Top 10 Restaurants in the Eastern Cape

BY GRAEME LUND - FEBRUARY 6, 2015

The word ‘Restaurant’ derives from the French verb restaurer, which means “to restore” and probably refers to the fact that food is necessary to restore the body’s energy.

Today, a good restaurant is expected to offer much more, in fact most people who enjoy dining out want an experience. In reality this is easier said than done as the desired experience usually includes a combination of good food, excellent service and great ambiance and very few restaurateurs perfect this mix.  

The restaurants that we have considered in this article serve food of such a high quality or of such a unique nature that they cannot, generally speaking, be replicated in a home kitchen.  Jess Johnson, an experienced chef and a caterer for corporate events says, “I want to be awed by the meal that is placed before me. It must look good, taste amazing and show creativity.”

The experienced diner will tell you that, of the three reasons for dining out, service is most important.  An excellent meal in a fine environment can be totally ruined by an incompetent waiter, slow chef or poor cleaning staff. Jason Kitching, a businessmen who regularly entertains corporate executives, says, “More than anything else, service will determine whether I will return to a restaurant or not.”

The ambiance, according to Brigitte Hills, an interior designer, is just as important. “A restaurant must have atmosphere. Whether it’s super modern or laid back with ‘chippy’ painted furniture, it must have a bit of je ne se qua,” she says.

In recent years, the level of service in the Eastern Cape has risen significantly as has the quality and variety of the food and selecting this list has not been an easy job. Restaurants such as Die Walskippe in Jefferys Bay and the Big Time Taverna in St Francis Bay came very close but we only had space for ten – and ten very outstanding restaurants they are.

Six of the restaurants are in Port Elizabeth and one each from Graaff-Reinet, Hogsback, East London and Thornhill. What is interesting is that, in almost every case, the restaurants on our list are owner managed. The only exception is Ginger.

 

Our judges included:

Jess Jonson – Chef and professional caterer.

Steve Johnson – A corporate executive who travels and entertains extensively.

Amber Harrington – Manages Bargain Buys and regularly writes reviews on restaurants.

Naomi Solomon – Partner at Solomon and Crafford and amateur restaurant critic.

Jason Kitching – From a family of restaurateurs and travels and entertains extensively.

Brigitte Hills – Interior designer and lover of good food and good taste

Graeme Lund – Owner of Ricochet Publishing and fine food lover.

 

  1. Fusion – Stanley Street, Richmond Hill, Port Elizabeth (Main Image)

Choosing Fusion as the top restaurant was not a difficult decision for the majority of our panel of judges. Consistency in excellent service and perfectly prepared dishes combined with a unique ambiance in this small but delightful eatery, place Fusion in first place.

The service is so efficient, so natural and unassuming that when assessing this restaurant many of our judges neglected to comment on this vital aspect of a good restaurant. Jess Johnson, a chef herself, says that Fusion is full of surprises and their intelligent combination of tastes, textures and aromas is brilliant. Naomi Solomon, of Solomon and Crafford Estates, who enjoys eating out and does so frequently, has this to say about Fusion, “Excellent, Excellent, Excellent - probably the best Sushi in the Cape.”

Fusion is owned and managed by chef Mark Oosthuizen who uses such exotic dishes Norwegian Salmon, Australian Eel, Soft Shell Crab and Peruvian Scallops to create some of the best sushi and Eastern cuisine in the country. Fusion is also one of the few restaurants on this list that are open seven days a week.

Opening times:  12:00-22:00, 7 days a week.     Tel: 041 811 7874

 

  1. Two Olives – Stanley Street, Richmond Hill, Port Elizabeth

This unique and very popular restaurant came a very close second. Once again, you can expect outstanding service and excellent food. Much of the Two Olives ambiance is drawn from its dedicated patrons who ensure that this restaurant is always busy and full of happy chit chat.

Two Olives offer some of the best tapas you will ever eat. Their attention to detail, delicious mix of tastes and great presentation is what makes this restaurant special. If you ever visit the French Riviera you will find service of a similar nature to that at Two Olives – professional, friendly and, voila, smooth.

Owner and chef, Jonathan Gunston, obviously loves what he does and his passion shines through in every meal. As a spur of the moment meal or planned dinner with a group of friends, Two Olives is top of mind for most of our panel when looking for a place to have a relaxed lunch or a dinner date.

Opening Times: Tues to Sat: 11:30-22:30; Sun: 11:30-15:30; Monday:  17:30-22:30. Tel: 041 585 0371

 

  1. Mangiano – 6th Ave, Walmer, Port Elizabeth

Joel Malkinson, owner and chef, has created a master piece in relaxed dining. Graeme Lund, who appreciates fine art says this about Mangiano, “Think of Claude Monet’s water lilies or the music of the Buena Vista Social Club – so simple yet so beautiful.”

A favourite of almost every one on our panel of judges it is hard to pin point what makes this a great restaurant and, perhaps, therein lies the secret. There is no single factor that is outstanding, it just all comes together so well. Like Monet’s lilies and the lyrics from Cuba, there is no focal point - but the whole experience leaves you feeling content with life and happy to have experienced what Mangiano has to offer.

It is not unknown for Joel to visit his patrons table and insist that they try one of his special sauces or fresh pesto’s. Expect smooth service together with delicious food and, according to Brigitte Hills, the best ambiance in any restaurant in the Eastern Cape.

