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Travel Tip: Cape Town Hospitality

Top hotels and restaurants just a short distance from South Africa's wine lands

Jane Broughton
Posted: August 19, 2013

Note: This information originally appeared in the July 31, 2013 issue of Wine Spectator.

AUBERGINE
39 Barnet St., Gardens, Cape Town
Telephone: (27) 21-465-4909
Website: www.aubergine.co.za
Open: Lunch, Wednesday to Friday, September to April; dinner, Monday to Saturday, year-round
Cost: Tasting menus $41-$60, with wine pairings $58-$90
Credit cards: All major
Corkage: $9, limit one

The historic neighborhood of Gardens is the setting for Aubergine, an intimate fine-dining restaurant situated in a characterful house typical of the area. A romantic ambience, softly lit interior and excellent service underscore Aubergine's ongoing appeal in a market flooded with new arrivals and trendier offerings. There's a courtyard for fine-weather dining, and a bar, both pleasant spots from which to peruse the extensive local and international wine list, whose many older vintages are supported by a 14,000-bottle cellar. A collection of exclusive house wines, a collaboration between chef-owner Harald Bresselschmidt and a handful of winemakers (including Bruwer Raats, Teddy Hall and Eben Sadie), overdelivers on quality for money, with offerings available by the glass or bottle. Sommeliers are friendly and informed.

The menu is compact, with every dish carefully considered. Chef Bresselschmidt's elegant, unadorned food draws on his Belgian roots, classical European training and love of Asian ingredients. Fusion cuisine can be confusing, but here everything on the plate is perfectly balanced. House specialties featuring eggplant (aubergine) include a light, delicately flavored soufflé with chèvre, as well as a lamb loin and eggplant strudel with a fragrant rhubarb-rosemary sauce. Cape ruby Port is used to marinate cherries served with rhubarb ice cream, and figs join blue cheese sorbet. Coffee is accompanied by dainty confections.

BISTROT BIZERCA
98 Shortmarket St., Heritage Square, Cape Town
Telephone: (27) 21-423-8888
Website: www.bizerca.com
Open: Lunch, Monday to Friday; dinner, Monday to Saturday
Cost: Entrées $12-$19
Credit cards: All major
Corkage: $5; $9 for sparkling wine

When modern bistro food is called for, this owner-run restaurant in a heritage building is a fine choice. It's a favorite of Capetonians, especially for an after-work glass of wine and confidently executed, innovative takes on comfort food. Seating is either in an intimate dining room surrounded by exposed-brick walls, with contemporary chairs and traditional white linen-decked tables, or outdoors in a private courtyard with a tinkling fountain and vertical wall gardens overflowing with salad leaves and herbs for the kitchen.

The kitchen itself is the domain of France-born chef Laurent Deslandes, while the front-of-house is run by his wife, Cyrillia, a gregarious, down-to-earth hostess. Service is polished and personality-driven, with waitstaff dressed in eye-catching floral dresses or pink shirts. A short menu of Bizerca classics—notable are the raw salmon salad, with goat cheese, soy and ginger dressing, and the steak tartare—is augmented by a board of seasonally inspired specials. Offal dishes are a specialty, including deboned pig's trotters in a crisply fried pastry parcel, as well as delicacies such as ox or veal tongue.

The wine list is a tightly edited choice of around 40 wines, including a dozen French table wines, five Champagnes and the rest a premium selection from some of South Africa's most coveted labels. More than half the wines are available by the glass.

BURRATA
The Old Biscuit Mill, 375 Albert Road, Woodstock, Cape Town
Telephone: (27) 21-447-6505
Website: www.burrata.co.za
Open: Lunch and dinner, Tuesday to Saturday, year-round; Monday to Saturday, summer
Cost: Entrées $9-$15
Credit cards: All major
Corkage: $7, limit one

This stylish and inviting restaurant, with an open kitchen and visible wine cellar, places as much emphasis on wine as it does on food. The food, wine and service are more fine-dining than trattoria in quality, but without any stiffness or formality in a setting that features roughly hewn wood, exposed brick and custom-designed lights made from green wine bottles. Burrata's location, in the hip Old Biscuit Mill complex, ensures an eclectic mix of customers and a constant buzz.

