Where to eat: South Africa’s top restaurants

Last week, 19 finalists were announced for the premier category of the 2012 Eat Out DStv Food Network restaurant awards. From that list, all but three of which areCape-based restaurants, the top 10 will be selected at the end of November. 

The awards were judged by Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly and the London-based food columnist for the Wall Street Journal Europe, Bruce Palling, who has been on the judging panel of the San Pellegrino world’s 50 best restaurants awards for the past six years. Here is the list:

Babylonstoren Wine Farm, Simondium Road, Klapmuts 021 863 3852

As far as hip farm settings go, this is the ultimate. The restaurant is an exquisitely designed white space alongside an enormous food garden, which you can tour. The garden provides much of the fruit, vegetables and herbs that are used to create unusual fare. Local farmers provide the main ingredient for dishes such as smoked Franschhoek trout with guava paste and burnt sage butter, or lamb shank marinated in harissa and buttermilk. Salads can be ordered by colour and your own blend of tea created.

Bizerca Bistro
Heritage Square, 98 Shortmarket Street, Cape Town 021 418 0001

Winner of last year’s best bistro award, this eatery sees chef Laurent Deslandes creating robust and quintessentially French food with occasional local and Asian twists. Expect excellent service from the host, who guides patrons through the menu and wine options. The pig trotter with truffle oil and the apple tart are favourites. The new venue has a paved courtyard with a water feature and herb wall, making it perfect for warm afternoons and evenings.  

Delaire Graff Estate
Helshoogte Pass, R310, between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, 021 885 8160

Breathtaking mountain views, impressive art — there is much to look at here. Plus, under the sure hand of chef Christiaan Campbell, the cuisine is imaginative and appealing, too. Start with poached oysters with saffron tapioca and chorizo broth, or confit duck with celeriac. The slow-cooked lamb neck with white barley and the pork shoulder with ginger bread, French toast and citrus curd are unforgettable, as is the fish and chips. The standout dessert is the hot chocolate pudding with salted mousse and toasted almond ice cream.

DW Eleven-13
Dunkeld West shopping centre, corner Jan Smuts and Bompas, Dunkeld West, Johannesburg 011 341 0663 or 011 325 2843

Contemporary, airy and reasonably informal, this restaurant features a short menu that is changed regularly and includes daily seasonal specials. Foie gras is generally available, served with accompaniments such as rhubarb compote. The springbok tataki served with nori and beetroot gel is a taste sensation. Chef Marthinus Ferreira does not believe in overworking dishes, as proved by his signature dish of roasted chicken served with braised lettuce. Try also the grapefruit-glazed salmon with candied fennel. Each dish comes with a recommended wine teaser.

Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine
Jordan Wine Farm, Stellenbosch Kloof Road, Stellenbosch 021 881 3612

At one of the top spots in the winelands for a spectacular meal, chef George Jardine showcases his award-winning dishes by combining expert technique with top-notch produce and a light, unpretentious touch. Dishes are accessible and delicious, and change with seasonal availability. A favourite starter is mussels en papillote, steaming with Asian aromatics such as lemongrass, ginger, garlic and coconut milk, and mains such as Chalmar beef fillet with marrow and morels are meltingly tender with unctuous saucing. If there is a soufflé on the dessert menu, it should be ordered — pear soufflé with crème anglaise was a recent favourite. On balmy days, the sliding doors are thrown open and all the tables moved on to the deck with its views over a dam and the gorgeous Stellenbosch mountains in the distance.

The Greenhouse
93 Brommersvlei Road, the Cellars-­Hohenort Hotel, Constantia 021 794 2137

This is a relaxed, contemporary space for intimate, sophisticated dining where chef Peter Tempelhoff stays on the cutting edge of South African cuisine with ever-changing seasonal menus, which showcase modern cooking techniques and culinary styles. Inspired by the natural tastes and textures of artisan ingredients — and organic greens and heritage vegetable varieties from his kitchen garden ­­— his creations offer sublime flavour combinations. Unusual pairings of, say, sous vide abalone and pork belly or baby chicken and langoustine make for innovative fare. Enhancing the main ingredients are crayfish custard and celeriac espuma, coconut and cinnamon jelly, ponzu snow and ginger aoli. Tempelhoff puts the fun back into fine dining with crudités in terracotta flower pots with edible soil, macaroon lollipops and an inverted brûlée in an upside-down glass.      

Hartford House
Summerhill Stud, Mooi River, KwaZulu-Natal 033 263 2713

This iconic KwaZulu-Natal property is steeped in history and culture, and you can enjoy some spectacular South African art while you are there, too. Its colonial charm is breathtaking, and the combination of old and new is very sophisticated. Chef Jackie Cameron’s skills and knowledge of French classics allow her to push boundaries in the kitchen. This is evident in her ever-changing menu, which showcases Midlands produce and highlights her personality. Hearty English lentil tongue soup is particularly saliva-inducing. The chicken liver parfait, which is served with poached quail, Parma ham and sticky potatoes, is delicious — asking for more to spread over the homemade breads is tempting. Described as a bucket-list adventure, it won’t disappoint you.

