Cape Town has arguably the most diverse and cosmopolitan dining of anywhere in Africa. All tastes are catered for, from street food to some of the most commended restaurants in the world. Alongside that, the wine, beer and gin scenes are experiencing a wave of creativity and cafe culture thrives. You will be spoilt for choice. But, of course, look a bit deeper and you’ll find your culinary experience will be even more rewarding than you thought.
ood, glorious food
In Cape Town, when it comes to eating out we are spoiled for choice, that’s true. Between fine dining at 4Roomed eKasi in Khayelitsha and fine dining at the Test Kitchen in Woodstock, is a wild spectrum of food that takes in flavours from across the country, the continent and the oceans. The food of the whole planet is distilled here in Cape Town.Check out CIKI’s Eatery in Khayelitsha, Mzansi in Langa and Jimmy Jamalo on Long Street in the historic centre for home-style isiXhosa cuisine. Sample Cape Malay food at Mariam’s Kitchen for a casual business district lunch, or the Bokaap Kombuis for a Cape Malay feast with a view. And then let Upper Bloem in Green Point shoot that tradition into space and create entire new universes from it, with transcendent interpretations of Cape Malay culinary tradition.In the Winelands, My Kitchen in Lanquedoc, in the Dwars River Valley, run by Chris and Esther, serves up unforgettable barbecued tilapia, and Siena Charles’ Beker en Bord down the road in Kylemore is the place for traditional bredies with roosterbrood and soetpatat.
Here are a selection of my favourites; the ones that I keep cycling back to when it is time for a treat:
• The Pot Luck Club, Woodstock; global tapas exquisitely imagined
• Plant, historic central business district, for vegan inventions
• Andalouse, Woodstock, for Moroccan dishes
• Hayashi, Stellenbosch (mean pok choi and tofu dishes)
• Banana Jam, Harfield Village: go for the greatest range of craft beer, some from their in-house brewery upstairs, and riffs on Caribbean bar food
• Foliage in Franschhoek, for a wild food menu
Ishay Govender-Ypma, journalist
On food: I often get asked what South African food is. I always advise people to support well-researched and responsible cultural food tours. Coffeebeans Routes offer several, including home-cooked meals in the Bo Kaap. I love what Abigail Mbalo is doing in Khayelitsha with her visionary 4Roomed eKasi Culture concept – a restaurant serving modern township cuisine that invites people to support several of her neighbours’ businesses. Chef Sage (Zuko Mdaquelwa) serves family-style local food on Hidden Gems Sundays in Ikwezi Park, Khayelitsha. When I want to give guests who prefer fancy surrounds a good time, I book a table at The Pot Luck Club for delicious sharing plates and wrap-around city views.
My favourite place is Addis in Cape, for its lovely low tables and the scent of frankincense swirling through the air, as you share platters with dorowat (chicken with berbere spice), beef cube stew and spiced red lentils over teff injera, before a traditional Ethiopian coffee served with popped corn. Another budget-friendly favourite is Andalousse, for Moroccan food in an unexpected part of Woodstock’s main road. You might actually pass it. The service can take a while, especially when they’re in the middle of lunch service, but you’ll feast like royalty.
Back when I created the Cape Town Beer Safari for Coffeebeans Routes, breweries like Devils Peak were still making beer in the garage. Today Devil’s Peak is the biggest independent brewer in the country, going head to head with SAB, the largest brewer on the planet! Like the coffee scene, there’s craft beer everywhere now – it is mainstream.
And while the tendency is still strongly toward US West Coast-style beers with lots of hops (IPAs and APAs abound), more and more brewers are looking to very local ground for inspiration, with indigenous plants like buchu and pelargonium making it into the mash (check out Triggerfish and Soul Barrel Brewing) and wild yeast harvested within the brewery.
Ukhamba Beerworx celebrates the indigenous with traditional references and ingredients. Try their sorghum brewed saison called Utywala, and they parody the political with beers named after major current topics – check out their State Capture IPA.
If you have a hankering for a local craft beer, here’s some of my favourites:
• Drifters Brewery Coconut Ale
• Devil’s Peak Blockhouse IPA CBC Weiss beer
• Triggerfish Bonito, a buchu Blonde
• Striped Horse lager
• Soul Barrel Brewing Cape Wild Ale
The gin scene
Cape Town has pulled gin right Out of Africa and into a whole new modern Cape Town, where gourmet coffee and craft beer and gin and tonic are not the start of a joke about colonialism. Or are they?
Where once it was baobabs and African sunsets and a G&T with ice in the middle of the savannah, now it’s indigenous botanicals hand-distilled in Woodstock by bearded angels, served on Bree Street by those gods of the night called mixologists.
Where gin was once the crack of Europe, and later the mascot of colonial Africa, now it’s an indicator of African urbane, a drink that is woke to our indigenous ecology, distilled and remixed in 42% proof.
To tap into Cape Town gin culture:
• Visit Roeland Liquors (65 Roeland St) and ask Manie Potgieter, the owner, about his gin recommendations. He’s been keeping a keen eye on local distils since sunrise at least (talk to him also about natural wine, his current passion).
• The Gin Bar (pictured above), in the courtyard behind the Honest Chocolate Cafe, was Anthony Gird and Michael de Klerk’s first play beyond their chocolate pioneering, and it was an immediate hit. Tucked away, tiny, and very intimate, it seeks to present something that is reverent of the raw materials yet dismissive of any cultural posturing.
