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South Africa

south african eats This beautiful country is at the top of the 'must see' league of world destinations. Foodie tourists will find much to please, with a huge emphasis on local produce and seasonality, and an exceptionally vibrant restaurant scene. Dining is still relatively inexpensive too for visitors from Europe and the US. I have visited six times since 2002, and the 40 reviews here are dated from 2010, 2012 and 2013. A few reviews from 2006 have been retained, but may not be current enough to be truly useful.

Cape Town

Aubergine, 39 Barnet St.
Phone: +27 (0)21 465 4909

German-born chef proprietor Harald Bresselschmidt has been behind the stoves here since 1996, and this was the fourth time I'd dined in Aubergine since 2002, finding the quality of the food to be matched by its utter consistency. The original interior had church-style pews and bare wooden tables, but it has had a much more glamorous makeover to suit its top-end cuisine and wine offering. We started with a beautifully tangy gazpacho amuse bouche, served with a quenelle of goat's cheese to add a cooling creaminess, then a little chunk of confit smoked salmon appeared, with a lemon and herb mayo to sharpen things up. For my first course proper, I chose a classic of the menu: aubergine soufflé filled with marinated goat's cheese ricotta and served with oven braised tomatoes, a vivid mizuna coulis and given extra nutty richness with a Grana Padana tuille. It was warming and delicious, the flavours creamily soft but not bland. For my main I hummed and hawed, but eventually settled on loin of blespok medallions, a game meat of the region, which was served with truffled potato, cauliflower puree and a deeply coloured and flavoured sauce of sautéed prunes. This really was outstanding, the meat as soft as butter to cut, but with a juicy texture and lightly gamy flavour, it was sensationally good. To finish, a return to soufflé, but this time a double chocolate version that was melting in the middle but just crisply textured at the edges, served with a compote of marinated cherries. With coffee and petit fours and wines expertly matched by the glass - a Cap Classique rosé from Ambeloui in Hout Bay, Aubergine's house Riesling made by Bruwer Raats, Eagle's Nest Shiraz, and a Late harvest Mourvèdre, the total bill of 1600 Rand (£110) for two including service was one of the restaurant world's great bargains. (2013)

Chapman's Peak Hotel, Main Road Hout Bay. Phone: +27 (0)21 790 1036
Its broad, sea-facing terrace is an ultra popular spot from which to enjoy some of Hout Bay's best seafood, but on an unseasonably blowy February night with sand and spray being kicked along the roadway, we dined indoors. For 25 years this Portuguese-owned hotel and restaurant has served up uncomplicated platters of olive oil, lemon and garlic-infused fresh fish and seafood, as well as steaks and Portuguese Espadas (char-grilled meaty skewers). It also has a rather good wine list that includes pages of rare Cape wines, Nederburg auction specials and a Portuguese selection. I started with a plate of calamari which was just fantastic: butter-soft, lightly breaded squid rings crisply fried in plenty of salty, peppery, lemony, garlicky seasoning. My pan-fried fillet of Kingclip with a Teriyaki sauce was good - the fish plump and well cooked, the sauce slightly bland, but the pile of garlic potatoes and green veg was tasty. With water, coffee and a bottle of Danie de Wet's Limestone Hills Chardonnay the bill for two came to around £50. Simple but tasty. (2010)

Dynasty, 10 Nedbank Centre, Kloof Road, Sea Point. Phone: +27 (0)21 434 0065
A family-run Chinese restaurant trading for over 15 years from a first floor position on Kloof Road, we chose to eat here because it was two minutes from our excellent hotel, the Atlantic Affair, and having had a proper lunch that day, we wanted a simple and relatively light meal. The dining room is open and comfortable, with several tanks of fish and seafood, and a menu that has plenty of spicy Szechuan dishes and a few pan-oriental choices including sushi. Nevertheless, the food was authentic and tasty, and we really enjoyed this place. Tempura prawns were big, succulent, and the batter properly puffy and crisp, served with a chilli dipping sauce. For mains, a lemon chicken and spicy prawn dish were both excellent, the chicken lightly breadcrumbed but with a nicely sharp and sweet sauce, the prawns in a dry sauce, with plenty of crunchy veg and lots of chilli - eat those little bright red specs at your peril. With rice and a couple of bottles of beer, the bill was less than 350 Rand including service, or about £22 or so. Not special, but good and handy in the trendy Sea Point suburb. (2013)

The Food Barn, Farm Village, Noordhoek. Phone: +27 (0)21 789-1390
I was fascinated by the prospect of a visit to The Food Barn, a fairly basic but bright and welcoming restaurant just outside Noordhoek, the town at the other end of the Chapman's Peak Drive from Cape Town. Chef/Proprietor of The Food Barn is Franck Dangereux, the man who single-handedly built the reputation for La Colome restaurant as one of South Africa's best, and probably the country's highest profile chef. When he announced he was leaving La Colome to open this much more prosaic, back-to-basics restaurant it was the equivalent of a 3* Michelin chef giving it all up to open a family diner. It seems Dangereux has opted-out of the rat-race somewhat, and this simple, thatched and bare stone-walled restaurant serves breakfast and lunch daily, dinner only Wednesday to Friday, and the style is for simple cooking that retains a lot of finesse, but focuses on prime ingredients with just a few bells and whistles. My starter of prawns with lemon butter was delicious, with basically Thai flavours running across plump, succulent, de-shelled large prawns. My favourite dish was probably the intermediate course, of raviolis with a black truffle and mushroom filling. It was cooked beautifully, and the light broth in which it was served was suffused with herbs. For my main, more prawns, this time piled into a puff pastry case and served on a bed of a thick, creamy tomato sauce. To finish a chocolate marquise was suitably dense without being at all cloying, the bittersweet flavour creamy and dark. The wine list is very nice too, featuring the wines of nearby Cape Point Vineyards (the house wine made by them only 80 Rand - £7 - per bottle) and corkage is charged at 40 Rand. This is a cracking foodie spot, with everything homemade and a unique atmosphere where both serious foodies and family's on a night out can feel equally welcome and equally satisfied. 350 Rand (£30) for five courses. (2010)

Savoy Cabbage, 101 Hout Street. Phone: +27 (0)21 424 2626
Savoy Cabbage is a real favourite of mine, with top foodie credentials and a cool, New York loft-vibe with acres of exposed brick, playful cabbage-leaf lighting and open kitchen. Upstairs on the mezzanine is the nicer dining option for me, not least because it is non-smoking, but it also houses a cosy Champagne bar and has great views over the restaurant space. A daily-changing single sheet menu is crammed with old favourites, like lamb and rice-stuffed cabbage leaves poached in a flavoursome broth, and regular guest dishes. My most recent meal started with their signature tomato tart: plump halves of large, sweet tomatoes skinned and roasted in a pastry case, with a little creamy béchamel sauce to add moisture and scattered with torn basil. It is simple, fresh and very delicious, served hot from the oven. The waitress suggested a glass of Springfield's Special Cuvee Sauvignon Blanc with this (44 Rand) which was perfect. My Chalmar beef fillet was cooked rare, with a rich mushroom and 'boozy onion' sauce and red wine reduction. It was a lovely piece of beef, both flavourful and meltingly soft, and the richness really suited a glass of Le Riche Cabernet Sauvignon at 85 Rand (about £8.00). My pud - honey-roasted figs with vanilla ice cream - was good, but the figs lacked flavour and honeyed richness - I wished I'd gone for a perennial favourite of a stack of thin chocolate pancakes served with ice cream. The one-page wine list features only around 20 bottles, but they are interesting and very well chosen, and almost all available by the glass or bottle. BYO is only 30 rand (£2.75) and the atmosphere special, so this is one not to miss if in Cape Town. (2010)

