The Dining Mile
If you like to check out the options before deciding where to settle, take a stroll down Kloof Street. This is the road that runs parallel to Kloof Nek, which takes you up the saddle of the mountain and over into Camps Bay.
Start at the top, where Bacini's (tel. 021/423-6668; ask for a table outside) serves pizzas in a family-oriented atmosphere. Across the road is The Bombay Bicycle Club (tel. 021/423-6805), a spanking new venue that blends bohemian styling, great buzz, and a pretty eclectic menu. Start with gravalax, calamari and roast veg salad, or brandy-seared chicken livers; work through an assortment of pastas (try the spinach, butternut and ricotta lasagna); and end up with Moroccan-style bobotie, succulent Bombay ribs, or slow-roasted springbok shank. Save room for their legendary chocolate-filled cigars, served with ice-cream. It's all a bit over-the-top, and perhaps too crowded (with a too-lax policy on indoor smoking; do complain if necessary), but it's already one of Cape Town's "in" spots, meaning you'd better book ahead. Next down the hill is Restaurant Paradiso, 110 Kloof St. (tel. 021/423-8653), a sprawling terra-cotta villa with affordable Alsatian food that will delight those with children in tow. This is an ideal all-day or balmy-evening venue: Grab a table under a tree or umbrella on the terrace outside and peruse the menu, which features plenty of vegetarian options, scrumptious salads, and ultrathin, crispy Alsace-style pizzas, called flamkuchen (try one with salmon, cream cheese, and yogurt). Diagonally opposite is the all-white Manna, attracting a more chi-chi crowd, with service by fresh-faced cherubs.
Next up is Melissa's, one of Kloof Street's most popular eateries (and one of the best delis in town; tel. 021/424-5540. www.melissas.co.za.), and a slew of variable, well-priced local eateries. Saigon (corner of Kloof and Camp; (tel. 021/424-7670), an elevated venue with great views, specializes in Vietnamese cuisine (don't miss the crystal prawn spring rolls or the karma-free curry with pumpkin and sweet potato). Many locals rate this their ultimate city eatery. Asoka "Son of Dharma" (68 Kloof St.; tel. 021/422-0909), in the chocolate-colored, open-plan house next door, is a great place to imbibe drinks and light meals. Artfully renovated around a central courtyard and tree, with soothing lighting and groovy music, it's highly recommended for a pre- or postdinner drink. The vibe, fed by Cape Town's happening young crowd (mid-20s and up), is great, but you'll find much better food across the road at Yindee's, 22 Camp St. (tel. 021/422-1012), another one of Cape Town's Thai restaurants.
A little farther down is Café Gainsborough, 64 Kloof St. (tel. 021/422-1780), a casual bistro-type restaurant built around an open-plan kitchen. Get there early (no reservations) to grab a table with a view of Table Mountain, and order the oxtail. Just a little farther down is the unbelievably good value Ocean Basket, 75 Kloof St. (tel. 021/422-0322), with a patio-style back garden and decent waitstaff. The fish is superfresh (hardly surprising, considering the volumes they move), perfectly cooked, served in the pan, and seriously cheap.
Numerous takeout joints and casual restaurants pack all of Kloof Street. If you're health conscious, check out the Wellness Warehouse up the escalator in the Lifestyle Centre mall. The cafes here are fine, too, but the next good cluster of eateries occurs on Park Road, just off Kloof Street. Greens (tel. 021/422-4415) is one of my favorite pizza destinations, serving ultracrispy thin bases with interesting toppings. The two adjacent ethnic chains, Cactus Jacks, for Mexican, and Simply Asia, serve surprisingly good (and reasonable) fare. Across the road, Rick's Café Americain (tel. 021/424-1100; www.rickscafe.co.za) is a sociable afternoon hangout where you're likely to end up staying for dinner (start by snacking on the heavenly chili poppers, stuffed with feta and cream cheese). The novel Pasta Factory (tel. 021/423-3003) serves some of the city's best deals on Italian food, and the staff is helpful. If you're a vegetarian, keep heading down Kloof, stopping at the original Vida e Caffé, 34 Kloof St. (tel. 021/426-0627), for a quick espresso and an eyeful of the city's hippest cats quelling their caffeine addiction. (Note: For coffee quality, the top shop in town is Origin, down in De Waterkant). Continuing down into the city, consider stopping for a smoothie at gargantuan Depasco Café Bakery (tel. 021/424-7070; daily 7am-8pm), which faces onto the hectic traffic intersection where Kloof becomes Long Street; diagonally across the road are the Long Street Baths (tel. 021/400-3302), which opened a century ago and still lure locals to Turkish steam rooms and an indoor pool. Cross onto Long Street and you're in a backpacker-filled Soho, coughing up the city's most energetic nightlife. The energy here is palpable, but ignore the frequent offers of cannabis, known here as "dagga," from casual dealers -- it's illegal). Even carnivores should seek out vegetarian Lola's, 228 Long St. (tel. 021/423-0885), where, in their words, "faggy Afro-trash meet to slip-sexy music." The people-watching is unmatched. (Note: Upstairs is Fiction, the hottest club in town.) On the other side of the street, continue farther to Masala Dosa, 167 Long St. (tel. 021/424-6772), where the decor is tongue-in-cheek Bollywood kitsch; the best way to enjoy the South Indian selection is to get a variety of dishes -- a couple of curry-filled sev puris, and a mixed thali (platter) -- to share. The gurana-and-wheatgrass-laced bang lassi isn't quite Goa-worthy, but it's a ballsy pick-me-up nonetheless.
