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Wining & Dining on the Waterfront

You can travel around the world in eighty days at Cape Town’s Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. A culinary marathon takes your taste buds globetrotting from Africa to Asia, the Americas, Europe and beyond – exploring the old world of France, Italy, Greece and Spain, and the new world of China, India, Japan and Thailand – without leaving the precincts of Table Bay.

Sampling all eighty restaurants would test anyone’s appetite, stamina and spending power. Decisions, decisions. Dining at the V&A Waterfront is not for the indecisive. Visitors are spoiled for choice from an A-Z of fine dining to fish ‘n chips, family bistros, microbrewery pubs, tapas and wine bars, seafood, steaks and sushi, pasta, pizza and pancakes.

Whatever you’re looking for, you’re bound to find it within a price range for every pocket. The view is on the house – with many alfresco terraces on restaurant row offering a spectacular vista of Table Mountain, the city bowl and Table Bay. The seals, seagulls and tug horns provide the ambient soundtrack of a working harbor. New restaurants open every season, chefs play musical chairs, and old favorites get a makeover.

We’ll start with the new kid on the block that’s generating a bit of a buzz around the harbor. Set to launch April 1, the Alba Restaurant is a fine dining cruise experience aboard a 72-foot enclosed boat, plying the waters of the V&A Waterfront harbor. The Alba can accommodate 72 seated guests for three-course lunch or dinner cruises, or 100 for cocktail functions.

Among the highest profile V&A offerings, there’s Nobu. Located on the ground floor of the One&Only Cape Town, this is another in the string of notable eateries by chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa, internationally renowned for rendering classical Japanese cuisine with a contemporary twist. Nobu Lounge features a selection of Japanese drinks, and Sake and Shochu-based cocktails.

Sevruga (021 418 2948), sister restaurant to the nearby Beluga, is set on quay four with great views and superb décor. Named after its signature caviar dish, the global menu is fresh and cutting edge, highlighting the flavors of seasonal ingredients served as artfully as the chic space is artsy, with its wine walls, minimalist white and green tones, groovy lighting and plush upholstery.

Signal (021 418 0520) is the fine dining restaurant at the Cape Grace hotel. The space is elegantly appointed throughout, right down to the antique porcelain, heritage artifacts and aged yellowwood furniture which recreates the trading house ambience of the Dutch East India Company. Named after the noon gun on Signal Hill, it pays tribute to the Cape’s role as a refreshment station on the spice route – with a fine dining menu focused on the diverse flavors of traditional Cape game, fish and poultry.

For authentic Italian fare, head for Meloncino (021 419 5558) part of the alfresco restaurant row on quay five, alongside old favorites like The Greek Fisherman (021 418 5411) where you can find family-friendly favorites for unpretentious, good-value comfort food. Meloncino is an upmarket venue for gourmet Italian specialties cooked on open-fire grills. One of my own favorite Italian restaurants is the Hildebrand (021 425 3385), a landmark for superb Italian fare for over forty years now set in the original Harbour Café building (circa 1897).

If you desire a stylish tapas bar that adds a splash of Spain, try tashas, (021 421 4350), set in the lower level, Victoria Wharf.

Among the newcomers to the V&A, Si Cantina Sociale (087 470 0124) features traditional hearth-style cooking with a broad selection of vegetables, fish and meats using a flaming parrilla grill, accompanied by freshly prepared flatbreads. The result is a variety of flavorful dishes that use ethical, locally sourced ingredients.

Set on the pier overlooking Alfred Basin, Den Anker (021 419 0249), a delightful Belgian restaurant and bar, offers one of the best views of the city bowl. It specializes in a wide range of Belgian beers on tap and in the bottle, with a signature mussel pot served with frites and mayonnaise – as well as great seafood. Enjoy a romantic sundowner on the terrace on a hot summer’s night.

Beer connoisseurs should drop into two popular micro-breweries which concoct some good pub fare: Ferrymans Tavern (021 419 7748) serves up a wide variety of beers, both local brews and from around the world, plus traditional pub grub and live entertainment; and Mitchell’s Waterfront Brewery, an institution at the V&A and around the world, which brews six different beers and three ales.  

Found in the Victoria Wharf Mall, Willougby & Co (021 418 6115) is a landmark for great sushi and sashimi. This unpretentious little venue is a theatre of sushi prepared in front of your eyes by skilled Japanese chefs – though they also do fish ‘n chips for those who like their seafood cooked. Sushi connoisseurs should also sample Balducci’s Royal Sushi Bar (021 421 6002), Cape Town Fish Market & Sushi Bar (021 418 5977) in the Kings Warehouse. When you eat this close to the sea, seafood has to be on any visitor’s agenda.

If you’re after the best fish’ n chips at the V&A Waterfront, join the families at Fisherman’s Choice (021 421 4866). For something a bit more upscale, the harbor and mountain views from Ginja (021 419 6677) at the Victoria & Alfred Hotel are also sublime. Talk about seafood with a view. Whether you dine alfresco on the quayside or inside the historic wharfhouse, Ginja offers an all-day dining menu as well as a Sunday ‘Rustic’ menu meant for sharing.

Baia (021 421-0935) is a grand restaurant spread across four covered terraces in Victoria Wharf which also offers spectacular views of Table Bay. Baia (meaning the Bay) specializes in fresh seafood and shellfish. Seafood-lovers flock here for the choice of oysters, west-coast mussels, crayfish, Mozambican prawns and langoustines on a menu inspired by the flavors of colonial Portuguese cuisine. Specialties tempt with bisque, bouillabaisse and a signature baby kingklip as well as meatier fare.

Last but not least, wine connoisseurs will enjoy Belthazar (021 421 3753), a contemporary grillhouse and seafood restaurant on the terrace at Victoria Wharf. Owned by Balducci’s (021 421 6002), a popular sister restaurant nearby, house specialties include oysters, mussels, prawns, langoustines, lobster and linefish – and Karan beef aged in-house at the butcher’s shop. Belthazar boasts the largest by-the-glass wine bar in the world, serves up to 240 wines, recreating the ambience of a wharf warehouse, with a romantic terrace lit by hurricane lamps overlooking the harbor.

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