With a dining scene as varied and vibrant as the one in Cape Town, it’s a little tricky to pick and choose where to part with your rand in exchange of edibles when time isn’t so generous. Yes it has a fab coffee, food truck, market and craft brewing scene, but the diversity of its restaurants is equally as varied.
There’s just too much to choose from!
The city centre has a handful of eat streets – Long, Bree and Kloof Streets, to name a few – so merely walking around exposes a heap of options.
Our introduction to Cape Town’s dining scene was Black Sheep, a newish restaurant that, I’m sure, has added more of a spark to this hipster neighbourhood. And you can’t miss that view of Table Mountain, especially when it’s in sunset glow.
We initially arrived for an afternoon drink, but watching the nights menu being written up on boards confirmed we had to stay for dinner. Pretty much booked out, they were, except for a couple of seats up at the side window in the bar area.
That’s fine by us. All I could think about was trying the offal and game that just went up on the board, so decisions were already made.
Sun went down, people began arriving, we’re chatting and sipping our drinks …
… and then the lights go out. Everything was suddenly dark, inside and out on the street.
Our first night in Cape Town and we were already experiencing loadshedding. So many people had told me about it. This is a system that’s implemented to prevent the collapse of the power across the country – a concept that reminds visitors like us that South Africa is still very much a developing country.
The power cuts generally last 2½ hours, and looking around, they just get on with it. Candles are lit and solar jars come out, scattered about the restaurant for light. Suddenly the phone started ringing with people cancelling dinner reservations, making me think how bad these frequent power outages are for business; especially when the government offers no support or reimbursement.
A quote I heard from a local –
“What did South Africa have before candles?
A few of the menu items that required power for cooking were suddenly unavailable, so we adjusted our choices and went with other things. I couldn’t help but walk over to the semi-open kitchen to see how they got on with it, chatting briefly to chef Jonathan Japha as he and his crew cooked and plated food wearing torches on their heads. I have complete admiration for these guys.
Our first starter – the spiced cured pork fillet (65) is an interactive board of ingredients like ricotta, confit garlic and oil, toasted bread. It’s a DIY bruschetta with tasty bits of pork and a little balsamic reduction to zing it up a tad.
Tossing between the grilled ox tongue and duck hearts & livers (4), I settled on the latter. It’s a simple arrangement of morsels that make perfect beer nibbles; skewered, wrapped with bacon and sag, then charred.
We almost cried when we were told the bacon-wrapped rabbit leg wasn’t available due to the power cut, but there’s sufficient choice with what was left. The slow-roasted pork shoulder (145) was a bit of a winner; all tender and juicy with bacon-braised cabbage, roast potatoes and black pepper roasted apples.
My grilled ostrich (155) was no slouch, either, cooked rare just as it ought to be. Some braised red cabbage brings a spiced sweetness, with fresh crunch from green beans and creamy finish with butternut purée and cumberland sauce.
Dessert-wise, the ginger beer sorbet (40) freshened the palate after the wholesome mains, tarted-up with lemon curd and crunchy ginger snaps. Also, a simple-but-tasty almond tart (55) with apricot compote and crème fraîche.
Black Sheep Restaurant – 104 Kloof Street
This little write-up may be a tad late due to chef Jason Whitehead selling his beloved Frères Bistro about a month after we visited, but the food sure deserves a mention, even if the menu may drastically change with the new ownership.
Originally opened by brothers (or frères) Jason and Dylan, the food at this Foreshore bistro is French-style with a modern, personal touch. Comfy surroundings, very friendly service.
Only one starter made it to dinner that evening, something that drew me in because of its unusual description. Honeyed aubergine (58) is a curious little number, served cold in a very modernist style. It’s moderately sweet, juicy and teamed with rosemary yoghurt and a sesame crumble. Altogether it’s like some deconstructed Asian-Continental salad, making you wonder if it works or if it’s just a little too out there.
Main courses are not as avant-garde, with delicious offerings like rabbit or venison, risotto or beef sirloin. It was love at first bite with the pork cheek (142), a rather difficult cut to source, according to chef Jason. As with any cheek it got some slow oven time, rendering the meat to stupendous, collagen-rich tenderness. Horseradish mash, carrots and caramelised onions complete the picture.