Signal at The Cape Grace, V&A Waterfront. Phone: +27 (0)21 410 7080
The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is a vast shopping complex that throngs with crowds from morning until night. Set around the seaport, it is very atmospheric, but also an enormous tourist trap with hawkers outside chain restaurants trying to entice customers through their doors. If you would prefer really good food in a very serene and grown-up calm atmosphere, make you way around over a couple of bridges to the Cape Grace hotel, a 5* Super luxury establishment but one that offers a 3-course lunch for 195 Rand - about £14. That's what the seafood restaurant in the shopping complex asks just for a main course. Settling in with some lovely breads and a glass of Chamonix Chardonnay, I quickly decided on a salad of very thinly sliced, seared beef, spicily rich with a soy, ginger and spring onion dressing. Raw carrot and strips of roasted courgette and asparagus added vivid flavours, as did a handful of toasted sesame seeds sprinkled through the dish. It was delightful. Next, 'line fish of the day' turned out to be cod, served roasted beautifully with crisp skin yet still melting flesh, served with a lemon-zest potato purée and a nice medley of wok-fried vegetables. We shouldn't have, but is was Sunday lunch, so deciding it would do instead of dinner, I finished with a serviceable baked lemon cheesecake with strawberries and strawberry sorbet. With coffees, water and service, the total bill came to just 60 Rand (£45) for a relaxed and elegant lunch looking out over the millionaire yachts in the marina. A top tip from this trip. (2013)

Theo's, 163 Beach Road, Cape Town. Phone: +27 (0)21 439 3494
Theo's is an institution on Mouille Point, just round the coast from the new World Cup stadium, offering a friendly welcome, seafood and steaks. My starter of huge tiger prawns simply char-grilled was a real treat, and my main course grilled line-fish (Kingklip) was rubbed with Creole spices and served with salad and vegetables. The wine list is well-priced, and with a bottle of Boschendal Sauvignon Blanc the whole meal came in under 400 Rand (2010)

Trattoria Luigi, Main Road Hout Bay. Phone: +27 (0)21 790 1702
Definitely a slice of the old-school Italian restaurant tradition, complete with wickerwork Chianti bottle décor and popular opera as the mood music. If you are very unlucky indeed, owner Antonio will even stop and serenade your table - the idea is just excruciating. OK, the food: the bruschetta piled with fresh tomato chopped through with garlic and olive oil is delicious, the fillet steak generous and well-cooked and the home made tiramisu creamy and enjoyable if a bit light on coffee and booze. The short wine list is OK, but the blackboard has wine specials too, both domestic and Italian. Nederburg's Cabernet/Syrah blend drank very easily at 850 Rand (less than £8.00) and the whole meal, including two big bottles of water and coffees was less than £50. Not fancy, not great, but decent. BYO allowed, corkage 250 Rand. (2010)

Constantia

Constantia is a southern suburb of Cape Town, just 15 minutes by road or taxi from the city centre, so a very easy place to visit wineries or, in this case, have lunch or dinner.

Bistro Sixteen82 at Steenberg Estate, Tokai Road 7945. Phone: +27 (0)21 713 2211
There's no expense spared in the Steenberg Estate, where their reputation has been built on white wines, and where there is a palpable air of confidence. The estate also boasts a super luxury hotel, 18-hole championship golf course and plush spa, sparkling wine bar and a second fine dining restaurant. But after a tasting and visit we ate in the spectacular Bistro Sixteen18, a large, open-fronted and very chic dining room facing sparkling fountains, vineyards and the fynbos-covered mountains beyond. Billed as an "interactive wine and food destination," as well as more formal dining there's a Raw Bar counter with seating and sashimi, gravadlax, ceviche, carpaccios, oysters and tartars to enjoy. We settled down and I kicked off with a superb dish: a risotto of Namibian prawns. The risotto was deliciously textured, with the merest trace of bite left in the rice, but creamily soft too, especially enriched with a little crème frâiche, and studded not only with succulent small prawns, but juicy and smoky little bursts of flavour from niblets of charred corn. For my main course I had the pan-fried line fish of the day, in this case I was reliably informed by our smiling waiter that it was 'Santa', but later investigations proved my hearing needs an overhaul and it was in fact Santer. In any case, it was absolutely delicious, firm and white fleshed but cooked to flaking perfection and served with a homely pea pancake, some flaked smoked trout and a tomato vinaigrette. This was a terrific lunch I must say, and espresso afterwards was top-notch too. Obviously Steenberg's own wines are the focus of the wine list, and 3 courses, before wine or service, will cost around 240 Rand, or £17.00. Open for breakfast and lunch. (2013)

Buitenverwachting, Klein Constantia Rd. Phone: +27 (0)21 794 5190
A must do for me when I am in Cape Town is lunch on the terrace at the Buitenverwachting wine estate in Constantia. It's such a lovely setting, with its crisp white linen, crystal and silverware gleaming in the sunshine on tables facing a pretty flower-filled courtyard and fountain. The lunch is good value too, and although I always drink the estate's own wines, they even offer BYO with corkage of only 25 Rand - about £1.50 - per bottle. The food here is light and always makes me think of Californian cuisine. Witness my first course of creamy and soft burrata cheese, set as a perfect little block with a heirloom tomato jelly and pesto and basil sorbet. Dressed with a few pea-shoots to add pin-points of extra flavour, it was delightful. For my main course I chose porchetta (a rolled roast pork dish of peasant origins), stuffed with fennel, rosemary, thyme and garlic. The pork used for this dish should have a healthy layer of fat, but to be honest this was just a little too fatty for me, the accompanying gnocchi and honey-glazed carrots were delicious and some might have liked the thick layer of fat more than me. Keeping things light, I finished with a Peach Melba - poached peach with ice cream and fresh cream, almonds and raspberries, that was really nicely done, the sweet and fleshy peach just given that toasty crunch from almonds and contrasting, sharp bite of the fresh berries. With large glasses of Buitenverwachting Sauvignon 2012, coffee and Petit Fours and service, a total bill of 600 Rand for two (not much more than £40) sent us off in very contented mood. (2013)

