There are many reasons to love the rugged West Coast, whether it’s the wave-washed shores, the endless sandy beaches or the lonely lighthouses that greet ships arriving from the north, guiding them safely towards Cape Town. But increasingly, the region’s culinary adventures are a reason to buckle up and head out of town. And if you only visit one coastal town in search of great views and better food, make your way to Paternoster, an easy two-hour drive from Cape Town.
The name translates as ‘journey’ in the indigenous Khoi language, and this is one restaurant well worth the trip. Chef Garth Almazan helms the kitchen at this stylish beachfront eatery, where the views are almost as good as his seafood risotto.
Seafood underpins the menu here, and Garth puts huge effort into sourcing produce that is both local and sustainable. When the fish are biting, black bream comes fresh from the local fishermen hauling their wooden boats onto the main beach, while farmed oysters and mussels are sourced from nearby Saldanha Bay. And forget about asking for the West Coast rock lobster, red-listed as unsustainable by the South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative. While it’s sold (illegally, mind you) all over town, Garth makes a point of not offering it on his menu. Seafood aside, you’ll find prime cuts and local venison on the menu too, while both vegans and vegetarians are also well taken care of. The vegetarian risotto is outstanding, while other meat-free choices could include a tart of wild mushrooms, or an innovative kohlrabi carpaccio with marinated asparagus and fynbos vinaigrette.
Tables overlook Mosselbank beach, and while the terrace is idyllic on those rare wind-free West Coast days, the elegant Scandi-chic interior, complete with wood-burning fireplaces, is no less charming when the winter cold fronts roll in.
The Noisy Oyster
It’s not all about the views though. Hidden a few streets from the sea is the much-loved Noisy Oyster, where the colourful garden twinkles with fairy lights and the cheeky menu is sure to set tongues wagging. The vibe may be light-hearted, but the food is taken seriously. Start with the famous oysters, fresh from Saldanha Bay, before moving on to the creative selection of linefish, shellfish and meatier options well suited to chilly Autumn evenings.
Wolfgat is as remarkable as it is unassuming, up on the hillside overlooking the main beach. But here in this small coastal village is the eatery voted Restaurant of the Year at the inaugural World Restaurant Awards unveiled in Paris last year, also clinching best global ‘off-map destination restaurant’.
Equally remarkable is the way chef-patron Kobus van der Merwe seems unfazed by the attention that has since flooded his way. Sure, his tables are fully booked months in advance, but there’s been little change in his dedication to the menu that delights and enlightens diners each week.
It’s a menu that celebrates what Kobus dubs Strandveld cuisine, blending heritage techniques and dishes with hyper-local ingredients, many of them foraged wild nearby. The seven-course menu evolves with the seasons, but expect to be led on a mesmerising culinary ramble across the dunes, fields, seas and rock pools in and around Paternoster.
Think local limpets cooked in garlic and white wine. A plump poached oyster atop bean purée. Breadsticks for dipping into butter infused with salt-dried bokkoms. A playful ‘West Coast taco’ with fleshy soutslaai leaf around cured angelfish. Black mussel custard with coconut and wild garlic. The wine list is equally adventurous, tapping into the best cellars of the West Coast. The setting is just as memorable: The best seats are out on the terrace, with views overlooking the bay. Or, if you’d rather watch all the action in Kobus’ tiny kitchen, ask for one of the handful of tables set inside the century-old fisherman’s cottage.
It’s not cheap, or easy to get a table, but Wolfgat offers an unforgettable taste of the West Coast.
The Hungry Monk
A new arrival in the village is this Asian-European mash-up situated on the crayfish wharf. Billing itself as ‘The first Anglo Indian/Polish Restaurant and Tapas Bar in the World’, the menu here ambles from Spanish tapas plates to Asian street food and Polish fine-dining dishes. This means you could start with a sour and fragrant tom yum soup, move on to a few small plates of crayfish tempura or yakitori skewers, then fill up the corners with a main course of Polish pierogi dumplings of sauerkraut and mushroom. A dedicated vegan menu is also available.
Another restaurant with some of the best vistas in town is just a short walk along the sands, at the western end of the main beach. A handful of terrace tables have a front-row seat to the sea, so be sure to book ahead. Happily, the menu stands up to the vistas, with Chef Jaco Kruger tapping into his extensive experience in high-end hotels and lodges both here and abroad.
There’s a bold Asian thread running through the menu, with Chef Jaco applying a deft touch to the seafood-focused menu. There’s spice and fragrance, but it’s never overpowering, and the fresh seafood always shines through. The starter portion of West Coast mussels is particularly good, swimming in a broth of cumin and lime leaves with a warm potbrood on the side. Grilled calamari with pickled red onion and smoked paprika is another standout, and be sure to leave room for the excellent panna cotta. To drink? You won’t go wrong with the wide-ranging selection of West Coast cellars and local craft beers.
Sitting with its feet on the sandy beach, Voorstrandt (‘front beach’) certainly lives up to its name. The wooden walls and red tin roof of this old fisherman’s cottage have become a much-loved landmark of Paternoster, and the tables here are perennially popular with diners enjoying a cold beer and good view. On a windless day you’ll need to book ahead to bag a coveted table on the outside deck.
It’s the location that’s the highlight here, rather than the food, with a menu filled with a predictable selection of grills and deep-fried seafood that arrive plated with the usual suspects of chips or rice. That said, the food is well cooked and the portions are large, making it a great option for travellers in search of good value and a fine sea view.