Bloemfontein isn’t the sleepy city it once used to be. With a host of restaurateurs making their mark in this Free State capital, there’s now a dinner option for every mood and occasion.
Al fresco: Social Food Club
Machiel and Jamandi Bekker, winners of MNet’s My Kitchen Rules season one, have joined forces with Petri Coertzen, co-owner of Bloem’s long-standing night spot Mystic Boer, to present a casual eatery and bar with a welcoming vibe. Set within a cosy, plant-scattered courtyard, it’s the perfect place for enjoying flavour-packed dishes under a starlit sky. Order the Korean-style chicken wings served with chilli-and-pineapple salsa, or the vegan-friendly cauliflower steak with savoury muesli, pickled mushrooms and watermelon red pepper jus. There’s a considered approach to plating here, and even the vast array of gin cocktails is good-looking.
Celebrations: New York
You’re spoilt for choice at this large restaurant that’s been part of the city’s dining culture since the late 80s. Generous seating, warm, hospitable service and guaranteed tastiness are par for the course. Whether it’s the Jack Daniel’s rump, seafood platter or chicken cordon bleu you opt for, make sure you order all the side veggies – they’re delicious! There are also three-course set menus available for those wanting the whole hog, and a private dining room for exclusive use. Don’t leave Bloem without trying the malva pudding.
Cosiness: Bella Casa Trattoria
The setting of this trattoria is what gives it its cosy charm. As a renovated house, it offers tables in various rooms, each one decorated in a unique style. Bicycle wheels hovering from one ceiling and mismatched lampshades dangling from another lend a quirky touch to the interiors. Voted Best Italian Restaurant in Bloem for many years running, this is the place for wood-fired pizzas and homemade pasta. Its spaghetti with prawns – served in a tomato, garlic and chilli sauce, with rocket and lemon zest – is praise-worthy, as is the vegan risotto with roast veggies, coconut milk and pine nuts. Go for The Kitchen Sink pizza, topped with spinach, feta, bacon, peppadews and olives. There’s also a welcoming entrance patio to dine at (with blankets in winter), if you prefer the street buzz.
Curry nights: Jack & Jill Food Co.
Although not usually open for dinner, Jack & Jill Food Co. at the Loch Logan Waterfront hosts curry nights on the last Thursday of every month, where you can experience owner Jill Nowers’ passionate approach to fresh ingredients and her flare for experimentation. The à la carte menu includes a scrumptious lamb rogan josh, Nowers’ popular bunny chow, and a superb apricot-lemongrass chicken. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for announcements, as tables book out fast.
Dress up: The Blue Gem
Decorated in blue hues inspired by the Mediterranean, this new addition to the upmarket dining scene greets guests with the sounds of water-feature walls and tranquil music. Have a drink in the lounge area before your meal, which can be enjoyed either in the main restaurant, on the balcony (though it can be noisy because of the kids’ play area in the shopping centre below), or in one of the three private dining rooms. Although its spicy, slow-roasted lamb shank with red-wine gravy is a winner, it’s the Friday and Saturday tapas buffet for R170 that has many diners returning. A new menu with more vegan options is being launched soon.
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Everything under one roof: Johnny Lucky
Named after chef proprietor Gareth Daubney’s late father John, Johnny Lucky is filled with subtle family references. A photo of great-grandfather Daubney standing in front of his Bloemfontein flour mill in 1910 explains the bags of flour that form part of the décor. This kitchen bar is equally enjoyable for meals or drinks and there’s something for everyone in this no-limits kitchen. The John Stuart steak is made with the late John’s signature creamy sauce of white wine, garlic and pepper, and the Wishbone Lager has been developed especially for the restaurant by Daubney in collaboration with Bloemfontein’s Stellar Brewery.
Family-friendly: Avanti at Woodlands
You’ll want to be sure you’re heading to the Avanti at Woodlands (not 2nd Ave), as that’s where the kids can go wild. The outdoor playground that forms part of the Italian restaurant means you can enjoy your meal while keeping a close eye on your children. Caprese salad with fresh burrata, lamb cutlets stuffed with chorizo, and limoncello tiramisu make up a delectable three-course meal, but there’s so much more to choose from and the quality is always reliable. There’s a special bambini menu for the little ones, and they can even create their own pizzas from scratch.
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Fun vibes: The Staffordshire
Bloem’s favourite bar is the perfect place to unwind at the end of a day. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot Waska, the owner’s staffy after whom this hotspot is named. Sit at one of the high bar tables if you want in on the action (live music, karaoke and quiz nights all happen here), or find a spot outside if you prefer the garden – it has a cool separate bar. Go for the T-bone special on Mondays: R65 gets you a 400g steak with egg, chips and a draught. On Wednesday nights, score two glasses of wine and a pizza for R89, and cocktails are half price on Thursday nights. This is the place to be when big rugby games are on.
Meat feast: Copper and Coal
The concept here was inspired by the Argentinean asado – grilling with fire – combined with South Africans’ passion for a good braai. Meat is the main man in this place, and you can watch your food being cooked over the open flame in the kitchen. The black beast fillet – flambéed with brandy, rolled in peppercorns and served with bone-marrow butter – is melt-in-the-mouth, and there’s no denying the goodness of the succulent pork chops. Visit on a Tuesday for the Twice as Nice deal: two burgers, chips and sauces for R100. Pescatarian options include flame-grilled line fish, and there’s a very tasty salad of strawberries, avo, cream cheese, peanut brittle and balsamic glaze.
This Bloemfontein institution recently underwent a classy renovation, making it moodier and more suited to hours-long romantic dinners. With the most extensive wine list in the city and impeccable professional service, this elegant spot never disappoints. The kingklip topped with prawns, mushrooms and peri-peri sauce is a mega meal for pescatarians, but it’s the beef piccata that has meat-lovers returning time and again. For sugar addicts, there’s a pecan-nut caramel treat layered with condensed milk and served with vanilla ice cream. Keep an eye out for their wine dinners and tastings.
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Winning views: The Edge at Naval Hill
Situated a few hundred metres away from the famous Nelson Mandela Statue on top of Naval Hill, The Edge offers superb views of the city. Arrive before sunset to really appreciate the full effect of this setting from the expansive deck, as the Free State clouds transform in colour. When ordering, start with a roasted marrow bone on ciabatta, move on to the pork fillet with apple-cream sauce, and end off with the vanilla panna cotta with strawberries. There’s also a host of tapas from which to choose. Wednesday is date night: R300 gets you a drink, a starter and a main meal for two.
Did we miss your favourite dinner spot in Bloem? Let us know in the comments section below.