Cape Town Recs please, 3 day trip
Traveling to Cape Town for 3 days at the end of the month and would greatly appreciate recs for lunch and dinner. I have reservations at la Colombe for one night, but no plans other than that. Above all else I am looking for quality of food. Places good for dining alone are a plus, but whether it’s a cheap stop on the side of the road or somewhere similar to Colombe, I am looking to eat well. Thank you very much.
Thank you to everyone for the good information. I just returned and had a wonderful time. I would like to add details soon, but a quick rundown of places.
Bizerca bistro for dinner--great food, service and small but strong wine list. Had a garage Syrah that was outstanding. The salmon salad starter was really good and my Impala was perfectly cooked. A companion had the osso bucco ravioli in marrow sauce and it was terrific. The apple tart was really good and would order it again, but certainly not the best apple tart that I have tasted. As others have noted the place is a little loud, but it's a cool space and something right out of Jonathan Waxman's playbook (think Barbuto in NYC). I would make this a stop in any future trips and especially if you are staying downtown for business or at the Convention Center.
Bakery at Jardine—I went twice for sandwiches and so happy I did. The ciabatta bread is excellent and so were the fillings. A roasted lamb with hummus and tahini and a parma ham, fresh mozzarella, tomato and greens. A great lunch option with a great view and easy choice.
Food Barn in Noordhoek--Do yourself a favor and make reservations for 7:30 or so and hit the road for that exceptional sunset drive along the coast. Chef used to cook at La Colombe and the Food Barn get high marks for food, character, servers and overall warm experience and really not that expensive. they are running a bistro menu a little more than 200 Rand. Loved the space. Excellent goat cheese salad to start (though the fried goat cheese could have been a little crisper, the flavors were great), very good daily linecaught fish and the best dessert of the trip--banana tart with Nutella ice cream. I am sucker for those flavors and they absolutely nailed it. Good wine pairing and really just a splendid experience. My friend was the winner that night and had the lamb, one of the better lamb dishes in recent memory. Flavor of the lamb and the brown pan sauce were superb. I think a toss up between Bizerca and Food Barn for quality of food. I am sure on any given night one could edge out the other. Being that my linefish was good but not excellent I may give that edge to Food Barn. However factor in the drive and ambiance and I give it to Food Barn.
La Colombe--Maybe I experienced what others have but few are willing to admit. I don't know if it is because people want it to live up to their expectations, love the idea of eating at a "top 15" restaurant or it was an off night. However, La Colombe was a disappointment. The food was bad, in fact it was quite good, but it was no better than my Salmon starter at Bizerca nor my friend's lamb or my desser at Food Barn and wasn't in the same league as my final meal (keep reading). The Night started off great. I got there at 7:40 for an 8 reservation and went to the bar. Small, elegant yet relaxed. Really nice bartenders and a good local sparkling wine. When I sat it was a good table and the room is warm and simple (something I consider a positive) people were dressed nicely but not stuffy (I know Cape Town is relaxed to begin with). I was anticipating this for a while and went straight for the full tasting menu and wine pairing. I will not go into detail right now on every course though I have the menu and can update, but there was not one dish that blew me away, in fact there were a few that lacked flavor or execution. the amuse was the best part of the night. A celery root soup in an egg shell was phenomenal and if every dish matched or came close to that bite it would have been a night to remember. Instead most dishes just missed-- either slightly overcooked or the flavor balance was off. Again, nothing bad but nothing that I said “wow.” In addition to the food, the wine pairing was disappointing. 6 courses and 5 whites? I know it’s summer and great whites in the region but there are plenty of reds I love in the summer and I know SA has wonderful reds too. And, while no one needs heavy handed pours, one should not have to struggle to keep enough wine in the glass to finish the course. Small sips and I still had to ration to make sure I had enough to last for each dish and the dishes aren’t even that big! Possibly my biggest issue came with the service. My server was nice, but somehow he disappeared throughout the meal. Of my 6 courses he only served me 3 and 3 of those courses were served before the wine pairing. Frankly I don’t want to listen to a wine description while my food is getting cold in front of me. The dishes that came out before the wine pairing (in most cases these were the ones he didn’t deliver to my table) you could see the server who dropped it off running to try and figure out why my wine wasn’t there. That type of service at this level is absolutely unacceptable. Under normal circumstances this would have been a really nice evening and I would have left satisfied, but you can’t claim to be one of the best restaurants in the world and fail to deliver. I am well aware that Luke Dale-Roberts left, but almost every review I read praised the new chef and said while styles might be slightly different the quality remained. I am sorry but I know for a fact that the current cooking at La Colombe is not in the same league as Luke’s.
Which brings me to my final and most satisfying meal of the trip. Everything that I hoped my evening would be at La Colombe yet failed to deliver was made up for at The Test Kitchen.
