Top 10 Eastern Cape restaurants for 2015: Eating out just gets better and better!
Julia Child, the author of the seminal ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’, once said; “It’s fun to get together and have something good to eat at least once a day. That's what human life is all about - enjoying things.”
Enjoyable is the defining characteristic of the restaurants listed in this article. So, if you view food as more than an energy input, more than a function, then you will relate to this article. If you anticipate an evening of romance or camaraderie or passionate conversation over a good meal, then you will love this article.
If you live to eat rather than eat to live then you will know that a great restaurant goes beyond the fundamental elements of excellent service, good food and great ambiance, it must possess that secret ingredient that transforms an everyday activity into an enjoyable occasion.
Eating, to my mind, is not just a human necessity needed to survive but rather an experience that welcomes you at the door, presents itself on your plate, finds itself swirling inside your wine glass, and lingers throughout your evening until that last flavour of dessert leaves your palate.
Continuing with the trend of our 2014 list, we have selected ten restaurants that have provided us with memorable dining experiences. We welcome back a few to their deserving places on our list and others, newcomers, who are readily making their mark on the restaurant scene.
There is an evolving food culture that has been embraced by the more discerning Eastern Cape diner and it is not only generating a competitive spark amongst restaurateurs but is also raising the standard and variety of our restaurant community. This is largely thanks to a few food pioneers, most of whom are featured in this article, which are bringing originality and creativity to our palates and exposing us to ever more sophisticated ways of appreciating the dining out culture and the very philosophy of food.
It can be said that each of our selected restaurants displays excellence in the three fundamental elements; food, ambiance and service. However, what really contributes to their success is how they bring these three elements together to make a visit a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Identifying a restaurant, particularly an ‘enjoyable’ restaurant, is very subjective and the emotions and personalities of our judges have obviously played a big part in this selection process. Thus, your top 10 may be different to ours, and, if it is, we would like to hear from you.
The restaurants that haven’t made our list this year, but came very close, include Die Walskipper and In Food in Jeffreys Bay; Fernando’s in Richmond Hill, Port Elizabeth; De Kelder on the PE beachfront; The Big Time Taverna on the canals, in St Francis Bay, and Sprouts in East London. Our panel of judges are all food enthusiasts, who are passionate about the dining out experience and have shared their thoughts and experiences with us.
Our judging panel, including your food loving correspondent, includes:
Amber Harrington - Bargain Buys Manager and experienced restaurant reviewer
Graeme Lund - Owner of Ricochet Publishing and fine food lover
Steve Johnson - Corporate Executive, experienced traveller and foodie
Liande Barnard - Editor of Home Food & Travel magazine
Jason Kitching – Experienced restauranteur, entertainer and food lover
- Fushin on Stanley Street
by Graeme Lund
There are many reasons why Fushin remains our top restaurant; not least because owner, Mark Oosthuizen, continues to reinvent his menu and thus perk, not just our interest, but our taste buds too.
Fushin on Stanley Street, in Richmond Hill, Port Elizabeth, is a relatively small restaurant and is almost always full. There can be no more certain endorsement of a restaurant than popularity, particularly when that popularity has continued year after year. Of course this popularity poses problems for a diner particularly as Mark refuses to take reservations.
Personally, I think is a grand idea that you can’t reserve a table. It’s like going whale-watching or game viewing, there’s no certainty that you’ll see the Humpback or the Lion or, in this case, get a table, but when you do, that uncertainty transforms into pure happiness.
Another great aspect of Fushin is the sidewalk dining. It just makes a meal happier. Maybe it’s the European atmosphere or the fresh air or the friends and acquaintances that stroll by with a smile and greeting, but you’ll find me here often.
Mark frequently experiments with new ingredients and his menu is seasonal so that they not only take advantage of available, fresh ingredients, but also satisfy the changes in taste that come with the seasons.
I loved their Spicy Chicken Noodle Soup in winter but, let’s face it, this is not what your body craves after a day at the beach. However, a Panco Prawn and Gorgonzola Salad washed down with a bit of bubbly would certainly complement a sunny day.
“Before opening Fushin, I had some great teachers and life experiences. I knew what I wanted and worked hard to build my reputation and achieve my dream,” says Mark, adding; “There are days, particularly when we launch a new menu, that my team puts in long hours and shows their dedication to our vision of providing a great dining experience.”
Opening times: 12:00-22:00, 7 days a week. Tel: 041 811 7874
- Two Olives
by Graeme Lund
Without a doubt, this is THE restaurant for tapas. Also situated in Stanley Street, Richmond Hill, PE, this restaurant’s simple décor and easy going vibe makes it a wonderful place to meet friends, relax and enjoy a magnificent meal.
“This is my go to place,” says Amber Harrington, “The food is consistently excellent and we always receive good service. I have never been disappointed eating here; everything served to you has so much flavour and is presented beautifully.”
The simplistic setting compliments the somewhat organized chaotic nature of the restaurant. The scatterings of the beautifully presented dishes, the many a hand stretching in and around the table, the social buzz and energy that generates throughout the room, all create a very unique experience.