La Colombe, Constatia-Uitsig, Spaanschemat Rd. Phone: +27 (0)21 794 4480.
La Colombe is, according to many knowledgeable sources, the best restaurant in the Cape. The beautiful garden is the first option, the rather dull indoor room used only if the weather is poor. On a beautiful summer evening we were shown to a very odd table indeed, in a no-man's-land zone that buffered the two dining areas, in what is basically a corridor shared between a few tables and the endless parade of staff working between kitchen and the garden. The need to leave the corridor space free means guests are seated with their backs to the delights of the garden, instead facing directly into the empty dining room. Whilst the fountain and twinkling lights of the garden must have created a lovely ambiance, we stared into the gloom, so with only three or four tables occupied and a dozen empty, I asked the manager if we could move, to be told "I'm sorry, but all the garden tables have been requested." Why someone else's "request" should take priority over mine I'm not sure, but he assured us we'd be moved if at all possible. That was the last we saw of him, as most of the rest of his evening he spent fussing over a table of celebrity diners. Over the next hour various arriving guests were offered a choice of tables in the garden, whilst back in the gloom our experience got worse and worse. Instead of menus, staff drag huge blackboards on easels around the restaurant. Ours was duly plonked in front of us whilst our waitress fluffed her way through detailed descriptions of each of around 20 dishes, trying to recall ingredients, sauces, cooking techniques, presentation and so on. By the time she'd reached the bottom I suspect she wished the ground could open up and swallow her. I know I did. She then "left the menu with us", which meant for the next 20 minutes we didn't even have the view of the empty dining room - just a six-foot high blackboard blocking out everything. From then on service was lamentable: wine out of reach and not topped up when needed, dishes presented to the wrong person, a basket of bread offered once then never reappearing, long, long waits between courses with many apologies, petit-fours served after coffee when we requested them with. Rarely have I felt so much like a second-class citizen in a restaurant - and we were not the only denizens of no-man's-land I heard complaining. The food? Actually it was very good indeed, some of it terrific: foie gras with rhubarb crumble and custard was a lovely piece of roasted foie, served with a tangy rhubarb compote and a vanilla and hazelnut custard on a crumble base, that was delicious and full of vivid, unexpected flavour combinations. The 'two servings of duck' turned out to be a very nicely cooked breast with a rich berry sauce, followed by a heavenly confit, which had been pressed into a dense little cake, served with a puy lentil-enriched sauce and crispy filo roll, stuffed with a creamy celeriac gratin. Scallops were slightly overcooked, so the food didn't entirely sing. The wine list is huge, if well marked up. A glass of Constantia Uitsig Blanc de Blanc was 800 Rand (£7.00) and a bottle of Hamilton Russell Pinot 550 (£50). In all the meal came in at £200 which is at the very top end of Cape pricing. La Colombe enjoys a superb reputation, and you might well have a much better experience than me. But based on this, I won't be rushing to return. (2010)

The Greenhouse at The Cellars Hohenhort. Phone: +27 (0)21 794 2137
This is the fine dining restaurant within one of the Cape's most beautiful and exclusive hotels, made up of a series of Cape Dutch buildings set in old, established gardens, and feeling like it is a million miles from the bustle of Cape Town. We settled into the comfortable dining room with large picture windows overlooking the gardens and decided fairly quickly on the African Origins tasting menu with its matching wine flights. Service was charming and attentive, and we kicked things off with a carpaccio of tuna and perlemoen (local abalone) served on a glass block as wafer-thin strips of fish interspersed with strips of cucumber, alongside little heaps of pickled daikon radish, wasabi bavarois and soya caviar. A glass of Klein Constantia Estate Brut 2006 was perfect. Next, a glass of Constantia Uitsig's Unwooded Chardonnay was poured to match with a wonderfully meaty but light terrine of quail and guinea fowl, accompanied by marinated baby beets, a creamy foie gras mousse and tangy apple jelly. For the next course of Franschhoek salmon trout cooked 'sous vide' with smoked potatoes, a Champagne velouté and deliciously piercing lemon marmalade, a glass of Eagles Nest Viognier was again a great choice in a menu that was starting to suggest a seriously good kitchen and sommelier combination. Refreshed by a rose, geranium and Champagne granite, the main course was a melt-in-the-mouth loin of almond crusted springbok, served with roasted figs, butternut squash puree and an Amaretto jus, reduced to a richness just hinting at the almondy flavour of the liqueur. It was sensationally good, and the earthy but berry-ripe Groot Constantia Pinotage 2007 worked beautifully. The first of two desserts, served with a glass of the estate's own late harvest Vin de Hohenhort (a disappointing wine if truth be told) was a Camembert cheese cake topped with roast pineapple ice cream, before moving on to a tonka bean parfait, served playfully with a white chocolate and passion fruit bubble, mango sorbet and a lime and dark chocolate crème brülée. This was elegant, sophisticated cooking of the highest order, though the rather elderly clientele seemed entirely made up of retired English upper classes which may, or may not, be your thing. With the bill for two just £100, a strong recommendation. (2010)

River Café, Constantia Uitsig, Spaanschemat Rd. Phone: +27 (0)21 794 4480.
Weirdly, turning up for lunch at La Colombe's casual sister restaurant where I'd really enjoyed previous meals, we were again shown to a naff table in a corridor. Whilst trying not to take it too personally, this time we caused a tiny bit of a fuss when the manager refused to move us into the shady courtyard, and won the battle. A fine table was found, and the restaurant steadily emptied from that point onward meaning there were plenty of garden tables to go around, so what the resistance was all about is unfathomable. However, happily ensconced and with a bright, cheerful waitress looking after us, from then on this meal was hugely more enjoyable than La Colome as an experience, with fresh and imaginatively prepared dishes served by efficient, enthusiastic staff. My main course of a tempura shrimp Caesar salad was just delicious, and a sticky ginger pudding, steamed and delicious, yet light with a brilliant tang, was terrific. This is a beautiful setting, with the vineyards and mountainous backdrop, great food and modest prices. Two courses, water, two glasses of wine and double espressos cost just 450 Rand - about £40 for two (2010).

Franschhoek

There's no doubt Franschhoek, less than an hour from Cape Town, has established itself as the ultimate foodie destination and a very upmarket playground for the somewhat rich, if not necessarily famous. It is a beautiful region that celebrates its French origins, with some of the Cape's most exclusive accommodations and restaurants.

Franschhoek: Café Bon Bon, La Petite Dauphine Farm. Phone: +27 (0)21 876 3936
This terrific spot is just a few minutes' drive from the centre of town, based on a neatly manicured but working farm, with vines and citrus groves extending out from the broad, shady patio were breakfast and lunch is served. The setting is beautiful, with views to the mountains, and the food of a very high standard. I kept things simple one very hot lunchtime with a plate of pasta, but it really was good: a little heap of nicely cooked pasta with a liberal dousing in pan-fried artichoke hearts, plump, sweet little tomatoes, olive oil and plenty of lemon zest and parmesan shavings. The sauce was clean, tangy and appetising, and perfect with Porcupine Ridge Sauvignon Blanc at a bargain basement 75 Rand per bottle (about £6.00). Baked cheesecake for pudding was good but unexciting, though coffee was excellent. In all, with water and two courses for two people, a very reasonable 340 Rand (£30). A delightful lunchtime spot, and worth reserving a table in season. (2010)

Franschhoek: Le Bon Vivant, 23 Dirkie Uys, Street. Phone: +27 (0)21 876 2717
Packed on the Thursday night I visited, Le Bon Vivant certainly pulls in the crowds for a fine dining experience at very modest prices. Chef/proprietor Pierre Hendriks offers a five-course 'surprise menu' at 350 Rand (£31) or an a la carte option. We went for the latter, enjoying excellent bread and dips and a glass of Pierre Jourdan fizz whilst we perused the menu. Finally I chose a foie gras & duck roll, made from foie gras and duck leg confit, served with a lovely little foie gras ball covered in sweet, crunchy praline, caramelized popcorn and oven baked plums. This was presented beautifully (as is everything here) and the flavours and textures worked well. Next up, I was disappointed to hear the Monkfish was unavailable and had been replaced with Kingklip, ubiquitous in South Africa and a nicely meaty fish, but often lacking flavour. However, I went ahead with the choice and it was a good one: the fish was cooked just beautifully with a crisp, caramelised edge to the flesh, melting and just translucent in the centre, and rich with pancetta, anchovy beignets, wonderfully soft and creamy potato gaufrettes and a tangy, bittersweet orange butter sauce. For dessert, it was well worth a 15 minute wait for Berry soufflé served with a berry cocktail (a glass filled with a dense, creamy mousse and lots of dark, sweetly reduced berries and sauce) and white chocolate sorbet alongside. Again, flavours were strong and clear, and the textures worked wonderfully with little tuilles and lines of sauce to add crunch and flavour. With water, another couple of glasses of white wine and a half bottle of Nederburg Nobel Late Harvest the bill strayed just over 700 rand, or about £65 for two. Fantastic food (even if the kitchen seemed under pressure and there were some sizeable delays) and a lovely evening. (2010)

