So often overlooked for its well-heeled and better-known Cape Winelands sisters, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, Paarl has proven that it indeed has a few precious pearls tucked away in its picturesque midst. Good food and stellar service across the board are what we discovered when we visited this truly beautiful Western Cape region. Here are our picks of Paarl – please let us know in the comments below if we’ve missed one of your favourites.
The Farm-to-table experience: Faber
Faber at Avondale Estate can be summed up in one phrase: pure magic. Created by award-winning chef Eric Bulpitt (formerly of Newton Johnson) and Avondale’s proprietor, Johnathan Grieve, it offers visitors elegant, yet relaxed fine dining in the central heart of the Cape Winelands.
Here, culinary magic and the natural beauty of a working Cape wine farm merge, resulting in a food experience that wistfully remains with you long after you’ve left.
Whether you sit inside the elegant, yet unpretentious interior or out on the garden-facing verandah, you’re in for a memorable dining experience, where great food and excellent service come to the fore.
X Factor Faber is, in all respects, a truly fine eating establishment, uniquely located on a beautiful wine estate – yet it is the fabulous food and top-notch service, offered by chef Eric, his wife and general manager Celeste, and the rest of the capable team that make it so outstanding. Having the endlessly down-to-earth chef Eric bring out a plate, or perhaps pause for a chat, is particularly special.
Insider’s insight Faber’s garden setting is like a real-life Secret Garden and adds to the beautiful, relaxed and soothing country atmosphere. What’s more, everything from the vegetables to the edible flowers – which artfully adorn the dishes – are sourced, wherever possible, from the farm and garden.
We recommend the amazing five-course Chef’s Menu (R595), paired with Avondale Cyclus 2013. In particular, we liked the cold smoked yellowtail (with cucumber, pomegranates, herbs and flowers) starter, and delicious fire-cooked, free-range chicken main. For dessert, the sweet lavender macarons and Avondale plum tart are easy winners.
Opening times Wednesday – Sunday, 12pm – 3pm; 6.30pm – 9pm
Contact 021 202 1219, email@example.com
Where to find it Avondale Estate, Lustigan Road, Klein Drakenstein, Paarl
Where style and authenticity reign: Babel
We couldn’t decide whether it’s in Paarl or Franschhoek (or Stellenbosch)… It doesn’t really matter, actually, because, if you’ve had the supreme privilege of eating at Karen Roos’s surprisingly informal, yet sleek and sophisticated restaurant, you’ll know it deserves to be on every single Best Restaurants list.
Which is why it’s near impossible to get a booking here. Dinnertime entails being thoroughly entertained by the waiters’ knowledgeable presentation of what’s on offer – a totally tantalising, and fitting foreplay for what’s to come. The simple menu, that changes seasonally to maximise what’s on offer in the farm’s garden, is just genius. For example, a pre-dinner drink comprising vodka, grapefruit juice and vanilla sets the tone for the simple, fresh and beautifully orchestrated flavours, such as sublime fillet on the bone done to perfection (not well done!), and salads with heady mixes of freshly picked fruit and vegetables. The indulgent breakfasts are no different: delicately prepared eggs, bacon and farm sausage, magical mueslis, Provence-sized hunks of cheese, and delights such as gluten-free polenta-bread (and rice milk) on tap.
Opening times Monday – Sunday, 8am – 9.30am (breakfast); 7pm – 10pm (dinner)
Wednesday – Sunday, 12pm –3.30pm (lunch)
Contact 021 863 3852, firstname.lastname@example.org
Where to find it Babylonstoren, Simondium Road, Klapmuts
TIG reviewer Riekie Human
The Tempting tea garden: Tea Under The Trees
Follow the colourful cannas to St Pieter’s Roche, a working wine farm in Paarl, where a magical tea garden awaits. Set amidst hydrangeas and sprawling oak trees, Tea Under The Trees instantly allows you to dive down the rabbit hole (keep an eye out for the White Rabbit) à la Alice. Everything from the dainty, antique teacups to the tantalising culinary offering is sure to entrance you. It’s the perfect place for celebrating special occasions either in the lush garden or out on the delightful verandah (advance booking for eight or more guests is essential). There’s a lovely children’s jungle gym and quirky bric-a-brac shop (selling vintage clothing and other delights), and it’s also pet-friendly (but please keep your pooches leashed).
Tea Under The Trees is a summer venue that re-opens every spring. During the week, there’s a coffeeshop menu; on Saturday mornings (mainly) the real magic happens, with tantalising tea and divine treats being unveiled. The two co-owners and their staff go out of their way to ensure a truly special experience.
X Factor It’s an ethereal experience, with wonderful sweet and savoury treats covering every inch of the daintily set tables.
Insider’s insight Enquire about Tea In The Park, where home-made goodies, fresh from the farm, are transported to the Green Point Urban Park.
