If the joy of travelling lies in the journey and not necessarily the destination, the Garden Route is the place to let your foodie desires take flight.
If you’re driving between the Tsistisikamma forest and Sedgefield, there’s no need for padkos sandwiches. Spend time instead stopping in at places such as Fynboshoek where microbiologist Alje van Deemter creates his specialised goat’s and cow’s milk cheeses from the small herds he keeps on his farm. Brace yourself for the lumps and bumps in the gravel road to the farm and be prepared to be lulled into a state of cheese-fueled bucolic bliss.
From here, it’s over hill and dale (and the gigantic Storms River bridge) to Plettenberg Bay where, at the Grand Café and Rooms, the simple café fare (including the likes of fantastic steak with béarnaise and fries) is the perfect accompaniment to the extraordinary view out across the lagoon.
The perfectly crisp-based pizzas at Med-inspired Cornuti al Mare are the best in the area. Try Hemingways too for a gorgeous setting on the banks of the Keurbooms river – serving steaks, salads and seafood.
Further down the drag, you’ll hit Knysna, the famous lagoon-side town that is guarded from the sea by its two monolithic heads. Once the haunting ground of tie-dyed hippies, in more recent years it has earned a reputation as a culinary capital.
The town is famous for its oyster cultivation (with a festival celebrating the salty mollusc), and an essential must-stop is the Knysna Oyster Company, where you can be a glutton for oysters, whether you prefer them straight up, with Tabasco, lemon or horseradish. Just around the corner lies Ile de Pain. No need to look too hard for it, as the heavenly smells of baking bread and melting chocolate made by master baker Markus and his wife Liezie Farbinger will lure you to this delectable pleasure zone. Markus’s Pain de Campagne has devotees around the country, while regulars swear by Liezie’s mouthwatering Welsh rarebit, oozing with cheese.
Mackintosh’s is an old-fashioned general trading store where mountains of spices, jars of pretty candies and gleaming deli fridges tempt all who step over the threshold. And if spiced-up food is your thing, do not, repeat not, miss Firefly. This charming tin-roofed cottage on the Old Cape Road plays host to just a few tables and if you’re lucky enough to secure one you’ll be boasting about it for years. Here you’ll find spicy food from all around the globe, from Cape Malay bobotie spring rolls (with Mrs Ball’s chutney of course) to fragrant Thai and perfectly balanced Goan fish curries, accompanied by all the atchars, sambals and accoutrements you can manage. If there was a spice movie along the lines of Chocolat, this is where it would be set.
Two of the most recent additions to the Knysna scene are Lush and Sirocco. Both are perched on Thesen’s Island and while the former is a Parisian-inspired haven of glamour, with dramatic damask wallpaper and sparkling chandeliers, the latter is a modern marriage of slate and zingy lime green. Décor apart, both meet the expectations of food-savvy guests. Lush marries classic and contemporary styles in dishes that come beautifully dressed in fragrant herbed sauces and carefully prepared accompaniments. Sirocco serves more laidback fare, concentrating on seafood, meaty grills and flavour-crammed salads.
After the relative glitz and glamour of Knysna, tie in your travels with the Wild Oats Market just outside Sedgefield on the N1. Held every Saturday, this is where every local and his dog stock up on organic veggies, honey, superb local cheeses, the best organic meat and just-baked breads.
Take your place in the queue for pancake and coffee, then be guided by whatever takes your eyes’ or nose’s fancy. Piles of handcut soaps in rainbow colours look good enough to eat, pretty bunches of just-picked flowers beckon, as do the cakes baked by Hans the Baker. Get there early to stock up on enough eye candy and lovingly grown and prepared foods to last you until your next visit.
Fynboshoek 042-280 3879
Grand Café and Rooms 044-533 3301
Cornuti al Mare 044-533 1277
The Islander Seafood Restaurant 044-532 7776
Knysna Oyster Company 044-382 6942
Ile de Pain 044-302 5707
Mackintosh’s 044-382 6607
Firefly 044-382 1490
Lush 044-382 7196
Sirocco 044-382 6730
Wild Oats Market 044-883 1177
Words Vicki Sleet