Fine food is perhaps not the first thing that springs to mind when one thinks of Cape Town’s foreshore. The area around the towering legal firms may be buzzing by day, but it’s rather quiet in the evenings, although the North Wharf Centre – housing Col’Cacchio and Frère’s Bistro – does produce a little pool of warm light. Thornton Whites opened just over a month ago, offering something that Cape Town has lacked since French Toast closed: a wine bar with a gourmet food menu.
The restaurant is a collaboration between Grant Greg Lynnot (whom Cape Town locals may remember from Toro Wine Bar in De Waterkant) and his friends Spencer Bullard, Wes Robb and Jean Freysen. “We wanted to create a gastro pub without the ‘pub’ bit,” explains Grant, who learnt his trade in the kitchen of Top 10 restaurant Overture.
This is not your average bistro grub. There’s a steak, but it’s grass-fed; there’s a lamb dish, but it’s a next-level confit version; and the single salad on the menu stars baby marrow and the real deal: buffalo mozzarella. The menu changes frequently, according to the best produce that’s available.
From the starters menu we try the mussels in a beautiful chowder, with spring onion and garlic baguette, and a creamy chicken liver parfait with maple bacon jam. One of the highlights on the mains menu is springbok loin, a dish of succulent juicy medallions served with cauliflower, smoked baby onions and a Dijon-mustard cream, which I can’t help but pour over everything.
For dessert, the deconstructed milk tart with cinnamon sugar and caramel shortbread gets top marks from those of us with a sweet tooth, but the cheese dish, a sort of blue cheese cream served with an icy granita, is unexpectedly good, too.
It’s not a cheap night out – prepare yourself for mains costing between R115 and R185 – but the quality of the food is also a cut above, and Thornton Whites certainly offers much better value than some overpriced options in the nearby Waterfront. If you’re planning on ordering more than two courses, the Saturday night wine pairing menus – four courses plus four glasses of vino – are a pretty good deal.
There are some wonderful lesser-known options on offer, carefully sourced by Grant and manager Jean Freysen, who’ve worked together for some time. We try a great Chevallerie Brut MCC, and a rich local pinot noir (a rare thing!) from boutique winery Fledge & Co. The markups are not astronomical.
Also check out the impressive display of whisky behind the bar that makes up Grant’s personal collection. Personally, I’m also thrilled to see Aperol on the menu; this bittersweet Italian spirit can be hard to find in SA. End off the evening with a coffee by Truth.
Service is warm, friendly and swift. Ask for a wine recommendation if you’d like to try something different.
This is a lovely spot for lunch, with outdoor tables for sunny days, as well as for after-work drinks, as there are small snack plates for snacking. At night, the neighbourhood is quieter and the large room becomes a touch too dark for my liking, so it would be a good idea to take a crowd with you to create your own ambience.
The restaurant has a rich history. It’s named after L. W. Thornton-White, UCT’s first Professor of Architecture, who worked on the foreshore reclamation programme. Furthermore, the North Wharf building that houses the restaurant used to be cold storage for the harbour.
Their location is certainly a little quiet in the evenings, but there’s a thriving lunch and after-work drinks market for inhabitants of the new skyscrapers nearby. There was a time not too long ago when diners used to make the evening pilgrimage to this part of town for Bizerca, but will this new spot have the same pulling power? They certainly need to brainstorm ways to warm up the ambience, but I’ll wager that the food and wine are attractive enough.
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