She considers this eatery as definitely one of her favourite places to meet with close friends and share good wine, delicious tapas and great conversation. Two Olives has many good memories.
Owner and chef, Jonathan Gunston, obviously loves what he does and his passion shines through in every meal.
“Food is my passion and for as long as I can remember I have enjoyed being in the kitchen. Whether it is a braai with friends or a Saturday night at Two Olives, you will find me in the kitchen where I am most happy,” explains Jonathan.
Two Olives remains at number two on our list from last year.
Opening Times: Tues to Sat: 11:30-22:30; Sun: 11:30-15:30; Monday: 17:30-22:30 Tel: 041 585 0371
- Gordon's Restaurant
by Jess Johnson
Chef Gordon Write, a once upon a time investment banker and now the owner and chef at Gordon’s Restaurant in Graaff-Reinet, has become a pioneer for local Karoo cuisine.
Surprisingly, he is not a qualified chef and has no formal training, but in his own words; “I am just a good old country boy with a deep seated passion for the Karoo, its people and its food. After relocating to Graaff-Reinet and experiencing life in the Karoo and all its food based traditions, my love affair with food was rekindled.”
Perhaps in this lies the secret to Gordon's success, his passion for not just the food but the community that contributes to the production of the food. He tracks his food from ‘veld to fork’ and offers an intimate dining experience. The service, the atmosphere and even the crockery are special.
Dishes such as morogo, the venison hunters pot, Karoo lamb in its most pure form and the flash-fried pap en sous balls are but a few of the culinary concoctions that bring people from all over the country to eat in Gordon's Restaurant.
To my mind, this is one of the best and most original restaurants in the Eastern Cape, and although it has moved up one spot from last year, it would top our list if it was more accessible to more of our readers.
Opening times: 19:00-22:00, 7 days a week Tel: 049 892 4575
- Sanook Eatery at Beacon Bay
by Graeme Lund
Last year, Sanook Café in Berea came seventh on our top 10 list. This year, we have placed their Beacon Bay restaurant at number four and for good reason too.
Just stepping through the door at Sanook, you know you’re in for a great dining experience. Their waiting and kitchen staff move about with a professional efficiency; the ambiance is lively and the aroma’s emanating from the pizza oven, simply mouth-watering.
Most of our panel of judges agreed that they offer the best dining experience in East London – only closely matched by Sanook Cafe in Berea. The Berea restaurant came first and clearly every lesson and experience that the owners, Jamie and Natasha, have had, not just at the first Sanook, but in their entire food career, has gone into making the Sanook at Beacon Bay.
Jason Kitching says, “On more than one occasion I have arrived at Sanook to find it buzzing and fully booked. You can tell that the owners love what they do and you can feel their passion for providing a good quality dining experience.”
When asked about their recipe for success, Jamie and Natasha agreed; “We believe in hands on management and provide reasonably priced, simple, fresh food.”
My suggestion is to try their Biltong Steak and their Steven Segal Pizza. Just make sure that you have a reservation or you are unlikely to get a table at any time of the day or evening.
Opening times: 11:00-22:00, 7 days a week. Tel: 043 748 2494
- The Edge
by Jess Johnson
Undoubtedly the restaurant with the best views on our list; this warm-hearted dinning spot is nestled in amongst the scenic mountains of Hogsback and maintains its position at number five.
From fresh country salads in Summer to slow cooked stews and shanks in Winter, the menu remains seasonal and it's wide variety means there is something for everyone.
Owner, Wouter Jordaan, runs a well-trained team and makes sure that the service is as the ambiance is, relaxed but professional and pleasant.
Wouter, like most locals, is in touch with Hogsback’s magical atmosphere and environment and when asked about his cooking he says, “We mostly use fresh and organic produce and we bake fresh Ciabatta and Seed bread every day. On cold and snowy days we serve hot chocolate, made with real chocolate, and glühwein next to the log fire. On lovely summer’s days, you can enjoy tea and scones in the shade of the old oak trees.”
The location really lends itself to slow, enjoyable eating. One can’t help but relax and start to move at the Hogsback speed.
After many visits to The Edge, Steve Johnson had this to say about it; “The good food and service all work well with the setting. I really enjoy spending lazy afternoons in winter at this restaurant. There is always a fire, good food and great wine – all the things that you look for on a winter holiday retreat.”
Opening times: Breakfast 8:00-11:00; Lunch 12:00-15:00; Dinner 18:30-20:30 Dinner, 7 days a week. Tel: 045 962 1159
- Crossways Country Kitchen
by Graeme Lund
We maintain that this restaurant serves, arguably, the best food in the Eastern Cape and has moved up two spots since last year. Trevor Steyn, the owner and internationally-trained chef, knows his trade like no other from this region.
Located 40 km from Port Elizabeth on the N2 towards Jeffreys Bay, this restaurant also has one of the best settings.
Good, old fashioned country cooking perhaps best describes the Crossways Country Kitchen philosophy - only they take it a step further and add a little gourmet too.
