Deciding where to stay and eat in Cape Town is as hard, if not more, as choosing the perfect gift, where to go on your next holiday or which new pieces to splurge on for the season. Overwhelming? Yes. Doable? Absolutely! With endless options – literally – a little knowledge and direction is a must. So, here’s our editor’s tried-and-tested guide to her favourite spots in her hometown, including a smart city inn overlooking the vibrant V&A Waterfront and a cutting-edge Japanese-style fine dining restaurant where every course is a taste explosion and leaves you wanting more.
WHERE TO STAY
Editor’s pick: The Onyx Apartment Hotel
Best for: City slickers, lovers of good times and fans of fine food and drink
Curving around Heerengracht Street, The Onyx Apartment Hotel has an unbeatable location, directly across from the Cape Town International Convention Centre and beside Cape Town’s oldest thoroughfare. The sleek architecture camouflages well against its inner-city surrounds and is refreshingly low-rise for a luxury hotel. Once inside, the smart studios and cool condos set the scene. We recommend booking one of the dramatic, elegant one- or two-bedroom apartments – between the view and the décor, you’ll love waking up here. With a playful approach to contemporary design, these lavish apartments turn heads and make a strong case for monochromatic colour schemes – think a refined black-and-white feel with unique décor, surfaces in a range of textures and clean lines that are equal parts modern and cosy. While the bedrooms are relaxed in character, they’re perfectly clean in design. Craving some deep, restorative sleep? The temperature-controlled rooms have you covered with sensuous 300-thread-count linen to help you nod off. In the spacious bathrooms, a deep tub, plush bathrobes and Ben Sherman products infused with botanical extracts up the luxe factor. The room service menu, from the downstairs foodie favourite MRKT, doesn’t mess around. Gone are the days of boring continental breakfasts – instead, they say “good morning” with berry muesli bowls, generously-filled breakfast wraps, coconut and passionfruit smoothie bowls and French toast topped with almond butter and crispy bacon. If your only breakfast requirement is a caffeine jolt, you can get your fix whether your order is a soy latte or flat white. Supper is at YU Asian Tapas & Bar, inspired by the cosiness of a traditional Japanese kitchen or dining room. There’s a lot to love about this Asian fusion eatery: For starters, it has the relaxed vibe of a bistro, but the stylings of a modern restaurant – the ideal setting for sublime food made from premium ingredients. Easy on the eye and ambitiously out-there in terms of flavours, our top picks on the menu are the hoisin calamari; soft-shell crab; Asian mushroom dim sum; perfect, fluffy beef short rib bao with chilli, garlic and oyster sauce; and the spicy California rolls topped with popcorn shrimps, spicy mayo and tamarind. Bookings are essential!
57 Heerengracht Street, Cape Town
021 205 6699
Dock House Boutique Hotel & Spa
Best for: Quality-seekers with the resources to pay for the best
Tranquil and refined, Dock House Boutique Hotel & Spa knows how to cosset customers, beginning by immediately greeting guests with valets and bellmen, giving fast and attentive service. Charming, with the feeling of a country getaway – even though it’s a stone’s throw away from the V&A Waterfront, with excellent shopping, dining and entertainment options all within strolling distance – this hotel is fabulous for special occasions and staycations. It aims to please with elegant (not flashy) rooms and public spaces. Yes, there are crystal chandeliers and acres of marble, but orchids, an intimate dining room and a serene pool scene soften the space. Inside the Luxury Suites, all done in creamy beiges and whites, it’s even better. Serene and luxurious; glamorous without being grandiose – the guest rooms have wood floors, gilt mirrors, shimmering chandeliers as well as quirky features like plum furnishings in the bathrooms, against a soothing palette of various shades of white and grey. Three of the five rooms are blessed with balconies overlooking Table Bay, and it’s worth asking for one of these when booking. There’s also the small but lovely Sanctuary Signature Spa – offering aromatherapy massages, QMS Medicosmetics facials, full-body salt scrubs and detox wraps – and, crucially, very good toasted sandwiches on the room-service menu for those evenings when you find yourself returning from lunch at 21h00. Breakfasts of fruit, cereal and hollandaise-drenched poached eggs are served in a sunny corner of the terrace, where in the evening guests inevitably converge for a gin and tonic. Cape Town’s sea air works up one’s appetite like nowhere else, so after sundowners, slip downstairs to Ginja, where you can expect panko-crumbed prawns, smoked tuna and whole baked fish.
