Named for its picturesque coastline from Mossel Bay to the Storms River in the Eastern Cape, the Garden Route is one of the country’s prettiest stretches of land. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in the area this holiday season, make sure you visit these 14 iconic spots that show off the area’s stunning views, food and wine. (Each of them was rated highly enough to be included in the 2018 edition of Eat Out magazine, on sale now.)
Benguela Brasserie & Restaurant (Sedgefield)
The three-course daily menus are laced with all the frills, such as a welcoming amuse bouche and superb plating. Starters like tempura prawns, deep-fried calamari with aioli, or mussels in creamy garlic sauce are meals in themselves. Hearty mains include tender smoked pork neck with mustard mash, and oven-roasted lamb shank. The dessert menu is rich with chocolate, ice creams and seasonal fruits. The lawn has an idyllic view of the lake. Wine tastings are available in the afternoons.
Bramon Restaurant (Plettenberg Bay)
Design your own feast from the lengthy list of offerings, but be sure to order fresh bread to mop up the delicious dips, pâtés, pestos and your choice of superb local cheese. Substantial SA favourites are showcased, including pickled fish, bobotie phyllo cigars and springbok carpaccio. Succulent local oysters are especially lovely with Bramon’s MCC. Thriving vines provide privacy for picnic tables shaded by huge white umbrellas. You can stay overnight in the farm cottage with its stunning view of the gorge below.
East Head Café (Knysna)
This owner-run café is a favourite breakfast spot with the locals. Highlights include spicy free-range chicken livers, creamy vanilla oats served with local honey and Rheenendal macadamia nuts, crispy battered fish and chips with home-made tartar sauce (rumoured to be the best in town) and gourmet burgers. Watch the crashing waves from the cosy inside area or outside on the patio while the children frolic in the play area. They don’t take reservations.
Emily’s Restaurant (Plettenberg Bay)
Start with a fresh salad from the garden or home-cured venison carpaccio. Fillet with béarnaise sauce is consistently good, as is the herb-crusted lamb rack. Vegetarians should try the open lasagne and tapas platters are a great new addition to the menu. For a sweet ending, don’t miss the chocolate fondant with pistachio ice cream. The tranquil view above the Bitou River makes Emily’s a romantic spot. Simon’s Bar above the restaurant serves great pizzas and cocktails.
The Fat Fish (Plettenberg Bay)
The Fat Fish features local, sustainable seafood prepared with know-how: enjoy parmesan-crumbed kingklip with smoked chilli butter, sesame calamari and excellent seafood platters. You could also pop in for some tapas or sushi. There’s a kids’ menu featuring fish burgers and waffles with ice cream. Sandy toes are allowed in this contemporary airy space with its beach view. Enjoy live music here in high season.
The menu is simple, built around produce from the garden and what is best paired with his award-winning cow’s and goat’s-milk cheeses. Start your lunch with mature cheddar and rosemary profiteroles. Then it’s salads such as Caprese made with Fynboshoek soft mozzarella, garden basil and tomatoes; stewed pears tossed with greens and dressed with a simple vinaigrette and a grating of hard goat’s cheese; or a rustic cheese board strewn with herbs and radishes, served with just-baked focaccia. Find a spot by the roaring fire on colder days, or lounge on the patio on hot summer afternoons.
The Golden Palm (Plettenberg Bay)
The delectable cuisine is a breath of fresh air in the local food scene with zingy tastes and satisfying textures. The menu includes classic dim sum; ramen noodles in slurpy soy-and-miso broth, served with free-range chicken, pulled beef or tofu and wakame seaweed, leeks, carrots and egg; and luscious poke. Rich and tender ribs in sticky sauce are accompanied by sesame egg noodles, bright with spring onion and pickled ginger. The ambience is atmospheric and fun; the intimate dining room is decorated with tigers roaming among palm trees.
Grain Mill Organic Bistro (Knysna)
The Schmids set the benchmark for the slow-food ethic in this unassuming bistro. On the premises they grind organic spelt into flour for delicious breads, pastas and pastries. Simple breakfasts and sandwiches are supplemented by a blackboard list of daily specials. They source the best seasonal produce from local farmers, which is lovingly turned into dishes such as lasagne, pizza, heavenly bouillabaisse, lamb curry, or a mighty fine hamburger. End with a yummy bake like cheesecake, poppy seed cake or carrot cake. There’s a play area for kids off the back dining room.
Île de Païn (Knysna)
Long-time favourites here include brioche French toast, juicy burgers, crisp pizzas and pastries such as apple strudel and pasteis de nata, but new items like a super steak sandwich with caramelised onions and mustard butter, and duck confit with quince-and-kumquat compote might appeal. The newly built café has high ceilings and an open kitchen. Shop for deli items before you depart.
Comforting starters include soup of the day with home-made bread and the Klein Karoo Caprese, consisting of a pressed tomato timbale with local marinated goat’s cheese, rocket and anchovies. Mains are familiar with an imaginative twist: duck confit on risotto with braised red cabbage and a port-and-cranberry sauce. Order the ostrich fillet for local flavour. End on bread-and-butter pudding. Jemima’s is reminiscent of a family farmhouse with understated elegance.
Newstead Wines (Plettenberg Bay)
Picnic-type fare is amped up here to include delectable thin-crusted pizzas. Menus are seasonal, but you can expect shareable portions featuring the best of local products and produce from Newstead’s own garden. Picnic boxes offer a range of tastes. Simple, elegant and tranquil, the farmhouse is surrounded by beautiful vines. There’s a gin and bubbly bar here too.
Seafood at The Plettenberg (Plettenberg Bay)
The menu combines Asian- and South African-inspired dishes showcasing fresh seafood and seasonal ingredients. Start with tea-smoked ostrich carpaccio, then move on to a shared seafood platter or signature orange-glazed line fish. End your meal with toasted white chocolate crème brûlée or a local cheese platter. The décor is inspired by the ocean; windows overlook the sea and hotel gardens.
Trattoria da Vinci (Sedgefield)
Italian home cooking is elevated to new levels of deliciousness here. The pizza oven produces crisp-crusted pizza, wonderful slow-cooked roasts and lamb shank. Specials such as robust paella rich with seafood, chicken and chorizo are always a good bet. Pasta is made on site daily. Dreamy desserts, including apple cake with Toblerone ice cream, are an institution. It’s not fancy, but lively diners in the glow of candlelight make an inviting setting.
The Veg Table Private Dining Room (Knysna)
Chef-owner Brett Garvie’s innovative approach to food is extraordinary. Expect refined textures and a harmonious balance of flavours reflective of the seasons. You may start with asparagus, samphire and lemon, or sweet heirloom tomato salad. Mains are hearty: potato-and-spelt gnocchi with herb pesto; phyllo pastry with roasted beetroot and goat’s cheese; or silky porcini with pasta. Candles and fairy lights twinkle in this forest cottage. No credit cards.