Hands-on owner and sommelier Neil Grant lived in San Francisco for seven years and is married to an American. He prides himself on listing lesser-known wines by the glass, and likes to change the wine list frequently to keep it exciting and relevant to the menu offerings. Aside from sparkling wines, the list is exclusively South African and features more than 40 whites and 40 reds. There is always an experienced sommelier on hand with knowledge of local wine regions and varieties.

Taking center stage is a Ferrari-red pizza oven imported from Naples. When fired up, it hits 900° F and cooks a pizza in less than 90 seconds, creating a light, crisp crust. Toppings range from the simple cherry tomatoes, fresh burrata, basil and olive oil of the Pizza Bianca to homemade fennel sausage, caramelized onions, smoked mozzarella and baby spinach. There are also tomato-based pizzas and even dessert pizzas featuring chocolate, roasted figs or caramelized apples. It's not all about pizza, though. Head chef Annemarie Steenkamp, who spent five years working under Margot Janse at Le Quartier Français (a luxury resort in Fransch­hoek), brings creativity and refinement to the modern Italian menu, offering dishes such as risotto with crispy pork, apple and currant vinaigrette; fresh mussels with tagliatelle nero and Prosecco cream; and sirloin with roasted baby onions, peas, bone marrow and salsa verde.

CAPE GRACE
West Quay Road, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town
Telephone: (27) 21-410-7100
Website: www.capegrace.com
Rooms: 117
Suites: 1
Rates: $569-$2,146
Open: (Signal Restaurant) Breakfast, lunch and dinner, daily
Cost: Entrées $9-$32; tasting menu $42, with wine pairings $64
Credit cards: All major
Corkage: $9 (includes local sparkling wine); $27 for Champagne

Cape Grace is the grande dame of the Waterfront, a magnet for tourists and locals alike for its designer shopping and café culture. In addition to being a hot spot, it offers highly personalized service and easy access to some of the Cape's prime wine routes, beaches and tourist attractions.

Wraparound views take in Table Mountain, the central business district, Signal Hill, the Waterfront and the Atlantic Ocean. Bascule, the hotel's cozy whiskey, wine and cocktail bar, has uninterrupted mountain views from its quayside tables and offers live music several times a week in the summer. The bar's abbreviated wine list features 25 South African wines, all available by the glass.

Signal, the only restaurant in the hotel, under executive chef Malika van Reenen, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Service is friendly and personable. Sustainable food practices underpin dishes that showcase the cultures that shaped Cape Town's melting-pot heritage, from French Huguenots to Asian spice traders. Expect dishes such as Cape Malay spiced shellfish broth, springbok loin with spicy mango pickle and rooibos tea-scented lentil jus, and a grown-up version of a British pudding, featuring Pimm's jelly and cucumber sorbet. The wine list has 250 South African wines, 14 Champagnes and a smattering of international labels. Around 100 older vintages and rare wines are stored in the Vinothéque in Bascule.

The hotel's rooms and suites are individually decorated, with richly detailed interiors executed by local artists and artisans and emphasizing the area's history. Complimentary wine tastings are held daily.

ELLERMAN HOUSE
180 Kloof Road, Bantry Bay, Cape Town
Telephone: (27) 21-430 3200
Website: www.ellerman.co.za
Rooms: 11
Suites: 2
Rates: $558-$1,921
Corkage: Not permitted

Ellerman House, a small luxury hotel minutes from beaches and downtown Cape Town, has set the standard for opulent accommodations in South Africa. The immaculate Cape Edwardian mansion boasts breathtaking, uninterrupted views of the Atlantic Ocean, while rooms and suites are sumptuously decorated. The owner's substantial collection of South African art, displayed throughout the hotel, spans more than a century. Contemporary works from an evolving collection are rotated seasonally in the hotel's private gallery, which morphs into a private cinema when required. A solar-heated lap pool is discreetly tucked away on a private terrace, below the hotel's tiered gardens, and is complemented by a full-service gym and spa.

