Best Restaurants in Cape Town: Top 3 Picks from a Foodie Traveler
Cape Town and the surrounding wine country are fast becoming foodie destinations. 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. We love planning foodie vacations! 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.
The Test Kitchen
WHY THE TEST KITCHEN IS WORTH IT
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.
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.
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
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.
UPDATE: Since we went, the concept has changed. Chef Luke now hires those looking to embark on a culinary career (the fledgelings) and mentors these aspiring chefs to improve their techniques. As stated on his website, “Learn, teach, always with love and passion.”
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 in advance on the restaurant’s website. Reservations open at 8:30 am on the 1st of the month for the following month.
THE TEST KITCHEN SAMPLE 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
England: Pork scratchings with celeriac salt and vinegar paired with Guinness foam
Scotland: Billionaires Shortbread (porcini shortbread, foie gras parfait, dark chocolate and gold leaf)
Korea: Raw vegetables with ssamjang paste (fermented soybeans) mixed with marmite crackers and porcini dust
On the Left: Mauritius – Coconut langoustine on a fried curry leave
On the Right: India – Tandoori swordfish
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 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 belly “Greek salad”
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 with snoek butter
Bibimbap: teriyaki butterfish with kimchi, mushroom, caviar, and sushi rice
Gourmand: Migliarina Riesling 2016
Iconic: Spioenkop Lady Chef 2017
Tea: Imperial Oolong
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
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
Gourmand: Morgenster Nabucco 2012
Iconic: Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak 2010
Tea: African Ball Tea
Rhubarb trifle, elderflower, sauvignon blanc, rose, and mascarpone
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
Bonus dessert 1: Jam donut with crushed peanut snow
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.
The Pot Luck Club
WHY THE POT LUCK CLUB IS WORTH IT
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 open kitchen at The Pot Luck Club
The communal potluck dinner concept revolves around “sharing” small plates. When we went, the menu emphasized 5 distinct flavor profiles: salty, sour, sweet, umami, and sour.
The menu also included another category called Pot Luck family favorites, which included items such as chickpea, goat cheese, & parmesan fries and fish tacos.
These 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 plans 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.
Enjoying a lovely bottle of Crystallum Pinot Noir at one of the best restaurants in Cape Town
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 at 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.
They are open Mon-Sat for lunch/dinner. The Pot Luck Club also offers a spectacular brunch and bottomless bubbles on Sundays starting at 11 am.
Reserve through The Pot Luck Club’s official website.
THE POT LUCK CLUB MENU
6 distinct categories on the menu:
- Pot Luck Family Favorites
- Sweet Ending
Below are the 8 dishes we tried from each category, which were all delicious:
POT LUCK FAMILY FAVORITES
Beef tataki, hoisin dressing, coriander pesto, and ponzu mayo
Doenjang glazed tuna, kim chi, Ssamjang, and tofu puree
Cape Malay fish, braaied sea bass, pickled dressing, chili sambal, hot cross brioche bun
Ash roasted vegetables, honeyed goat cheese, hazelnuts, fermented turnip, and apple dressing
POT LUCK FAMILY FAVORITES
Pot Luck Club peri peri chicken, charred pepper and kale salad, almonds, and feta
Pork belly, Jerusalem artichoke relish, pecan butter, parmesan, and celeriac foam
Lamb rib, pomegranate and harissa marinated tomato, cauliflower and buffalo yoghurt puree, sultanas preserved lemon dressing
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.
WHY THAIL 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.
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.
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: starting at 5pm
We arrived around 6 pm for dinner on a Monday night and were able to get right in.
I loved the fact there are no choices. There is a set menu of 8 dishes served in three courses. You sit back and relax as this colorful feast of food is presented before you.
Thali Tapas for 2 Menu:
- Sweetcorn badji, curry leaf aioli
- Khatti dal
- Aloo dum
- Lamb galouti kebab
- Calamari balchao, piri piri, tomato & tamarind
- Steamed linefish, chilli, saffron & coconut reduction
- Ghee roast chicken
- Lamb & tomato bredie
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.
PART OF SECOND COURSE
Steamed linefish, chili, saffron & coconut reduction
PART OF SECOND COURSE
Calamari balchao, piri piri (hot chili pepper), tomato & tamarind
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!
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.
What other Cape Town restaurants are your favorites?
Let me know in the comments below!