Franschhoek: Bouillabaisse, 38 Hugenot Rd. Phone: +27 (0)21 876 4430
In need of a savoury bite to eat rather late in the afternoon when Franschhoek's better places would have been too posh, we tried this fish-orientated place that is one of a small Cape chain. It serves lighter, tapas style dishes that you can mix and match across various sections of the menu. We had some salad and some tempura chicken and corn cakes, both of which were adequate. Washed down with a Windhoek lager in the 35c temperature it did the job, but slightly formulaic food and fairly impersonal service meant it did little more than that. Inexpensive. (2010)

Franschhoek: Le Quartier Francais. Phone: +27 (0)21 876 2151
Owner Susan Huxter is one of the originators of the Franschhoek scene. Her luxury hotel offers spacious and very carefully appointed rooms and suites, built around a flower-filled courtyard and pool. The kitchen here remains amongst Franschhoek's elite, under the control of Margot Janse. When I last visited, the main restaurant had just been re-launched as The Tasting Room with a theme of wine and food matching, with a Cape wine served by the glass with each course. The same concept was in place for my 2010 return, and the food was very good throughout the eight courses, and exceptional in some of them. The menu kicked off with a warm gingered Luderitz oyster served on a bed of carrot jelly, flaked with crisp bacon crumbs. This was a good dish with subtle flavours and textures, and the local pale 'Sherry' from Monis served with it was a lovely choice, a little sweetness in the wine picking up flavours in the dish. The next course of Lemon-poached Transkei rock lobster was fabulous, the cream, lemony bites of lobster set against an intense black fruit marshmallow (dense, tangy and explosive) and delicate millefeuille of prawn. Sensational with a glass of Graham Beck's excellent Brut. Other absolute highlights were a serving of foie grass (a terrine layered with a rich meaty aspic and a light as a feather mousse) with dried cranberries and a smoked whisky dressing. Sous vide quail breast (crisp and caramelised outside, meltingly soft inside) was served with a terrific truffled quail's egg (the truffle in a fine breadcrumb shell around the egg) and lots of shaved asparagus spears. The main course Karoo lamb was a touch gamy and just delicious (served with Glenwood's aromatic Merlot 2007) and the final dessert of orange and buttermilk cannelloni with Jersey milk sorbet and a fennel granite was brilliant, the dense, creamy cannelloni on a layer of bitter cocoa and the fennel burstingly flavourful. This menu barely put a foot wrong (though the goat's cheese feta mousse left me un-stirred) and the wine choices were clever and very delicious. In all, a brilliant meal executed very well and served by pleasant, if not always on the ball staff. Tasting menu is 700 Rand, with a wine for each flight, 980 Rand. Total bill for two was 2005 Rand, including water and coffee. (2010)

Franschhoek: Reuben's, 19 Huguenot Street. Phone: +27 (0)21 876 3772
Reuben Riffel is a young chef who scooped both "Chef of the Year" and "Restaurant of the Year" in the first six months after establishing his eponymous restaurant in the centre of town. The restaurant is contemporary and chic, with dark wood finishes and extensive use of slate and stone. Without doubt this is fine dining of the highest quality, but friendly young staff and simply dressed tables - many in a sunny courtyard shaded by trees and parasols - create a very casual and low-key vibe. The food combines local ingredients, globe-trotting influences and traditional Cape cuisine. My starter of a filo-pastry parcel of sticky shredded duck was deliciously dense and dark, enriched by being drizzled with honey and hoisin sauces, but then contrasted with a lychee, bean sprout and green leaf salad. These imaginative but logical combination are a signature of the food here, which moves seamlessly on to a Malay influenced main course of braised lamb shoulder, served with a Masala roasted potato cake, a beautifully fresh, swirling sauce that combined minted yoghurt and a sweet and spicy reduction, along with a freshening burst from a pineapple salsa. These were vivid, vivacious flavours and deliciously so. For pudding, 'Passion fruit four ways' including a fresh, piercing sorbet, a little tartlet, a cube of dense passionfruit panacotta and a rich, palate coating sauce, sprinkled with tiny meringues and some streusel to add crunch and flavour. I do love Reuben's ultra unfussy style and the high-end comfort food cuisine. A nice wine list is split by grapes and style and mark ups are moderate, with a good selection by the glass. We drank the Secateurs Chenin from AA Badenhorst and Chocolate Block from Boekenhoutskloof, and the total bill for two was less than 800 Rand - about £70. (2010)

Stellenbosch and Somerset West

Stellenbosch is at the heart of the wine industry. It is a substantial university town with a cosmopolitan vibe, where on my most recent 2013 visit I stayed in the excellent Coopmanhuijs boutique hotel in the old town, within easy walking distance of good restaurants and a plethora of galleries and upmarket shopping. Many of these reviews are from winery restaurants, all just a short drive from the town. In fact, boom-towns Somerset West and Stellenbosch have almost grown together into one larger city, so either would make a base for visiting any of these restaurants.

In town

The Basic Bistro, 31 Church St, Stellenbosch 7600. Phone +27 (0)21 883 3629
Another one of my "Let's just have something casual and simple," recommendations, nevertheless Basic Bistro on a lovely street in the leafiest part of Stellenbosch town does a fine job. There is a pavement terrace and small indoor space, with simple decor and a friendly and quite buzzy atmosphere, but something tells you they take their grub pretty seriously, especially burgers, pastas and a small array of fancier mains. I really enjoyed a hearty bowl of Tequila chicken pasta with a cherry tomatoes and cream sauce. The penne was cooked perfectly, and the chunks of chicken had a lovely sweet and sour edge from the tequila, the rich and nicely tart sauce from plenty of fresh tomato really moreish. This dish cost only 65 Rand (£4) and the remainder of a bottle of Savage Wines red from a tasting earlier that day was delicious with it, at a corkage charge of 30 Rand. (2013)

Oppie Dorp, 137 Dorp Street, Stellenbosch. Phone: +27 (0)21 883 3889
Opened only in November 2012 Oppie Dorp has clearly been an instant success as it was jam packed on the Monday evening when I visited, and I can understand why. An outdoor terrace and large, L-shaped room must seat around 70 or more so it is noisy and lively, and the menu was full of interesting choices plus lots of specials as described by owner Jean Pierre. I started with a Springbok carpaccio - a substantial plate of delicious meat, sprinkled with flaked almonds and flaked Parmesan, and doused in a honey vinaigrette. It also came with two perhaps unnecessary slices of watermelon and some sweet bread and butter. For my main course, leg of lamb had been slow roasted and sliced down, and was served with a sweet and fruity sauce that was also dark and rich, perhaps with a touch of cocoa added? It was really meltingly delicious meat, lightly gamy and full of flavour, but so soft in the mouth. A filo shell of shredded, slow-roasted shoulder meat was again perhaps a touch too much for me personally (the main meat was a substantial portion) and some pan-fried potatoes. We took our own wine here (most Cape restaurants will allow BYO at around 40 Rand (£3) corkage), and the total bill came to 200 Rand per person £15) for two courses. Very good food in a hip and happening downtown restaurant. (2013)

