Just two hours away from Cape Town lies the alluring yet rugged West Coast and its shining jewel is the quaint town of Paternoster. Wolfgat is perched atop the Wolfgat cave, which the restaurant is named after. The intimate 24-seater heritage cottage enjoys unimpeded views of the gently cresting surf. It is here where chef Kobus van der Merwe beguiles diners with his artful creations, using hyper-local produce that put him on the map as the pioneer and reviver of the Strandveld philosophy of cooking.
Strandveld means beach vegetation, which refers to the fact that this type of foraged vegetation grows along the coast. That’s exactly where chef Kobus sources his ingredients to craft his out-of-this-world seven-course menu of hand-picked dune spinach, seaweed, soutlaai and many other indigenous plants and herbs detailed in his book, ‘Strandveldfood – A West Coast Odyssey’.
Chef Kobus’ embrace of Paternoster and its unfamiliar vegetation has set him apart as one of the most important and relevant chefs working today. Wolfgat is fast becoming a destination restaurant sought after by forage enthusiasts from all over the world, creating a phenomenon not unlike Sweden’s Fäviken.
Although the menu is seafood-leaning, the bread course of homemade breadsticks, served with a pan of searing hot farm butter infused with bokkoms – salted and dried mullet – is an inextricably addictive beginning to a meal that will have you fighting over the last breadstick to slurp up the salty buttery goodness.
The best way to enjoy Wolfgat is by suspending your preconceptions and opening your mind to exploring new taste and texture sensations, because the best dishes will likely read like nothing you’ve ever heard. An obvious highlight for most is the Saldanha Bay mussels dish with cauliflower and dune celery, while the smoked angelfish with slangbessie, soutslaai and spring flowers will have some doing a quick Google search to understand what the course entails. It’s a beautiful dish, plated like a blooming shoreline with bursting flavours of light sweetness offset by the tartness of the soutslaai.
End on a proudly South African trip down memory lane with a dessert of mabele, Black Eagle Brewing Co weissbier and strandveld honey-topped winterweizen.
The drinks offering is worth spending a night in Paternoster to ensure no one has to be the designated driver, because the pairing is worth it. It’s an education and discovery of unusual and some garagiste wines and craft beers from the area and greater Swartland.
For a restaurant run on a skeleton staff of five, the service is exceptional. All dishes are personally presented by chef Kobus, which lends to a richer experience as you can often ask him a few questions about some of the unusual ingredients, which he is very well versed in.
The restaurant is located in a 130-year-old whitewashed fisherman’s cottage on a hill, overlooking the bay of Paternoster. After a long drive from Cape Town, this is the first sign that things are about to gear down – between courses you won’t help casting an eye and being bewitched by the gently crashing waves.
A gastronomic experience that marries West Coast traditional cuisine with the celebration and exploration of the indigenous vegetation.
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