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South Africa Series: Cape Town Dining

Jan. 14, 2013
12 min read
South Africa Series: Cape Town Dining
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This is the fifth post of my South Africa Series. Follow along to read my reviews on several different aspects of my trip. Other posts in this series include: Come Along With Me To South Africa!; Flight Review: South African Airways Business Class JFK-JNB; Hotel Review: Westin Cape Town; Trip Report: Watching African Penguins at Boulders Beach and the Cape of Good Hope; Hotel Review: Hilton Cape Town; 10 Things I Love About South Africa; Hotel Review: 12 Apostles Hotel and Spa Luxury Room; Trekking Up Table Mountain In Cape Town; Hotel Review: Hyatt Regency Johannesburg; Trip Report: South Africa Safari at Savanna Lodge in Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve; Safari Highlights at Sabi Sands Game Reserve in South Africa.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I got to South Africa in terms of cuisine. I knew Cape Town was a Euro-cosmopolitan city with some great fine-dining experiences, but I decided to go all out in terms of dining while I was there and I'm glad I did, because each meal seemed better than the last. I am off to safari feeling like I’ll make a nice meal for any lions that we may encounter. While abroad, I used my Sapphire Preferred to pay for all meals, because it gives 2 points per dollar on all dinin and no foreign transaction fees, which makes a huge difference when abroad, since some foreign fees get up to 3% of your entire purchase.

Our first day in Cape Town was beautiful out, so we did as most tourists and headed to the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront to a restaurant suggested to us by the Westin concierge, Baia.

I enjoyed the grilled kingklip topped with prawns as a main dish from Baia.

It ended up being a bit fancier than we expected, but after a full day of being cooped up in airplanes and eating plane food, a fancy alfresco meal with picture-perfect views of Table Mountain ended up being great. I started with a lobster bisque and had grilled kingklip with prawns over a kind of summer succotash with mushrooms and peas, while Eric had a salad with seared ahi tuna and crab, and a main course of sole filet from South Africa’s west coast which he enjoyed with Vergelegen Sauvignon Blanc while I stuck to Windhoek beer from Namibia.

We ate rather late, so after a good long afternoon nap and catching up on email, we decided just to meet some friends for drinks and a night out on the town.

The interior of Reuben's restaurant at the One & Only Cape Town.

The following day, after a late breakfast and a trek around the top of Table Mountain, we hit the beach for a little while and then decided to have an early dinner at celebrity chef Reuben Riffel’s restaurant at the One & Only Cape Town.

I started with six delicious West Coast oysters and a Caesar salad that was honestly the best one I’ve ever had. It had butter lettuce, tomato, a creamy anchovy dressing, poached egg, thick parmesan gratings and crostini-style croutons. I wiped the plate clean. For my main, I had pan-roasted springbok loin – kind of like a small antelope that’s similar to having venison – with a potato rosti, choucroute, confit garlic, port mushrooms, caramelized cauliflower puree and jus of thyme.

Eric tried the Karoo lamb from Reubens.
Eric tried the saffron-braised Karoo lamb neck at Reuben's.

Eric started with buttermilk-fried soft-shell crab tempura with spring onion, ginger, soy and spicy chili mayo and then had the saffron-braised Karoo lamb neck with cauliflower purée, pomme fondant, roasted root vegetables, olive and caper jus. To accompany it all, we wanted a really typical South African wine, so we settled on a Bellingham 2007 Bernard Series Pinotage, which was rich with dark fruit flavors but still very food-friendly.

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For dessert we shared the gingerbread malva (sort of like bread pudding) with coconut pulp ice cream, caramel anglaise sauce and a pineapple semi-preserve, which was all tropically delicious.

The dining room of Savoy Cabbage.
The dining room of Savoy Cabbage near Greenpoint.

We had a busy day hanging out with great white sharks in Gaansbai the next day, so we only made it back to town in time for dinner, which we enjoyed at a well-known and popular hotspot near Greenpoint called Savoy Cabbage, which is known for its game meats and “sophisticated peasant cuisine.”

At Savoy we started with a delicious tomato tart.
At Savoy Cabbage we started with a delicious tomato tart.

To start, Eric and I tried a platter of sugar-cured zebra, which wasn’t to my taste – it had an off-putting earthy quality to it that I just didn’t like, but then we also shared a delicious tomato tart that the restaurant is known for. For our mains, I had grilled Karan beef sirloin and braised short rib on a savory mustard mash with mushrooms in red wine sauce while Eric opted for the more exotic fennel-dusted warthog on mashed turnips and potatoes with red onion marmalade and sour fig syrup, which was tender and delicious.

Dessert from Savoy Cabbage
Strawberry and shortbread cookie dessert from Savoy Cabbage.

For dessert, we had macerated strawberries with a shortbread pastry and hazelnut ice cream.

I already reported on our time in the Cape Winelands and the delicious meals we enjoyed there, though I haven't yet gotten to Delaire Graff, the wine estate and luxury hotel up in the pass between Stellenbosch and Franschoek where we enjoyed dinner on our last night out there.

I started with some local oysters, which were absolutely incredible, and an appetizer of octopus, prawn, pickled radish, peas and lobster vinaigrette that was like the best taste of the sea you could imagine. Eric had an ultra-fresh salad of bocconcini, podded peas, snow peas, preserved lemon, olive oil and sprouts.

