Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Cape Town Culinary Highlights

Cape Town is a city full of wonderful eateries. I’ll admit, I was pretty sick of crackers and peanut butter by the time we reached there too. That certainly helped cast the pretty seaside city as a culinary Mecca! Its repertoire is diverse, ranging from cozy cafés to touristy “African fare” joints and posh fusion restaurants. The city has an up-and-coming dining out scene that even critics in established foodie cities are noticing. So, as Melissa planned our travel along the Garden Route, I plotted an (equally important?) culinary itinerary to sample Cape Town’s many offerings during our four days in town.

A fan of locally-owned cafés with lots of character, I found plenty of places to enjoy a cup of coffee or light foods in CT. Mr. Pickwick’s Deli on Long Street was one of my favorites. The joint turns into a chill bar in the evenings too, where you can enjoy a nice glass of South African wine and read about upcoming concerts and art events. Afro Café, on the antique-covered Church Street, offers amazing salads (see picture). I can practically still taste one that Melissa ordered, which had warmed goats cheese, beets, mint and rocket with seeds.

Frieda’s Café, on Bree Street, dishes up heart and stomach-warming comfort foods with a new twist. The décor inside was also memorable – like a modern cafeteria, the café has an open central seating area replete with long tables, but garnished with the decorative charms of a comfy home. Check out the Mustard Seed just across the street for great sandwiches too!

But the dining experience I remember most was our last night in town, when we treated ourselves to dinner at the Savoy Cabbage Restaurant & Champagne Bar. A “New South African” restaurant, it’s one of CT’s most celebrated – and for good reason. I’m joining its throngs of international fans. Elegant without overwhelming, the restaurant’s exposed brick contrasts with modern glass and metal fixtures, and bespeaks a casual-chic that’s also conveyed in the menu options. The ambiance is polished but laid back enough to enjoy meals with friends and family without frills or excessive formality. The Savoy Cabbage's L-shaped dining room is split into two levels with a slight view of the kitchens. That’s where the restaurant’s cooking staff works its magic, capturing the flavors of seasonal South African ingredients in masterfully melded dishes.

Take my favorite starter, for instance, a tomato tart with a practically perfect crust. Simple, but well executed and full of flavor. Some dishes incorporate unexpected flavor combinations. We tried one starter of chicken liver pate coupled with stewed plums and artisanal bread which was unusual but delicious. Chef Peter Pankhurst even managed to make tripe appetizing! My friend Paul braved a main course of tripe cooked in a smoky, tangy flavored tomato sauce that has made him a dedicated fan of this difficult-to-make-appetizing cut of meat. I was very pleased with my choice as well, a filet of yellowfish prepared with a light herb sauce, potatoes and sugar snap peas. The restaurant’s wine list was equally stellar – I enjoyed a glass of Lourensford Sauvignon Blanc 2004 with my meal, a nice complement to the light fish, and which was perhaps the best SB I’ve had in recent memory.

From décor to food and drink pairings, owner Caroline Bagley and her team have done a great job. After traveling across the globe to the southern tip of Africa, I found a dining experience to rival some of my favorites in New York, San Francisco and Boston alike. If you make it there before I manage a return visit, enjoy a meal (or two) there for me!

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