Pretty whitewashed blue-shuttered cottages overlook soft white sands that curve around a still blue sea. A few wooden fishing boats are upended on the beach and five noisy gulls are arguing over some scraps thrown them by two little girls. This is Paternoster, and it is picture perfect on this glorious spring day.
We are having lunch at Oep ve Koep, a restaurant housed in the old shark–liver-oil factory building, now a country store selling veldskoene, soaps, jams, chutneys and the lurid pink Star sweets of my childhood. What was once the tea garden is now the bistro of Kobus van der Merwe, a chef whose passion is seasonal produce and whose obsession is the local Strandveld wild food.
Every day Kobus writes up the menu. It is a set menu, reflecting what is fresh or flowering or foraged. We start with a sweet, fragrant pelagornium tea, served with a crunchy biscuit topped with a salty snoek roe. Marinated mushrooms follow, served in a ramenas (wild radish) leaf on top of some strange looking stones. Then it is a smoky, salty angelfish served with pink grapefruit and borage flowers on a delicious mesembryanthemum (ice plant) leaf. Husband dearest is starting to think that the portions are too small, but the most yummy home baked breads arrive wrapped in fresh herbs, along with a dip of melted butter flavoured with salty bokkums. We are glad we have brought a bottle of Mullineux Old Vines Chenin with us because not many wines would be able to stand up as well with all the dishes arriving at our table.
Next is a bright vygie broth, so sour that the gooseberries served with it burst like balls of honey in my mouth. By now, we are enchanted by the contrasts of sweet and sour, soft and crunchy, salty and rich, but most of all by the expected and unexpected. So many of these flavours are new to us, and as a result, our senses are thrust into top gear. Still to come is springbok two ways, a powerful piece of loin served with strandsalie (wild sage) and a carpaccio served with klipkombers, a seaweed akin to Japanese nori. And then it is more angelfish served with sorrel butter, and veldkool, which look like asparagus tips and taste even better.
And finally, pears poached in Strandveld Fynbos Vermouth and served with a buchu-scented ice cream. Along with an extra cup of the magical Vermouth that Kobus concocts from an array of wild herbs and plants that are on display in glass jars on a table in the restaurant.
Then sadly it’s time to leave. We are off in search of the West Coast wild flowers, hoping to see a display as splendid as our lunch.