High Tea at the Nellie
High tea at the Mount Nelson (tel. 021/483-1850; R150; daily 2:30-5:30pm) is a Cape Town institution. As you sink into the comfortable armchairs in the elegant chandeliered room, you'll sink your teeth into savory smoked salmon grissini and cucumber sandwiches, as well as sinful tarts, scones, cakes, and tea-themed confectionary such as forest berry tea-infused Turkish delights, green tea cake, and chamomile lemon loaf, served buffet style. Whether you stay indoors and hum along with the tinkling piano or escape to the verdant shady gardens, it's a wonderful way to experience Mount Nelson's gracious ambience and watch those who frequent the place. The experience is even more fabulous now that the loose-leaf teas are supplied by Origin, my top coffee and tea venue in the country; each blend comes to you DIY style with boiling water and an egg timer.
Where Are the Africans?
Although recommended, Africa Café, GOLD, and Moyo (near Stellenbosch) cater primarily to well-heeled foreigners, and visitors come away nonplussed at how European the Cape Town scene is. If you'd like to sample South African cuisine along with other Africans (for considerably less money), head for the balcony of the Pan African Market, Long Street (tel. 021/426-4478), for lunch with the traders. Out of town, in Gugulethu (you'll need to arrange reliable transport to get here), is Mzoli's (tel. 021/638-1355), where you choose your meat (vegetarians strongly cautioned), which is then barbecued al fresco. The place rocks on weekends (although it closes at 8pm), drawing local celebs and politicos, but its fame means that it, too, has become a tourist hotspot. Mzoli's neighbors are forcing the establishment to move (again) because of the noise and traffic problems generated by his venue. More touristy, but still a very unique, authentic, more intimate experience is a meal at Lelapa ("The Home"; 49 Harlem Ave.; tel. 021/694-2681), in Langa, where mother-daughter team Sheila and Monica serve traditional township cuisine to tourists (R105 per head; daily noon-11pm). It's still best to arrange this along with a township tour. In the Hout Bay township of Imizamo Yethu (home to around 14,000 mostly Xhosa-speaking people) is what is probably the most easily accessible township restaurant, Sibanye (tel. 082/568-7978; www.sibanye-restaurant.com; Fri-Sun lunch only). Designed like an artist's take on a typical tin shack, the entrepreneurial project is the brainchild of two friends -- one white, one black -- and an inspiring tale of pioneering efforts to effect social cohesion. It's the only such eatery you can easily drive to (during the day) without fear of getting lost (check out the directions on their website). The three-course set menu costs just R60 and must be booked by the previous day. Another venue worth considering is Ikhaya, serving South African and central African cuisine in the Waterfront's Clock Tower Centre (tel. 021/418-3728). Almost every element, from staff recruitment to the wine choices, is linked to an empowerment initiative, though you're still likely to find the majority of black faces doing the serving. When it comes to social transformation, Cape Town works to a uniquely African rhythm.
Perusing the Wine List
Look out for these wine estates when you're choosing a selection for your table. They consistently turn out good-to-excellent products at less devastating prices than you'd imagine.
The Stalwarts -- Fortunately, in South Africa as in many other wine-producing countries, some wineries consistently turn out good-to-excellent products at reasonable prices, even after sometimes steep restaurant markups. Anything from Fairview falls in this category. Ditto Graham Beck Wines, Jordan Winery, Kanonkop Estate, Neil Ellis Wines, Simonsig Estate, Villiera Wines, Steenberg Vineyards, Hartenberg Estate, and Vergelegen, generally acknowledged as South Africa's leading cellar. Other stalwarts that reliably deliver high quality and value across a spectrum of styles include Beyerskloof, Glen Carlou, Mulderbosch, Rustenberg, Springfield Estate, Thelema Mountain Vineyards, and Boekenhoutskloof (their alternative label, Porcupine Ridge, offers particularly good value). Edgier, but worth a try, is the envelope-pushing Flagstone Winery.
Boutique Wines -- Definitely worth sampling are the boutique wines of De Trafford and Rudera, both owned and run by husband-and-wife teams; Hamilton Russell Vineyards' minerally pinot noir and chardonnay; De Toren's expressive Bordeaux-style reds; and Le Riche Wines' elegant cabernet-based reds. Also impressive are the handcrafted Sadie Family/Sequillo wines; the crystalline whites of Cape Point Vineyards, Paul Cluver Estate, and relative newcomer Oak Valley Wines; the ebullient reds of rising star Raka; and the personality-packed offerings of Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards.
