Ghee roast chicken and lamb and tomato bredie at Thali in Cape Town

Best Restaurants in Cape Town: Our Top 3 Picks

Last updated Sep 16, 2022 | Food & Wine, South Africa

Cape Town and the surrounding wine country are fast becoming a foodie destination. Global influence and regional culinary heritage continue to shape Cape Town’s booming restaurant scene. From local mom & pop shops to creative fine dining experiences, this beautiful city situated between towering mountains and the ocean’s edge offers it all. My husband and I were in Cape Town for only 4 days, but I had a list of about 15 places I wanted to try.  After reading many culinary reviews and watching several Netflix foodie shows, we narrowed the list down to 3 of what we consider the best restaurants in Cape Town. 

Find out which restaurants should be at the top of your list the next time you are in Cape Town.

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Number 1 Icon

The Test Kitchen

Why The Test Kitchen is Worth It

Check out our video below for a quick preview of what this special dining experience was like at one of the best restaurants in Cape Town.

YouTube Video of The Test Kitchen Dining Experience 

CHEF LUKE DALE ROBERTS

This talented chef owns several restaurants and has been able to keep The Test Kitchen on the list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants for the past several years in a row.

What’s his secret sauce? His ever-evolving rotating menu is based on what ingredients are in season. He first takes you on a culinary journey around the world by presenting a parade of appetizers influenced by different countries such as Ethiopia, Scotland, and Korea. This casual experience is followed by more formal dining with globally influenced South African dishes paired with exquisite local South African wine.

FOOD

Best characterized as South African with a global twist. Delicious. Flavorful. Creative. I’m going to let the photos later in the article speak for themselves.

AMBIANCE 

The Dark Room at The Test Kitchen in Cape Town South Africa

THE DARK ROOM

There are 2 distinct experiences. When you first enter, you are escorted into the low-lit, cozy, and intimate Dark Room which is decorated with leather couches and plush velvet chairs. 

The Light Room at The Test Kitchen in Cape Town South Africa

THE LIGHT ROOM

You relax, enjoy a cocktail (or two) paired with several small bites and then move on to the Light Room for the formal multi-course tasting menu. The decor in the Light Room is industrial-feeling with exposed brick walls and open ductwork. The open kitchen is right next to the main dining area, making it easy to watch the talented staff put together the chef’s culinary creations.

The Test Kitchen Reservation Process 

Of course, it will not be easy to book one of the best restaurants in Cape Town. You will need to reserve months in advance on the restaurant’s website.

The Test Kitchen Menu 

Enter the Dark Room. Relax and travel through England, Scotland, Korea, Ethiopia, Mauritius, and India via playful delicious small bites as you relax and converse on a plush velvet chair with a cocktail in hand.

Dark Room Menu at The Test Kitchen in Cape Town

Dark Room Menu

England Pork Scratchings at The Test Kitchen in Cape Town

England: Pork scratchings with celeriac salt and vinegar paired with Guinness foam

Scotland Billionaires Shortbread at The Test Kitchen in Cape Town

Scotland: Billionaires Shortbread (porcini shortbread, foie gras parfait, dark chocolate and gold leaf) 

Korea Raw Vegetables with Ssamjang Paste at The Test Kitchen in Cape Town

Korea: Raw vegetables with ssamjang paste (fermented soybeans) mixed with marmite crackers and porcini dust

Mauritius Coconut Langoustine and India Tandoori at The Test Kitchen in Cape Town

On the Left: Mauritius – Coconut langoustine on a fried curry leave

On the Right: India – Tandoori swordfish

Ethiopia Berbere Curry and Sheep Amasi at The Test Kitchen in Cape Town

Ethiopia: Berbere curry and sheep cheese amasi

Enter the Light Room. Get ready to be wined and dined throughout a beautifully presented 12-course tasting menu. We had the option of two wine pairings: Iconic and Gourmand. I advise doing one each and sharing with your partner so you get to taste both. You also have the option of a tea pairing.

