Tapas are sweeping the Cape Town food scene – and plate by tiny plate, the indulgence of eating out can add up quite quickly. I was challenged to find the most delicious tapas in Cape Town for around R150 per person – and although sometimes we went slightly over budget when drinks were included, we left every one of these establishments feeling happy and satisfied.
There are many stories about the origins of tapas. My favourites involve a king who was stricken with an illness which only allowed him to take in small portions of food with small amounts of wine; the other being that tapas bars used to be standing-only affairs so people who ordered a snack had nowhere to put their plate but on top of their glass, so it needed to be a rather small plate. What is for certain is that tapas originated in Spain – but the rest of the world has taken that idea, and run with it.
So, I went looking for the best places that serve awesome, delicious, and wallet-friendly tapas and happily that’s what I found – 11 affordable places to snack to your heart’s content (as well as one “treat-yourself” option).
1. Pure at Hout Bay Manor, Hout Bay
Hout Bay Manor is a charming historical building (built in 1871) and within the hotel is Pure Restaurant, a stylish spot where you can tuck into two-for-one tapas in the garden or on the patio from 17:00 to 19:00 on Monday to Friday. We had the bruschetta (comes with three different toppings – the salmon and cream cheese was our favourite); the pork belly pops; and the potato and mozzarella croquettes (which were also delicious). The bill came to R235 for a platter that could’ve fed four people. They also have two-for-one on local beers and house wine (think R20 for a glass of wine) so it makes for a fairly posh, yet affordable place to meet friends for an after-work wind-down.
Contact: Tel 0217919393, houtbaymanor.com
2. Stella Café & Bar, Cullinan Hotel, City Bowl
If you think tapas by the poolside in the swanky courtyard of the Cullinan Hotel is only affordable to some, think again! The tapas at their Stella Café & Bar is very affordable and beautifully presented in an array of copper dishes. We had the Bo Kaap bobotie spring rolls, cured barbecue salmon (highly recommended); salt & pepper squid with squid-ink rice, venison with red cabbage, and a fresh crispy cos, peas and avocado salad. The bill came to R310 and we rolled out of there feeling very satisfied! On Fridays they have their Stella Sessions, where you can quaff bottomless Graham Beck bubbly between 17:00 to 19:00 for R195. It really is bottomless as your glass is constantly topped up by attentive waitrons who seem to appear from nowhere! Plus, they give everyone having a drink a selection of snacks (even if you aren’t having bubbly) – it’s a fabulous way to start a weekend.
Contact: Tel 0214154000, tsogosun.com/stella-cafe-and-bar
3. Sotano, Mouille Point
Finding space at Sotano for breakfast over the weekend can be tricky, as it is super popular. Possibly because it is also pet-friendly (complete with doggy water bowls) which is always a bonus. Besides great breakfasts, they also have a fairly wide selection of tapas and platters (which are also good for sharing). We had the deep-fried stuffed squid, French-style steamed mussels in white wine (very generous and delicious portion), rosemary-grilled baby aubergine with a hummus dip, and the gambas al Ajillo (Spanish grilled garlic-chilli prawns with toasted bagette) for R306.
While we had mostly seafood, there are plenty of other tasty options including truffle parmesan potato chips, Shiraz-braised beef short ribs, smoky pork belly, and chorizo croquettes, to name a few. On Sundays you can wind down the weekend with the popular reggae band, The Rivertones, between 16:00-19:00.
Contact: Tel 0214331757, sotano.co.za
4. Gastao’s Tapas & Craft Beer Restaurant, Bellville
If you are looking for an affordable lunch outing on a Sunday, then head to Gastao’s at the Tyger Waterfront for their tapas special where you can choose a selection of five Portuguese-style tapas with a bottle of Leopard’s Leap wine for R285 from 12:00. The tapas menu includes delicious offerings like paprika poppers filled with cream cheese and bacon jam topped with smoked mozzarella; slow-cooked pork belly served with Jonkers Weiss and sage jus with crispy pinwheel scratchings; and smoked snoek fishcakes drizzled with apricot butter and an apricot pistachio salsa. The peri-peri king prawns served with fresh lemon and a Portuguese roll come highly recommended, along with the garlic roasted mushrooms topped with parmesan shavings and white truffle oil. The portions are generous, the service impeccable and it’s a fun casual spot to enjoy a relaxing Sunday afternoon.
