April, 2017: Finding the best restaurants in South Africa was a rather pleasurable pastime during the few months we spent in this awesome country. Over the years the wide variety of cultures who have made South Africa their home have also brought their food. The freed slaves of Malaysia and Indonesia along with the Indian merchants brought curry and spice. The English, Dutch and German’s brought their love of quality meat and cheese while the French brought wine. The influx of migrants from across the African continent brought Ethiopian injera and Mozambique peri-peri (to name a few). This then combines with the amazing produce which comes from South Africa’s varying climates, highly fertile soils and abundant seas. The whole package really delivers some outstanding food and even better spots for feasting. We wanted to share our highlights reel with you. So, here is our greedy eaters’ (that would be us) guide to the best restaurants in South Africa.
A quick note before we start. We’re of the opinion that enjoying awesome food is not just about what’s on the plate but the overall experience. More and more we find that while the finest restaurants may wow you with their impressive menu, the boring waiters or no music in a dated dining room lets down the overall experience. As a result this best restaurants in South Africa list isn’t only about the foams of pickled ram’s toe or the dust of some rotten and obscure herb (no doubt they’re delicious). More it’s a list about the best restaurants, foodie markets and local nosheries serving up the most amazing food experiences in South Africa. Given we found so many in South Africa the list is a little longer than usual. We’ve split the list up geographically as a result. Enjoy and please tell us those that we have missed out.
Best restaurants in South Africa: Cape Town
Neighbourgoods markets: Woodstock, Saturdays 10 – 3pm
First off, no this isn’t ‘a restaurant’ but jeepas you can certainly find a LOT of good eating. Both editions of the Neighbourhoods market in Cape Town and Jo’burg were easily our favourite eating from our time in South Africa. Each Saturday in both cities, loads of different vendors turn out to serve up high quality food across a wide variety of cuisines. You can find korean fried chicken, cape malay curries, mexican fish tacos; polish small goods, enormous steak sandwiches and tasty biltong; then you have high quality coffee, small batch gin, craft beers and of course quality South African vino. And this only really scratches the surface. Then you have all the shopping with loads of local designers, craftsmen and women all set to the soundtrack of cracking local tunes.
Madam Taitou: central Cape Town, 11am – 11pm daily
Kookie little place which feels more like an antique shop than a restaurant but still serves delicious Ethiopian fare. Cosy up on the cushions and stuff yourself silly.
Bacon on Bree: central Cape Town, opening hours unconfirmed
Small cafe on Bree street which served up an awesome BLT and probably the best coffee I had during my time in South Africa. Crispy bacon, tomato, rocket, ‘baconaise’ on toasted ciabatta….boom!
The Foodbarn Bakery and Deli, Noordhoek: 8am – 4:30pm daily
Great spot for breakfast, quality coffee and first rate bread and pastries. The menu features old favourite fry-ups and eggs benedict but the quality is ace and the atmosphere is warm and friendly. Helpfully located across the road from a pub as well.
The Eastern Food Bazaar, central Cape Town: Mon – Thurs 11am – 10pm / Fri – Sat 11am – 10:30pm
The Eastern Food Bazaar features right near the top for quality cheap eats in Cape Town and is a bit of an institution. It’s a long food court style arcade where you can buy huge portions of asian and south asian curries, stir fries and kebabs. Many of the reviews we read said it’s not what it used to be but for the price we still thoroughly enjoyed the palak paneer, chicken tikka and lamb curries we bought.
Best restaurants in South Africa: Stellenbosch region
The Kitchen at Maison, Franschoek: Sun – Mon, Wed – Thurs 10am – 3pm / Fri – Sat 10am – 3pm, 7pm – 11pm*
The Kitchen serves up high quality cuisine in a casual and modern winery setting at Maison vineyards just outside Franschoek. Chef Arno Janse Van Rensburg pays homage to the various different culinary influences of South Africa through a minimalistic sounding menu of beautifully presented dishes. Choose from three, four, five or six course ‘degustations’. While we thought a few dishes tried a little too hard to blend too many flavours in general we thought it deliciously awesome. Think kudu, beetroot and radicchio or tomatoes, mushrooms and smoked rye bread. If you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth dropping in.
The Werf at Boschendal, Stellenbosch: Wed – Sat 12pm – 3pm, 6pm – 9pm / Sun 12pm – 3pm
Boschendal is one of the original wineries of the Stellenbosch area and oozes old world charm not least of which through it’s lovely restaurant called The Werf. The Werf has a rustic, country style setting where you can sit out on a deck looking at the estate’s enormous market garden while feasting on braised lamb shoulder or whole salt baked salmon. The food is super rich and luxurious but artfully and quite delicately presented like our cured tuna and pickled autumn vege. Service is friendly and knows what they’re talking about, and on the day we visited the whole place had an awesome buzz of happy feasters.