Portswood Close, Portswood Ridge, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
021 421 9334
Hippo Boutique Hotel
Best for: Tremendous value and a great base for exploring
You don’t need the deepest pockets to find the most deeply stylish pads. Up in Gardens, a hilly neighbourhood of steeply winding roads, apartment blocks and bobbing bougainvillea, there’s a hotspot on the block. Around a minute’s walk from iconic Kloof Street, and less than five minutes from Cape Town CBD, Hippo Boutique Hotel (a member of Cape Country Routes) is at the centre of it all. Restaurants and bars crowd the road, generating an intense atmosphere, but push through the glass door and step inside a supremely soothing haven that diffuses the action from the street for an immediate sensory shift. The hotel’s fresh style and affordability has grabbed the attention of a steady stream of solo and young travellers. With its quirky, contemporary rooms and suites, dressed with eye-popping murals and a blast of urban aesthetic, a stay here might just unleash the inner artist (or even child) in you. For the full experience, book one of the double-volume lofts, such as the Red Bull, Mini Cooper or Vida e Caffè suite, and you’ll be surprised at how intimate your stay is. Despite the zingy streaks of colour and eclectic objects, they’re not kitsch: Neutral walls allow the artworks to sing and the bathrooms are sparkling white. Plus, the beds are so comfortable you’ll want to order one for your own home! The lack of an in-house restaurant nudges the shy and tired towards The Fat Cactus next door, where jugs of frozen margaritas and a Tex-Mex-leaning menu makes it hard to resist. Also on the same road is Thali, which will transport you to the fragrant streets of Delhi and has a please-all menu of regional Indian dishes ranging from spinach bhaji with herb dressing and date and tamarind chutney to fried fish tacos and chicken curry. Afterwards, linger late into the night with an exquisitely tart martini at Asoka just up Kloof Street.
5-9 Park Road, Gardens
021 423 2500
WHERE TO EAT
Best for: Wow-inducing dishes featuring unique ingredients you’ve never tried before
Downtown, the swank FYN Restaurant is high-concept and high-priced, but it’s worth it for the luxe interpretation of Japanese specialties. In fact, to aficionados of Japanese fare and serious food lovers, it’s a priceless experience. An open kitchen, polished green marble tops, hand-charred ash wood, soft leather, moody lighting and a hanging installation inspired by the soroban (a Japanese abacus) set the stage for the standout multi-course menu. There are elegant nooks, but if you’d like your kaiseki with a side of theatrics, we suggest booking seats at the kitchen counter. Seeing the masterful chefs at work is a beautiful sight – the way they slice through each piece of glistening fish with exacting precise. Things kick off with a bento box consisting of daikon maki, prawn gyoza, blonde miso soup and tebasaki, served with slightly sweet sake. Ostrich egg chawanmushi with shiitake mushrooms and truffle shoy tastes of earthiness, while another dish – sashimi of local fish – shines brightly with a West Coast seaweed salad. Organic tomatoes from Meuse Farm in Hout Bay drizzled with refreshing, citrusy shiso ponzu and topped with koji oil and tofu cream echo chef Peter Tempelhoff’s passion for sustainability. The bread course – a black binchotan (Japanese charcoal) Hokkaido milk bun with chicken liver crémeux was one of our personal favourites, as was the exquisitely delicate chokka swimming with Adam’s figs and sweet Thai basil in ramen broth and ink and garlic sauce. Served with rice and burdock root, ferments and pickles, the two main course options – free-range beef fillet or binchotan grilled sustainable fish – both showcase artful compositions of incredibly tasty food marked with South African verve. The caramelised yoghurt and yuzu pear-topped Japanese cheesecake served alongside intriguing black sesame ice cream and Tokyo banana sponge cake is the perfect finish: Slightly sweet, with a hint of savoury.
