream.

As we are sipping the last drops of this extraordinary Muscat de Frontignan, we contemplate Camps Bay in the darkness and the majestic silhouette of Table Mountain under the stars. The Capetonian food scene has evolved so much! Ryan Cole’s words echo: “These are very exciting times in Cape Town, with this community of chefs inspiring each other”, and we cannot wait to see what Ryan has cooking in the near future…

The Chefs Warehouse at Beau Constantia

The sophisticated and exquisite tapas of chef Liam Tomlin leading The Chefs Warehouse have become a must-taste for any foodie visiting the Mother City. Headed by the young and super talented chef Ivor Jones (ranked second best chef 2020 by SA Finest), the Beau Constantia location on the namesake vineyard is the Capetonian venue.

With the dish-for-two-sharing concept that characterizes the Chefs Warehouse, 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 The 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…

The Waterside by La Colombe

If the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is one of the most touristy areas of Cape Town it is often better to simply avoid for any types of meal, things are now different thanks to The Waterside restaurant by La Colombe. The minimalistic venue on the harbour is headed by chef Roxy Mudie after years working at the award-winning fine dining establishment La Colombe on the Silvermist Estate in Constantia.

The Waterside is more casual, yet the food is definitely fine-dining as our bread course and mises en bouche announce it. A tower of wooden dishes gets dismantled to display treats to the eyes: in the centre, a warm milk bun surrounded by a chicken liver parfait joyfully decorated with rhubarb, salsa verde and a colourful palette of small flowers; a spiral of roasted garlic topped off by smoked pine nuts; and a bite of beef tartare resembling an artwork. The texture and the warmth of the milk bun are comforting when we break it by hand to scoop up generous amounts of the appetizer to share.

Voting against the vegetarian option, we order a different dish for each of the following four courses to experience together as many flavours as possible.

Dishes are brought to the table and described as poems. The crayfish salad with Cape Malay flavours is served with a complex Haarlem To Hope white blend of Chenin Blanc, Semillon, Muscat de Frontignan and Alexandrie from Stellenbosch that also goes fantastically with another artwork: the salmon in the signature Thai broth which Roxy created for La Colombe. Amazing, and as such one of the signature flavours that is consistently on the ever-changing menu!

The classic surf-and-turf is served in an original way mixing a melting-in-the-mouth pork belly and delicate scallops. To add crunchiness and wetness, Chef Mudie had prepared some local corn in four different ways, each more unexpected than the other. Paired with a Pinot Noir from the Hemel and Aarde Valley, the Burgundy of South Africa, the overall is simply to die for.

We are taking in the harbour vibes on the terrasse in the middle of the South African summer: catamarans sail back to their docks, to the sound of music while seals swim in circles. The quietness of The Waterside amidst the busy V&A Waterfront makes it extremely enjoyable. To cleanse our palates and as a refreshment, our waiter Ishe brings a lychee and lemongrass sorbet with passion fruit, before we continue on to the main courses: an oceanic course of line fish, mussels and squid along some black forest ham to honour the prime seafront location we are at, and a grass-fed beef to pay tribute to the South African meat culture served with a red Bordeaux-style blend for the match.

Satisfied, and simply to please our sweet tooth, we conclude this smart casual fine dining experience with a mango and milk chocolate dessert. Actually, the dessert may be only an excuse to sip a Stellenbosch Sauvignon Blanc and Rousanne blend dessert wine. A real treat! Complemented by yet a final treat of colourful handmade chocolates, kindly presented to us along coffees for a wonderful lunch experience and to make the moment last a bit longer along the waterside of the picturesque Victoria Basin.

Travel tips:

  • Obviously, any of these restaurants books up fast, so bookings are essential, and the earlier the better!
  • Check out our interactive map for more in the area (black pins lead to an article):

For more in Cape Town, click on these images:

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