Everything tastes better out of doors
Whether it’s a courtyard or a garden, in the city or the countryside, inland or at the coast, we’ve got you covered.
Is there anybody who, when given the choice, will choose to sit indoors at a restaurant when there is outside seating available? And if so, why? Don’t even get me started on places inside shopping malls, a circle in my own personal hell filled with fake light, fake air, trolleys, prams, noise and aimlessly wandering zombies.
Being outdoors is always better: more often than not there’s a view to enjoy; additionally it brings with it a sense of lightness and freedom. It’s relaxing to feel a little sun on the skin (not too much, bring me the umbrella) and a cool breeze on the face. In summer 2021 there is the added benefit of not being in enclosed spaces full of germs.
My little black book – a completely outdated concept in the digital age but you know what I mean – is filled with places where I can eat and drink under the sun or the stars. Before I picked 10, which are featured here alphabetically, I asked the internet for some more ideas; specifically the Cape Town Eats group on Facebook, which has proven to be a wonderful resource for all things local food. The result was a massive list which illustrated how many magnificent choices we have.
Capetonians are lucky; we already have the amazing scenery so it’s not too hard to find somewhere pretty to sit for a cup of coffee, or a three-course meal. And it doesn’t always have to be about the mountain or the sea…
Wine farms are easy and obvious when you’re thinking of heading for the great outdoors, with all their picnics and platters and such. It’s difficult to find one that doesn’t have a great view, it kind of goes with the territory, which generally includes rolling vineyards. The tasting room and restaurant at Constantia Glen (in Constantia funnily enough) is perched on one side of a deep valley. It’s a boutique winery, making but only four wines – Sauvignon Blanc, TWO (Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon), THREE (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc), and FIVE, my favourite, my indulgence, the flagship blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot.
The venue is famous for its hearty soups and goulash in winter, and flammkuchen (German pizza) all year around. There’s a proper menu with proper dishes like sirloin, beer battered fish with chips, trout on rosti and so on, but even though it doesn’t require a great measure of skill to arrange stuff on a board, I love the cheese and charcuterie platter to pick at leisurely with a glass of wine.
ëlgr is a lockdown success story. It opened in Kloof Street at the end of 2020 and went straight into early curfew and an alcohol ban. Horrendous. Even so, my first visit was at that time and it’s still one of the best meals I’ve had.
It’s where Janse & Co used to be, and before that, if you’ve lived long enough, it was Ocean Basket. You walk through the restaurant to get to the courtyard out back, which is simply glorious on a warm evening. Swedish chef Jesper Nilsson has created a menu of “small” plates which are generous for sharing. The current menu has dishes like lamb rib with honey, salsa verde and lemon; and kingklip with black olives, baby marrow, tomato, and salami chili. Six of the 14 dishes are vegetarian. Finish with chocolate sorbet with olive oil and salt.
For decades and generations we’ve been told not to swim immediately after eating. It was something that struck great fear into my heart as a child, like quicksand and the Bermuda Triangle. It’s one of the biggest lies our parents ever told us. Supposedly we’d get cramps and drown, but while any kind of physical exertion directly after eating can be uncomfortable, it’s unlikely to kill us. I’m telling you this because when you go to Ficks in Hermanus, you’ll want to dip and paddle in the tidal pool below the craggy rock face to which the restaurant clings, and you should be able to do it with joy and lightness. I don’t think there can be any other option here besides being outside.
It’s where time will pass most pleasantly with cocktails in hurricane glasses, with a parade of pinchos to soak them up.
Also on the water’s edge is Ons Huisie in Blouberg. It’s a heritage site, and the old house has a rustic whitewashed feel. The menu is West Coast style with prawns and potjies, and homely comforts like fish and chips, Eisbein, and calamari. Sister restaurant On The Rocks has the world famous view of Table Mountain from its deck on the, well, rocks.
Darling isn’t very big to begin with, but it’s still nice to find a wine farm on the outskirts of its suburbia. People in Constantia might feel the same way but frankly, the whole of Darling village could fit inside a few Constantia properties.
