Where chefs eat on Valentine’s Day

In the run-up to Valentine’s Day, we asked some of our favourite chefs, restaurateurs and fabulous people from around the food world for their favourite romantic restaurants.

Chiara Viljoen, Café Del Sol (Winner of Best Italian Restaurant at the 2012 Eat Out DStv Food Network Restaurant Awards), Johannesburg
Chiara’s favourite romantic spots are out in the countryside. She loves Mount Grace for mini breaks, The Orange Farm in Hartebeespoort or Kloofzicht Lodge for a drink, or a picnic at the Valley Lodge in Magaliesburg. “I love vistas, so in Johannesburg I love the Westcliff to just chill at and look at the city while having a drink and snack; and the bar on top of the Sandton City Hotel boasts great views, too.” For a vibey romantic dinner she heads to Licorish Bistro. “The food is wonderful and consistent and the service headed by Jacques is always stellar.” Her other top tip for romance: Hedwigs and The Observatory at Aloe Ridge Hotel in Muldersdrift, where you can star-gaze through the biggest telescope in amateur hands in the country, and have a great meal.

Caroline McCann, Braeside Butchery, Johannesburg  
Caroline’s favourite spot is Eatery JHB. “They change their menu every eight weeks, so there’s always new seasonal food to enjoy. The setting represents Johannesburg: uncomplicated but pretty, and Matt and Shane are passionate about the provenance of the ingredients.”

Peter Tempelhoff, executive chef at The Greenhouse (2011 Restaurant of the Year at the Eat Out DStv Food Network Restaurant Awards), Cape Town
Peter can’t help but mention The Greenhouse’s ‘Virtues of Dom Perignon Tasting Menu’ for a real spoil. It’s R3200 per couple, but you get a bottle of 2002 Dom Perignon and seven courses, including dishes such as crayfish custard with sweetcorn mousse; oyster, game fish and soya snow; and camembert cheesecake with pineapple and pine nuts. (Not a bad deal actually, if you consider some places charge R3000 just for the Dom…) When Peter gets a night off he prefers to eat at a restaurant with bar-style seating for a more relaxed feel. “Two places instantly spring to mind: The Pot Luck Club and Nobu. I have had romantic dinners at both, sitting side by side, and being spoilt by the chefs!”

Wesley Randles, new head chef at Luke Dale-Roberts’s The Pot Luck Club, Cape Town
With one week to reopening, Wesley is a busy lad, but he tells us his favourite romantic spot is La Colombe for fireside dining, a warm, but quiet dining room, and great food with beautiful wine. “Also, being a former-employee, I am always looked after!”

Gina Fors Neilson, 9th Avenue Bistro (Best Bistro at 2012 Eat Out DStv Food Network Restaurant Awards), Durban
If in Durban, Gina would head to Harveys, but given the chance, she’d head off for a long weekend in the Midlands. “You really cannot go wrong up in the Midlands – the place is made for picnics, fireplaces and boozing!” Gina recommends sharing a bottle of wine at Abingdon Wine Estate, securing a spot by the fire at Il Postino (her favourite pizza in the province) or booking a gourmet getaway at Qambathi Lodge. “They do tasting menus and picnic platters, they only have five rooms, so it’s pretty intimate.” Also on her list are Rawdons for pub fare in a dark smoky English-style pub with craft beers, La Lampara and Hartford House.

Andy Fenner, Frankie Fenner Meat Merchants, Cape Town
Andy would only agree to be quoted on condition that we explained that he is anti-Valentine’s Day. That said, he does recommend taking your date to 95 Keerom, Bistrot Bizerca or Burrata on any day other than Valentine’s Day for “simple but delicious food and a nice setting. No need for huge tasting menus and expensive wine lists.”

Neil Grant, Burrata, Cape Town
“There are so many amazing restaurants for a romantic dinner: The Tasting Room, La Colombe, Rust en Vrede… They all offer amazing food with intimate surroundings. But honestly, if I want to really sweep my wife off her feet, a trip to Hartford House in the Natal Midlands is at the top of my list. The rooms are incredible and every meal, from breakfast to dinner, feels like a splurge. Gazing out at horses grazing on the Summerhill Stud property is really a special treat.”

Jackie Cameron, Hartford House, KZN Midlands
“When I think ‘romance’, I don’t see myself in a restaurant. I see myself on the beach, in a paddock (anything with a stunning view or landscape) having a simple picnic with bubbles and delicious red wine. Oh, and obviously a male to accompany this all…” quips Jackie. If she had to pick a restaurant, she’d choose sitting in the garden in the gazebo at Hartford, where the only light source is candlelight; sitting out on the terrace sipping cocktails at The Oyster Box in Umhlanga; or a private bush dinner at Thanda Private Game Reserve in Hluhluwe.

Hennie Fisher, Eat Out reviewer 
For old-style romance, Hennie heads to La Madeleine, Casalinga for its fireplaces, as well as Al Fiume and Silver Orange Bistro. In Mpumalanga, Hennie recommends The Silver Spoon and the Cybele Forest Lodge and Health Spa. “They’ve got that big tree, and in summer they put up fairy lights, and in winter there are the fireplaces.” In the Magaliesburg, De Hoek is another favourite, with little gazebos out in the garden for secluded private dining; Mount Grace with its big verandas; and, in Krugersdorp, Roots, with its superb vistas over the dam.

Adriaan Maree, Roots, Krugersdorp  
“Do you know when I last had a Valentine’s Day off? I think I was in college still…” says Adriaan. For romantic meals though, he heads to The Polo Bar at the Westcliff. “It’s nothing fancy, but great view, great service, great setting.” He also loved Tokara for a romantic dinner, when he was last down in Stellenbosch.

Richard Carstens, Tokara, Stellenbosch   
“Working as a chef, I don’t think I’ve eaten out in 23 years for Valentine’s Day,” says Richard… That said, his favourite romantic spots are Stellenbosch Japanese restaurant Genki, for its atmospheric courtyard, and Arrata’s bite-size morsels, “which go down very well with Methode Cap Classique”. Another on his list is Oep ve Koep in Paternoster for Kobus van der Merwe’s amazing creative dishes with memorable combinations – “and it’s conveniently situated across from the beach for a romantic after lunch walk; and maybe more bubbles….” Richard also loves Maison in Franschhoek for its relaxed, stylish atmosphere and lovely garden setting.

Farmer Angus, Pasture-reared Foods, Stellenbosch
As befits someone who goes shoeless throughout the summer months, Angus says he has a summer favourite and a winter favourite. “For summer, without a doubt, Delaire. They have the best views of any restaurant in this country. Chef Christiaan takes the provenance very seriously and the chocolate dessert with peanut butter ice cream is the perfect ending.” In winter, though, he heads to The Tasting Room for superb service and fabulous food.

German de la Melena, Keenwä, Cape Town
German loves La Boheme, for its cosy, unpretentious vibe; Wakame for the ambience and great service; and Beluga. “Beluga is a special place for us because of when we first met. It wasn’t there, but it involves Beluga and it only brings good memories to us! And it still has the same level of service.”

By Katharine Jacobs
Photographs (from top): Café Del Sol, Polo Bar at The Westcliff, The Greenhouse, The Pot Luck Club, Harvey’s, Hartford House, Casalinga, Tokara, Hartford HouseLa Colombe and Delaire Graff Estate Restaurant (also featured on home page).

Still looking for more ideas? Scroll through our list of Valentine’s Day specials at restaurants, wine farms and picnic spots around the country .

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