Review: 22 on Church’s trad-meets-modern South African cuisine

There are many reasons to visit the Little Karoo town of Montagu, but this delightful bistro just moved to the top of our list.

You can tell when a restaurant has got it right… and I don’t mean in any “sixth sense only possessed by restaurant critics” kind of way (although obviously that really is a thing and all our Eat Out reviewers and judges possess it in spades). It’s more like… you can see it, you can smell it, and you can hear it. Those senses manifest in a pleasantly happy feeling as you enter the establishment, nourished by the knowledge that you’re about to enjoy not just your food, but the entire experience.

And that’s exactly what it feels like walking through the door from a chilly Montagu winter’s evening and into 22 on Church. The grey early dusk stillness is replaced by warm light and encouraging sounds of a bustling restaurant housed in a beautifully restored building that dates to the early 1900s. Delicious smells drift across the room from a little kitchen tucked out of sight and there’s the kind of positive energy from those already seated that you only get from return diners who know what they’re in for. And what they’re in for is a meal cooked by chef-owner Sanel Esterhuizen.


Echoing the chef’s approach to cooking, the menu is a varied one – you’d best describe it as a fusion of traditional and modern South African cuisine with a focus on hyper-locally sourced ingredients.

Although we didn’t opt for starters, the menu offers seven options, including a venison Bresaola, waterblommetjie dolmades, and two customer favourites, fried chicken lollipops (done in a Korean BBQ style with cucumber kimchi and Srirachamayonnaise) and trout ceviche (sourced from the nearby Two Dam trout farm).

Mains include offerings from the grill – a burger and various cuts of steak – plus more specialised dishes like Two Dam trout, harissa roast chicken, Karoo lamb rump, and venison risotto. Vegetarian options include roasted aubergine, miso-glazed pumpkin, and artichoke tagliatelle.

With a bicycle race the next day (Montagu hosts the wonderful L’Eroica vintage bicycle festival each year if you’re into cycling), we chose something on the meat n carbs side of the menu. My brother was a little more adventurous with the venison risotto and I played it safe with a firm favourite – sirloin and chips with a pepper sauce.

Made with red wine, braised springbok, bacon, mushrooms and Parmesan, Smith the Younger proclaimed his risotto delicious though quite rich. I snuck a forkful and he was spot on. Risotto can err on being too porridgelike in consistency but the soft lamb, bacon and mushroom added textural variation to the arborio rice, echoing the layered flavours in the dish.

The sirloin is cooked with the kind of expertise of someone who knows meat well. Perfectly medium rare, and glistening in the chef’s proprietary basting, it’s juicy and as tender as you’d want from this flavourful cut of meat. Accompanying this was the best basket of crispy thick-cut chips I’ve had in a long time, and probably the best green peppercorn sauce I’ve ever had. Creamy with a generous amount of whole peppercorns, the sharpness of the pepper is beautifully balanced by the addition of brandy that adds a hint of sweetness.

Although we didn’t have any, the desserts looked to have a lovely SA-cuisine spin. The crème brûlée is infused with naartjie, the malva pudding is served with a homemade condensed milk ice cream and boeremeisies (apricots preserved in brandy), and you can order South African dainties made with Amarula truffle, koeksister, fudge, rice crispy treats and crunchies. It would take a brave man to order the latter after the venison risotto… and Smith the Younger was not that man.


22 on Church offers a carefully curated selection of local and regional wines from Robertson to Calitzdorp, and the staff are knowledgeable about the different varietals and are happy to offer their excellent recommendations.


The service echoes the general vibe of 22 on Church. It is warm, relaxed, friendly, and very efficient. We were served by a couple of waiters and whereas I generally prefer to have one waiter who focuses on my table, it didn’t bother me in this instance. You get a sense that the staff are all one big family here, filling in and helping each other to ensure the best possible service to their customers. Theyre very knowledgeable about the menu too. I asked a few tester questions about cooking methods and ingredients and, for example, learn that the butter is from Riggs in nearby Bonnievale and the beef is aged a minimum of 35 days.


The dark blue and white-walled interior is stylish and elegant, with wooden floors, high ceilings and a mix of trad and modern furniture that again echoes the food on the menu. It’s a welcoming and warm ambience that, as mentioned earlier, is only amplified by its clientele who are clearly very pleased to be there. The fact that booking is essential is testament to that.

Whether you are looking for a romantic dinner (or a pre-race dinner with your brother) or a casual lunch with friends, 22 on Church is a must if you are lucky enough to be in Montagu. In fact, it’s even a reason on its own to go there.

Eat Out critics dine unannounced and pay for their meals in full. Read our full editorial policy here


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