Culinary Capitals: Cape Town

Panoramic view of the Cape Town coast

On a Friday evening in central Cape Town, Bouchon Bistro was packed with a typically multicultural South African crowd, enjoying tapas dishes and delectable lamb gnocchi. As our mask-adorned Xhosa waitress uncorked our bottle of Stellenbosch cabernet sauvignon, she said she was happy to see diners returning. It was certainly a welcome sight following one of the world’s strictest lockdowns.

From bistros at the foot of Table Mountain to the restaurants on the Cape’s glorious wine estates, solutions to the crisis have had to been taken in-house to survive, prompting restaurants to attract locals by playing to their own relaxed, family-friendly strengths.

A market at The Old Biscuit Mill Complex on a sunny day

Fortunately, this is not a cultural change for a dining scene that already pairs quality with informality, says Kerry Kilpin, executive chef of Steenberg wine estate’s Bistro Sixteen82 and Tryn restaurants. “People took the restaurant scene a lot more seriously when small plates came into the equation. Now local restaurants offer a very sophisticated dining experience, but still keep it informal – because Cape Town is a very laid-back city and people feel relaxed when they come here.”

Having spent 20 years working in local restaurants, Kilpin says 2010 was a culinary turning point, marked by British chef Luke Dale-Roberts leaving French-fusion darling La Colombe to open The Test Kitchen in Woodstock’s Old Biscuit Mill complex. Now Scot Kirton, a veteran of Gordon Ramsay’s Savoy Grill, and German-born James Gaag head up La Colombe, while The Test Kitchen paves the way for small-plate innovators, including Dale-Roberts’ The Pot Luck Club and Liam Tomlin’s Chefs Warehouse.

The Beau Constantina Chef's Warehouse garden and view over the Cape

Today, these chefs are at the forefront of a scene typified by foraging, local produce, ethically sourced ingredients and “raising distinctly South African flavours and cuisines to a new level of sophistication”. Along the way, Cape Town has become a world-class culinary destination, inspiring chefs with its fertile Mediterranean climate and local cuisines, including Cape Malay. Wolfgat in nearby Paternoster, which is famed for its beach-foraged menu, was even awarded top accolade Restaurant of the Year at the World Restaurant Awards 2019.

It’s a promising foundation to build on and Irish-born Liam Tomlin, who started the #JobsSaveLives campaign, is optimistic about the opportunities for Cape Town restaurants. His contemporary tapas empire is expanding to six restaurants, with Local at Heritage Square opening in December, following the recent addition of a Chefs Warehouse at the Tintswalo Atlantic boutique hotel. From mid-December, the R63 million (£3 million) Makers Landing food market and “kitchen incubator” will showcase South African cuisine at the Cape Town Cruise Terminal, too.

Chef's Warehouse at Franschhoek's Maison at night

Winery restaurants, including Chefs Warehouse at both Beau Constantia and Franschhoek’s Maison, show that the Cape’s restaurants are old hands at pivoting to survive. “You used to go to a wine farm and you’d get a plate of cheese and some cold cuts. Now, the wine estates have some of the best restaurants in the country. They’re giving more reasons to visit than just wine tasting, and we’ll see a lot more of that after Covid,” says Tomlin.

Further examples of gastronomic excellence amid the vines include our partner restaurants at Delaire Graff, Cavalli and Quoin Rock in Stellenbosch, and Grande Provence in Franschhoek, where our members enjoy priority bookings and exclusive interactions with the chefs.

Beau Constantina kitchen

Words: James Bainbridge

We’re delighted to share this article from the fourth issue of DINE – our online magazine packed full of insight from across the restaurant industry.  Click here to read about the new-generation chefs redefining the future of food from DINE 4, or click below to access the full issue.

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