• My favourite gin is the Inverroche Amber. Inverroche has been the Devils Peak or Vida Caffe or Honest Chocolate of gin – the outfit that creates wonderful product with considered design and astute business acumen, and opens up whole new ways of experiencing and thinking about the product itself and its cultural legacy.
• Artisanal tonic waters are the Apple Pencils of the gin world – you can do ok without them, but they open up new possibilities for the gin. Some of these tonic waters are such delicate, pure distillations of fine ingredients, they are on the verge of turning gin into a health drink. Check out Barker and Quin, and Coco Safar’s rooibos-infused tonic, prepared on site in Sea Point at their botanicals micro-brewery.
The state of coffee, like that of beer, was transformed at warp speed in Cape Town. Or it seems like that. Once there was nothing and then there was Vide e Caffe, who introduced and scaled up the idea of a barista-prepared Arabica bean coffee. Origin Coffee took it to its artisanal single origin micro-brew extreme, and out of that Truth Coffee was born, as well as Deluxe Coffee. And since those heady days there’s a great coffee shop on just about every corner.For a taste of the future of the townships, as interpreted through coffee, head to Siki’s Koffee Kafe in Ilitha Park, Khayelitsha. Bean There on Wale St is renowned for their coffee and their support of start-out entrepreneurs in the coffee sector. Rosetta Roastery in the Woodstock Exchange serves up the best iced coffee in the city: they cold-brew rather than chilling an espresso. The bar has been set really high here, so you can be pretty sure you’ll easily find a good brew.Tea time
Coffee is very much the drink of choice of here, and there’s good coffee available everywhere. While pretty much every single home in the city, across every economic level, has commercial tea in the house (Joko’s Five Roses is the most popular) tea as a loose-leaf cafe experience is still in its infancy. Where coffee is a high-octane drink, served in high-octane ways (quickly, loudly, conspicuously), and represents the fast moving on-the-go city dweller, the tea shops here feel like oases of calm. They make for a respite from the city’s coffee culture. I’m looking forward to a lot more tea options in the city in the future.
For now, these options may just be your cup of tea:
• First People Indigenous Living Khoi tea shop, corner Long and Wale streets, CBD. Bush doctor Carlo Randall, a registered Khoi traditional healer, offers bespoke private First People Indigenous Tea tastings. His teas are specifically blended for healing, and to engage tea drinkers with indigenous narratives in the city.
• Nigiro Tea is an offshoot of Origin Coffee Roasters, one of the first (if not the first) artisan coffee shops and roasteries in the city. Nigiro is Origin backwards… and it too was a tea pioneer in the city. They offer tea ceremonies and tea tastings in Claremont inside the O’ways Teacafé.
• Ka Pa Tée is a tea laboratory and emporium on Church Street the heart of the historic city, with high ceilings and a welcome stillness. Their focus is on organic and Fair Trade, sustainably grown tea. They sell loose leaves and tea equipment for the home, and have a lovely design sensibility.
• In the Company’s Gardens you can do a Fynbos Tasting, where you are guided through a tasting of eight indigenous botanicals, prepared in different ways, from a herbal tea infusion through infused oils to aromatic vinaigrettes. bit.ly/fynbosexperience
There’s a new generation of winemakers and wine entrepreneurs who are starting to shape the wine industry in their own image. These are people with no land and no means of production, who have had to take on the 400 years of wine heritage in the Cape with new winemaking ideas, with new ways of seeing the game itself, with indigenous heritage. The new wines that are being released are telling whole new stories about Cape Town and the country.
Mphumi Ndlangisa of Magna Carta Wines is making natural wines at his winery in Woodstock. I love his Pinot Noir and his pétillant naturel, which he calls Illumaniti. Rosemary Mosia of Bridge of Hope has a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Chardonnay that are always favourites at tastings. Ntsiki Biyela is making waves with her Aslina range (Aslina is the name of her grandmother). I love her blend, which she calls Umsasane.
Multi-award-winning wine-maker Carmen Stevens uses her wines, and the community she has built around her wines, to generate the revenue that funds daily meals for kids in Hanover Park, the area she grew up in on the Cape Flats. My friend Nomhle Zondani conducts private tastings of black-owned wines and brands at her Wine Shaq, served with an isiXhosa lunch spread that she cooks. It’s a brilliant few hours of celebrating autochtonous wine and food. We have finally arrived at a point in the wine sector where this is possible – and that is reason to celebrate.
Nomhle Zondani, The Wine Shaq
Fun wine experiences:
1 Grub and Vine: It’s a must: different wine estates presenting their wines. Their sessions are about an hour and it’s worth the visit and the tastings are free.
2 The Wine Shaq: An intimate setting and you get to taste wines that are normally not available in the market, from previously disadvantaged wines makers. Very different to the norm.
3 Magna Carta Tasting Room in Woodstock: Especially Sundays if you feel like listening to some good music on the rooftop.
4 Tuning the Vine: Every 1st Wednesday of the month. If you have the energy and able to walk up and down Bree / Wale / Loop Streets tasting almost over 50–80 wines, then this would be a treat.
5 Tuk-tukking through Stellenbosch or Franschoek: I always find this a treat, being driven from one estate to the next in these little cute vehicles.
By Iain Harris, first published in Travel Africa magazine, edition 86, April-June 2019. To purchase this edition, click here.