The line fish – or yellow tail – was a wonderful combination of coriander & vanilla braised leeks, gooseberries and creamy coconut & cauliflower purée.
Only one dessert was ordered that evening, a vanilla panna cotta (49) served parfait-style topped with grapes, gooseberries, shards of caramel and a pastry wafer.
Frères Bistro – Corner Hans Strijdom Avenue & Bree Street
Visitors to Cape Town are bound to see Long Street one way or another – be it for a booze-fuelled night at one of the bars, a spot of antique or book shopping, or relatively quiet time at one of the many restaurants that flank this Victorian thoroughfare.
The long, narrow and warmly lit space at Fork caught our attention initially. Far from traditional Spanish tapas, this bustling place still rakes them in with bite-sized morsels that have a slight South African twist. Well, some do, anyway.
Prices don’t exceed R 60 per plate, so it’s easy to get carried away with ordering; especially when there are around thirty tapas to choose from.
So with glasses charged-up with local vino, let the forking begin. Simple flavours come with the tender roast pork belly (45), resting on a smear of tangy mayo and topped with mustard and buttery parsley crumble.
A quick couple of bites and it’s onto the raviolione (50); a more substantial tapa that’s up for the sharing. We loved the flavours of this one – spinach, ricotta, sage butter and parmesan – but we were left wondering where the promised poached egg came into it. And a pity it was torn to shreds before we forked it, ourselves.
Roast chicken breast (60), perched on fondant potatoes with a delicately-spiced leek & curry sauce; then mini kudu fillets (60) on very mild chilli-potato purée, garlic spinach and drizzle of zesty citrus reduction.
A little more game meat action came with the pan-seared ostrich (60), as juicy as ever with apple & raisin chutney and delicious rosemary-honey dressing.
Had the tiger prawns (60) not been overcooked, they would have been thoroughly enjoyed, especially with the pancetta outfit. Poor little fella’s were beyond dry.
With five desserts on offer, two of them had to come to the table, of course. Flourless chocolate cake (45) and strawberry & lemon curd pavlova (40); nothing ground-breaking, just a couple of pops of sweetness before we called it a night.
Fork Tapas – 84 Long Street
Neapolitan-style pizza was what drew us up the stairs into Bocca, a buzzing Italian eatery all kitted out in wooden slats, ambient lighting and open kitchen.
The menu is playfully broken into categories like “Spoons”, “Fingers”, “Knives & Forks”, with the all-important pizza taking up the bulk of the options.
Some necessary zucchini fries (28) simply had to make the eating list of the evening. Golden, crunchy to begin with and dripping in herb mayo. It didn’t take long for these little babies to go flaccid, so no time was wasted in scoffing them down. Serving the mayo on the side may help prevent this from happening.
We didn’t know it yet, but the pork belly ribs (58) were to be the shining star of the night. Two burnished lumps of meat and fat, meltingly soft, aromatic and glistening with mild chilli sauce. Sensational.
Around 14 pizzas are up for grabs, and as much as my gut told me to go for the less-adorned margherita or prosciutto & rocket pizza, I ended up with the di mare (118). The crust is as beautifully blackened and chewy as it ought to be, but the topping of squid and prawns weighed it down tremendously. A final heavy-handed squirt of chilli mayo drowned it even further, rendering the base to a sloppy mess.
When the menu described fried gnocchi we immediately pictured soft, billowy dumplings lightly tossed in the pan with minimal additions. The Bocca fried gnocchi (64) takes a big step away from the delicate ones we were imagining; instead presenting as very firm, doughy discs that appear to be fresh from the deep-fryer. The texture is akin to German bread dumplings, fried and served over ricotta, spinach and salsa verde. Great flavours, mind you, just not true gnocchi.
There are four “Dessert jars” for “a lil’ bit of sweetness” – one of which we sampled. The saffron panna cotta (49) is a perfectly-set jar of sweetness topped with seed crumble, strawberries and cape gooseberries. Not quite sure where the saffron came into it, however.
Bocca – Corner Bree Street & Wale Street