Smoked scallop and mushroom burger at The Test Kitchen in Cape Town

Smoked scallop with a pea and lemon balm dressing and a morel escabeche mushroom burger 

Gourmand: Silvermist Sauvignon Blanc 2017

Iconic: Thorne & Daughters Paper Kite Semillion 2017

Tea: Pai Mu Tan

Swordfish at The Test Kitchen in Cape Town

Swordfish belly “Greek salad”

TTK Lobster Coconut Salad at The Test Kitchen in Cape Town

TTK poached lobster salad with coconut and Thai aromatics 

Gourmand: B Vintners d’Alexandria 2017

Iconic: Raised by Wolves Muscat Blanc 2017

Tea: Safari Tea

Bread course at The Test Kitchen in Cape Town

Bread course with snoek butter 

Bibimbap at The Test Kitchen in Cape Town

Bibimbap: teriyaki butterfish with kimchi, mushroom, caviar, and sushi rice 

Gourmand: Migliarina Riesling 2016

Iconic: Spioenkop Lady Chef 2017

Tea: Imperial Oolong

Beef Tartare at The Test Kitchen in Cape Town

Beef tartare with red wine & onion dressing, celery leaf pesto, a crispy lattice-like Yorkshire tuile, and horseradish foam

Gourmand: Elmie Rose 2018

Iconic: Jean Roi 2017

Tea: Pink Flamingo

Pap en vleis at The Test Kitchen in Cape Town

A play on “Pap en vleis” (maize porridge and meat) 

Gourmand: Lismore Viognier 2014

Iconic: The Sadie Family Palladius 2015

Tea: Singapore Breakfast

Rabbit and Ham in Two Servings at The Test Kitchen in Cape Town

Rabbit and Ham in Two Servings

Gourmand: Morgenster Nabucco 2012

Iconic: Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak 2010

Tea: African Ball Tea

Rhubarb Trifle at The Test Kitchen in Cape Town

Rhubarb trifle, elderflower, sauvignon blanc, rose, and mascarpone

 

Pear quince Jerusalem bourbon oak pine sheep's milk espresso dessert at The Test Kitchen in Cape Town

Poached pear, quince, Jerusalem, bourbon oak ice cream, pine, sheep’s milk, and espresso

Gourmand: Beaumont Goutte D’Or NLH 2015

Iconic: Klein Constantia Vin De Constance 2011

Tea: 1837 Black Tea

Jam donut with crushed peanut at The Test Kitchen in Cape Town

Bonus dessert 1: Jam donut with crushed peanut snow

Petit Four at The Test Kitchen in Cape Town

Bonus dessert 2: Petit Four

Final Thoughts on The Test Kitchen 

Amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience, great for celebrating a special occasion. The food was playful, inventive, flavorful, and well-balanced. Getting to experience little parts of the world through Luke’s culinary creations in both the Dark and Light Room makes this dining event unlike any other. Test Kitchen is well-deserving of consistently rating as one of the best restaurants in Cape Town.

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The Pot Luck Club

Why The Pot Luck Club is Worth It 

The Pot Luck Club in Cape Town South Africa

Main dining area situated on the top floor of the Silo at the Old Biscuit Mill

CHEF LUKE DALE ROBERTS

As mentioned earlier, Chef Luke owns several dining establishments and The Pot Luck Club is considered one of the best restaurants in Cape Town. With his attention to detail and delicious flavor profiles, it is easy to see why The Pot Luck Club has become both a local and tourist favorite.

The kitchen at The Pot Luck Club in Cape Town South  Africa

The open kitchen at The Pot Luck Club

FOOD

The communal potluck dinner concept revolves around “sharing” small plates that emphasize 5 distinct flavor profiles: salty, sour, sweet, umami, and sour.  The menu also includes another category called Pot Luck family favorites, which include items such as chickpea, goat cheese, and parmesan fries and fish tacos. The global innovative dishes are always changing. The servers suggest you order 3-4 dishes per person. After jotting down your choices with pencil and paper, sit back and relax as the talented friendly staff plan out the order of your selected dishes. The cocktails and extensive boutique wine list are quite impressive. I was excited to try a 2017 bottle of Crystallum Malabel Pinot Noir since we did not have the chance to visit the winemaker during our wine tour of pinot noir producers in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley.

