Having formed a great collaboration with Lebo and Prof. Maaza at the University of South Africa/iThemba labs, I've had the opportunity to visit beautiful Cape Town twice recently. At the southwestern tip of Africa, Cape Town is surrounded by the majestic Table Mountain and the South Atlantic and Indian oceans. There is a clear divide between rich and poor in South Africa that is strongly evident at the bars, restaurants and neighborhoods I visited. Obviously it takes time for change, especially given South Africa's violent and oppressive history.
Other than cementing a great scientific collaboration, my priority in South Africa was the wine. The important wine regions are Stellenbosch, Constantia and Franschhoek, and within an hour of the city. You will find some amazing Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay but also some interesting New World blends.
Thankfully South Africa also has some excellent cheeses to pair with its impressive wines. In terms of food, I didn't have as much time to experiment, but generally you will find a high level international cuisine without a true local identity. The meat and seafood are excellent in Cape Town and my highlights were the sophisticated dishes at the Vineyard hotel and the Stack.
I was happy to discover that one of the world-leading experts on specialty coffee is based in Cape Town. Read more below about the Quaffee coffee roastery below. Good cocktails in Cape Town are hard to come by, although I was blow away by rad drinks and great times at the Polynesian Pearl Diver pop up.
Below I rank my favorite wine, food and cocktail experiences in Cape Town.
A special thanks to Lebo, Caitlin, Devin, Roy, and Gavin for showing me all that Cape Town has to offer!
1. THE SQUARE AT THE VINEYARD HOTEL
Burgundy dinner (2016)
Thanks to my buddy Lebo for bringing to the fantastic Burgundy dinner paired with some outstanding dishes. The dinner featured wines from Paul Cluver and Lothian. The dinner took place in the elegant Square restaurant at the beautiful Vineyard Hotel. Thanks to the GM Roy Davies for making us feel at home and to Ndaba Dube, an expert sommelier at Vineyard hotel, for his great hospitality. Thanks also to the friendly servers Anita and Sbu servers for making the event a great success.
Thanks to Gavin Withers for sharing his great photos with me!
My highlights of the meal were:
Sweet soy and plum glazed duck, bok choy, tender stem broccoli paired with Paul Cluver Pinot Noir 2014
Cured kingklip with a caramelized pineapple carpaccio paired with Paul Cluver Chardonnay 2015
Roasted chalmar sirloin, mushroom risotto, caramelized pearl onion, bourguignon paired with Paul Cluver Seven Flags Pinot Nero 2013
Menu design (2017)
Ndaba Dube is one of my the coolest guys I've met in SA and so I couldn't miss stopping by the Vineyard hotel on my latest trip. Ndaba hooked us in a major way - a menu design event where we were given the task of pairing some of the top South African wines with the various ingredients, sauces, and dishes that could make up the new menu at the Square.
Attending the event was GM Roy Davies, chef Carl van Rooyen and photographer and wine connoisseur Gavin Withers. Over 3 hours we tried many different foods, but even more wines and had an awesome time coming up with odd wine and food pairings with Roy. A huge thanks to Gavin once again for the awesome photos and also for lineing up a trip to Buitenverwachting the following day.
All photos except the first one by Gavin Withers.
2. Waterford estate (Stellenbosch)
Welcome to the Mecca of wines in South Africa. Thanks to the brilliant guidance of winemaker Kevin Arnold, Waterford Estate produces the best wines in the country. The highlight is The Jem, their flagship experimental wine that combines the best of the north and the south. South is about warm weather while north is about austerity and tannins. Using nine different varieties, the Jem is about elegance and finesse says Kevin. He explained that it The Jem isn't about the first impressions. It's the kind of wine that may appreciate more after the second glass, or maybe even thinking back to its flavors and aromas days later. Kevin wanted to avoid a wine that's the initial wow-factor, a popular trend among modern winemakers. This wine has been ten years in the making, and is dedicated to Jeremy Ord, owner of Waterford Estate, whose nickname is Jem.
The Jem is one of the more costlier wines you will find in SA at about €60 per bottle. For lower price points, I strongly suggest Kevin's amazing Shiraz, which also appears in an amazing chocolate and wine experience at Waterford. Kevin has created unique artisanal chocolates with flavor profiles perfectly suited to his wines. I highly urge you to try this once in the lifetime tasting!
