The charming white houses of Paternoster are a delightful enough excuse to warrant the two-hour drive out of Cape Town, but for me, and anyone else driven by their stomachs, the reason to make the trek north in my tiny rental car packed full of podcasts and tunes was to eat at Wolfgat.

Wolfgat is tiny restaurant nestled in an old fisherman’s house on top of the anthropological haven that is the Wolfgat caves. It is run by the foraging chef Kobus van der Merwe, who was recently voted as the Graham Beck Chefs’ Chef by his peers at the Eat Out awards in 2017, where his restaurant also placed 14th on the top 20 list. His peers gushed about the fact that what van der Merwe is up to is like nothing anyone else is doing at the moment — and it’s true.

His food philosophy revolves around pushing the boundaries of his ingredients and people’s perceptions of them. Van der Merwe’s ingredients come predominently from his West Coast surroundings: whether it be the samphire that he found in this own backyard that he mixes in with an angelfish tartar, or the tjokka that normally get used as bait by local fishermen.

Each plate is a dance between fresh and raw vegetation and (mostly) local seafood with an occasional showing of lamb, when available. Availability is a big part of the menu: supporting small local farmers or finding your food on the dunes means that sometimes the menu will adapt. But whether you’re served abelone, lamb, or angelfish you can still expect a sensory explosion. 

Eating at Wolfgat genuinely transformed my idea of what food could be. I dream of the fourth-course mussel dish paired with klipkombers seaweed far more often than one should admit. What’s more: the choice to pair courses with unusual, little-known wines exclusively from the Swartland was singularly spectacular. I will most certainly be dedicating a day to repeat this road trip every time I find myself down south.

But, be warned: this experience is not for everyone. Although I had my fill, I know many a large male friend of mine would probably leave hungry, and not exactly satisfied with a serving of a single oyster, no matter how nice the accompanying pomelo, quince, and dune celery is. So make sure you pack some padkos for the way back, just in case. 

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