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Is this the Cape’s most exciting restaurant?

Below is the wide sweep of the bay, the water as still as a pond, except for the occasional small fishing boat. Each arrival is met by a small group of locals who run alongside the decrepit 4×4 that pulls the boat up onto the sand. Little girls are doing cartwheels and the gulls are wheeling around the discarded bait at the water’s edge. Today the sky is cobalt blue and the sea is a pale turquoise where it curls into the half-moon of white beach.

Time is standing still. We are sitting on the stoep- the wide verandah- of a renovated 130-year-old fishing cottage now home to the brilliant Kobus van der Merwe’s new restaurant, Wolfgat, in Paternoster, a fishing village some 2 hours’ drive from Cape Town up the West Coast.

Could anything be as marvelous as our view? Well yes, the food is. It is an 8-course menu, unlike anything you have eaten before and each dish is not only beautiful but designed to explode your senses and challenge your foodie preconceptions. Chef Kobus is a forager with a passion for the local Strandveld food, bringing together the flavours of wild plants that grow on the dunes, seaweeds from the water’s edge, and the local mussels, abalone and fish. The menu is seasonal, and changes as often as different fruits ripen and different fish are caught, and Kobus is careful to harvest the wild plants sustainably.

The textures and contrasts are so exciting- crisp and soft, salty and sour, sweet and creamy, rich and smoky, crunchy and sour. There is also drama in the presentation- especially the branch of salvia, lit at the table so that the smoke drifts through the plump mussels hanging on the twigs.

You can watch Kobus work his magic at an open table inside the small cottage, but the view quickly draws you back outside, content to sip your cold Chenin and wait for the next dish, while you hope that lunch will never end.

This is what we ate on a day in mid-December.

Mesembryanthemum guerichianum
White fish pickle, strawberry & summer soutslaai.

 

Mesembryanthemum crystallinum
Oyster, watermelon, veld olive

Salvia Africana-lutea
Saldanah Bay mussels, season’s first peaches

Salvia-smoked mussel

Tetragonia decumbens
Shoreline salad

Porphyra capensis
Jacobsbaai abalone, twice cooked laver

Tulbaghia violaceae
Angel fish, wild garlic, maasbanker bokkom
(I enjoyed this so much I forgot to do the photography thing)

Dasispermum suffriticosum
Dune celery ice cream

There are many brilliant restaurants in the Cape, but my vote for the most exciting would go to Wolfgat, every time. It is totally unique, true to itself and to the West coast food traditions. It is like nothing else.

(Note: Kobus’ first restaurant, Oep vir Koep, which I wrote up a year ago on Tastetrip, now only serves breakfast and homebakes and a light meal and not the tasting menu.
Wolfgat means wolf cave, and there is a cave below the grassy area, where archaelogoists have found artefacts dating back thousands of years.
The restaurant is small, so booking is essential: email diewolfgat@gmail.com )

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