Freelance Writer - Instagram.com/andrewthompsonsa25 June 2020
Cape Town’s Long Street has a reputation as the city’s most hedonistic stretch of road – thanks to thr dozens of late-night bars and clubs, and a fascinating food scene to explore. One local gives us the lowdown.
Anyone looking for a great meal in the heart of the action would be remiss to overlook Long Street. Restaurants here may offer respite from the busy streets outside, but whether combined with a late night out or simply a high-quality meal, there’s still a wide variety of options available.
Alasdair McCulloch, a quick-witted editor and director based in the Cape Town CBD, whose office is a short walk from Long Street, knows more than most about which restaurants to head to in the area.
He’s edited projects for some of the world’s largest health and wellness companies, but also directed campaigns for big alcohol brands that wouldn’t be out of place on Cape Town’s party street, including those set in the very heart of it. When he’s not calling the shots from behind the camera, this is where you may find him dining.
Mama Africa is a Cape Town, and Long Street, institution. It offers an African dining and entertainment experience in a laid-back setting, showcasing the best cuisine and hospitality of the continent. The staff are friendly and attentive, and there’s a live marimba band most evenings. The menu is meat-heavy, a carnivore’s delight, with a wide selection of meat as well as seafood dishes. However, there’s a choice of vegetarian dishes on offer as well. Although most Cape Town residents dismiss it as tourist-centric, it’s a destination for anyone looking for a casual, entertaining foray into local cuisine.
Burger fans will know there’s one destination in Cape Town, and that’s Royale Eatery – or “Royale” – and perhaps its equally famous upstairs bar, the Waiting Room, where Alasdair recently shot a commercial. Royale started the gourmet burger revolution in the city, and its menu has grown year on year. “There are something like 50 burgers on the menu here and some great milkshakes to end off the meal,” he says. It’s also a good spot for vegetarians looking to dine out with meat-eating mates, with several meat-free and vegan options on the menu.
At the far end of Long Street is one of the city’s most under-rated restaurants, Fork Tapas. From the bustling street outside, it’s easy to miss, but the welcoming interior – bare-brick walls, dark-wood furniture and a large glass window that looks out on to the street – sets the tone for a high-quality meal. Small plates and sharing are the focus here, and attentive service means the food and drinks keep flowing. Patrons often start with only a few dishes and then expand their orders as they realise the intricacy of flavours in each dish. It’s a dining experience like few others in Cape Town, and those in the know return here time after time to sample new menu arrivals and celebrate old favourites.
When it comes to casual, bistro-style eating with plenty of healthy options, Lola’s is still the queen of Long Street. It’s located in a refurbished Victorian building on the corner of Long Street and Buiten Street, and Alasdair favours it for its diverse menu, especially on the vegetarian front. The bistro fare here is fresh and full of South African flavours – whether visiting for breakfast, lunch or a quick afternoon freshly squeezed juice.
“Orchard juice and health bar is another great, healthy option worth a visit,” says Alasdair. The menu focuses on cold-pressed juices of all types and combinations – from beetroot, cucumber, apple, lemon and mint to raw almonds, dates and coconut oil. If you’re feeling peckish, there are also snacks on the menu, including kale chips, home-made health bars and dried fruit to keep you satisfied until dinnertime. It’s a small spot for those looking to snack or drink on the go, but it does have some seating for those who want to linger a little longer.
South China Dim Sum Bar is another hole-in-the-wall hidden gem. The dim sum is excellent, and over the years, it’s harboured a growing legion of loyal fans, so it’s not uncommon for tables to be booked days in advance. Thanks to its intimate table layout and bustling atmosphere, it’s the perfect date spot, but Alasdair is also a fan for small post-work gatherings. “The menu is diverse enough to have a few different options, and it’s a great restaurant if you’re open to the idea of sharing dishes and experiencing lots of different flavours in one meal,” he says.
Great Ethiopian dining options abound in the Cape Town CBD, but Lucy Ethiopian Restaurant is one of those that Alasdair rates the highest. It’s easy to miss, located at the very top of Long Street, but it’s one well worth seeking out for its classic Ethiopian flavours. “Lucy offers all of the expected Ethiopian dishes – injera [a spongy bread], kibe [clarified butter with spices] and berbere [a spice],” he says. “And it’s another great option for a more social style of eating.” Other popular Ethiopian restaurants in the area include Addis in Cape, Madam Taitou and Little Ethiopia – all of which are worth a visit for this popular cuisine.