The Test Kitchen—Make reservations, do it now and don’t look back. This is the best restaurant in Cape Town. I know that is a bold statement from someone who has not been to other greats such as the Tasting Room or Rust in Verde, but I am willing to bet over the next year that statement will be second nature. Luke’s new venture is awesome. First off the space is fantastic. Small loft space in the Old Biscuit Mill—tall ceilings, good mix of iron and wood that finds a way to make you feel very comfortable and right at home. Simple wood tables and wine along the full length of one wall. ¼ of the space is for the open kitchen and it is the reason you go. Sit at the counter and you will be treated to a culinary ballet with Luke right in the center. In between plating perfectly balanced and executed dishes he takes the time to talk to his counter guests. This is as engaging an open kitchen as I have ever experienced and I make it a point to try them whenever possible. Luke is incredibly nice, humble and just wants you to have a wonderful experience. He spoke with me throughout the night and did so with all the other people at the counter. He also seems to treat his staff with great respect—the end of the evening (my meal extended until almost closing) he opened a bottle of wine and shared with his staff and you never heard him dressing anyone down. I am not naïve to think it is always flowers and candy in there, but you get a sense he runs a well oiled machine as a good captain. Now the most important part—the food. I sipped the evening’s specialty cocktail (it changes each night) a lovely peach billini and perused the menu. I opted for the 5 course (pick three starters, one main and a dessert) plus the wine pairing. Whether Luke was in a good mood, liked our conversation or was Luke just being Luke, I ended up with 7 or 8 courses including the first which I did not ask for but was so happy to be given--an unbelievable tomato salad that set the tone for every dish thereafter. From the veal tongue to foie gras to perfectly cooked seafood it was amazing. Not to mention I watched him plate every dish on the menu and there wasn’t one I didn’t want to reach out and grab. Balanced flavors, spot on seasoning, and flavor combos that make you smile. (I will go back and update with the exact menu). The wine pairings were great, the pours spot on and the service tremendous. Luke’s wife runs the front of the house, though the entire house in one room, and she was terrific. Bottom line this is how a top restaurant should run and should produce. I could not have been happier when I left the Test Kitchen and thank you to Luke and his entire team for sending me back to the States with a night I will remember for a very long time. I suggest to anyone reading this that they find a night, make a reservation for the “high counter” there is a high and low counter both have great views and interaction but I think the high is slightly better. There are 10 or so tables too and the food will be just as good, but the action and experience is all at the counter. The Test Kitchen is difficult enough to get into now, but in time I predict it will be nearly impossible. I hope it does get the attention it deserves yet never loses its quality and hospitality.
Thank you for the suggestions. I don't have any particular interest, just places that would be on the top of you list if a good friend came from out of town. Might include one night to splurge which I have, a few casual places with a warm scene and great food and maybe a few hole in the walls that are must trys. Thank you so much.
Was reminded of another over the weekend & thought I’d top up my previous post (this will all be mid-low range on the price & fancy-pantsness spectrum). 2 spots in Vredehoek that are good bets are the Sidewalk Café (good for brunch or dinner) & Carlyles (pizza & other), both on Derry street. If you’re after sushi, Minato on Buiten street (close to Long st) is great – very popular, very low key on everything but the food. Oh also Royale on Long street is a very popular spot famous for their burgers.
Also worth a visit is the neighbourgoods market on a Saturday in Woodstock – although it gets VEry full of beautiful people, so aim to be there at 9, otherwise is a bit unbearable. Lots of delicious food & interesting local design vibe. Stellenbosch also has a good market apparently, but haven’t been myself.
Speaking of, if you’re looking to shell out, Rust en Vrede in Stellenbosch is pretty much as good as it gets, or so I hear- still saving up to go. Otherwise generally cruising around various wine farms perhaps with a picnic lunch is a very good way to spend a half day or so.
Mm just made myself hungry.
There are so many restaurants in Cape Town, but as you asked, these are ones I'd direct friends to if they were visiting.
DO NOT MISS the Saturday market in Stellenbosch...plan on arrival around 10:00 AM...take your time...if you like what you see (and taste), ample space to buy and sit for lunch.
Read all the associated posts about Cape Town and the Winelands for more consensus, even those from past 1-3 years.
Garden Route: ILE DE PAIN in Knysna - breakfast or lunch...excellent breads and pastries. Also TAPAS 33 (think that's the name) near the water...variety and quality.
I'm not much help with the high-end places, but have a read here for reviews of a lot of the best known/loved places in CT - http://www.relax-with-dax.co.za/
Ttry cest la vie bakery in Kalk bay for good bread/ breakfast option. Or Olympia Cafe (also Kalk Bay). Actually best have a browse at above blog. Should help you find what you're after
Hope it's a good visit!
I'll second Olympia Cafe as a must-stop for lunch...with bread as great as the coal-fired oven baking here in Brooklyn, NY.
Other good stops:
-Bukhara - for classy Indian...tandoor prepared.
-Caveau - pleasant wine bar atmosphere with huge tapas selection, expertly prepared.
Since it is summer, a day-drive out to Stellenbosch wine country is in order. If you go to Remhoogte (open M-F), they've got enough wild range animals to save you a few bucks on hokey safari-like tours.