3. buitenverwachting (CONSTANTIA)
Thanks to Gavin for urging me to visit Buitenverwachting. This massive wine farm in Constantia is home to phenomenal Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Thinus gave us an awesome tour of the farm and had us try some a Sauvignon Blanc before it was bottled. Buitenverwachting's Sauvignon Blanc shows great tartness and minerality. Their Maximus, an oaked Sauvignon, shows great tropical fruits with a hint of vanilla.
Of the reds, check out the bold and rich Christine, a Bordeaux style blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 45% Cabernet Franc (2011 vintage). At 14.5% ABV, this bold and rich wine shows great ripe cherry with hints of dark chocolate.
To pair with your wine, try the restaurant, at Buitenverwachting where I enjoyed the best fish and chips of my life. The cooking is generally traditional European, thanks to the gifted chef Edgar Osojnik from Austria.
Other than wine, Buitenverwachting happens to make a wonderful artisan gin. So good that I brought a bottle to the gala event at ATLAS Singapore, home to the world's largest gin collection.
4. CREATION (Hermanus)
Creation is located in the Walker Bay Wine Region. The beautiful estate features a legendary wine tasting with the heavenly The Art of Chardonnay. On the palate, you will get a lot of pear and peaches with nice acidity and a hint of vanilla in the background. The remarkable feature of this wine is its easily-accessible complexity. It's one of the most elegant Chardonnays on the planet. To borrow terminology from speciality coffee, this wine is extremely clean and bright.
5. Warwick (STELLENBOSCH)
The most fun I had at a wine tasting thanks to our super friendly server. Warwick is probably most famous because the Obama's stopped by. I really liked their Trilogy Bordeaux blend, a very approachable red with silky tannins. If you are part of their VIP members club, you can try their flagship "Touch" Cabernet Sauvignon.
6. Beau Constantia (CONSTANTIA)
Easiliy the most beautiful winery on my latest trip, Beau Constantia also features some great Shiraz. Try their Stella, which offers great drinkability thanks to its elegant tannis and good acidity.
7. Steenberg (CAPE TOWN)
8. Spier Wine Farm (Stellenbosch)
My introduction to SA wines was thanks to the Creative Block series from Spier, that my friend Marco Tobia kindly let me try at his house in Bergamo during a memorable BBQ. Even if I prefer single grape wines such as Nebbiolo or Sangiovese, I was impressed with Spier's new world approach to winemaking. In the Creative Block, they select grapes from specific vineyard blocks which they then blend to produce wines greater than the sum of their parts. The number that follows Creative Block on the label refers to the number of different blocks used. My favorite is number 3, a Rhone-style blend of Shiraz, Mourvedre and Viognier. I highly recommend the tasting experience at Spier even if you aren't a huge wine fan. Their estate is stunning. In addition, there is excellent dining at Eight restaurant, featuring only locally farmed and sourced ingredients.
9. Vrede En Lust (Franschhoek)
10. Mulderbosch (Stellenbosch)
The Sauvignon Blanc lineup at Mulderbosch is solid. Check out the 1000 miles for its great acidity.
1. The stack
The Stack is one of the best restaurants in Cape Town. Although the atmosphere is slightly posh, the staff will make you feel right at home. We had the pleasure of having the adorable Odette as our waitress for the evening. I will never forget the pork belly with mixed nuts and wild mushrooms, carrot puree, beetroot, charred apple, asparagus and crispy kale. It was easily the best thing I ate in Cape Town on my recent trip. Great find Devin! ;)
Peregrine Farm stall is home to the best pie in South Africa. The chicken and mushroom pie blew my mind! A must visit this road-side market if passing though Elgin Valley.
3. The Hog House (Spier Wine Farm, Stellenbosch)
The Hog House is a new opening on the Spier Wine farm property. Surprisingly the focus is not on wine but beer at the Hog House. But after all that chardonnay, a nice craft beer is a nice break for your palate. Their main brewery is in Cape Town, where they are happy to give you a tour and let you sample their tasty beers. I suggest their African Ale, a lovely session ale made with SA hops. At their Spier Wine location, they have delicious food. I was blown away by their cheese plate which made me realize that SA has a lot to offer to the culinary world. The local cheeses were so good that I was tempted to re-order the plate. Instead I opted for a burger, which didn't disappoint. Lebo ordered the delicious pulled pork sandwich. Another plus of the Hog House is the staff - they all bring even more positive energy to the beautiful location.
