The Garden Route has become one of South Africa’s top holiday destinations, with hordes of international tourists and local holidaymakers visiting the many popular towns along this stretch of coastline. Most noticeably Wilderness, Sedgefield, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay seem to be constantly buzzing all year round, with an abundance of festivals, attractions, markets and adventure activities.
With this there have been a number of new and old restaurants making news, receiving some top-notch awards and great reviews. Since us locals get to enjoy them all year round, I thought I would share with you my list of some of the best restaurants on the Garden Route.
1. Ristorante Enrico’s, Plettenberg Bay
Ristorante Enrico’s is probably the best Italian fare you will eat on the Garden Route, in fact some of the best in South Africa. Perfectly situated in the cosy village of Keurboomstrand, the restaurant has an enormous outdoor section that has views from every angle as well as a warm interior for when that South Easter blows. His slogan “any closer and you would get wet” is true as you sit sipping your wine watching the thundering waves crash into the rocks. The pizza is too delicious to even describe, as are the focaccia breads known as the ‘bomba’. Other top choices are the Rump Enrico, Kingklip Gamberi or his veal dishes. No bookings: just arrive and if you have to wait, it will be worth it.
Contact: Tel 044 535 9818, www.enricorestaurant.co.za
2. Tapas and Oysters, Knysna
If you’re looking for a Garden Route restaurant with lots of personality, Tapas and Oysters on Thesen Island in Knysna is the best place to go. The tapas menu is so full of mouth-watering titbits you can order a whole bunch of delicious things without having to choose only one dish: my kind of jol (I don’t make food decisions easily). The decor will keep you entertained with walls of cartoons and clever quips; or you can watch big screen sport and slug a draft. Keep an eye out for their half price sushi nights as there’s always a band and plenty of sushi to go around; for this I would advise booking a table. My favourite dishes are their salt and rosemary bread, Spanish-style prawns and vegetarian melanzane.
Contact: Tel 044 382 7196, www.tapasknysna.co.za
3. Salina’s, Wilderness
According to them, this is the closest beach restaurant on the N2 from Cape Town to Maputo, but this is not the main reason to visit Salina’s in Wilderness. Their seemingly endless menu is bound to leave you coming back to try the other ten dishes you wanted-but-couldn’t-order-everything at once, as well as the view down Wilderness’ magnificent beach which goes perfectly with a cocktail. Built with ecological sensitivity to the dune area, the restaurant has made its mark on the Garden Route. Try their calamari or aged sirloin steak for a guaranteed lip-smacker, or be more adventurous and dip into their curries or chermoula baked fish. I would book for dinner.
Contact: Tel 044 877 0001, www.salinas.co.za
4. The Fat Fish, Plett
One of the new kids on the block is The Fat Fish, located in Plett’s busy Central Beach complex. It’s earned itself a reputation as one of the best restaurants in town. A menu that is laid out as a newspaper with snippets of local information offers you something different to the usual seafood fare (snore) that you often see at every seafood restaurant along the coast. The décor is elegant and the service exceptional, which makes you feel as though you are really treating yourself to something special. Try their heavenly tapas like mini fish cakes and arancini, or dive straight into the mains with salmon on Asian-style noodles or linefish with clam sauce. My favourite is their simple calamari: I order it with the delectable anchovy mayonnaise. You’ll go back for this. It’s very popular so bookings are essential and on busy nights you’ll need to book a few days in advance.
Contact: Tel 044 533 4740, www.facebook.com/thefatfishplett
5. East Head Café, Knysna
You will go for the view but return for the food, again and again. Boasting one of the best views in Knysna, East Head Café sits directly opposite one of South Africa’s most iconic landmarks, the Knysna Heads. The restaurant setting is simple and bright and the food perfectly uncomplicated, but it is this wholesome deliciousness that will have you standing in the queue every time to try another delectable menu item. They use fresh, locally-sourced ingredients and you can taste the goodness in all their dishes. My favourite is the roasted butternut salad with pecans and micro greens, but their burgers are addictive as well as their fish and chips. They’re not open for dinner (you’re going for the view anyway) and they don’t take bookings so you will probably have to wait, but trust me it will be worth it.
Contact: Tel 044 384 0933
6. Down to Earth
Down to Earth is the newest of all the restaurants on this list (they’ve been open for less than a year) but they certainly warrant a mention as one of the great Garden Route restaurants. Situated right on the banks of the Bitou River, between Plettenberg Bay and Keurbooms, this enticing setting makes you want to waste away the afternoon enjoying the shady trees and the gentle breeze, while enjoying another glass of wine or a beer. Their breakfast and lunch menus are simple and uncluttered with healthy options and fresh favourites. Their fish cakes are simply the best I have ever tasted, but apparently I need to go back for the steak. Sit out on the deck over the river or under one of the big shady trees and make it a long afternoon listening to the Fish Eagles call. They are attached to Plett River Lodge and are closed for dinner, except for special occasions like Valentine’s Day.
Contact: Tel 044 535 0001, www.plettriverlodge.co.za
7. Zucchini, between Sedgefield and Wilderness
Zucchini is the epitome of a quaint country Garden Route restaurant. Located in the Timberlake Organic Village alongside the N2, Zucchini is a foodie destination. Tantalising home-grown organic greens grace the menu and you will be enthralled by their country fare like stinging nettle pesto chicken salad, smoked gammon sandwiches or springbok frikkadelletjies. They also serve a great craft beer platter. Surrounded by equally interesting shops and a pretty garden, Zucchini makes for a delightful lunchtime sojourn. They’re only open for dinner from Thursday to Saturday.
Contact: Tel 044 882 1240, www.zucchini.co.za
8. Zinzi Restaurant, Plett
Zinzi means abundance in Swahili and this exquisite restaurant has the perfect name. Restaurant to Hunter Hotels’ Tsala Treetop Lodge in between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, Zinzi is something quite special. They have interesting decór that combines rich and raw, and an exotic menu which includes items such as slow roasted pork belly, Moroccan lamb shank and Chalmar beef sirloin in a wholegrain mustard and brandy sauce. Their North African platter with injera pancakes, babaganoush, grape chermoula and plenty more is refreshingly different to the usual dinner fare. Bookings are essential and they are surprisingly affordable.
Contact: Tel 044 501 1111, www.zinzi.hunterhotels.com
While it is difficult to list each and every great Garden Route restaurant, these are some of my favourites and have earned their place here through a combination of setting, service (a sticky point for me), price, quality of food and very importantly; originality of menu items. Whatever your taste, any one of these restaurants will confirm the fact that the Garden Route is a destination of international standards. If you have any favourites that you think I’ve neglected, let us know in the comments!