2017 Crystallum Malabel Pinot Noir at The Pot Luck Club in Cape Town

Enjoying a lovely bottle of Crystallum  Pinot Noir at one of the best restaurants in Cape Town 

AMBIANCE

Perched on the top floor of the Silo in the Old Biscuit Mill, the restaurant offers a stunning panoramic view over Woodstock. Working with a local architect, Chef Luke was able to create an urban and hip feel to the space with wooden tables, large glass windows, and steel supports with an open kitchen in the back. Compared to its sister restaurant, The Test Kitchen, the Pot Luck Club offers a more casual and laid-back experience.

The Pot Luck Club Reservation Process

Securing a reservation to The Pot Luck Club will be much easier than The Test Kitchen, but you will still need to book in advance. I placed my reservation about 6 weeks out, and there were still a fair amount of slots open.

There are two seatings for dinner: 6 pm and 8:30 pm. Lunch is offered at 12:30 pm, 1 pm, and 1:30 pm. The Pot Luck Club also offers a spectacular brunch with the option of bottomless bubbles on Sundays from 11 am, 11:30 am, and 12 pm.

Reserve through The Pot Luck Club’s official website.

The Pot Luck Club Menu 

6 distinct categories on the menu:

  1. Pot Luck Family Favorites
  2. Salty
  3. Sweet
  4. Umami
  5. Sour
  6. Sweet Ending

Below are the 8 dishes we tried from each category, which were all delicious:

Beek Tataki at The Pot Luck Club in Cape Town South Africa

POT LUCK FAMILY FAVORITES

Beef tataki, hoisin dressing, coriander pesto, and ponzu mayo

Doenjang glazed tuna at The Pot Luck Club in Cape Town South Africa

SALTY 

Doenjang glazed tuna, kim chi, Ssamjang, and tofu puree

Cape Malay Fish at The Pot Luck Club in Cape Town South Africa

SOUR

Cape Malay fish, braaied sea bass, pickled dressing, chili sambal, hot cross brioche bun

Ash roasted vegetables at The Pot Luck Club in Cape Town South Africa

SOUR 

Ash roasted vegetables, honeyed goat cheese, hazelnuts, fermented turnip, and apple dressing

Mauritius Coconut Langoustine and India Tandoori at The Test Kitchen in Cape Town

POT LUCK FAMILY FAVORITES

Pot Luck Club peri peri chicken, charred pepper and kale salad, almonds, and feta

Pork belly at The Pot Luck Club in Cape Town South Africa

UMAMI 

Pork belly, Jerusalem artichoke relish, pecan butter, parmesan, and celeriac foam

Lamb rib at The Pot Luck Club in Cape Town South Africa

SALTY

Lamb rib, pomegranate and harissa marinated tomato, cauliflower and buffalo yoghurt puree, sultanas preserved lemon dressing 

Orange and olive oil cake at The Pot Luck Club in Cape Town South Africa

SWEET ENDING  

Orange and olive oil cake, creme fraiche ice cream, macadamia nut tuille, dragee almonds and sesame

Final Thoughts on The Pot Luck Club 

This is a restaurant I would come back to AGAIN AND AGAIN, whereas The Test Kitchen I would visit once for a special occasion. The dishes had creative combinations of flavors, making you crave that next bite. It was very difficult to choose only 8 dishes. I had to scratch out a couple of choices because our server warned we may be ordering too much. I cannot wait to come back on our next trip to try their famous brunch with bottomless bubbles.

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Thali

Why Thali is Worth It

CHEF LIAM TOMLIN

This famed Dublin-born chef owns several dining establishments in his growing restaurant empire including Chefs Warehouse & Canteen, Chefs Warehouse at Beau Constantia, Chefs Warehouse at Maison (which we visited while in Franschhoek), and Thali. His newest additions include Jewells and Brugarol in Barcelona, Spain. Chef Tomlin is also heading up the dining programs at the luxurious Singita safari lodges.