4. Honest Chocolate
Honest Chocolate saved me on first day in Cape Town. After a 30 hour flight, I needed a caffeine boost but given that it was Sunday, everything was closed, except Honest Chocolate. The instant I walked in, I realized I was in a special place. Everyone here is super Zen - it's like entering a yoga studio. Check out their beautiful back patio - I would have spent an entire afternoon here if I had the time.
5. Royale Eatery
Delicious hamburgers served by a beautiful and friendly staff? This winning recipe brought me back to Royal Eatery on Long St. for consecutive dinners. A plus is these guys are open pretty late. The normally dinner time is 6pm in Cape Town but I had no problem eating at 11pm here.
I suggest the Burgerac with 160 g of basted beef patty topped with white cheddar, chipotle sauce, and an onion and gherkin salsa. Amazing. Another winner is the El Burro with chorizo, chillies, coriander, mozzarella cheese, smoked jalapenos, roast tomato salsa and guacamole. I've heard these guys make great milkshakes too but after one of these massive burgers, I sadly didn't have room.
Thanks to Devin for insisting I visit the Polynesian Pearl Diver, a fun tiki bar in the docks area of Cape Town. The spot is popular with industry types who want a break from the mainstream bars in SA. This place has great positive energy thanks to the casual tiki-style atmosphere and Rudi de Vos, the friendly and talented barman behind the stick. My favorite drink of the night was the The Navy Grog with Brugal light rum, Sailor Jerry, Jamaican dark, Quan's honey mix, grapefruit, dry lemon, and lemon juice.
2. GIN BAR
I can't think of anyone cooler than Peter Milk B. He's a chill and laid back guy who's not afraid to crack a joke or bust a move if the right track comes on.
I first met Peter when he was working at Honest Chocolate, the zen-like cafe/chocolate place. As it turns out there is a hidden gin bar in the back, and my boy Pete is the head bartender. I recommend the Head remedy (Jorgensens gin, Swaan Cape Dry tonic, thyme, star anise, lime). I suggest going to the gin bar early, as it gets super busy later at night. Props also to the lovely owner Angelique.
For a great bar in Cape Town, look no further than Mother's Ruin Gin Bar owned by Mark Mulholland. They have an outstanding selection of gins for but if you're like me, you'll probably ask them to pour you a Corpse Reviver no 2. :) Props to Caitlin for pouring one of the finest renditions of this drink in recent memory!
4. House of Machines
House of Machines is a motorcycle-themed dive bar in Cape Town, right next to the speakeasy Outrage of Modesty. I love this place for the great music, nice cocktails (Try Marshall's Old Fashioned or barrel-aged Negroni) and outstanding hotdogs (try the one with guacamole). The people that come here are super chill. If you to have a good time in Cape Town, look no further. I liked House of Machines so much that I actually went there 3 times on my first trip to SA.
N/A. Outrage of Modesty
Outrage of Modesty is an unbelievable concept bar from Luke Whearty of Operation Dagger in Singapore. When you first walk in you will see JFK on the left, and down below a kitchen/bar area, which serves up some spectacular drinks, paired with some delicious plates. I was of the idea that it's impossible to pair food with cocktails but Luke's OoM has changed my mind. Yes, the cocktails are totally insane, but they are delicious. And you can tell that the cocktails have been designed around the delicious food, to deliver an amazing gastronomic experience.
I had to good fortune of going to OoM while Devin was the head bartender. I wish him all the best on his next ventures! I will surely be back on my next trip to Cape Town!
Update: Outrage is now under new management
GIN and tonic FESTIVAL!
I attended the Gin & Tonic Festival Cape Town thanks to Caitlin Hill. I had a great time trying The Botanist Gin with tonic, and foraged botanicals courtesy of Roushanna Gray of Good Hope Gardens. It was also great to see Peter 'Milk B' Lebese and stop by The Gin Bar's stand. Thanks to Alex Frezza for suggesting I meet the awesome Kresan Naidu of Pernod Ricard. Although the event was packed, there was great music and positive energy. Props also to Peter Goffe-Wood's Kitchen Cowboys for the best steak sandwich of all time!
Before my trip to Buitenverwachting wine farm, I was convinced that coffee in Cape Town sucked. Boy was I wrong. It turns out that tucked away in the parking lot at the winery is Quaffee, headed by coffee god Warren Machanik. He will marvel you with his knowlege of the many coffee producing regions of the world. He skillfully roasts all his beans in house and is considered a legend to those in the know. I brought home a spectacular Gishibu peaberry Burundi. A must visit for any coffee lover!