Contact: Tel 0219141728, gastaos.capetown
5. Loco Lounge, Harfield Village
Loco Lounge in Second Avenue is known for their freshly-made-from-local-ingredients dishes and they are also not fans of sugar, so you won’t find that added to your meal. They may be healthy, but doesn’t mean it’s not tasty and their tapas is no exception. The menu is divided up into four sections – Meaty Madness, Fishy Business, Veggie Love (you have to have the camembert-stuffed crumbed mushrooms with cranberry drizzle and truffle oil from this section) and Desserts. Being solo for this one, I had the already-mentioned mushrooms, the mussels in white wine (the sauce was so good I took it home with me), the Thai beef medallions served with grapes and crispy rice noodles and the squidlettes – flash-fried Patagonian baby calamari served with a trio of sauces. The bill came to R336 and could have easily fed two people – I had to have take-aways. Speaking of doggy-bags, they are also pet-friendly!
Contact: Tel 0216716054 or visit their Facebook page
6. The Piano Bar, De Waterkant
Looking for somewhere that’s affordable, but classy for a date night? The Piano Bar is just the place with its balcony overlooking the city and warm, romantic interior (think mood lighting and candles on tables). They also have a very convenient date night tapas special: for R280 you get to select four tapas dishes from the menu along with a bottle of their house red or white wine. We had the bobotie tapas, the baked 3-cheese arancini, the falafel balls, and the salmon tartare served in a crispy phyllo pastry cone. They also have other tasty options including curried Zeppoli’s (vetkoek and mince), oriental pork balls in an Asian broth and pulled lamb tacos where the lamb has been seasoned with Deluxe coffee. The prices in general are very reasonable, but they also have two-for-one tapas on every evening between 16:00 and 18:00. There’s also live music every night of the week (we had the charming Grace de la Hunt that evening) and happy hour every day between 16:00 to 18:00, which combines well with two-for-one tapas!
Contact: Tel 0214181096, thepianobar.co.za
7. Manga, Mouille Point
If you like tapas, sushi and manga comics, then you are in for a real treat at the recently opened Manga on Beach Road in Mouille Point. When we arrived, sushi platters were being prepared for a party and they looked amazing! But we were there for tapas, so for R310 we enjoyed the miso-roasted aubergine (a winner); Vietnamese duck spring rolls, the crispy calamari with garlic chips, and eight crazy salmon rolls (because we couldn’t let the sushi go). It was all beautifully presented and whilst filling it wasn’t overbearing. There are plenty of vegetarian options, including citrus-dressed red cabbage with with bean sprouts, spring onion and orange; steamed broccoli and sugar snap peas with Shitake mushrooms; Guacamole wonton crackers; and the aforementioned miso-roasted aubergine which was a firm favourite. Gin-lovers will be delighted to know that Manga also has a gin bar serving Woodstock Gin.
Contact: Tel 0212022720, manga-capetown.co.za
8. El Burro Taqueria, City Bowl
Taqueria was one of my favourite finds on the tapas route simply because it’s cheerful, colourful and so affordable. It was tacos for one here, so I had a beef taco with chimichurri salsa, a roast butternut with caramelised onion, goats cheese and rocket quesadilla, and a crispy duck with Pasilla salsa taco (was on the specials board for R40). That plateful came to R109 and it was more than enough for me with my rather large appetite! They have daily specials and from Monday to Friday between 12:00 and 17:00 you can get a three-for-two special where you order three food items and the cheapest will be free! Pork-lovers should try the chicharrons (crispy pork scratchings) while tequila-lovers will love the wide selection of tequila and tequila cocktails available.
Contact: Tel 0214223554, elburro.co.za
9. Massimo’s, Hout Bay
I took a good friend with me for this one and even though she’s a regular customer, she had no idea they did tapas! The selection of ‘spuntini’ (Italian for starters) at this homely family-owned restaurant is quite impressive and makes for a nice change from pizza or pasta that you usually order at Italian restaurants. We had the caprese (fior di latte mozzarella, tomato, avocado, basil oil); belladonna (yummy grilled aubergines with basil, mint, garlic, marinated and preserved with olive oil); seared beef carpaccio with rocket, extra virgin olive oil and parmesan shavings; a fagiolo (borlotti beans with wild mushrooms, onions & herbs marinated in olive oil – also delicious); ; pepite (fried polenta bites, topped with parmesan, dusted with truffle salt); flamenco (Spanish cauliflower fritters with paprika); and a seafood fritto misto (traditional Italian fried seafood served with dill and spring onion aioli). It was all far too much food, but it was very good food!
