Look out cities of the world. There’s a new food destination on the rise.
Something good is happening in South Africa’s mountainous port capital. Breaking onto the pavements is the irresistible force of a city in renaissance, stretching from brash street art and social enterprise all the way to secret bars, alternative accommodation and cured meats to rival even the salty perfection of biltong.
There’s something for everyone, and you won’t find it at the waterfront: you’ll find it somewhere between Cape Town’s party and foodie hot spots, Long and Bree streets.
Where to Eat: Hidden Bars and Secret Dining
As one of Cape Town’s oldest streets and formerly its longest (in the late 1800s, anyway), the 3.8 kilometre stretch of Long Street is an eclectic mix of wrought-iron Victorian lacework, multicultural fare, craft beer pubs, antique mosques and vegan juice bars. Running parallel is Bree Street, Cape Town’s biggest foodie stretch. In the last five years, 40 restaurants have popped up on Bree, which can now lay claim to being the most food-populated street in the city.
As with any good renaissance, there’s a fair bit of emphasis in Cape Town (let alone South Africa) on perfecting the art of food. Like any urban culinary capital, the best finds are the most elusive. During the day, Honest Chocolate Cafe boasts vegan-friendly desserts, artisanal chocolate treats and banana bread bunny chow, a sugary take on the traditional curry-packed South African street food. At night, the cafe packs up and the Secret Gin Bar awakes. The fairy-lit courtyard bar is always packed with glittering young people and serves up gin cocktails to supposedly fix your various humours – tackling your Head, Heart, Ambition and Soul.
Tucked around the corner is The Shortmarket Club, which, as well as offering a similarly exclusive space – check out the squashy leather booths and wall of framed butterflies by artist Mark Rautenbach – prides itself on locally sourced wines and produce. Linger over freshly baked bread and hand-churned butter from another up-and-coming burb, Woodstock, and follow it up with the Springbok loin with Caperitif beetroot jus. The lush dining experience comes with the kind of food and drinks trolleys that dreams are made of: pick from one laden with gooey cheeses, or another loaded with Champagne, shucked oysters, house-made tiger’s milk and G&Ts.
And if you wake up with a sore head? There’s always the ‘Green Ambulance’ – slang for Sparletta Cream Soda, a highlighter-green fizzy drink that’s also the nation’s hangover drink of choice.
What to See: Late-Night Art
By day, Greenmarket Square is the first stop for most fresh faces to Long Street. Also one of the city’s first trading areas, the market square is packed with African arts and crafts, jewellery, clothing, and street beats so good you’ll wonder why you didn’t visit South Africa earlier.
But, like all transformative spaces, the real magic happens at night. First Thursdays is quickly gaining traction in Cape Town’s cultural calendar, where – on the first Thursday of every month – over 50 galleries throw open their doors until late. And the heart of this creative decadence? Long Street. The street and surrounds are rife with artist-run spaces, commercial galleries and collectives, and First Thursdays is the perfect chance to see it all at once. Check out Cape Town’s oldest non-profit arts association AVA Gallery up the gallery-lined Church Street, along with Smith Studio and the tiny Worldart gallery, which promotes young urban-contemporary South African artists. Or keep walking to Youngblood, a humming three-storey creative hub on Bree Street that champions fierce new talent.
Tip: Once you’re done with the main strip, head up the hill to the uber trendy Kloof Street and flick through 1980s South African pop at Mabu Vinyl. Tucked into a side street, the squashy record store was made famous by the Rodriguez doco, Searching for Sugar Man.
Where to Stay: Alternative Accommodation
Long Street too loud for you? Then head to the top. Perched on the rooftop of the impressive 1896 Grand Daddy Hotel is a funky village of vintage airstream trailers, centred around a rooftop cinema and bar. After slapping the pavements by day, nothing beats snuggling into these luxe caravans at night. (Just keep an eye on the rooftop cinema calendar, or you might walk into a teary audience and the final minutes of The Notebook.)
For a more intimate taste of lauded South African hospitality, an easy 20-minute walk will land you in the lap of boutique luxury guesthouse, Four Rosmead. The historic house is deliciously secluded and welcoming, with a heated salt-water swimming pool, high-ceiling suites and landscaped gardens. It’s the perfect retreat from the electric party vibe of Long Street.
For a truly lush experience, drive five minutes up the hill to the cusp of the sublime Table Mountain National Park. Boutique four-star hotel MannaBay is almost impossibly luxurious, featuring a decadent daily high tea, eight individually themed rooms, mountain views and an impossibly cool collection of street and contemporary art. Top it off with a complimentary nightcap, and your stay in party central is sorted.
Thanks to Cape Town Tourism for their help while researching this article in South Africa.