The property also offers a modern, multilevel private villa carved into granite rock, with three bedrooms and a pool, with the option to add an additional two bedrooms on the spa level. A second villa, due to open late this year, will incorporate a vast wine cellar to showcase 6,000 of the hotel's 7,500-bottle collection of South African wines, a dedicated Dom Pérignon cellar and a tasting center where Chilean sommelier Manuel Cabello will offer vertical tastings and provide advice for forays into the winelands. Frequented by the camera-shy, Ellerman House takes guest privacy and security very seriously and is not open to nonguests.

Despite its movie star looks, a relaxed ambience pervades the property. The lounges, bar and library feel like lived-in spaces, and guests are encouraged to get caught with a hand in the cookie jar: A 24-hour guest pantry is stocked with homemade sweet and savory snacks. This home-away-from-home attitude extends to the guest-only restaurant, where chef Veronica Canha-Hibbert indulges individual requests (often for simple comfort food) while producing a daily changing menu of modern gourmet classics incorporating locally sourced organic ingredients.

THE FOODBARN
Noordhoek Farm Village, Village Lane, Noordhoek
Telephone: (27) 21-789-1390
Website: www.thefoodbarn.co.za
Open: Lunch, daily; dinner, Tuesday to Saturday
Cost: Entrées $13-$17
Credit cards: All major
Corkage: $4

The boho beach community of Noordhoek may seem an unlikely place to find top-notch French food. France-born chef-owner Franck Dangereux and his family were already living in the Noordhoek valley, so opening a rustic-chic restaurant and deli in a barn seven years ago made perfect sense. Dangereux's deceptively simple food and the easy, sand-between-your-toes ambience he has created draws a loyal following of both locals and tourists.

The menus evolve with the seasons, daily even. Characteristic dishes include braised veal sweetbreads; roasted rack of lamb with sautéed potatoes, rich basil jus and tapenade; and leek, truffle and shallot risotto with hazelnuts and wild rocket. Some items have stood the test of time: The tempura-style prawns served on a confit tomato, eggplant and avocado tian, finished with a chile-red pepper syrup and basil salsa, is one of the chef's original star dishes from his days in the kitchen at La Colombe, over the mountain.

A meal at the Foodbarn would not be complete without dessert. Among the selections are a dark chocolate and vanilla millefeuille with bitter chocolate gel and tonka bean ice cream, as well as roasted guava and poached quince with almond sabayon and Earl Grey ice cream.

The tightly edited wine list includes a trio of quaffable house wines, eight bubblies, 36 whites and 36 reds, mostly local. The restaurant's proximity to Cape Point Vineyards means that Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay bottlings from grapes grown and produced on the narrow Cape Peninsula are well-represented.

Originally, the Foodbarn included a bakery and deli. The deli has since moved into bigger premises in the same farm village complex, developing its own identity and popularity. It offers everything from breakfasts and decadent cakes to tapas and a wineshop.

THE GREENHOUSE
Cellars-Hohenort Hotel, 93 Brommersvlei Road, Constantia
Telephone: (27) 21-794-2137
Website: www.collectionmcgrath.com
Rooms: 33
Suites: 18 Villa 1
Rates: $472-$2,017
Open: Dinner, Tuesday to Saturday
Cost: Tasting menus $50-$67
Credit cards: All major
Corkage: $6

The Greenhouse is an anomaly in the Cape, where cutting-edge restaurants are rarely attached to hotels. Tucked away in an exclusive, residential part of Constantia, the Greenhouse is the trump card of the Cellars-Hohenort Hotel—one of three Relais & Chateaux properties owned by hotelier Liz McGrath (another is in the nascent wine region of Walker Bay). The restaurant resides in an elegant greenhouse overlooking extensive English-style gardens. Lush potted plants, bold fern-print wallpaper and exquisite tableware set the scene for fine dining that is technically precise without taking itself too seriously. Crudités planted in a miniature flower pot with edible soil, a crayfish custard served in an eggshell, and macaroon lollipops are evidence of executive chef Peter Templehoff's ingenuity and sense of playfulness. Imaginative reductions, emulsions, foams, powders, gels and savory jams make for exciting combinations of texture and flavor. His clutch of attention-grabbing tasting menus are modern expressions of South African cuisine, often employing traditional ingredients in innovative ways.

