96 Winery Road seems to have been part of the Winelands landscape forever. This sort of longevity doesn’t happen by accident. The mix of regulars and newcomers that is needed to sustain a restaurant for decades takes hard work and passion to achieve. Both are present in spades at this address. A visit here, whether it’s for the first or the 60th time, feels like dropping in on an old friend, who just happens to have the ability to whip up something delicious in the kitchen, ‘seeing as how you’ve popped by’. The menu is inspired by Nigel Slater’s definition of Real Food – ‘good ingredients made into something worth eating; simple food cooked with care and generosity.’ And that’s what you get here, time after time. Absolute bankers on the starter menu include the deep-fried calamari, crispy and tender, livened up with coriander and chilli cream; and pork belly strips, cracklingly good, served with caramelised sweet potato and homemade tomato chutney. On the mains, the duck and cherry pie, a dish that made its way down south from the legendary Gatrile’s with restaurant co-founder, Ken Forrester, is an absolute must. The combination of the sweetly tart cherries with the dark richness of the duck meat, and the fullness of the port sauce under perfectly cooked puff pastry, is a winner every time. And this establishment was one of the pioneers of serving long-aged meat. Their steaks remain legendary. Their burger is a burger in the way that a Ferrari is a motorcar. Finish off with their benchmark crème brûlée – another Gatrile’s transplant and unchanged since 1974. Why change what works?
This is one of the best wine lists in the Cape – local and international wines of distinction, with very reasonable mark-ups. There is an excellent by the glass selection, and the suggestions for wine pairings are sometimes surprising, but always spot-on. Some regulars choose the food after they’ve decided on the wine.
Many of the waiting staff have been at 96 for years; they are helpful and knowledgeable. And always ready with a laugh and a cheery word.
It’s a large space, but the inter-leading rooms mean it retains a cosy feel, especially in winter when the log fire is roaring. The art on the walls is always worth looking at.
Book the private table in the wine cellar for special celebrations.