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That the World Restaurant of the Year can start its tasting menu with a basic iron skillet of bokkom butter and a hessian bag of sourdough sticks is testament to the assured ease of Kobus van der Merwe, who’s just doing his own thing here. And you can’t help loving him for it.
The warm butter is salty, the crusty bread warm; your heart content. Wolfgat is the kind of place where your spoon might be shell or wood, moerkoffie is poured from a tin pot, and servingware is an unadorned cream plate or plain slate. The menu simply lists a few Afrikaans words to describe key ingredients of each dish, with the Latin names of the plants underneath, a style that reflects the focus of this unassuming chef on simplicity, purity and locality.
After some snacks of creamed white mussel – served in its own shell with buttermilk rusk crumbs – or crispy fried squid on a kapokbos skewer, your first course is presented: oester, strandsalie, seebamboes and sampioen. The words themselves evoke their origin in salt and sea. A wooden bowl of creamed butter beans, or heerenbone, is justifiably famous – creamy and comforting – featuring veldkool, duinespinasie and toasted pumpkin seeds for pops of texture. The truly unique black mussel custard with coconut, wild garlic and apricot mebos will have the table speechless.
It’s difficult to believe that a dish with as few ingredients as rooibos, angelfish and butter can taste this intense, but such is the sorcery of the strandveld and this chef who has put it on the global map. Ribbons of klipkombers (literally, stone blanket) from the local rockpools crest the top of this transcendent dish.
For those who don’t love ultra-sweet desserts, the ending of amasi ice cream with guava, a ribbon of cucumber, lemoenboegoe and kiesieblaar will surprise and entice with citrusy, spicy and savoury notes.
A meal here is like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. It’s pared down, pure and perfect.
Astounding alternative, unfiltered, natural-ferment wines are on offer, such as a salty rosé (yes, really) and special bottles from a lovingly compiled boutique selection. Kobus himself advises on wines and cocktails featuring home-made shrubs, and generously pours tasters before you decide. The wine glasses are universal, meaning they suit all wine and can be reused with to save water on washing.
The man himself makes his way to each table, introducing dishes with gentle warmth. He’s generous with his time, sharing fascinating titbits about the origin of the ingredients and answering questions about the area.
The words peaceful, calm and tranquil don’t quite capture the magic of this place at the very edge of the continent. You find yourself searching your lexicon for something more meaningful than a cliché. But time does really stand still here. A scattering of restaurant tables under wooden slats overlooks the beach, where fishing boats rest on the sand and gulls wheel overhead. The rugged coastline curves away, with blazing white buildings receding into the distance.
The bucket list.
Eat Out critics dine unannounced and pay for their meals in full. Read our full editorial policy here.