South Africa’s most photogenic city has a cosmopolitan food scene to match its good looks. From a humble but exalted burger joint to a farm-to-table restaurant in the nearby winelands, here are six of Cape Town’s must-visit eateries
By Will Hide
South Africans call Cape Town “the Mother City,” and like any good mom, her number-one priority is keeping her kids well fed. With the Atlantic Ocean on one side and hundreds of farms and vineyards on the other, local chefs have access to the freshest ingredients, which the best of them craft into simple, seasonally inspired dishes that, thanks to a chronically weak rand, are as affordable as they are delectable.
When it comes to culinary fame, chef Luke Dale-Roberts is South Africa’s answer to Gordon Ramsay—just a whole lot friendlier. He opened his 30-seat Test Kitchen in 2010 and it remains Cape Town’s hottest ticket, so reserve your table well in advance. The warehouse-style dining room in the trendy but still edgy Woodstock neighborhood features exposed oak beams and weathered brick walls softened by plush banquettes and felt pendant lights. If you really want to get up close and personal ask for a seat at the counter, where creative dishes such as pan-seared duck breast and tea-infused foie gras with turnip puree are passed straight from the open kitchen (Old Biscuit Mill, 375 Albert Rd.; 27-21/447-2337; thetestkitchen.co.za).
Capetonians love their meat, and this downtown spot, one of a small empire of restaurants operated by Milan-born chef Giorgio Nava, is where they come to indulge their passion for some of the best beef and lamb in the country. Steel girders, brushed concrete walls, and Philippe Stark ghost chairs give the two-level space a spare neo-industrial look, with an unfussy menu to match. Don’t expect fancy sauces—just some olive oil and a sprinkling of herbs is Nava’s way, and much of what is on offer comes from his two free-range farms in the Karoo region. Other highlights include the pan-fried sweetbread and wildebeest fillets (70 Keerom St.; 27-21/424-3460; carne-sa.com).
Pot Luck Club
Luke Dale-Roberts’s less-formal eatery relocated to the top of a converted grain silo in February, so once you’ve taken the glass lift to the sixth floor you can enjoy open views toward Table Mountain. The concept here is one of smaller sharing plates, so come with a group of friends to sample the globe-trotting, regularly changing menu of dishes that might include yellowtail sashimi with pomegranate-and-lime dressing, pork belly with apple-cabbage coleslaw, and fried prawns with tom ka gai–flavored butter (Old Biscuit Mill, 375 Albert Rd.; 27-21/447-0804; thepotluckclub.co.za).
The Dogs Bollocks
Technically speaking, this weeknight burger joint isn’t a restaurant—it’s cook-owner Nigel Wood’s back- alley driveway. But it does rather sum up the essence of Cape Town’s laid-back, “hey, just drop around, we’re having a party” vibe, and the burgers—served in waxed paper and accompanied by sauces that include piquante pepper–blue cheese and chili-chocolate mole—are terrific. Just be sure to arrive early: Wood only makes 50 burgers each evening, starting from 5 p.m. Wine comes in 1.5-liter cardboard tubes (one of Wood’s inventions), and if you want ice in your drink, you’ll have to pick it up yourself from the gas station round the corner (6 Roodehek St.; 27-83/440-7843).
This bohemian stalwart has few airs and graces but locals in the seaside suburb of Kalk Bay love it for its informality. The place is packed for breakfast and brunch on the weekends; write your name on the chalkboard inside the front door if there’s a line. Service can be a tad slow when the café is buzzing, so kick off your slops (that’s flip-flops to you and me) and enjoy some top-notch people watching while you wait for creamy cappuccinos, sublime scrambled eggs, or ample servings of Greek yogurt with berries and honey. For a post-meal diversion, poke around Kalk Bay’s art galleries and antiquar-ian bookshops, or head to Boulders Beach to see the resident colony of African penguins (134 Main Rd., Kalk Bay; 27-21/788-6396).
Located on the grounds of a 17th-century Cape Dutch homestead turned luxury farm hotel, this bright and airy restaurant may be a 40-minute drive out of town, but it’s an exceptionally gorgeous place to linger over a long, lazy weekend lunch in the Cape Winelands. Much of Babel’s fruit, herbs, and vegetables come from its own orchards and gardens, while the locavore-centric menu lists standouts such as smoked Franschhoek trout with guava paste, burnt-sage butter, and wilted garden greens, and a savory dessert of gorgonzola ice cream with salted caramel and seasonal fruit (Babylonstoren, Klapmuts/Simond- ium Rd., Franschhoek; 27-21/863-3852; babylonstoren.com).
Originally appeared in the April/May 2013 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Call of the Cape”)