If you only eat out once in Cape Town... 95 on Keerom
There is only one unequivocal winner that blows all other restaurants in the city out of the water - 95 on Keerom. Ignore the mean shrug-off from the Rough Guide that the place is simply expensive and there for those feeling flush. This is a fabulous testament to one man's passion for food and it should be labelled as such.
On the two occasions that we dined there, we were sat in the thoughtfully designed, light-filled upstairs dining room. I did see some seats downstairs, but you've really got to sit upstairs to enjoy the full experience. This is an old, historical building which has been sympathetically modernised and furnished with a nod to Eames and the Danish school, but with an attitude of New York minimalism - albeit in a warm, eco way rather than industrial warehouse chic. Even the presence of a live tree, stretching from the ground between a group of tables is somehow subtle and sets the tone for what to expect from the food - 'fresh and honest.'
The menu offers contemporary Italian food, with a few of the usual suspects like a basil, burrata, and tomato antipasto, which is always a useful measure of an Italian restaurant's quality - in this case, 'burrata' as opposed to 'mozzarella' proves itself a healthy sign indeed.. But there are also wonderful imaginings of its own: a creamy avocado salad with walnuts, quartered cherry tomatoes, blue cheese and pear is faultless.
There is an extensive variety of meat and fish carpaccios on the menu, the lightly seared beef carpaccio with tomato and rocket was a fantastic choice. The limited pasta offerings are all made with fresh pasta and a discernible variety of fresh ingredients, as opposed to being coated in a sloppy boiling ragu of garlic and tomato. The first mouthful of crayfish linguine was the tastiest lesson in understatement I've ever had. Even the steak tartare, notoriously loud and tarty, had tamed its capers - for lovers of rare meat and tartare, this deserves more than a bravo.
Secondi is meat heavy, as expected in South Africa, and I would suggest that this is the perfect place to sample some of the country's national beasts. A trio of springbok, kudu and wilderbeest was tender, tasty and perfectly cooked. Elsewhere, as we learned, you might find these gamey meats tough and unpalatable. But this was undoubtedly the place to go native - with an Italian twist as the rosemary suggested, a true cross-cultural flourish.
There are 14 grappas on offer (yes, I counted), for those of you interested in that sort of thing. Our choice of wine, 'Nederburg,' was sugar free and absolutely beautiful. Our waiter was only too happy to bring out the other Nederburg varietals and give us a brief rundown, without any of the haughty sycophancy that we've experienced in a number of Cape Town restaurants.
Not being sweet people, I can't comment on the desserts, which is an unreserved shame. If truth be told, we would probably have ordered desserts out of respect, gluttony and curiosity, were it not for the welcome we both meted out to our earlier courses.
For those of you concerned about the price, our meals were around the 800 Rand mark, including a bottle of reasonably expensive wine. If you're not drinking, or only after a glass, you could certainly have a two course meal for 2 for around 500+ and it would be thoroughly worth it.
Being somewhat over-awed, we didn't speak to the owner/chef who was wandering between tables revealing the evening's specials. But I did hear a few diners openly declare their devotion, and one lady dining with her family who said it was, 'the best meal she'd ever eaten.' For our cowardice in failing to disclose our feelings, and thank said owner for two occasions made all the more wonderful by the quality, care and pleasure of his establishment, I sincerely hope this review will suffice and encourage other visitors to the Cape to attend.
Make no mistake, this is the best restaurant in Cape Town.
I'm afraid we had a VERY different experience!
We had read rave reviews about 95 and were excited to experience one of Cape Town's top culinary offerings. Unfortunately the hype exceeded the reality. We'd have been better off eating elsewhere.
The restaurant is in a very attractive cul-de-sac in The Gardens upscale neighborhood near the center of town. The area is inhabited by heritage buildings occupied by quaint barristers' chambers (old law offices) and 95 is a building of character which, like its sibling, Carne (a more than decent steakhouse) has been tastefully restored and redecorated.
We ate upstairs and were seated at a corner table in elegant surroundings. The table setting was tasteful and the seats were attractively upholstered in a bamboo-looking wood frame. An interesting conifer substituted for the usual floral table decor.
So far so good.
The chef/maitre d'Hotel presented the menus and summarized the menu with an Italian accent highlighting the specials and certain items from the regular menu. We inquired about the steak tartare and were informed that it was made from rump steak. When we pointed out that the menu referred to "prime filet " wWe were told that the meat was actually "the fillet cut of the rump". What cut is that???
Then we met Isaac, our waiter, and things started to go downhill pretty fast. We opted for menu choices that suggested wine by the glass as the best option. That's when we noticed that there were only two reds by the glass and only a few whites. A disappointment for a top-class Italian restaurant.
Since one of the reds was unknown to us, we asked for a small drop to taste. In most classy establishments they're only too pleased to let you sample wines served by the glass whose bottles have already been opened. In our case, Isaac thought we'd just asked for something totally out of the ordinary and reacted in an offhand way stating that he'd have to see if this was possible. Eventually, the taste arrived.
