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The West Coast Beach Barbecue

For dining, a meal at one of the West Coast alfresco restaurants is an unforgettable experience: Sitting on the beach breathing in the aroma of seafood on hot coals and the fresh sea breeze, you drink in the sun and the sound of seagulls, sink deeper in the sand as course after course keeps flowing, and lick your fingers clean (scrubbed mussel shells are often the only cutlery provided). Your only worry will be how you're ever going to manage to save enough space for the crayfish still to come. These eateries are so informal they're hardly restaurants, but if you like casual dining and don't mind sharing your space with strangers, they're well worth trying out. The food, prepared in the manner of a huge beach barbecue, is excellent and usually consists of several kinds of fish cooked in various ways (sometimes with jam, a West Coast specialty); bokkoms (salted, dried harders, or small fish), with grapes, mussels, calamari, paella, waterblommetjiebredie (water lily stew); and crayfish. There's also piping-hot white bread baked on the beach and served with fresh farm butter and a number of fruit preserves -- this is the killer; you'll want to devour an entire loaf, much to the detriment of the remaining courses. The huge 3-hour meal will cost in the region of R175 per person; crayfish will add R35 (a half) to R70 to the bill.

Of the West Coast alfresco restaurants, Muisbosskerm (tel. 027/432-1017; www.muisbosskerm.co.za) is still the best. On the beach 5km (3 miles) south of Lambert's Bay on the Eland's Bay Road (3 hr. from Cape Town), this is where the open-air West Coast restaurant concept was born -- for years Edward and Elmien Turner had simply shared their favorite food with friends on the beach, and in 1986 they decided to broaden their guest list. Tertius and Ian are now in charge, but the food is still delicious, and you can usually count on a selection of fresh linefish, grilled and baked; fresh green mealies in season; local potatoes and sweet potatoes; pots of stew (in winter season, waterblommetjiebredie often features); crayfish (in season); mussels; and the legendary West Coast breads and preserves. It's a long drive home after a meal like this, so head for Paternoster. Booking ahead is essential -- especially as it's not open every night and seating is at set times.

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.