The owners, Massimo and Tracy, only use authentic Italian ingredients which are mostly locally sourced, but a few items are imported from Italy (like the parmesan and Parma ham). You also won’t find chicken anywhere on the pizza menu as Italians do not traditionally serve chicken on pizza (Massimo was brought up on a chicken farm – look out for the fabulous photo by the pizza oven). In addition to all the good food on offer, Massimo’s also do good in the local community by donating a portion of your bill to local charities.
Tip: Do ask for one of their sugar cubes that’s been soaked in alcohol with a citrus infusion. I won’t give too much away about the experience, but it’s worth it!
Contact: Tel 0217905648, www.pizzaclub.co.za
10. Fork, City Bowl
This Long Street favourite serves Spanish pinchos with a South African twist and the presentation of their dishes is beautiful. The pinchos come in fours, so you can have two of each if you are sharing. That said, we ordered seven ample dishes between three people, and the bill came to R375, which makes Fork one of the most wallet-friendly tapas options. Menu items include aubergine, sweet potato and chickpea coconut curry (served in tiny bowls and totally delicious); risotto tart with parmesan, truffle mushrooms and rocket; smoked salmon rolls with cream cheese, dill and salmon caviar on crostini; roast pork belly with a mustard and parsley crust; grilled tiger prawns wrapped with pancetta (another delicious option); mini kudu fillets with potato gratin, garlic spinach and a citrus reduction (melt-in-your-mouth stuff) and Moroccan meatballs. Dishes start at R30 and there are also specials of the day. You can sit downstairs near the rather nice bar, or upstairs and on the balcony with a view of Long Street happenings below.
Note: You need to book and if you are running late you should let them know otherwise they could give your table away.
Contact: Tel 0214246334, fork-restaurants.co.za
11. Foodbarn Deli and Tapas Bar, Noordhoek
The Foodbarn came highly recommended – and with good reason. The deli becomes a tapas bar at night (from 18:00 Tuesdays to Saturdays) and there are 32 dishes on the menu to choose from. The choices were all a bit overwhelming, but we settled on the panko crumbed brie (heavenly); steamed mussels; bunny chow (delicious and so cute); field mushroom and asparagus gratinated with parmesan hollandaise; spicy baby calamari with harissa mayo, crunchy chickpeas and coriander; and the chicken satay. It was an enormous amount of food for R326 and we ended up taking some of it home! We also took home some books as they have a lovely library of books for sale from R40. The deli is such a cosy and comfortable spot – you could easily spend the whole day there.
Contact: Tel 0217891966, thefoodbarn.co.za
And, for a treat…
12. Chefs Warehouse at Beau Constantia, Constantia Valley
This is most certainly not within our stated budget – but for a special occasion, the newly-opened Chefs Warehouse at Beau Constantia is a culinary journey and taste experience you will never forget. Their signature contemporary tapas for two costs R650, and is comprised of eight dishes served in three courses. That is a lot of food coming to the table and it is probably the most beautiful food you will ever lay your eyes on. (If you are an Instagram fan, you are going to be spending a lot of time taking photos!)
The menu sees two items being replaced each week to keep things fresh. It also depends on seasonal availability and the time of the year (nobody wants salad in winter). Our experience saw us savouring dishes like barbecued Franschhoek trout with a garden vichyssoise, lemon roe dressing, charred and pickled alliums; pea risotto with Belnori goats cheese, fried pea and coppa salsa (oh, to make a risotto like that!); wood-fired pork loin with sherry caramel glazed apricots, almond puree and a thyme jus; and Moroccan lamb rib with homemade ricotta and a Hawaji Spice (the chef’s favourite).
Dessert was not an option for us at the end of eight dishes, but you’ll find bon bons, lemon posset, chocolate pot and a honeycomb and smoked cassia bark ice cream in the dessert section. To be honest, half of the ingredients I had never even heard of, but my tastebuds nodded fervently in approval! And then when you are done, lick your lips, sit back and enjoy the view – they are famous for it.
Note: Bookings are essential and if you are more than 30 minutes late they may give your table to someone else.
Contact: Tel 0217948632, www.beauconstantia.com
Do you have a favourite place to go for tapas? Let us know in the comments below.