Two of us decided on a glass of white and red, respectively, and our third guest opted for sparkling water. Again, Isaac displayed a condescending attitude as if to suggest that we ought to have at least ordered a bottle of wine.
Then we ordered. Our "third guest" chose the entree portion of steak tartare and decided to skip an appetizer. Again, Isaac piped up. "I would recommend you order an appetizer since the main course will take time to prepare". Again, we were taken aback by Isaac's pushy, seemingly condescending attitude. He so "pushed" a starter that our third guest eventually gave in, succumbing to a starter salad and a starter portion of the tartare. At this point I stepped in and defended the original choice of no appetizer and Isaac reluctantly backed off.
The rest of us ordered linguine with crayfish (superb) and a trio of game meat , the latter well cooked and tasty but accompanied by uninspiring sauteed chopped spinach.
The meat quality of the steak tartare was underwhelming -- defintely more rump than filet -- with specks of grizzle pre-mixed with the onion, parsley, onion, capers, etc. Typically, this dish is prepared (ie mixed with panache) at the table, but at 95 it appears as a hamburger patty without any trace of egg, but only with small accoutrements of onion, capers, and parsley.and mini-toast. A disappointment in presentation and quality.
No refills of the wine glasses were offered by Isaac, who had to be requested for a resupply.
Desserts were unappetizing and unremarkable. Only two appealed -- gelato and sorbetto. Again, we were unimpressed with only one choice of each. If pineapple sorbetto or vanilla gelato didn't appeal, you (and we) were out of luck! What a pity that this so-called leading Cape Town restaurant couldn't dream up a wider choice of enticing offerings -- especially given the abundance of delicious fresh fruit in season.
In short, the food was average, the service surly and presumptuous and the attitude haughty. There are many better choices delivering higher quality cuisine at a lower cost with less attitude.
....and by UK standards, very reasonable, three of us went through the menu with wine and desert wine for the equivalent of £90!
My only criticism, and this applies to 99% of Cape Town restaurants, the waitrons know nothing about the food or wine they are serving. Only at La Colombe did we encounter knowledgeable waitstaff.
Regarding, the much-praised Willoughby's, I was deeply underwhelmed - Crab Stick Nigeri? No thank you!
Harters, in the interests of that poor owner not being slurred by my praise, please let me confirm that I'm in no way connected to the restaurant. I just happened to enjoy a really good meal there when I was pregnant and bored in Cape Town.
Apologies for not replying to your post Gooseberry, we have since returned to a hectic London life, far less time to indulge in foodie blogs.
Off the top of my head now, I'll summarize as follows for anyone still out there or planning a trip:
1. Belthazar - this is on the waterfront (by the hellhole as I came to call it) and pretty much.... ok. I won't be cruel enough to say anything worse but I do remember ordering chicken which was fine and my partner ordered mixed game, but found the kudu exceptionally dry and I think the springbok may have been overcooked. There is a sommelier on hand who offers a thorough explanation of the wine list and chosen wines should you so much as glance at your glass.
2. Sevruga & Beluga - these are sister restaurants as you might tell from their slightly cheesy names. We found Sevruga to be much nicer than her sister. We actually went back there three or four times on the basis of one waitress who was so nice to us that we felt welcomed and relaxed every time we went. Beluga on the other hand, was right by where we staying in Green Point but utterly soulless. And why on earth they have pictures of Scarlett Johannsen on the wall (which looks like some kind of advert) I have no idea - seems a bit odd for a professional restaurant to have endorsed a celebrity rather than choosing something decorative or artistic, who knows. Anyway, the food at Sevruga is nice enough, I only had one bad meal and that was an overcooked pasta. It's pan-Asian at both restaurants and there's an extensive dim sum menu at Beluga. Again, you won't have a bad time in either. But I would pick Sevruga.
3. Wakame - Worst meal of the trip. I can't even bring myself to recollect. It was smelly, noisy, loud and the staff were rude. I ordered some kind of mushroom wanton to start which I couldn't finish and we ordered a mixed fish to share. Considering it was a very expensive choice of main, I was surprised at how disgusting it was. My best friend had actually recommended this place to me (although he went a few years back) so the whole experience was a bad surprise all round. It also turned out to be the most expensive meal of our trip. Bad. Very bad.
I will have to dig out my SA scraps to remember the rest. There was a great coffee bar on Long Street which I would love to remember the name of and recommend to people. They also offered deli style sandwiches and had a design/artsy feel to it, tiny place.
Hi MdeSilva, within that group, I totally agree, 95 on Keerom would be the best!
We generally avoid the waterfront, with the exception of Willoughby's, which serves sushi, western seafood and asian seafood (and doesn't take reservations). Sevruga and Beluga: the former serves a mainly tourist crowd, based on my experiences the two times I've been, and Beluga is known for its green pepper steak, sushi specials (not its quality sushi, please note!) and sometimes rude staff. Wakame I have never been to, and heard mixed reviews.
I am sorry you had such a mediocre experience in Cape Town; I would list places I recommend, but have listed them elsewhere on this board. There's a lot of hidden joys, like Manna, which offer more casual but inventive and fresh cuisine - if you know where to look.