Instead of formal tasting menus and white tablecloths, the Chefs Warehouse restaurants and Thali focus on contemporary flavorful tapas-style food for 2 that offer great value for the money. Chef Tomlin and his head chef JP van der Haar went to India for inspiration and then came back to South Africa to create modern interpretations of Indian dishes for the Thali menu.

FOOD

Best characterized as modern Indian tapas. You will be served 8 dishes (shared between 2 people) that will take you on a flavor journey throughout all of the regions in India. These are not your traditional Indian dishes but rather modern interpretations that still respect the Indian heritage, techniques, and ingredients. Once you taste the food, you can easily see why Thali rates as one of the best restaurants in Cape Town.

AMBIANCE

Thali’s decor is exotic and showcases bold blue and terracotta orange colors, beautifully colored mosaic tiles, and bright copper accents. You can sit inside the restaurant or outside. I wish the weather had cooperated while we were there because I would have loved to sit outside in their outdoor courtyard.

Thali Reservation Process 

No reservations. First come, first serve. Arrive near the opening time to try to avoid long lines.

  • Monday-Saturday Dinners: 5 pm- 9:30 pm

We arrived around 6 pm for dinner on a Monday night and were able to get right in.

Thali Menu 

I loved the fact there are no choices. There is a set menu of 8 dishes. You sit back and relax as this colorful feast of food is presented before you.

Thali Tapas for 2 Menu:

  1. Sweetcorn badji, curry leaf aioli
  2. Khatti dal
  3. Aloo dum
  4. Lamb galouti kebab
  5. Calamari balchao, piri piri, tomato & tamarind
  6. Steamed linefish, chilli, saffron & coconut reduction
  7. Ghee roast chicken
  8. Lamb & tomato bredie
First course of Indian tapas at Thali in Cape Town

FIRST COURSE (served on a copper Thali tray)

1. Top Left: Sweetcorn badji with curry leaf aioli (like a fritter)

2. Top Right: Aloo dum (potato-based dish)

3. Center: Khatti dal (lentil stew)

4. Copper Tandoor (far back with skewers showing): Lamb galouti kebab

* Roti and delicious accompaniments  such as the house chili jam, pickled onions, and raita (cooling yogurt sauce) with pomegranate are served with the first course.

Steamed linefish at Thali in Cape Town

SECOND COURSE

Steamed linefish, chili, saffron & coconut reduction 

Calamari balchao at Thali in Cape Town

SECOND COURSE

Calamari balchao, piri piri (hot chili pepper), tomato & tamarind

Ghee roast chicken and lamb and tomato bredie at Thali in Cape Town

THIRD COURSE (served with rice and delicious garlic naan)

1. Top Left: Ghee roast chicken

2. Bottom Left: Lamb & tomato bredie 

By the 3rd course, you are going to be absolutely stuffed. There’s so much food!

Dessert at Thali in Cape Town

FOURTH COURSE

There are several options to choose from for dessert. I don’t recall the exact name of this particular dessert. I believe it was some type of frozen yogurt with rosewater, which was not very memorable. My advise is to stick to the first 3 courses and skip dessert (or pick a better choice than I did).

Final Thoughts on Thali 

I loved the modern creative spin on Indian cuisine. Because Thali does not accept reservations, this is a great restaurant to plan for when you do not know how your travel schedule is going to go for that day. For example, we planned to dine at Thali on the day we went cage diving with great white sharks because I was not sure what time we were going to be back.

As Chef Tomlin said, “I don’t want a restaurant that’s only for special occasions.” You can easily enjoy dining at Thali as a weekday meal, a date night out, or a celebratory event. Great value for the money, which makes this easy to rate Thali as one of the best restaurants in Cape Town.

Final Thoughts on Cape Town Restaurants

Cape Town truly has an up and coming foodie scene. You will be spoiled with the variety of restaurant options. We only had a few days in Cape Town, so we had to make our restaurant selections count. The Test Kitchen, The Pot Luck Club, and Thali did not disappoint, and we would gladly dine at all three again. I look forward to seeing what other foodie gems Cape Town produces as it continues to make its presence known on the world culinary map. 

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What other Cape Town restaurants are your favorites?

Let me know in the comments below!

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