Pick of the Pinotage -- No self-respecting local wine list would be complete without pinotage, South Africa's own variety (now also grown in other countries). The annual Pinotage Top Ten competition regularly elevates such names as Beyerskloof, Kanonkop, Kaapzicht, Tukulu, DeWaal, and L'Avenir. My own top 10 also would include Grangehurst, Laibach, Ashbourne (made by Hamilton Russell Vineyards), Southern Right, and Simonsig. Pinotage also features, to a lesser or greater extent, as a blend partner in an evolving category called the Cape Blend. At their best, these red wines are distinctive and full of character. A tasting of Kaapzicht's Steytler Vision, Vriesenhof's Enthopio, Grangehurst's Nikela, and Welgemeend Estate's Amadé (a pioneer of this genre) will confirm this.
Local Icons -- Regrettably, South Africa cannot yet claim a wine as iconic as a Latour or a cult wine such as Valandraud or Screaming Eagle. Still, we do have a small but growing number of internationally recognized wines, as well as a clutch of new wines that have the potential to attain lasting international repute. For the visiting connoisseur, the established labels to look for certainly include Kanonkop Paul Sauer, Meerlust Rubicon, and Vergelegen Vergelegen (all Bordeaux-style reds), as well as Klein Constantia's ever-superlative nectar, Vin de Constance. Vying for future icon status are a fascinating and varied field, including Boekenhoutskloof cabernet sauvignon, Sadie Family Columella (shiraz/syrah, mourvèdre) and Palladius (chenin blanc, viognier, chardonnay, grenache blanc); Engelbrecht & Els Ernie Els, Capaia Wines Capaia, and Vilafonté Series C and Series M (all Bordeaux-style reds); Rudera's multiawarded chenin blanc; Tokara's instant-hit Red (also a Bordeaux blend) and White (wooded sauvignon blanc); and the seductive cabernet sauvignon-shiraz blend Anwilka, hailed by U.S. critic Robert Parker as "the finest red wine I have ever had from South Africa." All of the above could face stiff competition from a next generation of wines gestating in cellars such as L'Ormarins, revivified by billionaire Johann Rupert, and Glenelly, transformed by the redoubtable hands of May-Eliane de Lencquesaing of Bordeaux's Pichon-Longueville-Comtesse de Lalande.
-- Philip van Zyl, editor of the annual award-winning Platter Guide to Wines, the most respected guide to wine in South Africa
Fish & Chips with Real Cape Locals
Diagonally across from Harbour House is Kalky's (tel. 021/788-1726), the most unpretentious restaurant in Cape Town, attracting a diverse cross-section -- from flat-capped and tattooed roughnecks with foul-mouthed wives to Constantia types twirling their wine glasses and tittering at the large ladies who dispense plates with a great running commentary on patrons. There's a substantial seafood menu, but everyone is here for the succulent fish and chips -- superbly battered, absurdly large -- for a paltry R31 per portion. Order at the till and wait for your number to be screamed out. There's no corkage if you bring your own, so pick up some chilled vino or beer beforehand.
Table Mountain is one big garden, and its "tabletop" makes a great picnic venue, as do the slopes -- particularly at Kirstenbosch Gardens, where sunset concerts are held every Sunday from December to March. You can put together a picnic at the self-service restaurant near the main entrance, but the food is mass produced. For a real feast, take your pick at Melissa's, Kloof Street (tel. 021/424-5540; or visit www.melissas.co.za for the closest outlet to you); Giovanni's, 103 Main Rd., Green Point (tel. 021/434-6893); or Andiamo, at Cape Quarter, De Waterkant (tel. 021/421-3687). The latter two are Italian delis with mouthwatering prepared meals and sandwiches. To picnic on one of Cape Point's deserted beaches, check out the fare at Kalk Bay's Olympia Café (tel. 021/788-6396) on the way there. Or order a picnic hamper from the Picnic Company, to be delivered to your door (tel. 021/706-8470; www.picnics.co.za; R55-R165 per person, depending on your choices, plus R100 delivery to city center).
Great Winelands options are Le Pique Nique (tel. 021/870-4274), at the gorgeous Boschendal Estate (near Franschhoek), where you can buy a hamper filled with local delicacies and spread out on their oak-shaded lawns. Advance booking is essential. An even more beautiful wine estate is Vergelegen, in Somerset West, where picnicking at the tables in the camphor forest is a sublime way to spend a summer afternoon; advance booking is advisable (tel. 021/847-1346; R150 per head; noon-2pm Nov-Apr). Back nearer the city, Jonkershuis, at Groot Constantia, offers a similar service (tel. 021/794-6255).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.