When the EatOut Top 10 restaurants were revealed last month, I must admit that I was slightly underwhelmed. Not because the restaurants on the list aren’t great. They most certainly are. But it feels like the judges have forgotten that there is more (much more) to South Africa than Cape Town and the winelands… So I’ve decided to make a list of a few other Top Restaurants that are most definitely worth a visit.
Whether it is fancy or simple, my two main definitions of good food is that it should be made with love and great ingredients. The same thing goes for the setting; whether it is a castle or a shack it must feel like a loved space, a place where you feel welcome and comfortable and well looked after. Quirky and different is also a bonus in my books. I think that local is lekker, and that fresh-from-the-garden/farm/sea and seasonal produce trumps imported fancies. So with that in mind, this is my list of great South African restaurants (in alphabetic order):
“Honest garden to table food, created from scratch”. Culinary Table grew from a demo kitchen for top of the range kitchen equipment, into today’s restaurant, coffee shop, butchery, bakery and kitchen shop. They have their own organic vegetable gardens, and source other produce directly from the producers to ensure the integrity and quality of what is on offer. Everything is reused and recycled where possible, using nose-to-tail and leaf-tip-to-root philosophies. What doesn’t go into the dishes of the day is cured, fermented, pickled or otherwise preserved for an impressively stocked deli, or used to make organic fertiliser.
Culinary Table Lanseria, Johannesburg
Located on a small plot in Pretoria East, Fermier is “an attempt to create a restaurant which in future can become completely self-sustainable by creating an entire “ecosystem” from the fish and vegetables to the livestock, that suits our idea of responsible, conscientious farming (and restaurant) where even “waste” is turned into a functional part of the cycle”. The building is made entirely with material from the plot, and the on-site fish farm provides heating in winter, by circulating the warm water under the floor. Tables, chairs and plates have been made by local artisans. Apart from fish, ducks and pigs are also farmed here, and there are extensive vegetable gardens. The sommelier sources interesting wines from small boutique wine makers, many of which are not available to the public.
Fermier Karoo Yard (141 Lynwood Road), Pretoria
“A modern take on traditional Cape cuisine that helps preserving culinary heritage”. Fyndraai uses edible plants the way our ancestors (the KhoiSan people) did and mixes it with traditional farm food (as introduced to South Africa by the settlers) and Cape Malay influences (brought by the slaves from south-east Asia). The result is a culinary history and botany lesson, presented like works of edible art. A must for those that want to understand South African food heritage better. The restaurant is also working actively to save threatened endemic flora, and to preserve historic knowledge (often contained in oral tradition). And yes, I know that this is in the winelands but it is so unique it still deserves a mention!
Fyndraai Solms-Delta, Franschhoek
The menu changes daily here and every lunch and dinner is a new surprise. Most produce (apart from salt-water fish for obvious reasons) is sourced within a radius of some 10km. In fact, I believe that the chef knows every producer by name (and possibly some of the animals that he serves too – sorry vegetarians, I know this is unacceptable to you). For instance, I was told that “this chicken comes from Sue just down the road, she tucks them in on beds of fresh lavender every night”. For the Full Experience, stay at least one night and enjoy the lavish suites, long walks on the stud farm and perhaps a visit to the spa. Oh, and the breakfasts are To.Die.For!
Hartford House Hlatikulu Road, Mooi River
“Overlooking vegetable gardens, fruit trees and the mountains beyond, Marianas offers discerning foodies an unpretentious taste of Cape cuisine, with French and Italian influences”. The vintage furniture may be mismatched, but it is obvious that great care has been taken to create the perfect setting for the simple but superb home-cooked dishes. Everything is made from scratch with locally sourced produce, and you can taste that it is made with the finest ingredients and sprinkled liberally with love!
Marianas Owl’s Barn, Stanford
Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge
While I love eating in a rustic setting in the bush, Earth Lodge has managed the hard task of creating a fine dining space under the stars without making it feel contrived. White linen, crystal glassware and oil lanterns work effortlessly together with the smells and sounds of the bush to create the ultimate African experience. The lodge is unfenced, and the knowledge that the animals may be right there just a few meters from you add to the fairytale feeling. The food is world-class, and sourced as locally as possible (obviously, a vegetable garden on site would be eaten by elephants in no time and hunting is not allowed in the reserve). The lodge is working closely with the nearby settlements to assist them to produce what the lodge needs, and thus creating a sustainable source of income for otherwise impoverished areas.
Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge Sabi Sand Wildtuin
Cube Tasting Kitchen
I’ve always liked this restaurant, with its ever-changing seasonal tasting menus, but it just got a whole lot better! Cube recently moved to the newly refurbished Cosmopolitan Hotel in Maboneng, so now you can enjoy their fine food in a beautiful setting that is very much part of the revival of Joburg heritage. Have a pre or post-dinner drink in the bar, which has been restored to its 1899 original. Diners are also encouraged to take a break in their 10-course “tasting progression” to visit the upstairs gallery.
Cube Tasting Kitchen 24 Albrecht Street, Johannesburg
This is coastal foraging, served up fine dining style. The seasonal, seafood based menu is complemented by seaweed, veldkos (edible,indigenous plants) and veggies from their own garden. “In a historical cottage overlooking the bay of Paternoster, Kobus van der Merwe continues to honour the indigenous offering of the region’s speciality fynbos, also drawing inspiration from its rich history of early civilisation”. The restaurant takes its name from a nearby cave, where remains of an over 2,000 year old civilisation have been found.
Wolfgat 10 Sampson Street, Paternoster