5th Floor, Speakers Corner, 37 Parliament Street, Cape Town
021 286 2733
Salsify at The Roundhouse
Best for: A four-course extravaganza that’s all about local and seasonal sourcing
A contemporary, art deco-inspired space within the context of The Roundhouse heritage building that’s steeped in history, Salsify at The Roundhouse excels at seasonal fine dining with a modern twist. We recommend settling in for the four-course menu paired with boutique wines in the Sea Room – an airy dining room with reupholstered antique chairs in colonial blue, red, mustard and olive-green velvets, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The menu changes often, however, our recent meal included confit tuna belly, pan-roasted kabeljou, cured lamb rib and loin, and whipped orange cheesecake. The simple confit tuna belly, drizzled with opal basil dressing and served with heirloom tomatoes and beer crackers, is a testament to how clean and fresh executive chef Ryan Cole’s flavours are. For the second course, try the pan-roasted kabeljou with smoked snoek and apricot as well as potato and curry leaf emulsion, which shows off the menu’s local influences. Or, the slow-cooked pork belly with glazed chestnuts, red cabbage and Szechuan crackling for something a bit more indulgent. We also loved some of the simpler dishes, like the kapokbos cured lamb rib and loin with toasted Parmesan and garlic and a pine nut and sultana dressing. Dessert is to-die-for, particularly the outstanding, smooth-as-velvet whipped orange cheesecake plus a burnt white chocolate macaroon and litchi sorbet with toasted coconut. If you’re visiting for dinner on a warm evening, it’s well worth pausing on the velvet couches overlooking the lawns first for one of the master mixologist’s craft cocktails, such as a pineapple and tonka margarita. The wine list doesn’t disappoint either – boutique labels share space with local favourites and prices are fair. What’s more, service from the friendly staff – dressed in preppy button-downs – is efficient and utterly charming. Timing is spot on and everyone knows the details and intricacies of the menu.
The Roundhouse, Roundhouse Road, Camps Bay
021 010 6444
Best for: The kind of fantasy long lunches we all need in our lives in the gourmet capital
Franschhoek boasts many hotels with superb dining. One of the best is the beautifully appointed Protégé at Le Quartier Français, where head chef Jess van Dyk pulls out all the stops. This casual fine-dining restaurant under the guidance of La Colombe Restaurant’s Scot Kirton aims to deliver the chef’s haute cooking with more affordable prices. Yet ‘casual’ here still means cushioned chairs, exquisite glassware, an open kitchen to see the full theatrics and touches of wood, cream, green and gold. Weather permitting, lunch is served on a spectacular terrace with far-reaching views of the garden and mountain. The service is notably warm and the dishes are refined but sumptuous – springbok tartare with mushroom, black pepper, salsa verde and spiced crackers; zingy steamed mussels in a lip-smacking spicy Thai broth with toasted sourdough. The best thing about Protégé is that you can try as many tapas-style dishes as you want, and always order more. To get the most of the flavours, we suggest ordering a range of dishes to share. Among the signature dishes: The buttery and delicious umami oysters; gently seared gamefish tataki with coconut, shallot sambal and crispy leeks; delightfully rich wagyu potstickers filled with flavours of peanut, Szechuan, daikon and smoked bone broth; and a magically light roti enveloping a slab of sticky pork and miso aubergine oozing with chipotle mayo. Just don’t miss the Korean fried chicken served with a luscious coriander-infused whipped buttermilk for a thrilling kick. For dessert, the silky textured baked cheesecake with coconut, raspberry and lime leaf leaves and indelible impression, as does the rich salted chocolate mousse artfully plated with cocoa nibs and passionfruit. This is the kind of avant-garde food that provokes involuntary gasps when it’s placed before diners. Each plate pairs perfectly with wine and MCC from the Franschhoek-focused wine list.
18 Huguenot Road, Franschhoek
021 224 0801