FatButcher, Stellenbosch: Mon – Sun 12pm – 10:30pm
We don’t usually go in for steak restaurants as we don’t always think you get the best value for money. FatButcher was an exception to the rule and very happily so. While not the cheapest, the 1.2kg t-bone that we shared was OUTSTANDING! Cooked to perfection and served with some rich and decadent mash potato and blanched greens it was right up there with one of the best steak dinners either of us have ever had. Restaurant setting was lovely, the service was personable and efficient and there is the added benefit of being able to BYO.
Best restaurants in South Africa: the Garden Route
The VegeTable, Knysna, Wednesday – Saturday, from 7/7:30pm (winter) or 7:30/8pm (summer)
If FatButcher was a carnivore’s paradise, VegTable is a vegetarian’s heaven. Chef Brett Garvie hosts wonderfully intimate vegetarian only degustation evening’s four nights a week in his little cottage just outside Knysna on South Africa’s Garden Route. Ingredients are locally sourced and seasonal, and served up in refined dishes which feature Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences. Coffee, tea and purified water is included in the meal while alcohol is BYO (no corkage). Think aubergine involtinis, roasted pear and feta salad and baclava wrapped figs.
East Head Cafe, Knysna: 8am – 3pm daily
We were recommended East Head Cafe by a mate who used to live in Knysna and he was bang on. Lightly spiced savoury mince with home made beans and poached eggs, bang on eggs benedict plus all the other usual suspects. Amazing view out across the heads and quality coffee to finish.
The Milkwood Restaurant, Hermanus: 9am – 9pm daily
Milkwood gets a mention not just for it’s delicious fish and chips but also the awesome view out across the Onrus river, down to the beach at Hermanus. Perfect place to come for a quiet Sunday lunch, some coffee or a few vinos.
Best restaurants in South Africa: Johannesburg
Neighbourgoods markets, Braamfontein: Saturdays 10 – 3pm
Not quite as big as the Cape Town edition but still awesome. See above for more details.
Market on Main, Arts on Main precinct: Sun 10am – 3pm
Market on Main has a fairly similar hipster vibe to Neighbourgoods (and some of the same food stalls) with lots of different vendors serving quality food from across South Africa’s cultural landscape. The market is housed in the gentrified Arts on Main industrial precinct in Maboneng. Great Sunday mission to come and check out the market but also the galleries, shops and bars in the few blocks surrounding it.
Nonna’s Italian Food Bar, Sandton City: opening hours unconfirmed
While we didn’t love the sterile feel of Sandton in Johannesburg we were stoked to find this modern Italian restaurant in the Sandton City shopping centre. They have a ‘build your own’ kind of menu for pizza and pasta while serving a range of old favourites from an a la carte menu as well. We had some super delicate and delicious fried squid from the antipasti and would have happily hopped into a plate of cured meat if we weren’t so stuffed!
Best restaurants in South Africa: other regional crackers
Pot Luck Boskombuis, Mpumulanga (Blyde River Canyon): 10am – 5pm daily
This is one of those where the food itself may not win awards but the overall experience is amazing. Pot Luck Kombuis is a rustic little place just off the road outside Moremela near Blyde River Canyon. A stern and rather imposing looking lady serves homely and delicious South African fare cooked over an open fire. Part of the allure of the place is the cracking setting overlooking the gurgling Treurrivier. Take a relaxing walk up river or sit by the river with your toes in the water while the kids skim rocks. Think rich beef stews (potjiekos), braai’d borewors and cape malay spiced beef bake (bobotie – tastes way better than it sounds).
Nostalgie Restaurant, Oudtshoorn (opening hours unconfirmed)
While they had run out of ostrich fillet, Nostalgie still served up a quality ostrich burger and a perfect pumpkin soup. I know neither are going to win Michelin stars but they were so tasty and the staff so friendly that we felt they needed mention.
Sophie’s Choice, Willowmore: weekdays 8am – 5pm / weekends 8am – 2pm
If you’re heading to Graaf Reinett from Oudtshoorn make sure you drop into Willowmore for a slice of cheese cake from Sophie’s Choice. This beautiful little antique shop come cafe is worth a visit just for the creamy, rich and ultimately decadent baked cheesecake.
Die Gaaitjie, Paternoster: Thurs – Mon 12pm – 3:30pm, 6pm – 9pm
Old fisherman’s cottage turned restaurant with a commanding view across the beach at Paternoster. Quality seafood is definitely the feature with a good dose of Cape Malay spices. Compact but well represented wine list.
Black Oystercatcher, Bredasdorp: Tues – Fri 9am – 5pm / weekends 10am – 2:30pm
Winery restaurant with a cracking view out across the rural back blocks of Cape Agulhas. Hearty and tasty treats including a banging venison burger and huge hot smoked salmon salad. We were mildly disappointed with our bottle of rose but the craft beer on tap was perfect.
*NOTE: Since we left South Africa, Liam Tomlin’s Chef’s Warehouse has replaced The Kitchen at Maison Estates (as of November 2017). Hopefully the Chef’s Warehouse will dish up as much deliciousness as The Kitchen did. Let us know if you have been to Chef’s Warehouse.