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Cape Town: My Current Favourites

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I feel really bad as a Capetonian that there's rarely responses to Cape Town based questions on this board, so here are my current favourites. Please note this is based on where I, as a local, choose to eat, which is rarely the expensive nouvelle cuisine places in the Winelands or the centre of town, which I frankly find all sort of the same and boring.

OLYMPIA CAFE
A seaside institution. Still has great atmosphere, view of the fishing boats in Kalkbay Harbour, and I think a really fresh menu, which changes daily. They get the fish straight off the boats. No reservations, so come early or wait in line. Otherwise you could try Live Bait on the harbour wall, or Kalkies, also on the harbour, for fried fish and chips like the locals enjoy.

INDIAN BAZAAR
The cheapest sit-down Indian food in Cape Town. Very popular with Muslim families from the Bo-Kaap, or after Mosque. Darling Street, opposite the post office. There's no sign, just an open archway. No frills, but cheerful atmosphere. Grab a falooda (Cape Malay pink milkshake) and choose from curry of the day, dosas, tandoor, etc. Potato pakoras rock. Mainly Indian, with a little bit of confused (don't get the chinese food or shwarma!) and Malay thrown in for good measure.

HAIKU
Affected nightclubby atmosphere, but the best Chinese food in Cape Town, bar none.

&Union
Bar salon on Bree Street. Trendy, fun decor and umbrellas outside on the square. Menu is very meat-centric (sausage, anyone?) but a good place to get a traditional boerewors roll and a beer.

JARDINE'S BAKERY
A strictly daytime kiosk overlooking the street with benches for those so inclined, the bakery attached to the restaurant of the same name makes seriously good bread, and seriously good sandwiches. Grab some on the way to Campsbay or Clifton or the Table Mountain cable car for a picnic. Bloem Street, off Long.

MZOLI'S
Get yr hotel to organise transport to this one, a mainly open air braai joint in the townships. very good meat, township vibe, and everyone's friendly. Leave the vegetarians at home.

BISCUIT MILL NEIGHBOUR GOODS MARKET
Saturdays, 9-2pm. Food market. Can get quite crowded, but has the greatest concentration of seriously good food in one area in all of Cape Town. People say it's expensive and precious, and it is that, but on a food level, it offers a wonderful selection of local and international foods, and lots of new and quirky food ideas. There's a sister design and clothing market next door, for those inclined to see some local design (Heartworks store in the complex also offers great locallymade gifts and mementos).

Massimo's Pizza Club (pizzaclub.co.za)
Only open Wednesday through Saturday nights, on the main road into Hout Bay, offers the best pizzas in Cape Town with unique concept - all the pizzas are passed around and shared by all diners.

WINELANDS
If you're going to the Winelands (and please don't - it's so full of tourists during high season that I avoid it!), French Connection does genuinely good, simple food (so if you're looking for gastrique this and garnished that, you'll be disappointed) on the Franschhoek main drag. My parents were at Solms Delta yesterday, and said lunch was unaffected and charming (and there's a great slavery and apartheid mini-museum there, for history buffs). Reubens has great service and the food's good. Le Quartier's tasting menu is legendary, but it takes about four hours and is a bit fiddly (I've done it once, enjoyed it, but prob wouldn't do it again). Bread and Wine at Moreson is probably my favourite, with food that's sophisticated and simple, for all tastes (you don't need a reservation to sit at the charcuterie bar in the deli and have things like bacon-and-butter sandwiches, which is as good as it sounds).

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  1. To not include Bukhara in this list is worrisome. Have you not been?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Brandy Taylor

      Brandy, I did muse on whether to add Bukhara to the list. It is certainly a superb restaurant, or was when I was last there about five years ago. The truth is, it's just too expensive. I know that price is a subjective thing, but when I think that I can get take outs from Bibi's Indian Kitchen in Wynberg (round the corner from me) for half the price, it makes it hard for me to justify bukhara. Is Bibi's as good as Bukhara? Difficult question. I'd say Bibi's is to homey Indian what Bukhara's is to restaurant fine dining.

      I justify the cost of Haiku (owned by the same group as Bukhara), and the downright irritating decor and lighting, because there is no Bibi's equivalent in Cape Town's Chinese food firmament, in my opinion (most CT chinese food is greasy and a subtle as a chopstick in your eye).

      Not a terribly convincing argument, but there you have it.

