Paarl is a favourite destination for Capetonians. It is a fairly quick ride from town, but when you get there you find yourself in another time and place. It’s all very refreshing.
The historic, broad, oak-lined streets are flanked by magnificent Victorian and Edwardian homes, with the pavements shaded in the heat of the day, taking visitors back in time. The feeling of déjà vu lingers everywhere, while the looming presence of the great Paarl Rock, the anchor around which the town has grown, is ever-present.
Paarl is the third-oldest town in South Africa, having been established as an area from which water, fresh provisions and meat could be provided for ships of the Dutch East India Company as they rounded the Cape.
As the ships neared port, fires were lit on Signal Hill in Cape Town to alert the farmers in the Paarl area. Soon they would wend their way down to the coast – then a two-day journey – to sell their goods to the ships. These days we reverse the procedure and go inland to eat.
Greg Landman gives us his recommendation of the best places to visit in Paarl.
The Spice Route set-up is a veritable Disneyland of eating and drinking. Here are chocolate makers, brewers, grappa distillers, biltong shops, wine tasting, glass blowers and pizzerias. Added to these attractions, the views are spectacular all the way down to Table Mountain on a clear day. Famous chef Bertus Basson from Overture has taken over the restaurant here, effortlessly marrying traditional boerekos with French influences in his inimitable way. Think Tannie Hetta’s apple pie, or lamb bobotie with pickled beetroot, even chicken liver parfait with a toasted mosbolletjie, and you’ll get the picture.
Bosman’s is grand in every way – it’s even in the name, for goodness sake. At night guests can look forward to haute cuisine of the finest, a knockout wine list, and luxury and comfort in the old style. Go from oysters to oven-roasted beef fillet and finish with an elegant Valrhona chocolate soufflé. It’s all very elegant by night. Lunch, served bistro-style, is a much more laid-back affair, with cuisine to match. (It could even be outside on a good day.) Tuck into dishes like homemade fettucine with seafood panache and cranberry cheesecake.
Situated in an old Cape Dutch house with a gable to prove its credentials, Juno Bistro is quirky and off-beat, taking its cue from the famous Juno wine labels by Tertia Du Toit, which are the stars of this show. There is, like everywhere in Paarl, the opportunity to take advantage of both indoor and outdoor ambiences, with the latter being the better option. The bread is fabulous, baked right here, so have some with scrambled, fried, or poached free-range eggs with sausage and bacon. Marinated pork ribs on sourdough flatbread with guacamole or one of their great burgers are just the ticket for lunch, or go local with the worsegai – boerewors in an assegai-shaped pan served with freshly baked farm bread, green peas and yellow corn. Told you it was quirky.
On the Suid Agter Paarl Road you’ll find the famous estate of Fairview, where goats climb up and down their tower, much to the delight of visiting children, and peacocks fly by (yes, they can fly) with their raucous cries filling the air. The Goatshed restaurant is the home of some fabulous breads, which go down perfectly with Fairview’s award-winning cheeses – made from both goat’s and cow’s milk – and excellent charcuterie, not to forget a bottle or two of their excellent wine. Even though there is a large interior, do try and sit on the terrace if the weather is fine.
Relaxing on the terrace, overlooking the venerable vineyards that have produced many a prize-winning wine, with the great Paarl Rock behind, you’ll find it impossible not to breathe a sigh of contentment. The old manor house exudes atmosphere in spades, but the ambience is very laid-back in the Paarl manner. If things get blustery – and that can happen – pull up a chair in the beautiful interior. Under the sure hand of chef Matthew Gordon, the portions are generous and the flavours are robust, mingling French and local influences with nods to the East in dishes like the excellent five-spice slow-roasted duck with nam jim dressing. A favourite is the cauliflower-cheese risotto with sage and lemon. Most the dishes are available in two sizes, bringing out the oink factor in some of us. Steaks are superb and the famous wines of Laborie are available by the glass or bottle.
If Eliza Doolittle lived in Paarl she would have loved a place like this: a functioning florist shop with food. Very popular with the locals, especially the ladies who lunch, Kikka is a hive of activity all day. It’s comfortable inside with easy chairs and couches looking out the window as the traffic ambles by (this is Paarl, after all). There are some tables on the pavement if you want to really become part of the scene. Look forward to great breakfasts of quail’s eggs and shimeji mushrooms, and morning tea and coffee with muffins and cakes to tempt the most strong-minded of us. Try the pancakes and generous pies for a retro treat, with low-carb versions available.
This delightful old house has a shaded garden area out back, which is just the place to escape the fierce summer heat. The cuisine is a melange of all things Mediterranean, with dishes like fish soup with a dash of ouzo, paella and snails sharing space with a classic burger with caramelised onions and French fries. You can also look forward to plenty of pizzas from a wood-fired oven and a huge range of Greek-style mezze, including falafel and pita bread to complete the picture.
If you want to eat curry – and who doesn’t? – pickings can be slim in the Cape Winelands. Moksh, however, serves North-Indian cuisine to an avid audience that keeps coming back for their favourites. You can order the food as mild as you like with many a cooling influence, or have it hot enough to bring a tear to your eye. The menus is vast, so first decide if you want flesh, fish or fowl, and take it from there. The fabulous naan breads – there are six of them – are made in the tandoori oven, and the gorgeous biryanis come in vegetable, chicken, lamb or prawn versions.
Noop is located in one of those gorgeous, old Main Road houses with a small outside area. Air conditioning ensures a cosy interior when it’s necessary; guests can take advantage of a good day by dining alfresco. Specialised cooking includes excellent duck salad, slow-roasted with crispy bacon, avocado, orange segments and chilli-and-honey dressing, and a superb wild mushroom risotto with white truffle oil and parmesan. Mains of Thai red chicken-and-prawn curry with lemongrass, coconut milk and lime leaves, and the Norwegian salmon with Pernod-accented beurre blanc are knockouts. The wine list is a serious one with some hidden treasures.
If you have a hankering to eat in an iconic manor house, you’d do well to go straight to Nederburg without passing go. Well-known Cape Town foodie Andrea Foulkes and her team have created a menu that shuns preciousness in any form. While the setting is historic, looking out over the famous lawns of Nederburg, you won’t feel intimidated at all. If the weather is good, find a seat on the terrace, or opt for being cosily surrounded by serious antiques. Starters include sautéed wild mushrooms on garlic mozzarella bruschetta, and sautéed calamari with bacon – a really good idea. Mains of grilled lamb rump with crème-fraîche baked sweet potato and a generous venison burger bring up the rear. Wash it down with the famous Nederburg wines. A kids’ menu is also available.
This spot is very popular with local winemakers, who are often here entertaining overseas clients and impressing them with some of the best Paarl has to offer. The interior is coolly furnished with no frilly edges, and the outside terrace, which looks onto the Paarl Rock and vineyards before it, is great when the weather is playing ball – especially on a sultry Paarl night. Food is generously portioned with plenty of meat options and delicious fish, as the name suggests. Dishes are offered in starter portions or mains, which is such a good idea. Delicious favourites include spicy calamari with chorizo, and creamy beef filet with tagliatelle.
Have we neglected to mention your favourite neighbourhood gem in Paarl? Tell us all about it in the comments section below.