Wildlife and superb scenery attract visitors to South Africa. But food and drink are the real draws for a visit to Cape Town, says Katie Wright.
Awards aren’t the be all and end all, of course, but when it comes to gourmet gongs, the metropolis that lies at the foot of Table Mountain sure has garnered a lot recently. The readers of Condé Nast Traveller voted Cape Town the number one food destination in the world this year and with BA’s new direct overnight flight from Gatwick, a long weekend of non-stop scoffing is now a viable option.
Another bonus? The time difference is only two hours, so jet lag won’t rear its ugly head. In need of a quick post-flight pick-me-up, I make Truth Coffee Roasting on Buitenkant Street my first port of call. It was declared the world’s number one coffee shop by the Daily Telegraph last year, testament not only to the anything-but-average cup of Joe it peddles, but also its expansive industrial-chic cafe.
The open-front space, peppered with quirky curios, is ridiculously cool. When I stop by, actor Johnny Knoxville is chatting with a friend at the ornate chrome bar. Yet it’s not at all pretentious – and the house Resurrection blend is extraordinarily smooth and satisfying.
A couple of blocks away, where Bree and Shortmarket Streets intersect, new eateries are springing up at such a rate that even those in the know are struggling to keep up. Want to lunch like a local? Take a stroll along Bree to pick up the ingredients for a DIY feast.
“Get your bread from Jason’s, your cheese from Culture Club, and your meat from Bacon, then go and have a picnic in Kirstenbosch gardens,” recommends Matt Fuller, who leads food-themed tours.
Over on Shortmarket Street, the third opening from celebrated chef Luke Dale-Roberts is one of the latest jewels in the city’s culinary crown. Capetonians flock to the Shortmarket Club for tart crispy octopus, daily changing fish specials and orgasmic desserts.
Brit Dale-Roberts isn’t the only out-of-towner who recognises the Cape’s potential. “A lot of people are watching the city,” chef Nobu Matsuhisa tells me over lunch. “Since I’ve been here, people are looking for good food, the city is growing.”
The godfather of sushi is visiting Africa’s only outpost of his wildly successful upmarket Japanese chain, housed in the plush One&Only resort. Nobu’s sushi is second to none, which is why his two starry London branches command a pretty penny. But a visit here, thanks to the favourable exchange rate, costs about a third of what it would back in Blighty.
It’s not all high-end and haute, however, in this urban jungle. I’m treated to a taste of home-cooked Cape Town when I venture into the Nyanga township to experience Theatre in the Backyard, which takes place in a house borrowed from a local resident.
Following an outdoor performance of Is He Mad? – a moving one-man monologue brought to life with boundless energy by actor Lamla Ntsakub – I sit down in the cosy living room with the star and his director, George Mhlanguli, to chat over a hearty dinner of chicken wings, spicy chakalaka stew and savoury doughnut-like vetkoeks, washed down with tangy home-made ginger beer.
I’m ashamed to admit the only South African delicacy I could name before my trip was billtong, but there’s far more to the nation’s repertoire than that leathery dried meat, as I learn when I visit the suburb of Bo-kaap, where houses painted pea green, cyan, lemon and aqua are luminous in the fierce midday sun.
In the kitchen of a violet two-storey property on Wale Street, Faldela Tolker, who’s lived here for 26 years, teaches classes specialising in the melting-pot cuisine known as Cape Malay.
“You’ll find a little bit of Asian Malay influence in all our dishes,” she says, flitting between motherly advice and delightfully cantankerous banter as we get to work whipping up a fragrant seven-spice chicken curry and stuffing samosas.
We kneed, twist and flatten a stretchy dough to make roti flatbreads, which Faldela fries to flaky, golden perfection. Since we’re in a Muslim household, there’s no booze served when we sit down to sample the fruits of our labour. But you’re never far from a tasty tipple in the country famed for its world-class viticulture.
Hermanus, a 90-minute drive south-east, is home to the so-called Wine Road, a 10-mile stretch where rolling hills are patchworked with rows of verdant vines.
And just outside Cape Town proper, you’ll find Constantia, with its 10 vineyards and yet more tempting restaurants.
Truth be told, if you’re serious about hunting down the best eats South Africa has to offer, you’d do better to skip the Table Mountain tour and take your place at one of the city’s fine-dining tables instead.
Trust me, your taste buds will thank you.
British Airways flies from Gatwick to Cape Town twice a week (ba.com/capetown; 0344 493 0787). Prices start from £535 return, including all taxes and charges.
For more information on South Africa and Cape Town, visit uk.southafrica.net