Opening Times:                      Tel: 041 374 8170

 

  1. Gordon’s Restaurant – Andries Stockenstrom Guest House, Graaff-Reinet

 

What makes this restaurant particularly good is the personal touch of its acclaimed chef, Gordon Wright. Gordon’s attention to detail is incredible and he personally sources his meat from local farmers and all the ingredients in his meals are organic and mostly grown or picked by Gordon himself.

The restaurant itself is small and personal and the food is very, very good. On arrival Gordon spends time with his patrons informing them of his menu and assisting with a wine that is paired to the meal. Amber Harrington says, “The courses are perfectly portioned and the deserts that my boyfriend and I chose were honestly the best deserts I have ever had. The best thing about the dining experience for me was the personal touch, Gordon took the time to speak to his patrons and you feel more like a guest than just a diner.”

Opening times: Mon to Sunday: 19:00 for 19:30 till late, booking essential. Tel: 049 892 4575

 

  1. The Edge – Hogsback

Set in the midst of spectacular scenery, this charming restaurant is full of atmosphere. On cold and snowy winter days there is a roaring fire and, in mid-summer, the huge trees provide sun dappled el fresco dining. In the midst of a dark, freezing evening, stepping into this warm, glowing haven is delightful.

Amber Harrington says, “The service is excellent, friendly and professional but relaxed at the same time. The food is VERY good.” Take your time and don’t rush when visiting The Edge - enjoy the scenery, take pleasure in your meal and have long conversations because this restaurant simply induces a slower lifestyle.

As one would expect in Hogsback, Wouter Jordaan, the owner, ensures the food is fresh with mostly organic ingredients. Breads are baked daily and theirs hot chocolate in winter and fresh scones for a summer tea.

Opening times: Breakfast 8.00-11.00; Dinner 18:30-22:00 and booking essential. Tel: 045 962 1159

 

  1. Ginger – Beach Road, Beach Hotel, Port Elizabeth

Ginger is certainly one of the restaurants in the Eastern Cape that helped to lift the benchmark of local fine dining. Unlike any of the other restaurants on this list, Ginger was conceptualised, designed, built and decorated from the outset to offer a fine dining experience. Crisp linen, a full array of cutlery and very professional staff places this excellent restaurant firmly on our list.

Steve Johnson, who regularly entertains fellow corporate executives and who has a wealth of dining experience from around the world, says this about Ginger, “Fantastic for fine dining. I love the creative presentation of the food and the ambiance is enjoyable and relaxed.”

Famously, John Travolta dined here and enjoyed the food so much that he ordered a take away meal the following night.

Opening times: Mon to Sun: 11:00-16:00 & 18:00-22:00. Tel: 041 583 1229

 

  1. Sanook –  Chamberlain Road, East London

An unassuming gem situated in the bustle of Berea, Sanook offers great casual dining. “My favourite restaurant in East London and I have found that it is best to book because it is so busy,” says Jason Kitching.

A visit to Sanook is incomplete without trying one of their gourmet burgers, which are, arguably, the best burgers in the Eastern Cape. The restaurant has a very comfortable atmosphere and their simple menu belies the fact that their food is delicious.

The staff are friendly and efficient and, thanks to owner, James Hog, the whole experience at Sanook is just fun and enjoyable.

Opening times: Mon to Sat: 9:00-22:00.  Tel: 043 721 3215

 

  1. Crossways Country Kitchen – Crossways Country Estate, Thornhill


Trevor Steyn, the owner and chef of this restaurant, serves, arguably, the best food in the Eastern Cape. Trevor is an internationally trained chef and has served under Gordon Ramsey, who Trevor says was not as qualified as some of his other mentors.

Trevor grows much of his own ingredients in his garden which, while waiting for your meal, is worth visiting. The name of this restaurant perfectly describes the atmosphere of this delightful eatery. Located 40km outside of PE it may be a little far to drive for a business lunch but the drive is well worth it. This restaurant would be a lot further up the list if it was open in the evenings.

Opening times: Monday: Take-away only; Tues to Fri and Sunday:  8:00-17:00, Sat:  8:00- 14:00. Tel:  042 286 0678  

    

  1. The Chartroom – Algoa Bay Yacht Club, Port Elizabeth Harbour

Owned and run by the, Nick Gunston, the brother of Jonathan Gunston from the Two Olives, it is obvious that this family are big into food. The Chartroom offers the freshest seafood in town and every meal is delicious.

“I love the eclectic mix of the patrons, the entertaining view of the harbour and the well-stocked bar,” says Graeme Lund, “The Chartroom’s deck, particularly on sunny days, has great atmosphere,” he adds. Despite the small kitchen the service is one of the best that you will find in any restaurant in the region.

Opening times: Tuesday to Sat: 12:00-15:00 and 18:00-22:00; Sun: 11:30-15:00. Tel: 041 585 2893

 

10.       Fernando’s Chicken House – Moffat Street, Richmond Hill, Port Elizabeth

Placing Fernando’s (after owner Fernando Bras) on this list may surprise some people but not those businessmen and politicians who are regular visitors to the restaurant that serves the best grilled chicken and prawns and the best chips in the Eastern Cape. Their ‘taliban sauce’, as it is affectionately named, is unbeatable.

Fernando’s has an atmosphere all of its own and the service, while good, is not what you’d expect from a more refined dining room. Many an uninformed passer-by must wonder why so many luxury cars are parked in such a nondescript location – it’s the food people, it’s the food.

Opening times:   Mon to Sat: 10:00-22:00. Tel: 041 585 3794