What’s the best thing you ate all year? A homemade creation? A magnificent pudding? A life-changing piece of artisanal bacon? It’s not always the fanciest dishes that stick in our minds – sometimes it’s the simplest ones. We asked some of the country’s best chefs, food critics and bloggers to share the best dishes they’ve eaten this year. From fancy fine dining dishes to glorious gnudi, parmigiana pizza and proper calamari, here are the lip-smacking results.
“The best dish I enjoyed recently was at the Red Chamber. It was a spicy brinjal and pork dish with a spring onion pastry. I’m a huge brinjal fan and it is always difficult for people to get brinjal right. At Red Chamber they cut it as thin as spaghetti and it was sticky, soft, and refreshing. Most restaurants are only familiar with the Mediterranean way of preparing brinjal, but the Red Chamber did something totally different.”
– Rachel Botes, Carlton Cafe Delicious (Lynnwood)
“My favourite dish of the year was Release the Kraken, a plate of octopus, ginger ink, winter melon, game fish and ‘powdered dressing’ at Greenhouse at The Cellars Hohenort, Constantia. Aside from the awesome name, which has become something of an Internet meme thanks to Liam Neeson and ‘Clash of the Titans’, this is a dish I won’t forget in a hurry. I loved the delicate flavour and firm texture of octopus, but here it was the ‘powdered dressing’ that stood out. A frozen ‘gravel’ scattered on the plate turned out to be tiny chunks of nitrogen-frozen ponzu sauce; as the tiny nuggets hit my tongue, the ponzu melted in a puddle of umami-rich awesomeness. I’m not usually a fan of molecular gastronomy, or overworking ingredients, but this one caught me completely by surprise. No surprise they’ve kept it on the menu for the summer…”
– Richard Holmes, freelance food and travel writer
“I love the three-cup chicken at Fisherman’s Plate – it’s just so fragrant and full of flavour. It’s a sweet, tucked-away restaurant in Cyrildene. I have loved all the dishes I have eaten there. My favourite regular breakie spot is Nice on 4th. Can’t go wrong with the 1/2 and 1/2 : veggie or bacon basket and strawberry, bacon, maple syrup crumpets. I’m there most Sundays. It’s delicious – sweet and savoury and hits all the right spots”.
– Jamie Lorge, Love Food – Kitchen, Deli, Cafe (Braamfontein)
“The best dish I ate this year was the Millionaire’s Nest Egg (three quail eggs with truffle sauce) at Restaurant Mosaic at The Orient. The flavour combinations as well as the balance of the dish were immaculate; technical skill and ability were absolutely next level.”
– Pellie Grobler, Black Bamboo (Ashlea Gardens)
“The best meal I have eaten this year was the cauliflower dish on the DW Eleven-13 tasting menu. It wasn’t at all what I expected and was absolutely mind blowing.”
– James Diack, Coobs (Parkhurst)
“The best dish I had this year was the light breakfast from Industry Bakery around the corner. It is a Halaal breakfast, which consists of fried or scrambled eggs, toast, crispy potatoes and a creamy mushroom sauce. It stands out for me because of the freshness – it is not your ordinary breakfast.”
– Grace Fourie, D6 District 6 Eatery (Emmarentia)
“The best dish I ate in 2015 was the ricotta gnudi at La Lampara as part of an amazing lunch on our wedding anniversary. The gnudi was really light but rich at the same time, and served in a perfectly simple brown sage butter. The gnudi was covered in loads of salty, umami-rich parmesan, and I nearly ordered a second bowl as I was finishing the first! The food is always appropriate for the setting, the service and hospitality is always fantastic and it just always delivers as an experience”.
– Chris Black, Lupa Osteria (Durban North, Hillcrest, Westville)
“We’ve been lucky enough to eat in a couple of fabulous restaurants in Egypt and some hot new openings in London this year. We visited the Cape and, as always, headed for a couple of Eat Out Top 10s. Despite all these culinary pilgrimages, the best meal I have eaten all year was at Ciao Bella. It is one of the very, very few restaurants worth visiting in Durban. (Appallingly few!) Ciao Bella is uncomplicated and refreshingly unpretentious. They offer indifferent antipasti, great buffalo mozzarella, pizzas and pasta. The pasta is fresh, the cooking is well executed, and the dishes stick to the rules – if you accept the Durbanite heavy hand with chillis as an allowable aberration. Spaghetti con vongole – it is as it says on the label ‘spaghetti with clams’. There is some parsley and garlic in there, some olive oil. The clams are fresh, the spaghetti good and then leave well alone. And they do. Restraint is everything.