Monday – Friday, 9am – 4pm
Saturday for private functions (by prior arrangement only)
We recommend visiting on a Saturday morning, to enjoy the utterly delightful experience. If you opt for the tea option (not limited to Saturdays), try the Strawberry and Mango tea, and also the delectable brownies, gorgeous carrot cake (dotted with poppy seeds) and tasty little savouries. Enjoy sparkling wine with to add some fizz to your special moment.
Cost R155 – R215 per person (tea)
R190 per person (brunch)
Contact 072 871 9103, email@example.com
Where to find it St Pieter’s Roche, Main Street, Northern Paarl
The lofty restaurant: Glen Carlou
At the end of Glen Carlou’s vineyard-lined drive, you’ll find the tasting room and restaurant, jointly located in a charming thatched-roof building. The restaurant space is cosy yet contemporary: wood and stone dominate, making way for sweeping roof-to-floor glass windows and doors that lead out onto a partially shaded verandah and allow gorgeous glimpses of the Drakenstein mountains and farmlands below.
Before your meal, enjoy a complimentary wine tasting of up to five wines (we sampled three of the relatively young estate’s famed chardonnays, a rosé and a cabernet sauvignon, all of which were divine) or book a cellar tour for an authentic wine farm experience.
X Factor If, like us, you are lucky enough to sit out on the verandah, prepare to have your breath stolen as you dine al fresco, overlooking the picture-perfect valley. Inside it’s equally stunning, and you can either recline on leather couches or dine at the window-facing tables.
Insider’s insight During your visit, you might enjoy a tour of the Art Gallery at Glen Carlou, curated by Alex Hamilton, and open daily from 10am to 4pm. It is a wonderful and fascinating, if not quirky, mix of contemporary, pop and modern art by local SA artists, including Pauline Gutter, Vusi Beauchamp, Hennie Meyer and Riaan van Zyl.
We recommend the chili and lime seabass, with pickled mussels, citrus broccoli, capers and anchovy butter (R165) from the 2017 Summer Lunch Menu, paired with the Classic 2015 Chardonnay. For dessert, spoil yourself with the Study of Peach, paired with the (now) relatively limited-edition Curator’s Collection Mourvedre & Tannet Rosé.
Opening times Monday – Sunday, 11am – 3pm
Contact 021 875 5528, firstname.lastname@example.org
Where to find it Glen Carlou, Simondium Road, Klapmuts
The quaint french-style: Noop
This quaint French bistro on Paarl’s oak-lined Main Road oozes old-world charm and homely character. An 18th century Victorian abode that’s been respectfully renovated and tastefully converted into a warm and welcoming restaurant, Noop was taken under new management in 2012 by current co-owner Zian Oosthuizen. Together with chef Mariëtte van den Bergh, the innovative duo creates unpretentious seasonal fare that’s bursting with flavours the palate won’t soon forget. Presentation is kept simple when the dish commands it: a chef’s special of seafood bisque is served in a white, massive-rimmed soup bowl – no frills. Just honest-to-goodness food. Adding to the Victorian vibe is the 19th century-style cloth-bound menus that open with a foreword from Zian, followed by introductions to each of the courses. Wine lovers will be well impressed with the massive, excellently curated selection (did we mention the wine list has a looooong index?).
X Factor In stark contrast to the historic touches, the modern elements at play – like the beautifully intricate light fixtures and contemporary dinnerware – are quite marvellous.
Insider’s insight Paraded by waiters on big black boards, the chef’s specials change depending on produce availability, giving the culinary team the freedom to experiment with new ideas. You simply must try them.
We recommend starting with something light, so you can indulge in a meaty main. We loved the seared and tempura tuna with baby leaf, avocado, bean sprouts, julienne vegetables, wasabi, ginger, mayonnaise, sesame seeds and Asian dressing. The slow-roasted Karoo lamb shank, served with potato croquettes and vegetables was hearty and satisfying as a main. If you still have space, the trio of crème brûlée and the South African plate will leave you feeling very happy indeed. The plate is made up of traditional malva pudding, Amarula anglaise, milk tart ice cream, soetkoekie crumble and spitsroken (also knows as “koeksisters se sisters”).
Opening times Monday – Saturday, 11am – late
Where to find it Noop, 127 Main Street, Paarl
Contact 021 863 3925, email@example.com
The bistro-bakery: Tafel & Tap
A slice of big-city culinary delight, complemented by Cape Dutch charm and laidback country ambience, this bakery, bistro and wine shop is, in all respects, a dining gem with quality offerings and attentive, good service, so beloved of Western Cape towns.
Its quaint Cape Dutch exterior (with streetside seating overlooking the historic Main Road) belies the vast, impressive elegant rooms within its predominantly wooden depths. Inside, near its wine shop, you’ll discover a stunning “3D” wall, made from cleverly arranged wine boxes, where some of the Cape’s finest wines are perched. The stencilled wall of black-and-white wine-bottle prints also adds impact.
