Tapas-style eating might have originated in the taverns of Spain in the late 1800s, but right now it’s all the rage in the Mother City, which is hardly surprising… With its sunshiney climate, excellent wine, and laidback lifestyle, Cape Town is perfectly suited to this leisurely communal eating experience.
The original tapas were slices of bread that bar drinkers would use to cover their glasses between sips to keep the flies out (the Spanish word tapar means “to cover”). Traditionally, tapas were served as starters, hot or cold, and eaten with fingers or a fork. The trend now, when dining with friends, is for these little plates to replace your main course. That way, you get to be a lot more experimental in your ordering, taste a kaleidoscope of different flavours, plus you’re not committed to one heavy meal. Sounds pretty good to us…
So, without further ado, grab a glass of the good stuff and let’s break some bread. And, as they say in Madrid: “Salud!”
1. Chefs Warehouse & Canteen
Chef Liam Tomlin serves innovative, internationally influenced tapas in his pompous-free deli-meets-tapas bar. He’s all about the casual essence of tapas and, as such, doesn’t take reservations (and recommends that diners arrive early to secure a seat – the restaurant closes at 8pm). It’s well worth it; as soon as you sit down at one of the communal tables and peruse the daily menu, you know you’re in for an inspired dining experience. Being a deli and cook’s supply shop, the shelves are decked from floor to ceiling with utensils, recipe books and other kitchen paraphernalia.
We recommend Liam’s creative menu changes often. You could order a set dish, such as the Vietnamese oysters (R85), or let the chefs surprise you with the Tapas for Two option – a selection of tastebud-popping, original dishes that are decided on the day. The staff will cater to any dietary requirements you may have.
Contact 021 422 0128, email@example.com
Location 92 Bree Street
When Haiku opened over two decades ago, Asian tapas was a brand-new concept in the Mother City. Now 21 years later, the ever-popular eatery is still bowling us over with its simply delicious East Asian flavours – from Thai and Chinese to Japanese and Korean. The elegant Chinese-tearoom vibe allows diners to watch the skilled chefs in action, as you wait for your tantalising tidbits to arrive.
We recommend everything… seriously, it’s that good. We splashed out and ordered the Haiku Tasting Menu (R495 per person) – a veritable feast of note! First up was the sushi selection: scallop yuzu sashimi, tuna tacos and two dragon rolls. That was followed by a dumplings course: three steamed and three fried. The steamed medley included spicy prawn har gau, basil fish har gau and spinach har gau, while the fried assortment comprised a lamb pot sticker, beef cha siu sou and chicken sheng jian bao. The robata (braai-style) course of ginger beef, salmon robata and Korean chilli chicken was tasty. By the time our mains arrived – a choice between sizzling beef, cheng yuan fish and chicken green curry, served with mixed vegetables and steamed rice – we felt like two stuffed ticks, too lethargic to eat another thing. Yet, we continued through it, leaving just enough room for the heavenly chocolate fondant and Asian ice cream.
Contact 021 424 7000, firstname.lastname@example.org
Location 58 Burg Street, Cape Town
3. The Test Kitchen
It’s the go-to dinner spot for Hollywood A-listers when visiting Cape Town and has won more awards than any other local restaurant. But hype aside, Luke Dale-Roberts’ restaurant is surprisingly free from the frippery and formality that often comes with fine-dining establishments. As the name implies, The Test Kitchen is about experimentation and innovation and, as such, you’ll encounter flavour combinations and culinary styles that push the boundaries. Luke’s team demonstrates its skills in an open-plan kitchen, allowing diners a rare peek into the workings of a commercial galley. Their dishes are crafted with passion, and every detail – from the shape of the plates to the sourcing of ingredients – is designed to enhance the tasting experience.
We recommend The five- or nine-course tasting menu, both of which are accompanied by a wine pairing per course. Keep an eye out for the light curry-glazed kingklip, coupled with a Lammershoek chenin blanc 2013.
Contact 021 447 2337, email@example.com
Location The Old Biscuit Mill, 375 Albert Road, Woodstock
4. Sundoo South Indian Tapas Bar & restaurant
The newest addition to Sea Point’s burgeoning Regent Road comes courtesy of chef and restaurateur Seelan Sundoo, who’s had his hand in a number of Cape Town’s popular eateries (La Perla, Seelan, Reserve Brasserie, The Grand, and Shimmy Beach Club). But this time, he’s bringing his heritage to the table: South Indian cuisine with a contemporary Durban twist. The decor is stylish, pared-back, modern, with nods to his Kerala roots in Southern India. The small space seats around 30 people, with one long booth against the wall and more seats at the street-facing counter, where a tall Congolese doorman dressed all in black gives outside diners peace of mind that their cellphones won’t get snatched. We ate opposite two gals-about-town, who’d eaten here three times previously for “the best vegetarian food in Cape Town”.