    2. We check this board periodically to vicariously relive our visit to Cape Town last year, and I wish we had had this list - it appears to list the sort of down-to-earth places we gravitate to. I had printed out lots of ideas for high end places that we didn't get even close to; after each full and wonderful day of exploring, we returned to eat in the Observatory suburb, where our son was living while he studied at UCT. Every evening we met him at Obz Cafe, then, after a drink,we either ate there or elsewhere. So for you academics out there who may be on a budget, the meals we had in this part of town were very reasonable in price, ranged from ok to very good, and vibe was diverse, artsy, and studenty. The highlight was our meal at Cafe Ganesh.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Ms.M

        I'm glad you had a great time.

        I find it useful to read people's destination restaurants on this board: it reminds me that when I go to other countries' boards and ask for recommendations, to ask specifically for down to earth, simple places. Because if I was a visitor to Cape Town and only went to the high end places, it wouldn't be an accurate experience, or in my opinion as delicious an experience as it could be.

        Obs has a great little cafe, on the corner of lower main road and Trill Rds, called something like Mango Ginger. Simple daily menu of sandwiches and soups. And a coffee milkshake which is truly marvellous. So I certainly won't turn my nose up at Obs!
        I hope you come back for more down to earth food!

      2. Hi, I'm also a Capetonian and would like to add a couple of restaurants that I really dig to Gooseberry's list:

        Caveau in Newlands is in my opinion the most consistent restaurant without exorbitant prices. They have a small menu that changes daily. They focus on tapas which I actually tend to avoid since it comes out slowly. I've eaten there around 20 times and have always been impressed by the mains, both fish and meat. The wine list is comprehensive and is great if you're a foreigner since many of the wines can be ordered by the glass. The service is average, but its in a lovely environment (old mill next to a canal) and the food rocks!

        Olympia is a must - but a warning to tourists: its quite loud and you often have to wait for a table. Very much a local hangout and lots of fun.

        A great new Italian lunch place is Mezzeluna on Long street. The owner is from Roma and the food is cheap, simple Italian with great ingredients - refreshing since I would not recommend the majority of the Cape Town "Italian" restaurants.

        For a splurge, I like Myoga at the Vineyard hotel - the prawn starter is probably the best prawn dish I've ever had. The sommelier is also excellent - please take his advice.

        Probably the best restaurant at the upper-end of the price range is Bizerca in the CBD. Its in a stark, industrial space which I don't like, but the food is very put together with a great deal of talent.

        I would recommend checking out http://www.rossouwsrestaurants.com/ for an uptodate blog by one of our better local restaurant critics.

        Oh yes, and for the best cup of coffee in Cape Town check out Origin in Hudson Street, Greenpoint.

        1. Thanks for posting this - we are staying in Simons Town for 3 weeks in February 2010 - any suggestions around that area?

          1 Reply
          1. re: ElizabethS

            You may find this link of interest:

            http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-...

          2. have a look at my independent restaurant review website: http://www.eatcapetown.co.za/

            1. What you're saying about Winelands is like telling visitors to France to avoid Burgundy or Bordeaux because of the high number of tourists... I find this odd (having been there twice, and returning next year to SA) as a major reason for visiting the Cape Province is to taste wines. But maybe I missed something there?

              2 Replies
              1. re: monchique

                Hi Monchique

                My tongue was firmly placed in my cheek - I was trying to say, don't go to the winelands, leave the winelands for me! Certainly visitors to the Cape should visit the Winelands. But I must say that as someone who spends a lot of time around Franschhoek, I would totally avoid the main drag; it's fun to drive around the streets and see the pretty houses, but if you're there for wine, I would generally stick to visiting and eating at wine farms. I find Franshhoek-proper to be crowded and overpriced during high season (since it's when most of the businesses make money!).

                If you wanted to see a winelands town, Stellenbosch is far prettier with its oaks and cape dutch architecture, and I really think Paarl, which is for some reason avoided by tourists, is lovely too, and very authentic.

                1. re: Gooseberry

                  Hi Goosberry,
                  I appreciate your posts very much, and am already drooling over our program next year in the Cape with the Algarve Wine Society! Strangely enough, I have stayed in both Stellenbosch and Paarl over the years, but never in Franshoek (although I have eaten there at Le Quartier Français). I agree with you, it looks too touristy for comfort!
                  I'll keep reading your posts!

              2. You mentioned Jardine's Bakery - how's the main restaurant?

                Also, just a quick logistics issue - how easy is it to get out to Le Quartier from Cape Town proper? And since I can't seem to find a menu anywhere, is the food upscale South African or continental French with SA touches?

                3 Replies
                1. re: lambretta76

                  Ignore my Le Quartier Francais issue - must've been a javascript issue the other day that prevented me from seeing the menus. Anyways, I do have a question regarding it, though - iCi? Tasting Room? 5-course? 8-course? Too many choices!

