Rising Culinary Star
Cape Town is the foodie capital of South Africa, and in recent years, the city’s restaurants and bars have featured prominently on international “best of” lists. The city boasts a wide array of restaurants, the best of which are in stunning locations or have been expertly designed and laid out to make for exceptional dining experiences.
Traditionally, diners would have to travel to Cape Town’s famous wine farms for the region’s top dining experiences. But more and more chefs are moving into either the Cape Town central business district, or to outlying suburbs like Woodstock and Sea Point.
Though Cape Town’s best chefs know how to put together a high-end meal, there are many great establishments that target a more casual, day-to-day market. Whether you’re looking for that once-in-a-lifetime meal, or simply a great dish in unique surroundings, most restaurants and bars in and around the city offer impressive value for the money, particularly if you’re venturing to South Africa with foreign currency.
The Test Kitchen
The Test Kitchen is the most celebrated restaurant in South Africa. Chef Luke Dale-Roberts created a masterpiece with this exclusive yet laid-back eatery that consistently lands on best-of lists.
Food at The Test Kitchen combines invention with local flair — standout dishes include a pig head salad and pork pie — and the surroundings have been meticulously thought out to create a multi-sensory dining experience. During the traditional dining experience, guests are split between “dark” and “light” rooms, with decor and menu items to match the mood. The dark room features flavors of dark chocolate, chili and cinnamon, while the light room offers goat’s cheese, scallops and jasmine tea. Specialty seasonal menus periodically change things up, to keep return visitors on their toes.
Though the restaurant’s success translates into high prices and an exceptionally long lead time for bookings (reservations fill up several months in advance), this is a once-off dining experience that is unlike few others in the country, if not the world.
The Potluck Club
Just across the way from The Test Kitchen, and perched atop an old disused silo, is another Luke Dale Roberts restaurant that offers a distinctive dining experience — The Potluck Club.
With an emphasis on casual but sophisticated dining, this is the more accessible cousin to The Test Kitchen. The à la carte tapas approach to lunch and dinner means you can pick and choose from small but delectable plates, each focused on one of the five different senses, with an emphasis on sharing across the table. The restaurant handles brunch slightly differently, with a fixed menu and the option of bottomless bubbles.
Chefs Warehouse and Canteen
Chefs Warehouse and Canteen is a Cape Town institution that, while it may not get the same amount of press as its high-end rivals, is no less celebrated by those in the know. Though its famous tapas-for-two menu is of exceptional quality and on the higher end of the price scale for Cape Town, the restaurant prides itself on maintaining a laid-back atmosphere.
Recently, Chefs Warehouse added another venue at the stunning Beau Constantia wine estate. But the original outpost, located on vibrant Bree Street, has a warmth and authenticity that makes it an exceptional place to dine. And unlike other top restaurants in the city that book up months in advance, Chefs Warehouse doesn’t take reservations — instead, it seats visitors on a first come, first served basis.
This iconic Cape Town restaurant may have seen changes in head chefs and locations in recent years, but even so it’s shown no signs of slowing down. Now with two venues, one in the Cape Town suburb of Constantia and the other in the beautiful wine town of Franschhoek, La Colombe is seemingly only just getting started.
It has consistently ranked towards the top of local restaurant lists, and regularly receives international awards. Food items change regularly according to seasons and trends. And although relatively pricey, the full Gourmand Menu — which offers a taste of the establishment’s best dishes, including champagne-poached oyster and lamb with sweetbread — is worth the splurge.
Over the mountain and close to the sea is the popular but somewhat understated La Mouette. Now an established fixture on the Cape Town foodie scene, this quaint and inventive restaurant has made a name for itself thanks to its value and creative tasting menus.
The setting — a grand old house, complete with courtyard, fireplaces, several rooms and an upstairs section, in the suburb of Sea Point — sets the scene for a fantastic meal out.
Chefs (not to be confused with the totally unrelated Chefs Warehouse and Canteen) exploded onto the scene and was an instant hit, to many peoples’ surprise. The location, on an unassuming corner away from the main hustle of the city’s central business district, is bold. So is the stark, canteen-esque decor, and the unusual focus on weekday lunch and early dinner.
But this modern restaurant, which offers just three daily options ordered from an iPad upon arrival, is more than just a unique concept. It offers superb, frequently updated meals, cooked in an exciting open kitchen, and it’s the perfect lunchtime meeting spot or (early) dinner venue.