More than 100 local wines include the best of Constantia Valley, along with other South African wine regions and some international wines. The sommelier works closely with the chef on food and wine pairings and there are 20 wines by the glass.

The Cellars-Hohenort is an exclusive country house hotel with easy access to the Cape Peninsula and the city.

LA COLOMBE AT CONSTANTIA UITSIG
Constantia Uitsig, Spaanschemat River Road, Constantia
Telephone: (27) 21-794-2390
Website: www.constantia-uitsig.com
Suites: 16
Rates: $139-$182
Open: Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost: Entrées $14-$30; seven-course menu $67, with wine pairings $91
Credit cards: All major
Corkage: $5; $8 for Champagne Tasting fee $3 for six wines; refunded with purchase

Located in leafy Constantia Valley, La Colombe on Constantia Uitsig wine farm has been a leading culinary light for the past decade. Chef Scott Kirton serves his French-Asian fusion food in a series of intimate rooms gathered around a sunny courtyard and fountain. An umami broth with langoustine, scallops, fennel and corn salad makes a light but deeply satisfying starter, while three cuts of lamb (roast loin, braised neck and deep-fried sweetbreads) are served with a mix of Mediterranean accompaniments, all beautifully plated on a round of dark slate.

Designed by long-term manager Jennifer Whittle and sommeliers Ewan Mackenzie and Tawanda Marume, the wine list consists of 300 wines, mostly South African, with a smattering of French bottlings. The Constantia Uitsig wines are always available by the glass, along with a changing selection of other labels to match the food, and advice is friendly and accommodating. La Colombe's emphasis on Swartland wines reflects current trends; $39 will get you the Rall White 2011, while a short vertical of the De Toren Fusion V includes a bottle of the 2010 for $74.

RESTAURANT AT BUITENVERWACHTING
Buitenverwachting Wine Estate, Klein Constantia Road, Cape Town
Telephone: (27) 21-794-3522
Website: www.buitenverwachting.com
Open: Lunch and dinner, Monday to Saturday
Cost: Entrées $14-$23
Credit cards: All major
Corkage: $5 Tasting fee $3; refunded with purchase

Bordered by large private residences on the slopes of the Constantiaberg, Buitenverwachting wine estate is reached via a long, winding road lined with rosebush-edged vineyards and venerable oak trees. The mountain-facing restaurant is a magical setting for lunch or an early dinner in summer, before the evening light fades. It recently underwent an impressive transformation in decor—shades of greige and khaki, bamboo floors, designer sofas and large contemporary paintings bring it right up to date—echoed in a menu that has become simpler and lighter too.

Chef Edgar Osojnik's concise menu has a retro feel—steak tartare, Caesar salad, raspberry soufflé and peach melba are all featured—plus a few Austrian specialties, including veal cordon bleu and wiener schnitzel with Austrian-style potato salad. Linefish comes with scallops and bouillabaisse jus; lamb cutlet and noisette with osso buco sauce, potato Lyonnaise, confit eggplant, falafel and green beans. The estate's highly regarded wines, most of which are available by both bottle and glass, make pairing a pleasure with Osojnik's flavorsome, well-balanced plates. The wine list includes popular and rare South African wines, older vintages and a smattering of international choices.

The Coffee Bloc, a gourmet coffee roastery, café and deli opening onto a courtyard with outside seating and a raised pond, is an attractive complement to the tasting center and formal restaurant. Breakfast, light lunches, tapas and teas are served throughout the day. Black Forest cake and Sacher torte are further evidence of the chef's Austrian roots.