Contact 021 433 0542
Location 77 Regent Road, Sea Point, Cape Town
Cheyne’s specialises in Pacific Rim cuisine – a delicious mix of culinary styles including South East Asian, Japanese, Hawaiian and Californian. Always popular with Hout Bay locals, who over time have seen the restaurant grow from a converted house with just five tables to several packed dining rooms bustling with energy.
We recommend The Tapas menu is divided into Sea, Land, Earth and Sweet. Seafood aficionados will love the firecracker crayfish with sriracha, kimchi and yakaniku dipping (R70). Landlubbers might prefer the Tokyo beef slider with Szechuan pepper and king oyster cream (R65), which comes topped with tempura onion rings and dried wagyu. Desserts are worth a mention, with the Kyoto coffee – Pacific cuisine’s answer to Irish coffee – containing a shot (or two) of Nikka pure black malt whisky, espresso and coconut cream (R65).
Contact 021 790 3462, firstname.lastname@example.org
Location 1 Pam Arlene Place, Main Road, Hout Bay
6. Bistro Sixteen82
With its immaculate rolling garden, surrounded by the Steenberg vineyards and mesmerising mountain views, Sixteen82’s location is hard to beat. There’s even a swanky glass bridge across the poolside dining terrace that makes you feel like you’re in the Napa Valley and not the South Peninsula! The state-of-the-art tasting room and wine cellar sit cheek-by-jowl with the restaurant, so you’re guaranteed of world-class accompaniments with your meal… Chef Kerry Kilpin’s dishes are concocted using fresh, seasonal and locally sourced ingredients.
We recommend the crispy Patagonian calamari with wild rocket, harissa mayo and lime (R75) – always a winner, as are the prawns with chilli, garlic and lemon butter (R75). Against my partner’s wishes I ordered the smoked salmon cannelloni with lemon butter (R55) and he ended up mopping the tangy sauce with his bread – and ordering another portion!
Contact 021 713 2211, email@example.com
Location Steenberg Estate, Steenberg Road, Tokai
A slice of Mediterranean style in the heart of the CBD, this warm and comfortable taverna-style restaurant has been serving authentic Greek food for over two decades to loyal locals, overseas visitors and nearby office workers. It seats around 40 diners in a light and contemporary whitewashed interior, with an upstairs section that can be used for special occasions and private parties. We love that the wine is served in tumblers – very Mediterranean – and that it came to the table chilled – a rare occurrence for Cape Town restaurants in December, sadly… Guests are allowed to bring their dogs, which contributes to the intimate family environment.
We recommend taramosalata, tzatziki, mucver (a deep-fried feta and baby marrow ball similar to falafel but cheesier), deep-fried halloumi served with lemon wedges, dolmades, pita bread and the Patagonian grilled calamari tubes in garlic, chilli and lemon. For mains, the slow-roasted lamb with artichoke and creamy ouzo sauce (R135) is done the way it should be, while vegetarians will enjoy the moussaka (eggplant and potato) with butternut, zucchini and cheese sauce (R75).
Contact 021 461 3333, firstname.lastname@example.org
Location 31 Barnet Street, Dunkley Square, Gardens
It takes a lot for a restaurant on the V&A’s Millionaires’ Mile to draw attention, but Dalliance does so, with its attractive striped awning lined with paparazzi-style bulbs at the entrance. Inside, it’s equally impressive: a coolly decorated spacious interior, good lighting, light jazz in the background and a long bar with stunning views of the Atlantic. Oh, and the food and drinks are rather good, too.
We recommend Being close to the ocean doesn’t mean you have to order fish – the lamb chops in olive oil, lemon, garlic and rosemary (R100) are finger-licking good. But we’d have to say that the salmon tataki served with ponzu, garlic and cucumber was our standout dish (R60). Great vegetarian options include the spaghetti with garlic, olive oil and chilli (R40).
Contact 021 418 1037, email@example.com
Location Shop 7216A, V&A Waterfront
9. Chalk & Cork
This beautiful two-storey wine bar and restaurant on Cape Town’s trendy Kloof Street is owned Marc and Amy Botes (who met while working for Gordon Ramsay in London). The emphasis is on Spanish and Basque-flavoured small plates, made using fresh, seasonal ingredients, but you’ll also find Italian-inspired items, such as the fresh herb and potato gnocchi with pecan nuts and beurre noisetta (R52).
We recommend The salt-and-pepper squid with sriracha aioli, chickpea purée and radish (R62) and the grilled lamb cutlets with confit lemon, rosemary and salsa verde (R95). If you’re in the mood for a more sizeable meal, the wood-oven pizzas, available with an original or cauliflower base – are mighty delicious too.
