Even though Knysna is small in size, it offers lavish delights for all of the senses. First, there are the spectacular views of the sea, lagoon and famous Knysna Heads (promontories). The lagoon is an idyllic spot for watersports or sunning on sandy beaches, while the surrounding green hills extend into forests dense with birdlife, hiking and biking trails and romantic picnic spots beside streams and creeks. During the lively annual Knysna Oyster Festival in July, guests devour mountains of locally grown oysters while taking part in myriad activities including running and biking races, oyster shucking and eating contests, and sampling the wares of local eateries, where oysters in many guises are never in short supply.
Charlotte Pregnolato gives her pick of the 10 must-visit eateries in Knynsa, an essential guide for visitors to the Knysna Oyster Festival from 4 to 13 July 2014.
Mediterranean flavors dominate at Pembrey’s, an unpretentious country house restaurant. Guests pick their mouth-watering choices from the daily chalkboard menus that reflect the seasons. Among the best are beef marrow with onion marmalade as a starter, a tasty roast quail, oxtail stew, grilled sole and homemade bread pudding. The well-researched wine list is full gems hand-picked by the owners.
The Olive Tree, a local dinner favourite, is casual but with grown-up pleasures like candlelight and white linens. Using their wood-burning pizza oven to roast baby kingklip, seafood curry and a variety of tasty veg dishes leads to enhanced flavours. Some consider the filet mignon the best in town, and don’t miss the bobotie spring rolls as a starter or the outstandingly chocolaty chocolate cake.
Raasoie is not atmospheric in the least – in fact, it borders on shabby – but there’s nothing shabby about the authentically spiced Northern Indian food they serve. A traditional tandoori oven turns out paneer (Indian cheese), naan bread and various dishes of fish, lamb or chicken. Aloo gobi (cauliflower and potatoes) and spicy channa masala (chickpeas in spicy sauce) are excellent vegetarian options.
Café Z, Pezula’s more casual restaurant, serves everything from a good burger to tender, tasty duck confit. The décor is sophisticated but you can dress informally for meals throughout the day and night. During winter, there’s a weekly special prix fixe with wine menus offered, which adds good value to this classy café.
Mon Petit Pain, now housed in a charmingly remodelled house, is one of the most pleasing venues in town for meeting friends and grabbing a bite or coffee. Delectable pastries and bread for sandwiches are specially made by Île de Païn for its little sibling. Everything can be packaged to take home.
Freshline Fisheries, a fish market/restaurant, takes advantage of its seaside location, serving whatever’s fresh along with simple sides. Picnic tables in the sand, fishing nets and other boat paraphernalia add atmosphere to this no-frills venue. A play area for kiddies plus reasonable prices make this a favourite for families.
Zachary’s at the Pezula resort offers culinary adventures set in relaxed elegance. Executive Chef Geoffrey Murray’s fine dining cuisine is inspired from his global travels and made from the finest local ingredients as well as some surprises such as truffles imported from Italy. The à la carte menu is seasonally created and the tasting menu, with optional wine pairing, shows off this ingenious chef at his best.
Caffe Mario, situated on the picturesque waterfront, is a family owned and run restaurant that’s open daily from breakfast through to dinner. Casual and lively, the eatery offers the usual Italian dishes and ingredients as well as a nice selection of breakfast options. Among the pastas, standouts are the Pasta Aurora with broccoli and gorgonzola and the spicy Pasta Aglio with garlic, olive oil and a bit of red pepper.
The full drama of Knysna’s views are yours to behold at East Head Café, where the kitchen delivers a range of pleasing breakfast choices, excellent fish and chips, and a special kids’ menu. The wine list is quite good with suggestions – even for breakfast. In good weather the patio, covered with a tarp for comfort, is the place to be.
The liveliest spot in town, Île de Païn, draws locals and visitors alike with wonderful artisan bread, pastries and seriously good breakfasts and lunches. Seating expands to the tree-shaded patio in summer, and on cool days the huge baking oven warms the entire café. While old favourites like brioche French toast and house-made burgers remain, you can always expect delicious surprises inspired by seasonal ingredients and global flavours.