After the past 11 months of lockdowns and booze bans, restaurateurs could be forgiven for tying up their knife rolls for good. But chefs are nothing if not a hardy lot, and a handful of gutsy Cape cooks are bucking the trend with reinvented restaurants that deserve your time and money.
Restaurateur Liam Tomlin has been one of the restaurant industry’s most vocal opponents of curfews and alcohol bans, and little wonder: with five restaurants to fill, he’s a chef with plenty of skin in the game. And now he’s doubling down as the driving force behind Local at Heritage Square, a large communal eating and retail space in this historic corner of the city centre. Downstairs, homegrown brands and producers reign supreme, from local charcuterie to cheese and ceramics. La Cantina offers fresh Italian fare, or look for great coffee and glorious cannoli and bigne pastries at Caffè Milano by Giorgio Nava. Finally, Tomlin adds to his menu with Mazza, a small-plate restaurant celebrating the flavours of the Middle East. Tomlin calls it his “homage to Beirut”. Opening this month, Local is most certainly lekker.
Chef Jesper Nilsson brings a slick small-plate experience to buzzy Kloof Street, re-energising the space that once housed Janse&Co. In its warm charcoal tones and Scandi-chic furniture, this thoroughly urban, and urbane, space will feel familiar to fans of its previous incarnation, with the welcome addition of a revamped rear courtyard. The experience is built around small plates, with Nilsson bringing his local and international experience to bear on the menu. Start with the house-cured charcuterie before covering the table with a selection of creative plates and wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizza. It’s a large space, with plenty of room for distancing, but the best tables on a summer’s eve are in the courtyard. The cocktail selection and wine list offer an impressive collection from sommelier Mario Salvato.
Chef-patron Peter Tempelhoff’s latest foray into fine dining brings a long-overdue refresh to the restaurant at the Buitenverwachting estate in the Constantia Winelands. Tempelhoff and head chef Julia du Toit strip away (most of) the layers to focus the compact, à la carte menu on produce. It’s “simple, elegant food that’s still packed with flavour,” says Du Toit. A starter portion of burrata with organic beets is as silken and creamy as can be, while ostrich tataki is enlivened by a spicy chirizu sauce. It strikes just the right balance of comfort food with a flourish of fine dining, at local-friendly prices. The views alone are worth the spend, with floor-to-ceiling glass walls offering panoramic views of vineyard and forest scampering up the Constantiaberg. The wine list focuses on Constantia cellars, alongside older vintages and rarities from the Buitenverwachting vinoteque.
4. KLEIN ZALZE RESTAURANT
Michael Broughton’s much-loved Stellenbosch restaurant Terroir may have fallen victim to the lockdown of 2020, but in its place has risen a charming new Winelands eatery under the sharp knife of consultant-chef Nic van Wyk. While the al-fresco appeal remains, the understated fine dining of Terroir is replaced with an approachable “plat du jour” menu of pared-down bistro classics: think fillet béarnaise, moules frites and more. With a “plat” and a glass of estate wine for R245 you can’t go wrong. That’s not all Van Wyk has to offer though: the new space blurs the separation between the wine-tasting and restaurant spaces, and the menu of creative tapas plates allows for a light lunch with a tasting flight, or a tasting experience paired with a plate or two to whet the appetite.
• From the February edition of Wanted, 2021.