Trevor says, “I want to change people’s perceptions about food. I want them to understand that food is not just a meal but an experience to be enjoyed.”
The delicious menu is beautifully-presented by well-trained staff and the setting is one of beautifully kept lawns, spectacular mountains and a well-kept vegetable garden. Take a stroll through this organic veggie patch with a glass of chilled wine in hand and enjoy the fresh country air.
Graeme Lund had the following to say about Crossways; “The best food in the Eastern Cape is served at Crossways. This is also my favourite family restaurant as there is so much space for the kids to run around.”
Our panel entire panel would love to see Crossways Country Kitchen open for dinner and this would push this restaurant well up the list if not all the way to the top.
Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday 08:00-15:00 Tel: 042 286 0678
- The Chartroom
by Graeme Lund
It is hard to find a better way of spending a sunny afternoon than on the deck of the Chartroom Restaurant at the Algoa Bay Yacht Club in the Port Elizabeth Harbour. The view, the fresh air, the eclectic mix of patrons and the holiday atmosphere are best enjoyed with an ice cold beverage and a group of friends or family.
Nick Gunston, owner and chef, coincidentally the twin brother of Jonathan Gunsten of Two Olives fame, has created a most enjoyable atmosphere of pub and seafood grub, casual attire and an all-around good dining experience with attentive service and good food.
Liande Barnard had the following to say about the Chart Room; “It’s the first place I think of when I’m craving good food. Their food is consistently great and it's a great place to take my parents, friends or work colleagues.”
This restaurant has a relatively small kitchen and on a busy, hot Sunday afternoon, an order may take a while to arrive but my advice is to enjoy the live music, take in the view and chat with your friends.
Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday 12:00-21:00 Tel: 041 585 2893
- Colonial Kitchen
by Jess Johnson
A new addition to our list, Colonial Kitchen had their humble beginnings as a coffee and sandwich station in Colonial Antiques, the well-known antique shop at the bottom of Mount Road, Port Elizabeth.
It was only in 2013, when an opportunity arrived, that Ananja Bouwer, the owner, reinvented her restaurant and relocated to Bridge Street, in Baakens Valley, Port Elizabeth, where this truly unique restaurant is now found.
From its eclectic setting and ambiance to their selection of craft beers and in-house iced teas to the unique menu items, Colonial Kitchen is very different to any other eatery in the region.
Must-have dishes include their roasted bone marrows, the homemade pasta and the goat stew, all of which will arrive beautifully-presented with the same eclectic feeling of the décor that surrounds you.
According to Ananja, passion, self-determination, hard work and research into local and international trends is the key to success and, in her own words; “Passion is contagious, your customers will feel it and your staff will absorb it. Passion and determination to succeed are what drive me to succeed.”
Its originality is what makes this restaurant stand out.
Opening times: Tuesday 9:00-17:00; Wednesday to Saturday 9:00-22:00; Sunday 9:00-15:00 Tel: 041 581 4488
- Bocadillos Café and Bakery
by Jess Johnson
This is a restaurant that resonates well with many Port Elizabeth locals because of its accessibility and versatility. Situated along Sixth Avenue in Walmer, Port Elizabeth, Bocadillos is another new-comer to our list.
Even though they refer to themselves as a bakery and café, they have exceeded our expectations and double-tick all the boxes on the great restaurant checklist. The food is consistently great, the service is professional and quick and the ambiance is relaxed with a quirky flair.
Previously just open during the day, serving fantastic coffee, lunches and a variety of expertly made pastries, Bocadillos has also opened their kitchen for dinners. Light meals, pastas, burgers, stir fry’s, fish and their famous pizzas are all available in the evening too.
Abel Esterhuizen, the owner of Bocadillos, is a fantastic host and ensures that his clientele receive the level of service that they expect.
The Port Elizabeth locals are smiling even more these days as Bocadillos 2 has recently opened in First Avenue, Walmer.
Opening times: Monday to Saturday 07:30-21:30; Sunday 9:00-14:30 Tel: 041 581 1523
10. Beer Yard
by Graeme Lund
This is certainly the most fun restaurant on our list and my advice is to follow them on social media to find out about their specials, new menu’s and fun evenings.
Owned by the brother and sister duo of Matt and Kerry Repton, the Beer Yard is just one of their many successful ventures into the competitive world of restuaranteering. To quote Kerry, “We love what we do, it is our passion.”
As their name suggests, the Beer Yard has the widest selection of craft beers in the Eastern Cape and to complement their beer menu, they also offer the best pub food in the region too. Personally, I love their burgers and their chicken schnitzel is my go-to meal when I want an informal lunch or dinner.
Don’t think that because this restaurant caters for beer lovers and revellers that their service is below par, far from it, the bar staff and waiters are speedy, happy and helpful.
The Beer Yard uses it patrons to provide décor - and if this sounds strange then I suggest you pay a visit to find out how you can assist!
Opening times: Monday to Saturday 12:00-00:00 Tel: 041 582 2444
Main image: Sushi from Fushin on Stanley Street
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