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Tuesday, 26 July 2016

48 Hours in Cape Town: Where to Eat, Sleep and Play

One of the most beautiful cities in the world, Cape Town has so much going for it – long sandy beaches, fantastic food and locally produced wine, and the most exquisite natural setting I have seen.

But far from being the chocolate box pretty place that might be expected, it’s also a working city with an infrastructure to match. Like San Francisco in California or London in the UK, it seems that everyone in South Africa wants to live in Cape Town, making it one of the most coveted and expensive places in the country.

For the Brits, Cape Town is still one of the most affordable holiday destinations – the £ (despite the recent Brexit battering) is still strong compared to the Rand, so do not expect to pay an arm and a leg for top notch food, wine and some accommodation whilst there.

One of the best meals I had during the recent #Stellenblog 2016 tour was in Cape Town at a restaurant called the Chefs Warehouse Kitchen headed by Irish chef Liam Tomlin, but more on that later.

My lovely blogger friend Sam Linsell of Drizzle & Dip fame with friends John & Pammie at Chefs Warehouse & Canteen

Cape Town is a mere 45 minutes drive from Stellenbosch where we spent most of our time during the tour (see my earlier review here and here including my 3 top dining recommendations in Stellenbosch). So it is a good place to start or end a holiday in South Africa’s Western Cape.

Where to Stay

President Hotel

The President Hotel is a four-star hotel in the heart of the Bantry Bay area of Cape Town, a couple of blocks away from the seashore. It is a reasonably large hotel, a popular destination for holidaymakers and time-share owners, and offers everything from single or double rooms and suites to fully equipped self-catering flats.

My room was one of these flats, with two double bedrooms, a small kitchen, dining and living room areas. It had more than enough space for me as a single traveller, and was modern in its furnishing, affording great views over the sea, the swimming pool and surrounding areas.

Breakfast is taken overlooking the pool, where a generous buffet with many different dishes is available. There is a full selection of fresh fruits, juices and pastries, as well as cooked options, and good coffees and teas. It is well worth making time to enjoy the extensive breakfast buffet at the hotel.

The pool dominates the centre of the hotel, and is the focal point for breakfast and late afternoon drinks. The President Hotel is also one of the official stops for the Hop-on-Hope-off bus route, which has a circular route around Cape Town’s most popular spots, see What To Do section below.

 Where to Eat

Chefs Warehouse & Canteen

In the heart of Cape Town, the Chefs Warehouse & Canteen is a casual eatery headed by Irish chef Liam Tomlin. It is a relaxed canteen-style restaurant that does not take bookings, and is popular for its tapas-style menu. Chefs Warehouse & Canteen is one of the most coveted tables in Cape Town right now, so make sure to arrive early (around 6pm!) to get a table for the evening.

I ordered the popular tapas for 2 menu – eight dishes for 540 Rand (currently £28 for two). Dishes change every day, so I’ll give you a brief description of what I ate but you will probably get something different if you visit.

The food was immaculately presented, fresh, zingy and well seasoned. The chefs clearly know what they are doing, and I enjoyed every dish on the menu. My only regret is that the portions were not bigger, so delicious were they! 

Cured beetroot salmon with horseradish cream came with micro-herbs.

Crisp fried squid with Sririracha (Asian chilli sauce) and guacamole – this was soft but with crispy outer layer and had just the right amount of heat for me.

Tuna and yellowtail with miso and sake was beautifully presented with micro-herbs and sliced baby radishes.

Roast onion risotto was served in gorgeous individual copper pans, scattered with chives and fried garlic, this was creamy and delicious and one of the highlights of the evening.

The sautée mushrooms with soft polenta and Parmesan cream was suffused with deliciously rich, earthy flavours from the funghi.

The confit rabbit, rabbit loin and Puy lentils.

The entrecote was a tiny portion, served rare with green vegetables, and I really enjoyed it.

The crayfish linguini with crayfish bisque was deliciously concentrated, and lifted by the addition of chives and basil.

I had a great dinner at Chefs Warehouse & Canteen, and would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Cape Town. 

Tiger’s Milk

In the beach-side suburb of Cape Town known as Muizenberg, Tiger’s Milk is a popular dining spot famous for their burgers, pizza and steaks. Despite the name (tiger’s milk being the dressing for ceviche) there is no Peruvian connection to this restaurant.

I had a great burger there – the Rockstar – with medium rare beef, guacamole and cheese (£5).  The patty was juicy and beautifully cooked, served with proper hand-cut chips, although I would have preferred pieces of avocado to the creamy guacamole, which made the burger a little too wet and challenging to eat.

What to Do

Helicopter Ride with Cape Town Helicopters 

One of the most incredible experiences I had in Cape Town was a 25-minute helicopter ride around Table Top mountain with Cape Town helicopters.

Taking off from the V&A Waterfront, this was a breathtaking flight to see the city of Cape Town from the sea with Table Top Mountain in the background. We then soared above the mountain to see the view of the city and Atlantic Ocean from behind the mountain, as well as False Bay, Fish Hoek and Muizenberg.