Umami, Black Horse Centre, Dorp and Market. Phone: +27 (0)21 887 5204
This lovely, relaxed but smart restaurant sits on one side of a little internal courtyard off of Dorp Street in Stellenbosch, and though it would be a great summer destination with its wall of windows opening onto the courtyard, it was equally welcoming on a chilly and wet early autumn evening with a log fire burning. We had the five course tasting menu, and I have to say that it presented some of the best and most refined food of my Stellenbosch stay. To begin, a beetroot parfait was fresh and appetising, a beautifully and softly set square of flavoursome and dramatically dark red parfait, with lots of interesting flavour pinpoints provided by crunchy lentil sprouts, enokitake mushrooms and baby leaves, and a sharp but sweet gooseberry dressing. Next up, an aubergine tortellini was delicious too: the home-made pasta thin and beautifully cooked to soft perfection, filled with a tomato, aubergine and camembert cheese mix that was lighter than it sounds, and served with a pungent rocket pesto, Parmesan shavings and toasted pine nuts to add a nutty crunch and flavour. The final starter course was pan-fried Boland river trout, served with a quenelle of a trout tartare, and a pickled beetroot and fennel dressing. Flavours were lovely, the relative meatiness of the cooked fish against the freshness and sharp tang of the tartare. I love my mercifully small main course too: a little fillet of beef cooked perfectly and with a nice hint of gamy age, with a playful cone of tiny stick, chipped potatoes, tender baby carrots and a mushroom and Parmesan sauce that really worked well with the steak. To finish, the crème brûllée was a good one, though the coffee and Amarula flavouring was very subtle and it whilst expertly done, it possibly wasn't quite as inventive or original as the other dishes. The tasting menu costs 280 Rand per person (about £20) or can be had with matching wine flights for 420 Rand. On this occasion I was entertained by a winemaker who brought his own wines, but the list is good and everything is available by the glass or bottle. (2013)

In the wine lands

96 Winery Road, Stellenbosch. Phone: +27 (0)21 842 2020
A big vote of confidence goes to this excellent steakhouse off the R44 between Somerset West & Stellenbosch, where substantial and honest food is served in a very convivial atmosphere. Owned by winemakers Ken Forrester and Martin Meinert, steaks are taken very seriously here, dry-aged in-house and lovingly explained to diners before you are invited to choose cut, weight and cooking preference. If your waistline can stand it, the "grand dessert" platter is a must-have: half a dozen perfect little desserts including a gorgeously creamy crème brûlée - always the test of a good kitchen. Excellent wine list and BYOB, and prices are moderate. (2010)

Delaire Graff Estate Restaurant, R310, Helshoogte Pass. Phone: +27 (0)21 885-8160
Conspicuous luxury is the order of the day at the mind-blowing Delaire Graff wine estate, complete with Relais & Chateaux hotel and top-end restaurant. I ate here in 2012 and again in 2013, and each time enjoyed the astonishing collection of artworks and architectural beauty of the building almost as much as dinner. All that can perhaps be explained when one knows that it is owned by Laurence Graff, Chairman of Graff Diamonds International, who purchased it in 2003 and has spent untold millions to transform it into one of the winelands' top destinations. There is a broad terrace for lunch, but I ate in the swish and well-padded main dining room with its soaring ceilings and massive artworks and sculptures. From a menu running to around 30 dishes, I settled on a starter of Buffalo Mozzarella, but served not as a salad but as a deep and warm soup/stew, hot in a deep bowl, rich with caramelised cauliflower, charred aubergine and tomato forming a wholesome sauce as the Mozzarella shape-shifted from solid to meltingly elastic. It was an unusual and satisfying dish. For my main course, an unusual assembly of chicken thighs, crayfish and west coast mussels called out to me, served with gnocchi, garlic flowers and a subtle mango garnish. It was very good, the meaty, darker meat of the chicken thighs being a clever choice against the plump, juicy white flesh of the crayfish and the sweet, soft flavours and textures of the mussels. I don't always like fruit with savoury hot dishes, but the mango added exotic and not too sweet a contrast and the gnocchi were delicious. We did not have a sweet, and drank Delaire Graff wines provided by my host. As you might guess, a meal here will not come cheap (by South African standards) with a likely bill for three course before wine, coffee or service of around 300 Rand per person. (2013)

Guardian's Peak Estate Restaurant, Annandale Rd, Stellenbosch. Phone: (0)21 881 3899 Another day, another winery restaurant with absolutely breathtaking views from a large, open-fronted conservatory with indoor misting creating a cool and relaxing vibe. The menu formula is simple - once you get the hang of it. Basically it lists all of Guardian Peak's own wines, and under each one starter and one main. You purchase the food you want, and a glass of the matching wine is included in the price. Only Guardian Peak's own wines are served which is limiting and seems a little narrow-minded, but it is no great hardship as the decent Sauvignon Blanc and interesting Malbec-Tannat blend that I sampled were enjoyable, but some choice or a BYO option would also be good. I started with a half-portion of pasta, where open ravioli sheets were draped across a fresh and tasty stew of butternut squash, pumpkin seeds and onion. The pasta was soft, the flavours good, in a reasonably light lunchtime dish. For mains, loin of lamb was very tasty, charry-grilled and served on a crushed potato and chick pea base that was dense and hearty, with stewed peppers and other veggies on the side. Good espresso rounded off an enjoyable meal in a spectacular setting, where friendly service made up for a few hiccups in the smooth delivery of food. Two courses with wine and coffee for two comes in around 400 Rand. (2010)

Haskell Vineyards, The Long Table, Annandale Rd. Phone: +27 (0)21 881 3746
I really enjoyed my lunch here, taken on a cool and windy day as I visited Haskell Vineyards. The restaurant had a blazing fire burning indoors, but we dined on the covered terrace enjoying the slightly damp views to the vineyard. The food here is pretty serious, cooked by chef Corli Els (ex-Guardian's Peak, one of the region's most respected restaurants). The ambiance is casual and relaxed. From a fairly large selection that covers one side of A4 with around 10 choices at each course, I settled pretty quickly on a dish of pickled baby beetroots served with a goat's cheese panacotta. The pickled baby beets were fully flavoured and not too vinegary, and their dense texture and vibrant flavour sat nicely against the creamy, softly set, but well-flavoured cheese. I could have wished for a slightly more pungent flavour, but the combination was good. Served with it, a little cashew pastry with beetroot jelly was a lovely complement of textures. For my main course I opted for Venison medallions, in this case Springbok, served as several small and deliciously soft and sweet discs of loin meat, each topped with a cassis reduction studied with blueberries. Potato croquets and baby vegetables were the clever and not too heavy accompaniments to a really tasty and successful dish. Not dessert on this occasion, and we drank the estate's wines, which feature prominently on the wine list along with an imported selection. Three courses without wine, coffee or service will cost around 200 - 250 Rand. (2013)

