Header: Wagyu bone marrow & carpaccio, pickled fish, aubergine, capers and herbs at La Colombe (image: Claire Gunn)
In our first dining destination guide of the year, we delve into South Africa's vibrant food and wine scene with local journalist Ishay Govender-Ypma.
South Africa is known for its unlimited natural beauty, alluring landscapes and striking city architecture. Idyllic green interiors, a wild coastline and impressive mountain ranges steal a visitor’s attention. From a dining perspective, many restaurants offer both fine plates and the sensory delight of being surrounded by nature, the fizz of big city life or the quaint pleasure of remote living.
The wines of the famed winelands regions of the Western Cape pair perfectly with tasting menus created with local produce. To enjoy the best of the dining scene showcasing local and international celebrity and TV chefs, try to get to The Good Food and Wine Show, which roves between the main cities of Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban throughout the year. Smaller festivals like The Street Food Festival keep visitors up to date with casual dining trends.
Here is a selection of top-end restaurants around the country that are worth the journey.
Hartford House, KwaZulu-Natal Midlands
Hlatikulu Road, Mooi River
Situated on the Summerhill Stud farm in the picturesque KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, Hartford House is one of the country’s top fine dining restaurants. Benefitting from an extensive list of small local suppliers for dairy, beef, herbs and vegetables, chef Constantijn Hahndiek has created a five-course dinner menu that is an ode to the region. Think Indezi cheese, local trout, butter-soft beef and rich crispy duck. Hahndiek and the front of house manager are actively involved in explaining the details of the menu, which adds a special touch. An hour and 45 minutes from Durban, Hartford House, a colonial-style property, is set against verdant greenery, with fine horses roaming the fields and a tranquil lake near the exquisitely appointed cottages (which is where you want to stay if you’re an overnight guest).
Tips: From Wednesday to Sunday, the Tijnhuis hosts a market of delicious local produce that you won’t want to miss. Breakfasts here are legendary.
La Colombe, Silvermist Estate, Constantia Nek
Silvermist Estate, Constantia Nek
+27 21 794 2390
Lamb loin, braised neck, smoked garlic, pickled onion, courgette and bolognese (image: Claire Gunn)
At La Colombe restaurant, perched high on the grounds of the Silvermist organic wine estate at the top of Constantia Nek with its breathtaking views of the valley below, you’ll witness the natural beauty washing over your senses. You feel like you’re dining in a chic tree house ensconced by forests and vineyards. Head chef James Gaag’s 10-course gourmand menu is your best bet here (it starts with a decadent bread course and moves on to everything from scallops to venison), with extremely attentive service and clever surprises throughout. There’s a grand secret door behind which the famed tuna course is served picnic-style. But let’s not ruin the fun with too many spoilers.
Tips: Book a cab so that you can indulge in the wine pairing and not worry about the strenuous drive back. It’s easy to get an Uber ride back from here. Request a seat in front of the window for a direct view of the forest.
The Test Kitchen, Woodstock, Cape Town
Old Biscuit Mill, 375 Albert Road, Woodstock
Pan seared duck breast, orange emulsion, turnip and cashew purée, BBQ turnip
Chef Luke Dale-Roberts’s restaurant in the gentrified Woodstock neighbourhood is a familiar face on The World’s 50 Best list and has kept the continent represented on the international fine dining scene since 2012. Enter the Dark Room – a mix of steam punk and moody Alpine chic – for a journey around the world from Peru to South Korea. After a succession of appetisers, you’re whisked into the Light Room where the fine dining aspect of your evening with it’s internationally influenced South African menu paired with extraordinary local wines, commences. Seasonal mushrooms, smoked sea bass and lamb sweetbreads make an appearance on the rotating menus.
Tips: If you’re abstaining, opt for the carefully thought out tea pairing instead. A seat at the bar counter is the best place to catch all the action.
Restaurant Mosaic, Eilandsfontien
Francolin Conservatory, Crocodile River Valley, Eilandsfontein
Song of the Sea
Restaurant Mosaic at the Orient, a boutique family-run hotel (Moroccan meets Baroque in style), is where lauded chef Chantel Dartnall thrills her guests with her botanical-inspired cuisine. Widely travelled and with one of the most comprehensive wine cellars in Africa, Dartnall creates plates that reflect the beauty of the Francolin Conservancy where the property is situated, an hour from Johannesburg, and the beach surrounds of her family home in the Western Cape. Evocative dishes with names like 'Song of the Sea,' 'Some Birds Don’t Fly' and 'Clash of the Constellations' play into her latest 'Cosmorganic' theme and demonstrate her delicate hand and vast experience.
Tip: Turophiles should opt for the cheese trolley, which reflects the best of local and French cheeses.
Wolfgat, Paternoster, West Coast
10 Sampson Street, Paternoster
Angelfish with bokkom sambal and wild garlic masala
From a seven-table restaurant with a stoep (porch) that overlooks the local beach, with fishermen returning to shore on little wooden boats, Kobus van der Merwe’s Wolfgat is the first in the country dedicated to sustainably harvested and foraged strandveld kos – ‘beach field food’. Located in Paternoster, around an hour and 40 minutes from Cape Town on the West Coast, Wolfgat is situated on the premises of a cave of the same name, from which significant remains and evidence of earlier humans dating more than 2,000 years has been excavated. On the seasonally rotating menu you’ll find limpets, salty sea vegetation, mussels, a catch-of-the-day and subtle layering of Cape Malay spices. A range of hard-to-source organic wines from the Swartland feature too.
Tip: Take advantage of the stunning surrounds and book yourself a few days' getaway in Paternoster – an afternoon nap after a boozy lunch is exactly what you’ll need right after.
Check out the "50 Hours in..." series, presented by Diners Club International, for dining destination guides to Rome, London, New York and Bangkok.
Stay tuned to our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter channels for the latest 50 Best news and subscribe to our YouTube channel for videos.