– Adam Robinson, Glenwood Bakery (Glenwood)
“Memorable contenders include the parmigiana pizza at Ferdinando’s on Kloof Street, topped with pan-fried aubergine and provolone; bowls of umumi-rich noodles and broth at Downtown Ramen; and basically everything on the tapas board at a recent trip to Chefs Warehouse. But my highlight, the best of the year, the dishes that gave me actual goosebumps, were all from The Pot Luck Club. The Thai green chilli cocktail, the springbok carpaccio with pine nuts and honey, the ceviche, the ash-baked celeriac with aged balsamic, the cheeseboard… My inability to choose a winning plate is the very reason they cracked the Top 10 for the first time this year.”
– Linda Scarborough, Eat Out copy editor
“Eating out with a baby or toddler is quite challenging at times. For starters, it’s mostly a breakfast affair, and therefore not necessarily that memorable. Yet sometimes the stars align and an available babysitter coincides with an available table at a Top 10 restaurant. And then, if you’re lucky, you stumble upon Four Degrees of Cheese at Greenhouse, the highlight by far of my restaurant visits this year. Taking Dalewood’s famed mature Huguenot cheese, the dish delivers four varied but equally tasty bites – a steaming soufflé, a pile of cheese shavings, a panna cotta, and ice cream on a crisp. The textures and contrasts are a delight, and the taste simply sublime.”
– Anelde Greeff, Eat Out editor-in-chief
“I loved Scott Kirton’s Asian treatment of tuna sashimi in a branded La Colombe can – the purity, simplicity and freshness of the flavours and texture, the fun presentation of fresh blood-red tuna in a can at table – just one of many inspired dishes at his new venue. Otherwise, all the great southern cuisine I had on the bourbon trail through Kentucky: fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits, pulled BBQ pork and country hams, fried catfish…”
– Graham Howe, Eat Out critic and wine and food editor for Habitat
“The best dish of the year was the tapas for two from Chefs Warehouse. The dish was a beautiful surprise, as the menu changes daily. It included a variety of eight dishes and what stood out for us was the chicken coq au vin with pearl onions and pancetta lardons – a classic dish. Several Asian dishes formed part of the menu and the layering of flavour was simply amazing. Yum, yum, yum…”
– Claire and Fiona Ras, Sprigs (Kloof)
“I hadn’t eaten a croissant since I found out I couldn’t eat wheat at age sixteen – so the spelt croissant I devoured from Dinkel Bakery might be the best thing I ate this whole decade. (Spelt is miraculously fine for many wheat intolerant people. Something to do with it being an ancient grain.) The other contender is probably the beetroot tarte tatin I had at The Table at De Meye: glorious, buttery, (miraculously wheat-free) pastry cossetted tender, sweet beets. It was heavenly.”
– Katharine Jacobs, Eat Out online editor
“This was certainly in Portugal at Curral dos Caprinos restaurant in a small village called Sintra. It was simply a plate of local dried ham with bread. The product was outstanding, perfectly cured and standing naturally for itself”.
– Dirk Gieselmann, chef at View Restaurant (Westcliff)
“The Millionaire’s Nest Egg – a dish of delicately stuffed quail egg, truffle and courgette served on top of a nest at Restaurant Mosaic at The Orient was my dish of the year. It’s a feast for the eyes – but the flavours are what brought me to joyful silence. We were enjoying the degustation menu and chef Chantel sent out the dish to us as a surprise, saying, ‘You can’t leave not having tried this dish!’. It is a delight. You get to unravel all the flavours and textures as each quail egg has been filled with a different filling. Added to that, generous shavings of truffles found in the Molopo River’s riverbed were sliced by gloved hands at the table. It was heaven.”