Jordan Estate Restaurant, Kloof Road, Stellenbosch. Phone: +27 (0)21 881 3441
When top Cape Town chef George Jardine (originally from Scotland) announced he was setting up his own restaurant on Jordan Estate it got Cape foodies buzzing, especially as Jardine himself cooks here, having moved his family to the winelands and out of the city. The dining room is a long, curving space with picture windows over the dam and vineyards, but at lunch-time we nabbed one of the coveted tables on the terrace, shaded by large parasols (dinner is served on Thursday and Friday evenings only). Jardine is an artisan and deadly serious about his food. A wood-fired oven and custom-built chargrill are at the heart of the kitchen, and a walk-in cheese store is a highlight: those who choose it are invited in to sample the home-grown and imported produce before making up their own cheese plate. From a short menu (three courses for 225 Rand - £20), I commenced with barrel-smoked yellowtail. The fish itself was deliciously moist and flaked into delicate chunks, but a tangy shallot and garlic shoot dressing added a decisive, but not overpowering bite. I continued the fishy theme with butter-roasted hake, scented profusely with thyme, served with potatoes and fennel and rich bouillabaisse sauce. The food was relatively simple, allowing full focus on the ingredients and immaculate cooking. Jordan's wines are available at modest mark-ups, including older vintages, but so too are a broad selection of the Cape's best estates. A fine lunch spot this. (2010)

Rust en Vrede Estate, Annandale Road, Stellenbosch. Phone: +27 (0)21 881 3757
Arguably my best meal in a three week tour in 2010 came at Rust en Vrede. Long, low and immaculately transformed into a chic dining room, the restaurant is formed from the old cellars, with the kitchen quite literally taking centre stage, a large open space slap-bang in the centre of the restaurant where über-talented David Higgs oversees a crack brigade. After a glass of fizz on the terrace overlooking the vineyards we were shown to a table in an alcove formed by two towering glass-fronted wine cabinets. The food, billed as "a contemporary take on the classics," was exemplary from start to finish. I kicked off with confit tuna with a zippy apple and sprout salad that came topped with a truffle-poached oyster, all nestling in a purée of minted peas. This was a delightful summer dish, evocative of the season and filled with interesting flavours and textures. After a lovely, pink and succulent little breast of quail with a quince marmalade, my main course of ash-rubbed springbok loin was just terrific, the springbok yieldingly soft and tender but holding great flavour, the ash giving a dry, delicate smokiness. This came with more of those fresh and vivid flavours this kitchen loves, in this instance pickled beetroot and bitter little glazed turnips. A delightfully fresh, yet creamy and dense goat's cheese soufflé came with fig ice cream and a sesame biscuits. Terrific food, service and ambiance, and a very good wine list that features lots of back vintages of the winery's wines, plus those of its sister wineries at Ernie Els and Guardian Peak, but then goes on to cover all the great names of South Africa with a sprinkling of world wines. A visit here is highly recommended. The four course set menu is 440 Rand (around £40). (2010)

Terroir at Kleine Zalze Estate, Stellenbosch. Phone: +27 (21) 880 0740
I stayed in the large but strangely gloomy hotel here on this large wine, golf and residential estate, where sleep in my fairway-side room was in interrupted before dawn each morning by lawn mowing and other groundwork. I could not put my hand on heart and recommend a stay here I must say, but it is well worth a visit to the fine dining restaurant of the estate. From a blackboard of around 16 starter and main choices, expertly explained by our server, I choose a wonderful salad of aged goat's cheese that had been fashioned into little nut-crusted balls and gently fried so that the cheese was just giving inside, served with a glorious salad of which the main ingredient were wonderfully sweet figs that had been marinated in Port and red wine. Unctuous yet fresh, this was a terrific start to the meal. My main course fillet of beef was beautiful meat, perfectly cooked, served with a sauce of wild mushrooms and with a mushroom cream, and the steak topped with a ravioli stuffed with a creamy foie mousse. With mains at around 150 Rand and starters at around 100 there is very good value here, and a very nice wine list too - not just Kleine Zalze's own wines, but a broad Cape selection including interesting older bottles. Boekenhoutskloof's 2003 Semillon was absolutely a point at just over 300 Rand. Excellent coffees brought a fine lunch to a conclusion. (2010)

Waterkloof Estate Restaurant, Sir Lowry's Road Pass Rd, Somerset West. Phone: +27 (0)21 858 1292
Waterkloof winery is a striking modern building in Somerset West, around 30 minutes from Stellenbosch. It's top floor restaurant has a wall of glass which frames absolutely magnificent views over the organic vineyards including their stable of shire horses, on one side, and an absolutely breathtaking panorama of the coast from the other, encompassing the wide sweep of Gordon's Bay, with Cape Point clearly visible, shimmering in the distance. The restaurant is also excellent, and following a previous fine meal there I was keen to return. We booked for Sunday lunch and secured a table against the window. All of Waterkloof's extensive wine portfolio is on offer at prices more or less the same as retail, and everything available by the glass or bottle. After a little amuse of a steak tartare served with a crisp Parmesan biscuit and anchovy mayonnaise that was delicately soft in texture and flavour, my first course was a triumph: described as 'Smiling Valley Marron', it was the whole, plump tail and claw of a large crayfish, served with a wonderfully rich but sharp goat's cheese crumble topped with citrus peel and herbs, and a marron beignet, hot with a light batter and succulent, moreish flavour. The Marie rose sauce had plenty of fresh, homemade tang. For my main course I chose poached monkfish served with a pistachio crumble and saffron sauce. This was such a nice dish too, the monkfish very well cooked to be buttery and textured, but still soft and not overcooked. The pistachio and saffron were very sympathetic flavours too in a simple, fresh and elegant dish. After a little panacotta and passionfruit pre-dessert, a Bitter Chocolate Fondant was thankfully a small but delicious portion, and it was inventively accompanied by summer berries both raw and as two textures of mousse and almost panacotta cream, enlivened with a sprinkle of Espelette pepper. Three courses cost 300 Rand (£22), and wines are priced from around 70 to 180 Rand per bottle. (2013)

Swartland

Hermon: Bartholomeus Klip. Phone: +27 (0)82 529 8539
This is a truly magical guest house on a working farm and reserve, not too far from the Swartland vineyards to the north, and Stellenbosch to the south, but pretty isolated from everything by the miles of dirt road needed to reach it. My visit and stay here was a brilliant experience, which will be written up separately. Though you can book in only for dinner, really the conservatory dining room is for the dozen or so guests that the farm can accommodate, with everyone on a full (and utterly delicious) board basis, starting from around £250/£300 per night depending on season. It is an absolutely beautiful destination and offers hearty but quite sophisticated food from a short menu. On my visit we kicked off with various little breads and canapés, before a lightly-grilled carpaccio of beef, cut thick and deliciously charry yet pink, with lots of pecorino shavings, a pile of deep-fried, crispy battered onion slivers and a creamy, tangy mustard dressing. This was a dish of heroic proportions, but after a day of travelling and a pre-dinner game drive, it went down very well. The main course of caramelised duck breast with braised red cabbage and a potato rosti was good, the duck moistened with an orange jus, though again portions were very large and a little more elegance on the plate would have helped. Roasted peach with vanilla yoghurt and peach chips was a thankfully lighter end to the meal, allowing us to linger over coffee and petit fours in one of the Klip's comfortable lounges before bed. The wine list if fairly short, but very nicely chosen, and majoring on local producers so top names like Eben Sadie, AA Badenhorst, Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards and Mullineux are plentiful, and prices start from just 50 Rand (£4.50) rising to around 300 Rand. (2013)