                  Also, I'll be a solo diner, so is there bar seating at Jardine or LQF?

                  1. re: lambretta76

                    You would not want to drive back to Cape Town from The Tasting Room after dinner, its about a 80 min drive.
                    There is not bar eating option at Jardine, but I have eaten solo there and it is fine at a table. There is actually bar seating for food at Bizerca Bistro which is a very good restaurant in the CBD. Lots of other bgreat restaurants too!

                  2. re: lambretta76

                    I haven't been at Jardine's in months, but the food and the service has always been awesome in the past.

                  3. Updates to my original post, since I eat out more over the festive season than I do in the entire year.

                    If you need to pick up some gifts and the Waterfront leaves you cold, the new Cape Quarter, across the road from the Old Cape Quarter up the road in de Waterkant is really lovely. It has great local fashion and design. Pick up high quality curios and gifts at Heartworks and Africa Nova. Voila! in their restaurant area serves very good food. Best zucchini fries in town...

                    Miss K further down the road in Greenpoint serves I feel the best eggs benedict in town (my husband is big into eggs benedict!).

                    I still hold that the Biscuit Mill is an important destination for chowhound tourists. But if you have kids, I think the Porter Estate Market on Saturdays in Tokai is more fun, since it's set in a baboon-laden pine forest and there's more space to run around and less crowds. This is off the beaten track (i.e. the centre of town) but it is a good place to stop as part of a day heading down the peninsula.

                    If you find yourselves in the Southern Suburbs (you might if you visit Kirstenbosch, which you SHOULD do) the Gardener's Cottage at the Montebello Design Centre in NEwlands is a great place to experience classic Cape cafe/bistro fare (not bistro as in french, I mean more relaxed lunch venue with outdoor seating). It's a beautiful old cottage, with tables under the camphor trees, and after lunch you can buy good local curios at the Montebello shop, browse wooden sculptures, beadwork, metalwork and other things at the various design studios situated there. Do pop by the plant nursery - it's delightful to wander through. The other eating option at Montebello is Kwalapa, which specialises in organic raw food.

                    As Brandy suggested, Bukhara should be on this list, for those wanting very good Indian cuisine in Cape Town. I do find it a rather noisy venue, though.

                    WINELANDS
                    I don't recommend French Connection any more - we had a really mediocre meal there a couple months ago. And while I do believe that you cannot judge a restaurant by one meal, really, with all this choice in Franschhoek, I don't feel any desire to go back.

                    I adore Solms Delta, with its Cape flavours and lovely restaurant, not to mention great wine tasting under the oaks, picnic baskets you can order to explore the vineyards with, and their excellent small museum examining archeological finds, slavery and Apartheid in the area.

                    I haven't been to Reuben's in ages, but I hear all is still well there, and I still go to Bread and Wine whenever I can. This place is very underrated,and I don't know why it isn't mentioned in the same category as all of the heavyweight restaurants in the valley.

                    And see my comments about Franschhoek vs Paarl vs Stellenbosch.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Gooseberry

                      We're in Simon's Town now for 3 weeks - thanks for posting this. I really want to go to the Neighbour Goods market but have read a few comments that parking is really difficult and the area is a bit dodgy - could you comment on that? Thks

                      1. re: ElizabethS

                        Parking is difficult to find and the place is rather dodgy. To get around the problem, just arrive early (around 9am)! DO NOT PARK IN LOADING ZONES! Sometimes, the cops will drop in and issue plenty of fines. Also, an additional tip: keep away from the quiches (they ALL have soggy crusts) and stay away from the stand selling cookies in the back. They look great, but taste terrible.

                        1. re: ElizabethS

                          Elizabeth, it can get pretty crowded, but I think you still should go if you are into markets. Parking is actually really easy for those in the know - directly across from the market is a technical college where for R10 you can park and walk a mere fifty metres to the market! I cannot remember the name of the street, but it is parallel to Albert street where the market is, just one block up (i.e. towards the market). It is accessed by turning left at the Salt River traffic circle and then right immediately. As for dodgy, it is perfectly fine during the day.

                          1. re: Gooseberry

                            These lists are great! Thanks everyone. I'm a New Yorker coming to Cape Town for the first time in two weeks. Staying for 2 weeks. I'm wondering if anyone can give advice on wineries that are WIETA certified? I would prefer to only visit these wineries. My husband is not a wine drinker, and both of us prefer low-key, rustic environments to the snooty expensive tastings. We are also interested in organic wineries. Any recommendations?