– Leandri van der Wat, MasterChef SA finalist
“The dish that I will remember forever is a smoked fish salad I had yesterday on Praslin Island, Seychelles. They smoke marlin and it is a local delicacy. The salad is simple, but the flavours are perfectly balanced: smokiness with tart citrus flavours and then that hot chilli. Lovely with a cold glass of white wine. Sexy, simple and uniquely Seychellois.”
– Anel Potgieter, freelance journalist and blogger at Life is a Zoo Biscuit.
“I definitely can’t separate experience and food, so it’s so much about both. And my memory is terrible. So the one that’s stuck in my head right now is the calamari at the original upstairs Brass Bell pub. With a pint. The food, the place, the company, the setting – it’s just so, so, good.”
– Lyndall Maunder, Clarke’s (Cape Town CBD)
“My dish of the year was served at a meal cooked by Gilles Edward at his pop-up restaurant space at Salt Cellar in Woodstock. Crumbed and deep-fried pig’s tails with aioli; an incredible beetroot and goat’s curd salad with foraged capers; and my dish of the year – lamb brined in salt and sugar and then slow-cooked and served with sweetly boiled turnips, a simple green sauce and jugs of clear, salty-sweet lamb broth. Gilles described it as a lamb-ham. A deceptively simple dish that had clearly taken days of utter dedication to prepare and received actual applause from everyone in the room. But my most joyously memorable meal of 2015 was the one cooked at my wedding at Overture by Bertus Basson, who made me look so much cooler than I am by agreeing to serve the canapés out of his food truck and insisting on a menu of steak and chips and ice-cream sundaes. Those sundaes were the dish of the day: homemade vanilla ice-cream served with roasted white chocolate, soft-sticky meringues, salt-caramel popcorn and jugs of fudge sauce.”
– Kate Wilson, editor of Woolworths TASTE
“There are very few dishes in the world that leave a lasting impression and even fewer dishes that ignite pleasures often reserved for the mythical ‘acquired taste’. The best dish I had this year was at Scot Kirton’s La Colombe. The signature entrée affectionately named ‘Tuna La Colombe’ was a real delight on the palate. Yes, it is a small dish (the purpose being to awaken, not sate, desire), and yes, it reminded me of canned tuna that often graces Checkers supermarket shelves. Once cracked open, the can presented me with fresh yellowfin tuna surrendering its soul to the sesame seeds and shiitake mushrooms below, expertly combined with ponzu, citrus, wasabi and ginger. It wasn’t a coincidence that I insisted on a bottle of Crystallum Cuvee Cinema Pinot Noir 2014 to go with it. It sort of gave the combination a spicier treatment.”
– Lloyd Jusa, sommelier at The Saxon
“The best dish I have eaten all year, actually, in a very long time, would be the yellowtail ceviche with kohlrabi, aioli and avocado at Terroir. Not only was it the most beautiful plate of food I’ve ever seen, but the flavours were a burst of summer. The zesty starter dish of meltingly tender fish is complemented beautifully by delicate flavours of puréed avocado, lime, and a subtle hit of ginger and chilli, while an addition of cooked sushi rice adds a familiar flavour that you’d find in your favourite California roll. Each mouthful was euphoric and the combination of the breeze on the sun-dappled terrace and the tiny dancing bubbles in my glass of MCC will be one of my favourite food memories.”
– Nikita Buxton, Eat Out writer
“My favourite dish of the year was the Sicilian prawn salad at Giorgio Locatelli London, for the freshness, the balance of flavour and ingredients, and for the simplicity of the dish”
– Giorgio Nava, chef-patron 95 Keerom, 95 at Morgenster and Carne SA, Carne on Kloof, Carne Constantia.
“The best dish of 2015 for me was a bowl of torchietti with clams, garlic and a bunch of herbs. I got to enjoy this at a place called Roberta’s in Brooklyn, New York. It’s an iconic restaurant with no bullshit and absolutely no effort at all at making the venue look cool. Which, of course. makes it incredibly cool. What made it so great? The confidence in the ingredients. A dish this simple sounds pedestrian, but when everything is fresh, cooked to perfection and used in the right ratios, it’s magic. And I also didn’t have much knowledge of this pasta shape at all. It worked perfectly with this sauce.”
– Andy Fenner, blogger, butcher and food critic