Ormonde is at the end of a residential road (the one I happened to be staying in the last time I was there, so that was super convenient). Tip: it’s a lovely little stroll but take your car if you want to buy wine. I made this stupid mistake because it was a beautiful day and it made me feel smug to walk. As a result, I could only buy one bottle of wine – the Ondine Cabernet Franc 2015, sublime. Oh I’ll just go back tomorrow and get some more I told myself cheerfully as it slipped down my throat like satin. Except tomorrow was Sunday and they’re not open.
There’s a deck with couches and umbrellas, and at a suitable distance, a play area for children. With a platter of snacks, it’s an acceptable way to spend an afternoon.
From hot and dry to cool and calm, Montebello Design Studio in Newlands is literally in a forest. It has arts and craft studios and workshops, a historic greenhouse and nursery, and two restaurants: The Gardener’s Cottage and Picnic Café & Deli. I’ve more recently been to the latter, which is new-ish. There are a couple of tables inside but the idea is to order from the counter – sandwiches, salads, pastries and treats – and take a seat outside while you wait. Your food is brought to you in a picnic basket which you can tuck into right there, or take a blanket and find a quiet place between the trees. If, like me, you are not a fan of small humans, this is preferable because there’s a huge play area for them. Don’t get me wrong – it’s great for those that need it. Just not my thing.
I can see Quince, in the Little Orchard Nursery in Diep River – on the banks of it actually – from my house, if it’s a week the council has come to cut down the reeds that line the river.
If I have to choose one word for Quince, it’s generosity. Dishes are huge. I like the Gardener’s breakfast (served till noon) which is two eggs, bacon, beef sausage, tomato, herbed mushrooms and fries (sweet potato or potato). It’s the fries that attract me, can you tell? Chips at breakfast are very underrated. The towering burgers are outrageously good, and tartines – open sandwiches on sourdough – are a speciality. Plus there’s a little deli crammed with biscuits, jams, and all the other goodies you’d expect. Plus plus you get to potter around the plants. Inside is cute and cottagey (part of the original Waterford farmhouse I believe), and outside has been expanded to the lawns behind the building, as well as the shaded courtyard.
Sometimes this now-suburbanite heads back to the City Bowl, where I was introduced to The Dark Horse the other day. It’s affiliated with The Black Sheep, both in Kloof Street. The Dark Horse has the kind of interior that will keep the gaze occupied for ages, and up the stairs is a small rooftop deck with a sweeping view of Table Mountain.
It’s mainly small plates (and lots of drinks) plus two burgers. A plate of chips has a sense of being retro and adolescent, but when they’re thick cut and served with roasted garlic mayo and not from the Wimpy it can almost seem like you’ve grown up a bit. We enjoyed crisp asparagus and parmesan rolls, and a bunch of other things that aren’t on the menu now but which I’d order in a heartbeat. Like crispy whitebait with lemon. Perhaps I’d even go so far as to have a glass of Sauvignon Blanc with that.
Out in Stellenbosch, one of my faves is The Fat Butcher, and it’s courtyard is a breathtaking fairyland of strings of light at dusk. The meats are outstanding, and you can get starters like skaapstertjies (lambs’ tails) and beef cheeks. For mains, signature steaks with sauces, or classic cuts with side dishes – among them a braaibroodjie – are the way to go. I recommend the lamb ribs, which the menu promises to be falling off the bone. They’re not lying.
As I said at the beginning, a great outdoor venue doesn’t necessarily have to be pretty. It can be on a street corner in Maitland between crazy traffic a block away and industrial businesses. That’s where you’ll find Urban Playground. Run by chefs from Sense of Taste cooking school on the other side of the parking lot, there’s nothing dodgy about the food. I’m lifting the lid on this not-so-secret place to tell you it serves kick-ass pizzas – yes, unashamedly with pineapple, but other toppings too – and things like pork belly Asian-style, Eisbein with mash and purple cabbage and mustard because how else do you eat it, and Lebanese flatbreads. For breakfast there is black pudding, and if you can find a 700ml soup for R45 anywhere else, let me know. Eat at the window counter, or look for space at a table behind the kitchen. If you give them 48 hours’ notice, you can get a whole Peking duck with all the trimmings.
It’s starting to feel a lot like a festive season. DM/TGIFood
The writer supports Ladles Of Love, which in six years, has grown from serving 70 meals at its first soup kitchen