Step into Marrow off the central business district’s busy Loop Street, and you might feel as if you’ve teleported directly to a city like New York or Berlin. Like many buzz-worthy spots in major metropolises, this hole-in-the-wall-style bar offers a choice of four broths, served in a cup or bowl.
The broth variations — clear, white, green and brown — are uniquely flavored, and come paired with your choice of ingredients like steamed white fish, venison or chorizo sausage. With its reasonable prices and charming, quirky decor, this is the kind of restaurant you might even find yourself returning to during a trip to Cape Town.
This casual diner-style eatery and coffee shop may seem out of place alongside some of the city’s top fine-dining establishments, but there’s a relaxed, neighborhood atmosphere to Clarkes that makes it a local favorite and a popular discovery for travelers.
This restaurant is open from early to late, serving up breakfast, lunch and dinner. And then at some point as the night wears on, it effortlessly morphs into a casual bar, with guests showing up to sip local beers and excellent cocktails.
In addition to occupying inside tables and booths, many hang out at Clarkes diner counter or soak up the atmosphere of Bree Street by nabbing a table outside.
Though there are now dozens of restaurants in Cape Town that serve up great burgers (including the likes of the Dog’s Bollocks, IYO, Hudsons and Engruna), in this case the original may still be the best.
Royale Eatery, at the top of Cape Town’s Long Street, kickstarted the gourmet burger revolution in the city, and is still going strong with indulgent burgers and decadent shakes, served in an environment where quirky touches include hats lining the walls.
Plus, once you’ve knocked back one of Royale’s famous burgers, you can head upstairs to its popular Waiting Room — a bar and nightclub with a lovely rooftop and panoramic views over the city.
The House of Machines
Once you’ve stuffed yourself with food, you’ll probably be feeling ready for a nightcap.
Cape Town has seen a slew of cocktail bar and craft beer concepts open in recent years, but few have developed a following as fierce as Shortmarket Street’s The House of Machines. Called THOM for short, this edgy, biker-bar-esque outpost offers quality cocktails, a small selection of craft beers and live music throughout the week. It’s the kind of venue that somehow straddles the gap between both destination bar and neighborhood favorite, and it’s this atmosphere that makes it worth a visit while in the city.
Outrage of Modesty
Just two doors down and up a narrow flight of stairs from The House of Machines is its high-end cousin, Outrage of Modesty, a cocktail bar that caters drinks to the clientele.
Though far from cheap, this is the place to go if you’re looking to impress, or be impressed. Bartenders have impressive knowledge of all things alcohol, and they’ll whip up a specialty cocktail before your eyes that’ll have your senses working overtime.
The Gin Bar
As in the rest of the world, craft gin has taken Cape Town by storm. There are now several gin bars around the city, but the standout is the simply named Gin Bar. Sometimes called The Secret Gin Bar, this establishment boasts an undeniably cool atmosphere in a hard-to-find spot, tucked inside a small, quiet courtyard behind an artisanal chocolate shop.
The elusive bar serves up expertly mixed gin-based drinks using perhaps the largest supply of the liquor in the city. Tastings of local and international gins are also on tap.
The Power and the Glory
The Power and the Glory is another neighborhood bar and eatery that’s stood the test of time in Cape Town.
Though not without its detractors — it’s often accused of being a little too hip for its own good — this comfortable, vibrant and atmospheric bar serves satisfying drinks and tasty snacks, including mouthwatering chili dogs. Moreover, it offers an interesting insight into a small slice of Cape Town life. The crowd here is mainly local, and on warm summer nights people spill out onto the street to take full advantage of the city’s agreeable climate.
Yours Truly Kloof Street
On the other end of the scale from the high-end cocktail bars is Yours Truly, a budget-friendly, laid-back bar with outposts on Loop Street and Kloof Street, plus smaller satellite coffee shops elsewhere in the city.
If you’re looking for the best way to end a warm summer’s afternoon in the city, the rooftop bar at the Kloof Street venue, called Up Yours, is the place to be. A large wooden bar serves everything from cheap beers to high-end liquors. Sitting beneath fairy lights and surrounded by hanging plants, with views of Lion’s Head mountain in the distance, you won’t want to be anywhere else.
Publik Wine Bar
If your priority when in the Cape is to sample some of the region’s best, and most unusual, wines, then Publik is the place to go. The bar’s knowledgeable staff will enquire about your tastes and preferences before recommending a suitable varietal, most available by the bottle or glass.
A selection of charcuterie and cheeses are also available to snack on while savoring the wines. And with several other bars and restaurants adjacent to Publik’s new location on Kloof Nek Road, it’s easy to have a full night without walking more than a few yards.