THE ROUNDHOUSE
Round House Road (off Kloof Road), The Glen, Camps Bay, Cape Town
Telephone: (27) 21-438-4347
Website: www.theroundhouserestaurant.com
Open: Roundhouse: Lunch, Wednesday to Sunday, May to September; dinner, Tuesday to Saturday, year-round. Rumbullion (October to April only): Breakfast, Friday to Sunday; lunch, Tuesday to Sunday
Cost: Roundhouse: Four-course menu $56; tasting menu $72
Credit cards: All major
Corkage: Not permitted

The Roundhouse is a landmark building, dating to 1786. Steeped in Cape history, it was originally built as a guardhouse and later expanded and used as a hunting lodge, tea room and dance hall. Nestled in the forested glens between Table Mountain and Lion's Head, it's a unique setting close to the city center, with sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean and Camps Bay. Modern cuisine infused with local provenance and seamless service add up to a romantic experience.

The restaurant is divided into an oval dining room, ideal for private parties, and a half moon-shaped room that offers much-coveted sea-view tables beneath windows that fold away on warm evenings.

Chef Eric Bulpitt's classical French training is the foundation for adventurous, often earthy combinations that use local produce. A dish of slow-cooked beef tongue with celeriac puree, whole-grain mustard and nasturtium is typical of his style, which seeks to re-introduce diners to overlooked South African ingredients, prepared in a modern way. Dishes are often pretty, such as a salad of organic raw and pickled vegetables arranged like a miniature garden, with mushroom "soil" and herb emulsion.

The restaurant has an extensive wine cellar, fronted by a 66-page list with 132 South African whites, 129 South African reds and 22 international wines, including lesser-known Champagnes. Emphasis is given to local wines that are excellent expressions of their terroir. There are 25 wines by the glass.

From October to April, the terraced lawns below the restaurant are the setting for Rumbullion, the Roundhouse's more casual eatery, which offers a simple tick-the-box menu for breakfasts, tapas, pizzas and sundowners.

THE TEST KITCHEN
Shop 104A, The Old Biscuit Mill, 375 Albert Road, Woodstock, Cape Town
Telephone: (27) 21-447-2337
Website: www.thetestkitchen.co.za
Open: Lunch and dinner, Tuesday to Saturday
Cost: $7-$18 (lunch à la carte only); three-course menu $40; five-course tasting menu $50 (lunch or dinner), 11-course menu $75 (dinner only); with wine pairings, $77-$113
Credit cards: All major
Corkage: $6, limit one

What started out as a kitchen-cum-lab for stellar chef Luke Dale-Roberts has evolved into the city's edgiest dining room, with 65 seats and a waiting list most nights.

Originality is the watchword here, from the stylish staff uniforms to the surprisingly intimate, warehouse-feel interiors of the Old Biscuit Mill. Many handcrafted design elements, including the lighting and crockery, are unique to the restaurant. An open kitchen sets the scene for dining that is theatrical and entertaining without detracting from the technically precise, creatively inspired tasting menus on offer.

Despite a sometimes bewildering array of ingredients and elements on the plate, in each course a few star ingredients shine through in contrasting textures and layers anchored by bold flavors and confident seasoning. Seasonality and local sourcing are big, but the global style of the food draws on influences and ingredients from East and West.

Like the menus, the wine list changes frequently, a mix of small producers, maverick winemakers and watertight offerings from well-known estates. Nearly all of the 100 selections are South African—the only imports are Champagnes and the chef's favorite Chablis—and a significant number are from the 2009, 2007 and 2001 vintages.

Dale-Roberts made his name at La Colombe, and has a newer venue, the Pot Luck Club, atop the original silo of the Old Biscuit Mill. The 360-degree views of the city are a backdrop to small-plate dining off a menu divided into salty, sour, bitter, umami and sweet flavors. Inspired by the chef's travels from South America to Asia, it's a clever take on modern world tapas.


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