Wining & Dining on the Waterfront

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What’s cooking at the V&A Waterfront? Graham Howe eats his way around the hottest new restaurants and a few of his old favourites among the eighty bistros, cafés, grill houses, micro-breweries and wine bars in Cape Town’s new culinary epicentre. By Graham Howe

You can travel around the world in eighty days at the V&A Waterfront. A culinary marathon takes your taste buds globetrotting from Africa to Asia, the Americas, Europe and beyond – exploring the old world of Austria, Belgium, France, Italy, Greece, Portugal and Spain, and the new world of China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico and Thailand – without leaving the precincts of Table Bay. Sampling all eighty restaurants would test anyone’s appetite, stamina and spending power. Decisions, decisions. Dining at the V&A Waterfront is not for the indecisive. Visitors are spoiled for choice from an A-Z of fine dining to fish ‘n chips, family bistros, microbrewery pubs, tapas and wine bars, seafood, steaks and sushi, pasta, pizza and pancakes.

Whatever you’re looking for, you’re bound to find it with fare for every pocket. The view is on the house – with many alfresco terraces on restaurant row offering a spectacular vista of Table Mountain, the city bowl and Table Bay. The seals, seagulls and tug horns provide the ambient soundtrack of a working harbour. New restaurants open every season, chefs play musical chairs, and old favourites get a makeover. We’ll start with the new kids on the block who are the talk of the town. Sevruga (021 418 2948), sister restaurant to Beluga, is a stylish newcomer to the V&A Waterfront. Set on quay four with great views, the restaurant, cocktail and wine bar is one of the trendiest meting-places in the city. Named after its signature caviar dish, the global menu is fresh and cutting edge, highlighting the flavours of seasonal ingredients served as artily as the chic space with its wine walls, minimalist white and green tones, groovy lighting and plush upholstery. The decor alone is intoxicating.

Signal (021 418 0520), the newest restaurant at the V&A Waterfront, opened in time for the summer season. The fine dining restaurant at the Cape Grace, formerly known as onewaterfront, has had a complete makeover down to the antique porcelain, heritage artefacts and aged yellowwood which recreates the trading house ambience of the Dutch East India Company. Named after the noon gun on Signal Hill, it pays tribute to the Cape’s role as a refreshment station on the spice route – with a fine dining menu focused on the flavours of traditional Cape game, fish and poultry. For authentic Italian fare, head for Meloncino (021 419 5558), the newest star on the alfresco restaurant row on quay five, alongside old favourites like The Greek Fisherman (021 418 5411) and the superb Portuguese Tasca de Belem (021 419 3009). Family-friendly favourites for unpretentious, good-value comfort food. Meloncino is an upmarket venue for gourmet Italian specialties cooked on open-fire grills. One of my own favourite Italian restaurants is the Hildebrand (021 425 3385), a landmark for superb Italian fare for over forty years now set in the original Harbour Café building (circa 1897).

Salero (021 421 1916), a stylish new tapas bar, adds a splash of Spain, rounding off the Mediterranean zone at the V&A Waterfront. The annual V&A Waterfront Restaurant Awards might help you decide where to eat. Good cuisine starts at home with contemporary South African cuisine at Emily’s (021 421 1133), a showcase for haute cuisine and fine wines, winner of the de luxe category. Set in the Clock Tower quarter, it offers elevated views of the Victoria Bridge with local venison, seafood and influences on an expensive plate. Or head to nearby Ikhaya (021 418 3728) for authentic African fare and hospitality – or The Green Dolphin (021 421 7471), a stage for live local jazz and superb seafood. Set on the pier overlooking Alfred Basin, Den Anker (021 419 0249), a delightful Belgian restaurant and bar, offers one of the best views of the city bowl.

Winner of this year’s smart category, it specialises in a wide range of Belgian beers on tap and in the bottle, with a signature mussel pot served with frites and mayonnaise – as well as great seafood. Enjoy a romantic sundowner on the terrace on a hot summer’s night. Beer connoisseurs should drop into two popular micro-breweries which serve good pub fare – the Ferrymans Tavern (021 419 7748) for Mitchell’s Beer and good English fare – and Paulaner Brauhaus (021 418 9999) renowned for beer, wurst and eisbein. Set in the Victoria Wharf Mall, Willougby’s & Co (021 418 6115) is a landmark for great sushi and sashimi. Winner of the best casual category in this year’s awards, this unpretentious little venue is a theatre of sushi prepared in front of your eyes by skilled Japanese chefs – though they also do fish ‘n chips for those who like their seafood cooked. Sushi connoisseurs should also sample Balducci’s Royal Sushi Bar (021 421 6002), Cape Town Fish Market & Sushi Bar (021 418 5977) in the Kings Warehouse. When you eat this close to the sea, seafood has to be on any visitor’s agenda.

If  you’re after the best fish’ n chips at the V&A Waterfront, join the families at Fisherman’s Choice (021 421 4866). The harbour and mountain views from Oyo (021 419 6677) at the Victoria & Alfred Hotel are also sublime. Talk about seafood with a view. Whether you dine alfresco on the quayside or inside the historic wharfhouse, Oyo is famous for its crayfish special over season served five-ways which is great value. I also enjoy Baia (021 421-0935), a grand restaurant spread across four covered terraces in Victoria Wharf with spectacular views of Table Bay.

Baia (meaning the Bay) specialises in fresh seafood and shellfish. Seafood-lovers flock here for the choice of oysters, west-coast mussels, crayfish, Mozambican prawns and langoustines on a menu inspired by the flavours of colonial Portuguese cuisine. Specialties tempt with bisque, bouillabaisse and a signature baby kingklip as well as meatier fare. Last but not least, wine connoisseurs will enjoy Belthazar (021 421 3753), a contemporary grillhouse and seafood restaurant on the terrace at Victoria Wharf. Owned by Balducci’s (021 421 6002), a popular sister restaurant nearby, house specialties include oysters, mussels, prawns, langoustines, lobster and linefish – and Karan beef aged in-house at the butcher’s shop. Belthazar, the largest wine bar in the world, serves up to 240 wines by the glass, recreating the ambience of a wharf warehouse, with a romantic terrace lit by hurricane lamps overlooking the harbour.

* For more info see Eat Drink 2008/9, a new guide to venues at the V&A Waterfront – or see all locations and opening times online at www.waterfront.co.za/eat


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