La Colombe
Constantia Uitsig, Spaanschemat River Road, Constantia 021 794 2390

Chef Scot Kirton’s culinary philosophy lies in classic technique, fresh seasonal produce and clean, uncomplicated flavours. Making his own mark at this global gastronomic destination, he combines flair and artful simplicity in a contemporary menu with a French and Asian treatment of South African produce. His own signature dishes are tempting — scallops and confit of pork belly in langoustine stock and beetroot cannelloni and umami broth with steamed langoustine and miso scallops. Every dish demonstrates a light, creative interpretation of top-quality local ingredients, from venison, lamb and offal to shellfish and poultry, plated with sublime sauces. The daily chalkboard menu reflects the earthy, savoury flavours of fresh country fare to match the gorgeous setting.

Majeka House, 26-32 Houtkapper Street, Paradyskloof, Stellenbosch 021 880 1549

Chef Tanya Kruger spent a month working with famed chef Alain Passard at L’Arpege in Paris and has brought the French passion for all things fresh to her cooking. Mushrooms are gathered in the Stellenbosch hills and she cures her own olives, ensuring she gets the flavours she wants. The vegetable “black pudding”, made with beetroot and served with beetroot tartare and rich baked crottin, makes a delicious starter, as does the fish and vegetable nigiri with pickled cucumber. Mains include free-range chicken with nasturtium flower beignet, barley and pea risotto and lemon veloute to give it all a little tang. The pear or apple tarte tatin is worth the trip alone.

Hidden Valley Estate, Annandale Road, Stellenbosch 021 880 2721

Rock-star chef Bertus Basson focuses on using the best ingredients to produce well-constructed and original dishes. The menu changes regularly to reflect ingredient availability, but expect unusual combinations such as smoked hake on sweetcorn risotto. The soufflés are always a superb dessert option. Fine dining service can often be intimidating but Overture has managed to make the experience relaxed without compromising on quality. As if that is not enough, the restaurant is on a hill with glass walls on two sides, giving the most inspiring views.

Pierneef à La Motte 

R45, Main Road, Franschhoek Valley 021 876 3119

Authenticity runs through seasonal menus that showcase the lost recipes, heritage ingredients and forgotten techniques of Cape cuisine over three centuries. Using traditional herbs, dried fruit, nuts, artisan meats and organic seasonal ingredients from the kitchen garden, Chris Erasmus recreates a marriage of Cape Dutch, Flemish and French Huguenot fare. It has one of the most original menus in the country and gives Cape cuisine a contemporary makeover, with piquant sweet and sour, smoky and savoury flavours in country terrines, hearty soups and stews. Do not miss the signature bokkom (salted dried fish), pickled ox tongue, snoek and soetpatat.

Planet Restaurant
Mount Nelson Hotel, 76 Orange Street, Cape Town 021 483 1948

A far cry from how it looked as the Cape Colony restaurant before, the space has been revamped to be modern and elegant. The refined interior is complemented by the highest quality tableware. Chef Rudi Liebenberg is passionate about every ingredient used, supporting local producers and buying only ethical meat. You can dine here with a clear conscience. This is also a destination for vegetarians and vegans, as great effort goes into producing superb vegetarian dishes.

Restaurant Mosaic at the Orient
The Orient Hotel, Francolin Conservation Area, Elandsfontein, Crocodile River Valley, Pretoria 012 371 2902/3/4

It is just out of the city but it feels as if you have been swept off your feet and taken to a fairy-tale land full of wonderful sights and scents. Succumb to the fantasy and let go of the mundane. This is a family trio’s endeavour and they are doing it their way. Daughter and chef Chantel Dartnall makes magic in the kitchen. It starts with a plate that can be compared to a beautiful painting mixing colour and textures and continues with magically subtle tastes that play with your head. She has a desire to keep growing, to keep her diners enticed, and to be provocative and excite with her take on contemporary cuisine.

The Roundhouse
Kloof Road, The Glen, Camps Bay 021 438 4347

Chef Eric Bulpitt combines classic French technique and South African produce to create a seasonal four-course à la carte menu that retains all the taste and textures of fresh farm ingredients. Exquisitely plated, the main ingredient — pasture-reared chicken, farmed cob, fallow deer or free-range duck and guinea fowl — is enhanced by fragrant oils, purées and emulsions. The menu showcases heritage herbs, berries and vegetables, from buchu-roasted carrots or parsnips to African wild garlic, lavender and juniper berries. The service is exceptional.