The Royal Hotel, Riebeek Kasteel. Phone: +27 (0)22 4481 378
The Royal is a 150-year-old Colonial hotel that dominates the small village of Riebeek Kasteel in the heart of the Swartland wine route. For this sleepy town it offers surprisingly upmarket and luxurious accommodation, and a pretty good restaurant too that is open to non-residents. I had dinner with some of the Swartland winemakers, that began with a carpaccio of ostrich with a pepperdew and orange dressing and baby leaves. There was plenty of meat on the plate, though in truth it was not particularly full flavoured, the welcome dressing and a liberal sprinkling of Parmesan shavings really were needed to add a bit of punch. To follow, I choose Kingklip, pan fried and served with pickled ginger and basil mash, and a lemon and parsley butter sauce. The generous portion of fish was fresh and well cooked, good flavour and enriched by the flavoursome sauce. The mash was silky and smooth, more of a puree, and the ginger and basil gave very good flavouring highlights. To finish, a frozen berry and vanilla terrine was really nice, just about cuttable in its fairly frozen state, to melt creamily in the mouth. A hazelnut praline was a tad limp rather than crunchy, but the flavour was good. This was not hugely refined cooking, but it was good and modern, and showed a kitchen with skill. I drank my hosts' wines, but they tell me the wine list has really been improved and is a very good one, mostly with local wines and a good selection from the rest of the Cape, plus some European wines too. Dinner will cost around 200 - 250 Rand, or about £14 to £18 per person. (2013)

Hermanus / Hemel-en-Aarde

Heaven Restaurant at Newton Johnson, Hemel en Aarde Rd 7200. Phone +27 (0)21 200 2148
This was my first time dining (for lunch) in the restaurant at the excellent Pinot and Chardonnay specialist Newton Johnson. Perched high on the side of the Galpin Peak mountain, sweeping views down the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley to the Atlantic are almost too much of a distraction from the excellent and hearty food prepared in the open kitchen by Chef/Patron Stefan Louw. The estate's wines are featured of course, but so too is a selection of other wines from the Cape. This is very much a bistro rather than a formal or glamorous destination restaurant, simply but attractively furnished to frame the best of those views, and serving breakfast and lunch only, though they will prepare dinner for private parties by arrangement. My review is not in-depth as this was my final lunch after an extended visit to Newton Johnson's cellars and immediately before I headed to the airport to fly home, but I recall delicious and freshly baked bread, a substantial portion of fish cakes with a sweetly-dressed salad and then duck breast, a very rich dish with bags of flavour that I did not quite have time - or perhaps the appetite - to finish. I look forward to a more relaxed return visit some time soon. Around 200 Rand (£14) for three courses, before wine or service. (2013)

The Pavilion at the Marine Hotel, Hermanus. Tel: +27 28 313 1000
Sister hotel and restaurant to the Greenhouse in Constantia (see above), I had high hopes for dinner here and was not disappointed. The dining room is a smart but casual space with a striking black and white tiled floor, lovely Art Deco light fittings and expansive views of the Southern Ocean. The efficient and charming staff set a similar welcoming tone to the Greenhouse too. Though a tasting menu is on offer at the same price as the Greenhouse, we ate a la carte from a short menu offering around seven choices at each course. An amuse bouche of a little mushroom soup with a truffle topping was thick, earthy and rich, and the fine assortment of home-baked breads saw us through to the arrival of the starters. I chose a duck ravioli, served in a delicately Thai flavoured soup with coconut and lemongrass, the yielding ravioli filled with shredded, lightly spice duck meat and topped with a handful of crisply fried leeks and an succulent tiger prawn in a whisper light breadcrumb, deep fried to perfection. My main course of Springbok medallions crusted with hazelnut and served with a deep, sweet, rich reduction, some crisply fried little potatoes and a cauliflower cream was superb, the meat just gamy and rich enough, and packed with flavour. On this occasion the kitchen saved the best to last: a fabulous passionfruit and apricot soufflé, deliciously light yet richly flavoured, served with coconut ice cream and mire-pois of lightly poached fruits, and a stunning passionfruit jelly that burst with flavour. With glasses of Pierre Jourdan sparkling rose at 50 Rand, Southern Right Pinotage at 60 Rand, water, coffees and petit fours, the bill came to only 850 Rand (less than £80). (2010)

Seafood at the Marine Hotel, Hermanus. Tel: +27 28 313 1000
On an off-season Sunday night with nothing booked and wanting to eat a little later, the few places that were open did not appeal and somehow we found ourselves back at the Marine hotel, this time choosing the more casual and less expensive seafood restaurant. Bright and bustling, there's a livelier atmosphere than in the Pavilion next door, and I started my meal with a Caesar salad that was pretty good, the lettuce crunchy, fresh anchovies tasty, and all in all a good rendition of the classic salad. My main was slightly disappointing however, a kebab of Kingklip served on a seafood risotto. The fish was slightly bland, the risotto too, though it had plenty of calamari and mussels through it. My dining partner's 'rich man's fish and chips' was pronounced 'average'. Malva pudding - a sort of honey-rich local version of sticky toffee pudding - was very good, served with ice cream. A bottle of Newton-Johnston Sauvignon Blanc at 160 Rand delicious, but it was disappointing that the standards of food and indeed service were not transferred over from the main restaurant in a meal that was serviceable, but not memorable. 700 Rand for two. (2010)

The West Coast (Paternoster)

The reviews in this section come from an idyllic four nights spent on the beautiful, peaceful West Coast in 2013, when I stayed in the elegant Strandloper Ocean boutique hotel.

Gaaitjie, off Sampson Street, Paternoster. Phone: +27 (0)22 752 2242
A beach-front restaurant, Gaaitjie (pronounced Hai-tee) is a small 1940s cottage now running as two dining rooms, with an open kitchen in the middle, where chef/proprietor Suzi Holtzhausen and her team focus on local ingredients, particularly seafood, served with bubbling enthusiasm by front of house manager Letitia who could, I suspect, sell coals to Newcastle. The decor is simple and minimal, with white-washed walls and simple wooden tables, and one immediately gets the impression that this place is serious about its food. A little pot-baked loaf of lovely bread with caramelised onions and sesame seeds was brought to the table as we chose from the short menu. I choose an Angelfish Sambal, that was sensationally good: a fine, warm tower mixing flaked fish, avocado and finely chopped spring onion and other vegetables was wrapped in a paper thin omelette and doused in a gently curried dressing and sprinkling of what I think were Nigella seeds. A sweet chutney studded with crisp vegetable flakes added more texture and flavour to an absolutely superb and explosively tasty starter. I then made a big mistake: after four straight nights of all fish and seafood meals, I decided the fillet of beef with a rich and deep Chasseur sauce was the way to go with a glass of red wine. It was good - very good perhaps - but I think the fish dishes would have been more exciting. To finish, a lovely plum and apple crumble with vanilla ice cream. The menu is very local (and prides itself on being so) from Swartland and Darling, and we drank by the glass white and red, at around 30 Rand (£2) per generous glass. The total including service came to around £45, for a very good meal that would probably have been even better had I chosen more wisely, but the seriousness of the intentions and focus on ingredients makes this one not to miss. 225 Rand for three courses (about £15). Open Thursday to Sunday only for lunch and dinner. (2013)