Having flown over the Nazca Lines in Peru on a tiny little plane (reviewed here), I was worried about getting travel sick. But the helicopter ride was amazingly smooth and the 25 minutes literally flew by. The staff at Cape Town Helicopters were super-friendly, paying great attention to health and safety, which made me feel confident in flying with them.

I would thoroughly recommend using Cape Town Helicopters while in town. There are various trips available ranging from 12 to 60 minutes, at a variety of prices.  The one I took was the Two Oceans (£100 per person for a 25 minute ride), which also included a free City Sightseeing bus ticket (the hop-on, hop-off one) for the day, worth £10.

Cable Car up Table Mountain

Another experience not to be missed is going up Table Mountain by cable car. The ticket will cost as little as 240 Rand (£12), and the panoramic views of Cape Town from the top are breathtaking.

But there is so much more to Table Mountain than just the views – you can plan a full day of activities, free guided tours, hiking, learning about the unique vegetation and fauna.

Table Mountain is also a great place to watch the sunset, and for the more adventurous, abseiling is also possible.

I spent a few hours on top of the mountain, and it was difficult to tear myself away from the view to take the cable car down again – I could have stayed for hours.

Gary Surf School

Located on the beach front at Surfer’s Corner, Muizenberg, Cape Town, Gary’s Surf School is a favourite for surfing enthusiasts wanting to learn the tricks of the trade.

Gorgeous Art Deco buildings in Muizenberg
A two hour class here costs 450 Rand (£24), and the school guarantees to get even complete beginners surfing within these two hours. I was very sceptical about this claim, but was surprised to see how having mastered a few techniques, it was not an insurmountable task.

The first half hour of the class is spent on the beach learning about the techniques (I never thought there would be so many needed to keep you afloat on a surf board!), but most importantly health and safety. The remaining 90 minutes were spent in the sea, and a lot of it involved falling off the board, trying but failing to catch the surf.

For me, the best part of the class was heading back to the school for a hearty breakfast of eggs Benedict over mushrooms and chunky bread!

Antique shops in the quaint town of Kalk Bay

One of the most popular destinations along Cape Town’s False Bay, Kalk Bay’s Main Road is packed with antique shops, coffee shops, galleries, second-hand bookshops and restaurants.

Essentially a fishing village, Kalk Bay is still a lively working harbour as well as a fun place to visit, and makes for a great day trip from Cape Town.

I found this a pretty, arty little fishing village, and spent a few happy hours exploring the galleries, antique and book shops there. I would recommend a day trip there to anyone in Cape Town.

Hop-on, hop-off bus

Taxis in Cape Town have no meters, so haggling is required, and as a visitor you will find that prices fluctuate tremendously. I was surprised to find that the taxi ride from my hotel to the Cable Mountain cable car cost more than twice the cost of a whole day ticket on the hop-on, hop-off bus (£10.50), which links those two locations. There is a stop right outside the President Hotel.

I always smile when I see tourists in London on these buses, but I have to say if you have only a couple of days in a city, it’s a really great way to get around and I was very glad of it in Cape Town.

As well as offering two different routes, from my point of view the bus is great value, offers the option of stopping anywhere you like, and also has an informative commentary.  There are spectacular views from the open-topped, London-style double decker bus.

The 2-day ticket (£16 per person) comes with a canal cruise, a wine tour, a night tour and a walking tour included in the price, which strikes me as amazing value. If you have not already purchased it, a one-day ticket comes free with Cape Town Helicopters.

The Stellenblog campaign was created and sponsored by the Stellenbosch Wine Routes, Stellenbosch 360 and Destinate in partnership with iambassador. The London Foodie has however full editorial control over all content published.

Travel Essentials

I flew with South African Airways from London Heathrow taking a connecting flight from Johannersburg to Cape Town. With two daily overnight flights from Heathrow to Johannesburg, South African Airways offers flights to the largest route network within Southern Africa. To learn more, visit their website on flysaa.com or call 0844 375 9680.

President Hotel
4 Alexander Road, Bantry Bay, Cape Town
Room rates are in the region of £100 to £150 per night, depending on the season. 

Chefs Warehouse & Canteen
92 Bree Street
Cape Town 8001

Tiger’s Milk – Muizenberg
Corner of Beach and Sidmouth Roads

Cape Town Helicopters 
220 East Pier, 
Breakwater Edge, 
V&A Helipad, 
V&A Waterfront

Table Top Mountain 
Going up the mountain by cable car

Gary Surf School
34 Beach Rd
Facebook : Garys-Surf-School 

Cape Town Sightseeing Bus Tour
Daily ticket £10.50

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

The New Morito Hackney Road - Bigger and Bolder

Name: Morito Hackney Road

Where: 195 Hackney Road, London, E2 8JL, www.moritohackneyroad.co.uk

Cost: Average spent per person is £35 (not including drinks or service). The menu consists of small eats to share, and the recommendation is to start with 3 small plates per person, plus a portion of bread (£2.50), followed by dessert. Small eats are priced from £6 to £12. 