For mains, I had the springbok (again!) with fried zucchini blossoms, ricotta, blackberry compote and cauliflower, which was unbelievably juicy and tender while Eric had the earthy but delicate duck breast with smoked tomato arancini, celeriac and summer herbs.

Decadent chocolate tart with cocoa-banana crumble at Delaire Graff.

For dessert I had the chocolate tart with cocoa-banana crumble and peanut butter ice cream while Eric had an almond crumble with peach, apricot and white chocolate perfumed by geranium water. We were barely able to walk out the door!

The following day we ventured along the coast to see the African penguin colony at Boulders Beach and continued along to Cape Point to see the Cape of Good Hope and have lunch at the Two Oceans Restaurant there. I had an ostrich burger for the first time (and probably the last for a while since it was greasy and not really to my liking) while Eric had an Asian sesame chicken salad which he didn’t finish. The restaurant pretty much caters exclusively to tourists out on the Cape for a day so it wasn’t a surprise that the food was less than stellar.

It wasn’t such a big deal, either, since we stayed that night at the 12 Apostles Hotel & Spa just outside the beach town of Camps Bay on its own little stretch of highway backed by the dramatic peaks from which it takes its name. It had been a suggestion of our travel agent friend Michelle from Azurine Travel, though we actually booked it ourselves using so that we would get some of the hotel program’s perks thrown in (more on that in a future post).

Curried chicken
Eric and I both had to try the curried chicken and prawns special from Azure.

After such a long day, we decided to treat ourselves to dinner at Azure, the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant. I got oysters again – I couldn’t resist! – and then for a main, Eric and I both got a Cape Malay specialty of curried chicken and prawns with rice and noni bread, then Eric tucked into the signature dessert of cheesecake with strawberries.

We drove back into Cape Town the following morning specifically to have lunch at the hottest restaurant in town, Test Kitchen, which I’d heard rave reviews about and whose chef, Luke Dale Roberts is the rising star to watch on South Africa's dining scene. It’s in the funky neighborhood of Woodstock, which used to be all warehouses and factories, but which is gentrifying thanks to artists and creative types moving in and creating new shopping and living spaces.

Open kitchen
Test Kitchen features an open kitchen where you can watch everything being prepared.

Test Kitchen is in one such complex called the Old Biscuit Mill, and it’s a post-industrial space filled with galleries, boutiques and cafes that’s positively thrumming with life.

Duck crepe
Incredible duck crepe from Test Kitchen.

The restaurant certainly lived up to its hype. We sat at the bar near one of the open kitchen areas where we could watch everything being prepared. Eric and I both started with the signature appetizer of a warm duck crepe with hoisin-citrus dressing, mandarin slices, scallions and parsnip crisps, which was absolutely mouthwatering – I almost ordered seconds!

For my main, I chose the pork belly and shoulder with cauliflower, oat-bread sauce and nutmeg foam. It was seriously one of the best pieces of pork I’ve ever had, perfectly crispy on the outside and juicy in the meaty center.

Eric's main course at Test Kitchen, hake
Eric's main course at Test Kitchen, pan-fried hake.

Eric had a beautiful dish of line-caught hake pan-fried with lemon and served with marjoram over a cherry tomato calamari ragout, polenta gnocchi and saffron cream.

I had the butternut-orange semifreddo with chocolate pretzel crumble and a bourbon-buttered apple with cinnamon milk foam for dessert while Eric had the chocolate mousse crusted with licorice meringue with blackberry sorbet and pickled beetroot gelee. The combination of flavors in both dishes was totally surprising and satisfying.

For our next big meal out in Cape Town, we decided to head to dinner at a trendy restaurant in Greenpoint called Beluga (they also own another restaurant at the V&A Waterfront called Sevruga). Ironically enough, it seems like caviar is banned in South Africa, so you can’t get it at either restaurant.

Eric began with the crayfish and avocado appetizer at Beluga.

Though I wouldn’t call this meal remarkable, it was fun being out with a trendy crowd and the dishes were decent, including a little “tower” of crayfish and avocado Eric had for a starter, and my own seared ahi tuna steak over wasabi mashed potatoes. We skipped dessert in favor of coffees with amarula liqueur.

tuna steak
My entree at Beluga, seared ahi tuna steak over wasabi mashed potatoes.

After all those game meats and rich food, for our last night in Cape Town we decided to keep it light, simple and easy, so we headed back to the One & Only for dinner at Nobu where we got some old standbys like yellowtail sashimi with jalapeno and octopus carpaccio as well as soft-shell crab rolls, spicy tuna and unagi. You can have Nobu in a lot of major cities around the world now, but there was something about it that just hit the spot!

If I had to rank the restaurants, it would be in this order:
1. Test Kitchen
2. Delaire Graff
3. Reuben's
4. Savoy Cabbage
5. Baia
6. Azure
7. Beluga
8. Two Oceans

As you can tell, it was quite a foodie adventure in Cape Town. I was really pleasantly surprised by the caliber of cuisine not only in the city, but out in the Winelands as well, though I’d already heard great things about the restaurants. If I had to say, Test Kitchen was definitely the best meal I had there, and I would love to go back for dinner to try the multi-course tasting menu, but I had great experiences all over town and I’d go back to several of these restaurants again.
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Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.