Culinary cool

Hemelhuijs in Cape Town has developed its own homeware collection. © Manley Communications
South African culinary cool is found in the most arresting of settings. Imaginative restaurant owners are bringing colour to the dining scene, matching extraordinary locations with themed décor and artistic food combinations. As for the chefs, they are becoming rock stars in their own right.

Did you know?

Most of the produce at Babylonstoren is grown on the property.

Always on the lookout for something novel and imaginative, South African restaurateurs have set up shop in some fascinating spaces. Their creativity sees them putting unusual dining concepts to work, making magic with their menus and providing service with surprising touches.

Babylonstoren, one of the oldest and most beautifully restored Cape Dutch properties in the country, is a farm hotel set in the spectacular surrounds of the Drakenstein Valley, between Franschhoek and Paarl in the Western Cape, about an hour's drive from Cape Town. Here you'll find The Greenhouse, a green steel-and-glass building that doubles as a tearoom and an experimental space for cultivating plants. Here diners can tuck into wood-fired bread, crispy salads and farm-crafted cheeses, served with guavadillas (a guava-granadilla hybrid) and dragon fruit from the East.

The Zen-style interiors of Hemelhuijs in Waterkant Street in Cape Town, with its charcoal walls accented with white, offers unusual combinations like marzipan and dried apricot rolled chicken, or a hot drink combination of Belgian white chocolate, Japanese green tea and steamed milk, all served using their own home-ware designs.

The popular chain of boutique cafés, Tashas, has gone all out with a new venture at the upmarket Hyde Park Corner in Johannesburg. Called Tashas le Parc, its black-and-white art deco trelliswork has a strong French flavour, as does the menu with French offerings like vol au vent (puff pastry with a filling) and onion soup. The patisserie counter is particularly enticing.

Cube Tasting Kitchen in Sandton's Kramerville district in Johannesburg serves small groups of diners a 10-course tasting menu paired with wine. Diners are advised to set aside at least three hours for this gastronomic journey which includes entrees, salads, four or five mains and a couple of desserts. Kramerville, formerly an industrial area, is fast gaining a reputation as an up-and-coming design district in the city.

‘Fifty shades of cream’ and dipping pendulum lights adorn the double-volume, upmarket Kream Restaurant in the Brooklyn Bridge office park in Pretoria, pitched at the discerning diner. The a la carte menu here is largely continental, although you will find traditional biltong and Mozambican chilli making an appearance in some of the dishes. The wine list is extensive and there are some rare whiskeys and cognacs to be sampled.

Neil Roake’s Freedom Café in the port city of Durban is located in a revamped, bright-red shipping container set in the garden of the Concierge Boutique Bungalows in Greyville. Wild wallpapers, funky use of primary colours, mirrored walls and kitschy ceramic sausage dogs make a whacky impression. Craft Trattoria in Glenashley, Durban, is another Roake creation, once again with quirky design motifs (the huge red lips mounted on one of the walls are unmissable).

The much-awarded Silver Orange Bistro at Hartbeespoort, west of Pretoria, is located on a family-owned citrus farm. The thatched bistro comprises a number of rooms dominated by Venetian crystal chandeliers, and an outside dining area. All the chefs are Prue Leith Chefs' Academy graduates and the dishes are prefectly presented.

As for our local chefs, just mention the names Luke-Dale Roberts, Reuben Riffel and Chantelle Dartnell. They are all becoming icons of ultimate cool in the kitchen.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

The Greenhouse, Babylonstoren
Between Paarl and Franschhoek
Tel: +27 (0)21 863 3852
Email: enquiries@babylonstoren.com

Hemelhuijs
71 Waterkant St, Cape Town
Tel: +27 (0)21 418 2042
Email: info@hemelhuijs.co.za

Tashas le Parc
Shop u29, Hyde Park Corner, Jan Smuts Ave and 6th road, Hyde Park
Tel: +27 (0)11 325 5008

Cube Tasting Kitchen
Shop 5 Parknorth Heights,17 4th Avenue, Parktown North
Bookings online only
Email: cubetastingkitchen@gmail.com

Kream Restaurant
Brooklyn Bridge, 570 Fehrsen St, Brooklyn, Pretoria
Tel: +27 (0)12 346 4642

Freedom Café
37 to 43 St Mary's Ave, Greyville, Durban
Tel: +27 (0)31 3094453/4434

Craft Trattoria
35 Newport Ave, Glen Ashley, Durban North
Tel: +27 (0)31 5621951

Silver Orange Bistro
Off the R531, Hartebeespoort area
Co-ordinates: S25º43'21" • E27º49'59"
Tel: +27 (0)82 378 2948

How to get here

The restaurants will have directions on their individual websites.

Tours to do

Learn to cook Cape Malay cuisine in Bo-Kaap in Cape Town. Or find out about one of the local cookery schools in Johannesburg, where you can learn more about how South Africans like to prepare our favourite dishes.

What will it cost

Restaurant prices differ depending on what you order and where you eat. A main meal will cost in the region of R80 to R150 depending on where you are dining. There is a corkage fee for wine at most good restaurants.

What to eat

Always ask for the house speciality. Many of the super-cool chefs prepare their meals using fresh local produce and therefore menus change regularly.

What's happening

If you're in Cape Town, you might want to visit the winelands to purchase excellent local wines. In Johannesburg, markets like Neighbourgoods Market in Braamfontein are a must for foodies intent on finding out more about the local food scene.