Wines are served by the glass, 500ml carafe and bottle. The house red and white wines are available on tap - Spanish Verdejo and Tempranillo  (£4 per glass, £15 per carafe). 

About: Opened in March 2016, this new branch of Morito in hipster Hackney, just over the road from the Columbia Road flower market, is much larger and can accommodate many more diners than the original restaurant on Exmouth Market.

It features a stunning ‘U’ shaped central bar with an elevated counter for those who prefer to dine there, as well as a total of 70 covers on tables scattered around the restaurant.

With an open-plan kitchen overlooking the restaurant like at Moro, polished concrete floors, simple wooden tables with cushioned aluminium chairs, the look is clean and industrial, and with plenty of natural light. Morito Hackney Road is a lively, buzzing place for lunch or dinner.

Tables are allocated for a maximum of 90 minutes, so Morito is not the place for a relaxed long lunch or dinner.

The staff are super-helpful, efficient and well informed though, and we got through our dinner without feeling in any way rushed.

What We Ate: The menu is divided into 5 sections and changes daily. There are only a few options per section, which should make it easy to order, though on our visit I was tempted by so many of the menu items that I struggled to make my choices!  

From the ‘para picar’ (appetizer) section, we ordered the bread basket (£2.50), which included a delicious and warm, freshly baked flat bread that worked a treat with the labneh, a thick and creamy Greek yoghurt, spiked with chillies and charred corn (£7), our choice from the ‘vegetable’ section. With a scattering of fennel and coriander seeds, and a pesto of parsley, as well as fragrant chilli oil, this was deliciously fresh and zingy.

From the meat offerings, we chose three dishes. The chicharrones (£7.50), an Andalucian specialty also popular throughout Latin America, are crispy pieces of fried pork belly – Morito’s version was sweet and tender, and I loved the addition of a simple dressing of cumin and lemon that cut through the fattiness and gave the pork such a lift.

The least promising of the dishes (Dr G’s choice, which I had to go along with), was in fact the best dish of the night. Fried rabbit (£7.50) was nothing short of a revelation - crispy rabbit morsels on the bone, seasoned with a fantastically aromatic dressing of rosemary and moscatel vinegar, lemon and sea salt.

The third meat option was the baked courgettes flowers with jamon and Manchego (£7). I found this disappointing in flavour, presentation and portion size – I could not detect any jamon, and the flower was of the type that did not have the baby courgette attached. I just wish I had ordered another portion of rabbit at virtually the same price!

From the fish section, we ordered two dishes. The slow-cooked cuttlefish with chickpeas and fino sherry (£11) came with flakes of red chilli and a scattering of Mediterranean herbs. I enjoyed the dish – the cuttlefish was super-tender and delicious, the chickpeas were soft, waxy and had a lovely texture. The only snag for me though was the overpowering and pungent smell (of offal I think, even though there was no offal in the dish as far as I am aware).

A much fresher option was the grilled mackerel, which came with tangy beetroot, walnuts and a sweet and aromatic borani (a Persian or Turkish yoghurt dip) flavoured with dill and tarragon (£9.50).  This was excellent –the fresh herbs and beetroot cut through the oiliness of the mackerel, it had great flavours and textures, and in all was a very well put together dish.

To finish our carafe of red wine, we shared the cheese platter dessert (£6.50).  With Zamorano and Fuente Los Angeles cheeses and membrillo, this was a classic combination of mature and well-flavoured hard sheep’s milk cheese and blue cheese, served with miniature biscuits.

For dessert proper, we shared a delicious fruit salad (£7), but not as we know it - this had crispy pieces of filo pastry, with sweetened labneh flavoured with gum mastic (a Turkish tree sap), slices of fig and peach and fresh green pistachios. I was so pleased to have ordered this – it had everything going for it – texture from the filo pastry, creaminess from the labneh, sweetness and freshness from the ripe fruit. A real winner.

What We Drank: We started off with a lovely bone-dry Manzanilla Gabriella sherry, from Bodegas Sanchez Ayala (£5 per glass). 

With the main meal, we shared a 500ml carafe of Garnacha 'El Marciano' from Alfredo Maestro 2015 (£24). Medium bodied, this had ripe cherry and plum fruit and soft tannins.

Likes: I love the extra space, the deep fried rabbit with rosemary and muscatel vinegar was the highlight. The chicharrones, labneh, cheese platter and dessert were all very good. Well-informed, efficient and friendly staff, what a joy to see this in London, and particularly in Hackney. 

Dislikes: The baked courgette flower with jamon and Manchego was the weakest link. 

Verdict: Super-fresh, zingy and delicious Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern flavours, I thoroughly enjoyed the food and service at Morito Hackney Road, and highly recommend it. 

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