Tasting the Eastern Cape


By Keri Harvey

The Eastern Cape has a lot to boast about. Just 45 minutes from Port Elizabeth you can see the Big Seven in Addo Elephant National Park, which is also rated one of the most diverse wildlife parks in the world. Here there are also the best sightings of elephants south of Amboselli in Kenya. Aside from wildlife, Addo is known for its citrus and also its cuisine. COSMOS CUISINE, a local guesthouse restaurant, has been winning accolades since 2005 for its meals. For chef Elzona Deetlefs, each plate is her canvas on which to create artistic cuisine. Serving hearty breakfasts, fresh light lunches, and five-course dinners is Elzona’s passion, though she can also delight vegetarian and vegan guests with imaginative meals.

As a matter of choice, Cosmos Cuisine showcases local produce across their menus, so citrus and venison feature prominently, too. The on-site herb and flower garden provide fresh garnishes that add flair to presentation. Elzona is a trained sommelier and offers food and wine pairings to guests. So, good food and wine are serious business here.

The ever-changing LE CHAMELEON DAYTIME RESTAURANT is an unusual find in the agricultural town of Humansdorp, but it exudes a passion for the good life. Owner Helga van Wyk epitomises serenity and grace, and she has a taste for the extraordinary. Her philosophy is that anything done with love and passion will succeed, and Le Chameleon proves that. Here she has created a little oasis of calm, decadence and fine food—and patrons come from all over for a little piece of it.

Whether you order bobotie or a gourmet burger, venison pie or green fig spring rolls, it will be something completely spectacular—utterly fresh, entirely homemade, and beautifully presented, with organic salad, herbs and flowers from her garden. Coffee is freshly roasted and ground every day, too. Home-grown and homemade offerings can also be bought in the accompanying shop, while carefully chosen items are for sale in the gift shop. “The idea is simple,” says Helga. “We serve fresh, honest, wholesome food that’s creatively presented, with a feminine touch. It gives me great joy to see people happy to be here. I want them to feel love and warmth in the shop.”

Just about 15km from Humansdorp, Jeffrey’s Bay is a surfing destination where you can also enjoy seafood cracking fresh from the ocean. In fact, at theWALSKIPPER RESTAURANT, your feet rest in sea sand as dinner sizzles on the coals. It’s the old fashioned way of cooking and dining here, and the menu is thoroughly and enchantingly South African. While children build sandcastles, starters of quail eggs, oysters or springbok biltong from the restaurant floor can be enjoyed. Main courses for the adventurous include crocodile steak, while the menu from the sea includes calamari, fish, perlemoen, and more. Desserts are thoroughly South African, with koeksusters and malva pudding, of course.

Dining literally at the water’s edge, under sunshine or in the covered section of Walskipper, the atmosphere is always ‘summer seaside relaxed’. This is authentic seaside dining at its best, using enamelware and oil lamps on the tables, because here the focus is on tasting the sea on your plate, all the while watching the waves before you and curling your toes in the sand under the table. It’s the real thing, dining from the sea at the sea.

In the Karoo, Gordon Wright has a similar philosophy: veld to fork. So he personally sources, grows, catches or hunts the raw ingredients for his renowned eatery,GORDON’S RESTAURANT, in Graaff Reinet. Gordon admits he’s a “lunatic for the slow food movement, because life is just too short for bad food and bad wine”. He’s passionate not only about cooking, but also about trying to get the world back to eating good, healthy food—and the world loves what he serves up. There are, would you believe it, patrons who actually fly in to Graaff Reinet to dine at Gordon’s Restaurant and then fly home to Cape Town or Johannesburg after their meal.

Also, diners at Gordon’s never know what’s on the menu, because it all depends what’s fresh on the day—but they know they’ll love whatever he serves them. In the Karoo, ‘organic’ and ‘free range’ are clichés, because the food quality is so good, adds Gordon, who modestly says: “Really fresh food tastes so good, I simply have to marry the flavours, and the dishes make me look good.” Most of Gordon’s dishes are authentic Karoo recipes handed down through the generations, but he gives them his own modern twist.

There’s no signature dish at Gordon’s Restaurant because the available fresh ingredients keep changing. So one day there will be Whisky and Honey Infused Wild Hare Spring Rolls with Muscadel Sauce for starters, and Frangipani Tart with Wild Berry and Dark Chocolate Filling for dessert—the next day something else. That said, his Gratin of Frozen Almond Nougat, served with Fresh Granadilla Sauce, is so loved, it stays on the menu almost permanently.

However, if you’re looking for legendary sweet treats, there is a place in Port Elizabeth that is sugar Shangri la. The ORIGINAL WESTEES BAKERY AND CAFÉ first opened in 1979 and remains the city’s favourite haunt for sweet-toothed locals and lovers of fine roasted coffee. Some of their lines, such as Chelsea buns, éclairs and custard slices, are so eternally popular that the exact same recipes are still used as for the very first batch they baked over 30 years ago. Brides have even been known to serve Westees’ caramel doughnuts at their wedding receptions.

While the range of sweet offerings is extensive, savoury tastes are also well catered for. Traditional hot lunches-to-go are wildly popular, as is taking time out with a cup of freshly ground coffee and the newspaper of the day. Owner Maryann Swanepoel says there’s no real secret to Westees’ success. “Just good fresh food and friendly service—all day, every day.”
The authenticity of the Eastern Cape’s people is clearly also infused in the way they prepare food, which may be why foodies are now sitting up and taking note of the special offerings from the region. There’s much more than elephants and oranges here: long waves and wide open spaces. This is the place to come for culinary delights you’ll find nowhere else. Real food, fresh and delicious, cooked with passion.

Don’t Miss the Farm Stalls

Tolbos Country Shop and Restaurant, Patensie, Gamtoos Valley—open since 1988 for traditional South African light meals, cake and coffee. Tel: 042-283-0437, Web: http://www.tolbos.co.za/
Nanaga Farm Stall, on R72, just off the N2 between Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown—going for over 40 years, and their pies and preserves are legendary. Plenty of homemade fare from ice cream to roosterkoek, with a gift shop and restaurant, too.

Oubosch Farm Stall, corner R102 and Eersterivier Road between Port Elizabeth and Knysna—light meals, preserves, crafts and local embroidery. Tel: 042-285-0562

Red Apple Farm Stall and Restaurant, Bushmans River—sells locally produced fare, from famous Bushman’s Mud Pies to Springvale Olives from Bathurst, aloe juice, Alexandria chicory and more. Tel: 046-648-1404, Web: http://theredapple.co.za

Tweeling Plaaskombuis, Kirkwood—specialises in homemade citrus products from jams and jellies to chutneys. Satsuma jam is a flagship product. Tel: 082-854-4853.