Contact 021 422 5822, firstname.lastname@example.org
Location 51 Kloof Street
10. The Pot Luck Club
Though its name refers to the practice of guests contributing a dish to a shared feast, don’t panic, you won’t have to bring anything to this party – chef Luke Dale-Roberts and his adept team have got it covered. Situated on the top floor of The old Biscuit Mill, the restaurant is decked out in edgy furniture and fittings, and boasts killer views of Table Mountain and the City Bowl. Like in Luke’s other restaurants, the kitchen is on display, and the shared plates – divided into salty, sour, bitter, sweet and umami flavour profiles – is cutting-edge comfort food.
We recommend the famous fish tacos (R55), springbok carpaccio with smoked pine nuts, burnt honey and soy dressing (R90) and the peri peri chicken (R90).
Contact 021 447 0804, email@example.com
Location Silo Top Floor, The Old Biscuit Mill, 373-375 Albert Road, Woodstock
11. The Foodbarn
It’s all farm-fresh and fabulous out in the country where chef Franck Dangereux’s renowned Foodbarn is located. The perfect Sunday-lunch venue becomes a tapas bar by night where guests get to enjoy the chefs’ creations in a relaxed atmosphere.
We recommend the prawns pilipili with garlic (R55) and the sticky BBQ Korean chicken wings with sesame (R39), which epitomise Franck’s delicious foray into tapas. Dessert fans can’t go wrong with the churros, a Spanish doughnut topped with cinnamon and served with melted chocolate (R28). Superb!
Contact 021 789 1966, firstname.lastname@example.org
Location Noordhoek Farm Village, Corner Village Lane and Noordhoek Main Road, Noordhoek
This is the sort of place where you’d expect to see rajah-riding war elephants sauntering up and down the aisles (although they’d probably have difficulty fitting their mounts through the entrance). The restaurant offers top-class Indian cuisine with a smattering of other Asian influences. Glass walls surrounding the kitchen allow guests to watch the chefs at work, while marble floors, high ceilings and opulent décor capture the majesty of an ancient Indian empire at the peak of its power.
We recommend the eight-course tapas menu – which is only available again from 1 May 2016. It has a bit of everything – fish, chicken, beef, lamb and vegetarian dishes prepared in a variety of different ways, from tandoor and singri (which use open flames and coals) to dum (which involves slow-cooking in sealed pots to create fragrant and flavoursome curries).
Contact 021 424 0000, email@example.com
Location: 33 Church Street
13. La Parada
The tangy smack of freshly fried garlic draws you through the door of this Bree Street restaurant that’s headed by Spanish chef Andres Condé, formerly of the three-Michelin-starred El Bulli restaurant in Spain. Andres brings an authentic touch of Catalonia (and loads of garlic!) to the dishes being cooked in the kitchen, with the long wooden communal tables and Spanish paraphernalia enhancing the overall experience.
We recommend the patatas bravas (R20/R40), of course! This classic Spanish tapa, consisting of crisp potato slices baked in olive oil and served with a spicy dipping sauce, is so comforting and so delicious when done right. Also order the spicy steak (R66), seafood paella (R40/R80) and the grilled calamari with ajili-mojili (R35/R70) – that’s assuming you take your garlic with food.
Contact 021 426 0330, firstname.lastname@example.org
Location 107 Bree Street
Located at Peddlars & Co in Constantia, Graciales’ brightly coloured décor and a close-knit table arrangement sets a relaxed and vibey mood for this family-friendly tapas bar in the ’burbs. The menu is a range of Mexican-, Asian- and American-inspired tapas so there’s sure to be something for every member of your clan.
We recommend the sticky Vietnamese ribs with spring onions (R48) for fans of Asian cuisine, and the Mixed Board (R180) of French dip, spicy meatballs and patatas bravas is perfect for a group of three or four sharing.
Contact 021 794 7747, email@example.com
Location Spaanschemat River Road, Constantia
When the chef’s name is Aristotle, you know you’re in for a carefully conceived culinary experience. Here you’ll find Spanish pinchos (small snacks) with a contemporary twist. The servings are small (and designed to be shared among the table), but the flavours are bold, with inflections from around the world – the African influence being especially evident. The European-style interior perfectly captures the relaxed atmosphere of a classic Catalonian tapas bar.
We recommend the deep-fried goat’s cheese with sundried tomato biscuits and port-and-onion marmalade (R60) – it’s moreish, bursts with flavour, and utterly delicious. The Moroccan meatballs (R65) bring some North African spice to the table, while the pan-seared ostrich fillet (R65) is a favourite among (adventurous) European visitors seeking tastes and textures they’re not likely to get at home.
Contact 021 424 6334, firstname.lastname@example.org
Location 84 Long Street
Research: Matthew Flax