Noisy Oyster, 62 St Augustine Road. Phone: +27 (0)22 752 2196
Widely regarded as one of the best places in town, the Noisy Oyster did not disappoint with excellent food and a lovely atmosphere. Perched close to the main crossroads in this tiny town, enter and you will almost certainly be shown through the restaurant and out into a lovely garden setting where a large open fire and various fire-pits warm up the chill of the evening and enough fairy lights to illuminate Cape Town are twined round every tree. Seating is on picnic style benches and tables which, with plenty of cushions, are comfortable enough. The nearby port of Saldanha provides the oysters which for many are a must have here, but I personally avoid the bivalves after a bad experience, so instead went for fillets of pan-fried sardines with an aioli dip: delicious, fantastically fresh and the aioli nicely pungent and herby too. For my main course, a whole stumpnose - a freshly caught white fish - was succulent and juicily delicious, just perfectly cooked, served with a mound of rustic potato wedges and a tangy pesto-like sauce. My partner's fillet of Cob was also pronounced delicious. Our waitress said we must have dessert, and as her stumpnose recommendation had been so good I succumbed, a good choice with the chocolate and almond torte full of flavour and texture from nibbed almond throughout, a scoop of very good and rich vanilla ice cream perfect with it too. A bottle of Reyneke Organic white at 180 Rand (about £13) and coffees gave a total bill, including service, still under £50 in total. (2013)

Strandloper Ocean Lounge, Patterson Slot. Phone: +27 (0)22 752 2237
The Strandloper Ocean is the town's only 5* boutique hotel (where we stayed and thoroughly enjoyed our sea facing suite). I am not entirely sure that the restaurant here opens every night, though possibly it does in the peak summer season: on my visit the Saturday night 'Crayfish special' seemed to be the only evening opening. The atmosphere was certainly lovely in the beach-facing dining room, lit by candles and fairy lights, sparkling off crisp white linen, crystal and silverware. A mix of hotel and outside guests occupied the eight or so tables. An amuse bouche of a very spicy and tasty gazpacho, herby olive focaccia and a tsatsiki-like dip slipped down a treat before a first course (chosen from a very limited menu) of spicy tiger prawns, roasted in plenty of garlic and olive oil and served with a spicy and pungent pil-pil (garlic and chilli) sauce. The prawns were good, but the sauce perhaps just overpowering their delicate flavour. Next up, the crayfish: a real speciality of Paternoster with small boats landing them and street hawkers offering them live, straight from the boats. These were hugely meaty and delicious, served with a caper butter and a mound of slightly incongruous mashed potato. The Malva pudding to finish was glorious - a Cape speciality sponge pudding flavoured with apricot jam, this one particularly light and deliciously doused in a light syrup. Wines are limited to a handful of choices with all five white choices, oddly, from one estate: Steenberg in faraway Constantia. The Sauvignon Blanc cost 180 Rand, whilst dinner came in around 300 Rand per person - a total of about £65-£70 including tip. This was a nice evening, though the food rated as 'good' rather than great overall. (2013)

Voorstrand, Strandloper Street, 7381, Paternoster. Phone: +27 (0)22 7522 038
To describe Voorstrand as a 'beach hut' would be a little romantic/disingenuous: though the bright red wooden building is built right on the beach (and thus its terrace is a very popular place for sundowners) it is a fairly slick and professional operation. I could see into its busy, well-staffed and well-equipped kitchen and waiting staff work with practised efficiency. Still the beach-hut vibe is played up with very simple decor, tables and chairs, oil lamps providing the only light after dark. I really enjoyed my meal here because it has a very nice atmosphere and the food was tasty and cheap (just what was needed after a week of conspicuous gourmet consumption) but if truth be told it is basically pub food done well: my 'tempura prawns' were not tempura at all, but simply dressed in breadcrumbs and, I suspect, had come prepared by another industrial kitchen. With my fish (very good, fried with a lemon butter sauce) were some obviously not hand-cut catering chips, and cheese cake for dessert was very good but again, I suspect not home made. With a bottle of the top priced white wine on the list (Sauvignon Blanc at 120 Rand - about £8.50) and coffees the meal cost less than £40. Definitely not haute cuisine, more like pub food, and other restaurants in Paternoster did much better food, but still I enjoyed this meal and Voorstrand and, given those caveats, would recommend it. (2013)

The Garden Route

The three reviews in this section date from 2006. I've left them here as they cover three of the main towns along the glorious Garden Route and might still be useful. All three are certainly still going strong as of 2013, and still getting good reviews online.

George: The Old Townhouse, 20 Market Street. Tel: +27 44 874 3663
There's an old-school feel about the Old Townhouse, with its dark wooden interior and schmaltzy background music, but the aromas from the kitchen where very welcoming and in fact this established local restaurant turned out very solid, well-cooked food from prime ingredients. My fillet steak was from Karoo beef and was of excellent quality, served with a little courgette and cauliflower filo basket and some good fried potato wedges. A double chocolate cheesecake went down very nicely, layered with coconut and with a very thin pastry base. The wine list is really quite good and well-chosen, and there were no complaints at all when I sent back a corked bottle of Whale Haven Pinot Noir, with the owner taking pains to make sure the second bottle was sound. Moderately priced, a little middle-aged and frumpy for some tastes I'm sure, but a good kitchen and friendly welcome deserve praise. (2006)

Knysna: 34 South, The Waterfront. Tel: +27 44 382 7331
At the waterfront in Knysna, a very bustling, lively and touristy town on the garden route, 34 South is a delicatessen, wine shop, wine bar and restaurant complex with tables spilling onto a wharfside terrace. The foodie ambience and menus and blackboards announcing the daily specials promise a gastronomic experience, but in truth I was rather disappointed by lacklustre food and very inattentive and chaotic service. A smoked chicken and avocado salad had a slightly processed feel, the house wine was quite palatable, and cheesecake and Illy coffee were both pretty good. 34 South's cooking doesn't really elevate itself above the rather touristy vibe of Knysna's waterfront, but the food and wine shopping is good and it is a pleasant option in this part of town. (2006)

Wilderness: Serendipity, Freesia Avenue. +27 44 877 0433
Since opening in 2001, Lizelle and Rudolf are a husband and wife team who have made Serendipity into the "Top 100" of all South African restaurants in the 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 wine Spectator restaurant guides. Lizelle is an ex-teacher at the Prue Leith School of cookery, who operates her fine dining restaurant from two rooms and the domestic kitchen of her parent's beautiful home on the shore of the Lagoon at Wilderness, one of the most beautiful parts of the Garden Route. Despite the domestic setting this is a very slick and professional operation, with leather-bound menus and wine list, beautifully dressed tables and a small army of staff. I have to say my dinner was excellent, and up with the best that Cape Town and Franschhoek can offer. The nouvelle South African cuisine is beautifully done, like my salad of warm caramelised baby onions, served with a green salad and shaved Pecorino and Biltong (dried beef) doused in a vivid dressing. After a creamy butternut soup and sweet and tangy pineapple sorbet, my main course of fig &' bacon-stuffed pork loin was superbly cooked, with crackling intact. For dessert, I chose a milky, baked Malva pudding, which had been doused with syrup and enriched with cinnamon, served with home-made nutmeg ice cream. With a bottle of Fairview "Oom Pagel" Viognier, coffees and petit-fours, the bill for two came to less than 500 Rand - about £46, making it an outstanding bargain too. (2006)