South Africa’s Cape region is a haven for food and wine enthusiasts, writes Katie McGonagle
You can tell a lot about people from what they choose to celebrate. While freedom-loving Americans go all out for Independence Day, and Brits hold delightfully quaint street parties for a royal wedding or jubilee, South Africans devote a day to the art of the braai.
From the Afrikaans word braaivleis meaning ‘roasted meat’, this is more than just a barbecue. So much so that National Heritage Day on September 24 is increasingly known as ‘national braai day’, since most South Africans spend it gathered around the grill.
That’s only one aspect of a foodie culture that encompasses everything from Durban street snack ‘bunny chow’ – a hollowed-out bread loaf filled with spicy curry – to posh nosh in Cape Town, at prices that would barely pay for a starter at most fine-dining restaurants in the UK.
And this is all before you even start on its wines, which include red grape pinotage – a cross between pinot noir and hermitage found only in the Western Cape – and some of the best in New World wines.
With so much on offer, wine-lovers and foodies will find plenty to satisfy their appetites – so long as they know where to go.
Cape Town: On the table
Cosmopolitan Cape Town’s dining scene is as diverse as its population: from trendy local eateries serving South African fare, to the artful Japanese cuisine of Nobu at One&Only Cape Town, headed by Michelin-starred chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa.
For a quick taster, its new Nobu Lite menu has platters starting at about £21 for four, served from 6pm-8pm.
With great food goes great wine, and the monthly Wine&Dine evenings at Nobu and fellow One&Only restaurant Reuben’s will show guests the best of the region’s vineyards, with a five-course menu and specially selected wine pairings led by the hotel sommelier and chef.
At Nobu, that’s the head chef (£50) or head sushi chef (£28), and at Reuben’s, it’s the Masterchef South Africa judge Reuben Riffel (£22).
Top-notch food comes at surprisingly low prices elsewhere too. Hayes & Jarvis destination manager Nick Wilson says: “South Africa is outstanding value for money when it comes to eating out, and the quality is also fantastic. Dash at the Queen Victoria Hotel was recently voted the number-one restaurant in Cape Town. Think Michelin-starred quality for less than £40 a head.”
Savour afternoon tea with a South African twist at Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel (from £15); munch on pan-African cuisine at touristy-but-tasty The Africa Café, a fun option for families; or try something new with creative tapas-style dishes and knockout city views at open-plan eatery The Pot Luck Club.
It’s not all about restaurant dining, though. Cox & Kings’ private walking tour Cape Town Eats takes guests into the city’s backstreets to try bunny chow, bobotie pies made with spicy lamb mince, rose-flavoured milkshake falooda, and South African comfort food such as fried bread vetkoek or samp and beans.
Need something sweet for dessert? Virgin Holidays’ product development executive, Caron Streeter, has a soft spot for the over-sized cupcakes at Charly’s Bakery: take a bus tour to the District Six museum, which focuses on the city’s apartheid history, and the bakery is nearby.
Cape Winelands: Raise a glass
The Winelands are a short-trip staple from the city, but it seems a day is no longer enough. Gold Medal has reported a “healthy increase” in recent Winelands bookings, while Hayes & Jarvis is finding more demand for twin-centre stays than day trips.
That allows more time to explore the quaint colonial architecture of Franschhoek, Paarl or university town Stellenbosch; dine at the area’s upmarket bistros and vineyard restaurants; and enjoy the pace of life in its off-the-beaten-track boutiques.
New Virgin Limited Edition hotel Mont Rochelle even involves guests in grape-picking if they visit during harvest time in February or March.
Wine tastings and cooking classes are easily added for guests who like getting hands-on with local produce: Kirker Holidays’ concierge can arrange these, as well as flagging up any local markets or wine events.
Rainbow Tours can organise cooking tuition at Le Quartier Francais in Franschhoek, a frequent winner of ‘best restaurant’ accolades.
A self-drive is perhaps the easiest way to enjoy the region at your own pace. Cox & Kings’ From Cape to Grape stays in an early-20th-century manor house in Stellenbosch, so clients can explore independently or take a full-day wine-tasting tour of the local estates.
One full-day option adds local chocolate and cheese-tasting to the wine experience, for the ultimate indulgence.
But if clients want guidance throughout, choose an escorted tour with a strong food and wine focus.
Riviera Travel’s South Africa tour devotes two nights to wine tastings, a cellar tour at Boschendal Wine Estate and either a braai or Cape Malay-style meal.
Cosmos Tours & Cruises has added a nine-day Cape Town & Winelands Culinary Delights tour this year, from £2,075, which includes a 14-course “tasting safari” showcasing the varied influences in South African cuisine, plus two nights in Franschhoek.
Wine aficionados might need more time to explore, though, so specialist wine operator Arblaster & Clarke spends its full eight-day itinerary here, touring estates big and small, so passengers can compare lesser-known varieties and chat to the estate directors. The tour runs next February, but dates are yet to be confirmed.
Four nights’ B&B at the Cape Town Ritz Hotel starts at £649 with Travel 2 in May/June. The price includes transfers and flights, as well as a Cape Winelands tour visiting Paarl, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.
Cox & Kings has an eight-night self-drive itinerary, From Cape to Grape, from £1,675. The price includes flights, car hire and four nights’ B&B each in Cape Town and Stellenbosch.
Kirker Holidays offers a twin-centre featuring four nights at the Vineyard Hotel in Cape Town suburb Newlands and three at the Oude Werf Hotel in Stellenbosch. Prices start at £2,249, including flights, transfers and car hire.
Patrick Millar, Kirker Holidays: “KwaZulu-Natal is the next hot spot, along with Johannesburg, which has caught the Cape Town trend of ‘local is lekker’ (better). Try restaurants such as Cleopatra, Granny Mouse or Fordoun, as well as more traditional street food such as Durban’s famous bunny chow.”
Michael Creighton, Travel 2: “Durban is home to the largest Indian population outside India, so the markets and restaurants are alive with the flavours of the sub-continent. Johannesburg is, of course, the melting pot of all southern African cuisine.”
Ross Sinclair, Gold Medal: “The Garden Route is well known for its seafood restaurants due to its location on the coast and the availability of fresh produce. Knysna, in particular, is renowned for its oysters.”
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