I recently read an article that made the point that eating in a big city, anywhere in the globe, will reward the diner with same flavor profiles, if not exactly the same dishes. Chefs talk to each other, they read about each other, imitate each other, to the point that you can have similar meals in Barcelona or Sydney. I would venture to concur. Even the architecture and decor of restaurants everywhere is becoming homogenous. The same words are on the lips of diners in Los Angeles or Paris: locavore, seasonal, organic…avocado on toast. During the two weeks I spent in South Africa, steered by sofagirl, I ate at quite a few spots that served honest, in-season and delicious food that was both familiar but also reminded me I was very many miles away from home.
The Kitchen , in Cape Town’s Woodstock neighborhood, is a vegetarian paradise. I remember eating there years ago, before Michelle Obama put it on foreigners’ maps by stopping to have lunch with her daughters, and nothing much has changed. A jumble of mismatched dishes and pottery and limited seating space that somehow always yields a spot, the deli counter is a sight for sore eyes: interesting salads one can combine in plates of three or five items. The grilled butternut squash and the sweet potato salads were two of my favorites. They also serve scrumptious sandwiches on artisanal breads and meats, such as chicken and sausages. Best value for price.
Flora’s, in tiny McGregor, calls itself an eating house and gallery. Housed in a cottage along the main road, you walk through three rooms filled with nature prints and tasteful objects for the house (which make for nice gifts) before getting to the actual eatery (there is also a nice patio outside). The stove was lit when we walked in for brunch, the oatmeal was the way I like it, loaded with fruit and nuts and honey, the ambiance so cozy and inviting that I could see myself hanging at those tables, Summer and Winter alike, for hours on end.
Also in McGregor, we had dinner at a spot called Karoux, which is possibly the kind of place I would open myself if I were inclined to open a restaurant. Also lodged in a cottage, run by husband (behind the stove) and wife (front of the house) team, it’s like being welcomed at someone’s house. The small menu is on a blackboard, everything is seasonal and the roasted cauliflower – the centerpiece of a vegetarian entrée – roasted in the newly installed pizza oven, was divine. The homemade bread disappeared in seconds. The pork chops were juicy and tender. Everything was so good, we couldn’t pass up dessert (mine was poached pear with a very dark and silky chocolate mousse).
The Old Biscuit Mill on Saturdays has become a Cape Town institution, with crowds to match. Really, you could be in Brooklyn, if not for some of the local fares on offer. An old mill turned into covered market, it’s the perfect place to go for brunch or lunch and sample one – or three – dishes from the stands. Then sit at one of the long communal tables, with a beer or a smoothie, and watch the crowds.
Sofagirl is a big fan of Woolworths, the department store, that boasts a very attractive food department. Maybe because everything is packaged so nicely, or maybe because it all looks new to me, I would buy everything. But there are two edible items I can definitely vouch for: rusks and fruit rolls. Rusks are the South African version of biscotti but bigger and plainer. If made right – most recipes use buttermilk – they are the perfect combination of crunch and airy and ever so perfect to dip into tea or coffee. After having eaten my way through several rusks from all over, Woolworth’s remain my favorite. I also load up on their guava and pear rolls – essentially fruit pulp that is pressed and turned into rolled up leather-looking strips. The best snack. (If you go, check out the clothes too: I always find pretty bargains).