Rust en Vrede
Rust en Vrede wine estate, Annandale Road, Stellenbosch 021 881 3881

The original wine cellar has not lost its character and charm in its conversion into a contemporary-looking restaurant. Soft lighting, comfortable chairs and the finest tableware make this a dining environment you will not want to leave in a hurry. Chef John Shuttleworth prepares intricate dishes that showcase a variety of seafood, poultry and meat. The combination of elements makes each dish a delightful experience. The presse of guineafowl with foie gras, celeriac remoulade and shiitake is a treat, as is the pan-seared sea bass with prawn lasagne, gem squash and vanilla bisque. For the more adventurous, the rabbit cassoulet is amazing. Expect surprises.

The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français
Le Quartier Français, 16 Huguenot Road, Franschhoek 021 876 2151

This is the kind of food that elevates the idea of eating to a whole new level, opening up the senses to things previously only imagined. Famed chef Margot Janse continues to ensure that the Tasting Room is talked about all over the world. The menu, using European sensibility applied to an African ethos, plays with things such as crisp, skinny chakalala straws filled with creamy mielie meal, potjie bread baked in a blik and served with caramelised butter, and Klein Karoo waterbuck loin with sorghum. The pièce de résistance is coconut ice cream, served in a seemingly fluorescent ball of coconut sugar that shatters when warm caramel is poured over it, revealing a bed of crushed macadamia nuts..

The Test Kitchen
Unit 104A, Old Biscuit Mill, 375 Albert Road, Salt River 021 447 2337

There is always something new on the menu at this global gastronomic destination ruled by chef-patron Luke Dale-Roberts. The ever-evolving fare reflects the chef’s philosophy of enhancing the natural flavours of seasonal fare with playful combinations and imaginative interpretations of fresh produce. Dressings and sauces are poached, puréed and pickled to elevate the main ingredient, with earthy wood-smoked flavours, piquant Asian ginger, mirin, miso and yuzu jelly, several varieties of cabbage and cauliflower and earthy beets and leeks. Expect tender slow-cooked or sous vide meats and poultry contrasting with the purity of flavours in yellowtail tataki or trout tartare. Watch the culinary crew in action in the open kitchen, where Dale-Roberts puts the fun back into fine dining in this retro warehouse space at the Old Biscuit Mill.

Kleine Zalze Wine Estate, R44, Stellenbosch 021 880 8167

Dressed-down country chic. Watch the golfers from the terrace or the ducks and geese on the pond, or sit inside the rustic Tuscan interior done up in terracotta and wood. Master saucier Michael Broughton’s signature lies in simplicity, subtle combinations and respect for the natural flavours of locally sourced ingredients and artisan fare. The chef-patron creates classic French country fare with seasonal menus, ranging from sous vide pork belly with calvados sauce to springbok and home-cured bacon pie. There are no short-cuts in the kitchen, from the home-baked breads, double-baked soufflé and handmade ravioli, gnocchi and tortellini to stocks, sauces and purées. The flavour combinations are robust and earthy, transforming familiar ingredients with intense herbal gels, sabayon, foams and purées. Wood-smoked and forest-floor flavours are highlighted by the use of wild mushrooms, truffles and root vegetables to enhance the main ingredient — whether aged rib-eye, oxtail or pork belly.

R310, towards Franschhoek, Tokara Winery, Helshoogte Pass, Stellenbosch 021 885 2550

Richard Carstens’s imaginative take on so many aspects of cooking keeps this menu always interesting, always delicious and beautifully presented. Try the duck liver parfait with beetroot streusel, or the smoked snoek ravioli with almond crème and butternut velouté. In the spiced beef sashimi with wasabi mayo and spiced lemon emulsion, he shows the influence his time in the East has had on his cooking. The teriyaki beef fillet with carrot ginger purée and confit potato is just the thing for the carnivore, otherwise the sunflower seed risotto with soya honey glazed aubergine and coconut will satisfy any vegetarian. Desserts feature Weiss beer-poached pears with honey ice cream and lemon mascarpone mousse with chocolate sorbet.

The inaugural Eat Out conference will take place on November 24 at the Westin Cape Town.

International guests include Massimo Bottura, chef at the fifth-best restaurant in the world, Osteria Francescana; Bruce Palling, Wall Street Journal critic, World’s 50 Best Restaurants judge and Eat Out 2012 judge; and British food designer and creator of fantastical foodscapes Andrew Stellitano.

Local speakers include chefs Luke Dale-Roberts from the Test Kitchen and Margot Janse from the Tasting Room. The Eat Out restaurant awards will take place the following evening when a four-course meal will be prepared by top chefs, and the Top 10 restaurants in the country will be announced.

Tickets for the conference start at R1 000. For more information contact [email protected]



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