X Factor The tastefully presented, perfectly portioned and mouth-watering dishes, including everything from pork belly to prawn tempura (all of which are available for take-away).
Insider’s insight Owner Erlank Erasmus has teamed up with Fairview (where he was formerly a winemaker), Piekenierskloof and Spice Route to bring excellent suitably rare wines (such as Grenache) to his fully licenced wine shop. Look out for his equally impressive ranges, Juno and Erasmus Family Wines.
We recommend the flavourful Cape Malay Curry (R120), with the unique McGarry’s drink (blended orange juice and wine, R20); and the soft, ultra-delicious Pulled Pork (R125), paired with the rare Home of Erasmus Grenache. Finish off with the fresh, homemade milk tartlets and sweet grilled pear slices (R55) and the refreshing mint, pineapple and lemon smoothie (R38).
Tuesday – Saturday, 8am – 10pm
Contact 021 872 0697, firstname.lastname@example.org
Where to find it Tafel & Tap, 191 Main Road, Paarl
The state-of-the-art distillery: Pappa Grappa
This popular winelands restaurant, situated at the award-winning Wilderer Distillery, makes a lovely first impression with its picturesque garden setting. Everything from the quaint fountain, potted geraniums and bougainvillea archway create a sense of relaxed country charm, easing you gently into these idyllic, unfussy surroundings.
Inside, Pappa Grappa is equally cosy (though when the weather’s good, the outdoor seating would be my firm recommendation), thanks to the fireplace and snug interior.
The food is a great mix of German and Italian – flammkuchen and wood-fired pizzas – deliciously complemented by speciality gins and award-winning grappa (Wilderer is South Africa’s first private grappa distillery).
X Factor The charming building, delightful garden setting, and simple, yet satisfyingly good food, make it a wonderful family-friendly spot (children and pooches are welcome, though the latter must be leashed).
Insider’s insight Wilderer Distillery’s second restaurant, La Grapperia at Spice Route Destination, is equally lovely and popular. Here, one can enjoy wood-fired pizzas, signature tapas and even speciality grappa cocktails, too. There’s also an on-site Wilderer Distillery (mind the slight step), which is reached via the restaurant.
We recommend The delicious Collina pizza (chicken breast strips and pepperdew, R79), with South African fynbos gin. Enjoy it neat (R25) with a few blocks of ice (so you can fully appreciate the botanical infusion), or add a craft tonic to the mix, if you’re sipping on an empty stomach. And if, like us, you wish to add traditional pizza toppings too, the mushroom (R10) and generous feta pieces (R18) go really nicely with this particular pizza.
Opening times Tuesday – Saturday, 11.30am – 9pm
Sunday, 11.30am – 5pm
Contact 021 863 3555, email@example.com
Where to find it Wilderer Distillery & Ristorante Pappa Grappa, R45 Simondium, Paarl
The country kitchen: Restaurant at Rhebokskloof Wine Estate
On the edge of rolling lawns, encircled by Weeping Willow trees and rose bushes, with a sapphire-blue dam nearby, this restaurant’s beautiful location offers visitors a unique, sophisticated-yet-homely dining experience.
The canvassed outdoor area, spread out across three terraces of this restored Cape Dutch building, is ideal for summertime lunches. On cooler days, the cosy, antique-style interior is the perfect place to gather your friends, family and children for a wonderful Sunday lunch or inspired wine farm adventure day on Paarl’s northern slopes.
X Factor The enchanting country setting, complemented by good food, great wine and friendly service. We particularly loved the prevailing sense of “local is lekker”, evidenced by locals and regulars.
Insider’s insight There’s so much to do at Rhebokskloof, including new MTB tracks, quad-biking, horse-riding, pony rides for the kids (on weekends, from 12pm – 2pm), luxury tented camping, gourmet country picnics, hiking and fishing.
We recommend the Stuffed Chicken Supreme (with baby potatoes, seasonal vegetables and béarnaise sauce, R135) and the Rhebok Gourmet Burger (R98), paired with a bottle of their wonderful MCC. For dessert, the Baked Vanilla Cheesecake (R60) is divine. That said, the menu is changing soon to offer more burger options, tapas, salads and steaks).
Opening times Monday – Sunday, 8.30am – 4.30pm
Contact 021 869 8386, firstname.lastname@example.org
Where to find it Rhebokskloof Wine Estate, Wine Route Number 8, Agter-Paarl, Paarl
We also recommend…
…but didn’t have time to get to:
- Bosman’s Restaurant at Grande Roche
- Blacksmith’s Kitchen
- Terra Mare Restaurant
- Spice Route
- Ridgeback Wines and Deck Restaurant
- The Goatshed at Fairview
- The Red Table at Nederburg
- Moksh Restaurant
- Bread & Butter