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The small seaside town of Paternoster, just two hours from Cape Town, used to attract visitors due to its sleepy disposition and beautiful uniform white-washed architecture. But these days those humble fishing cottages are filling up with some of the province’s most celebrated restaurants.
It’s easy for a town to proclaim foodie status. Many around South Africa’s Western Cape province have done exactly this over the last few years. But it takes a special collection of restaurants to draw critical acclaim from both near and far.
Paternoster’s creative and diverse restaurants are doing just that, and as critics descend on the once sleepy fishing village they’re leaving with full bellies and glowing reports about some of the most inventive eateries in the country.
Though most draw on influences from the flourishing oceans nearby, the best restaurants in town all have an edge that means no two visits to the town, or one of these individual restaurants, is ever the same.
You might have to fight for a reservation at Wolfgat, a small idyllically-located restaurant, but it’s worth the effort. Chef Kobus van der Merwe only offers a limited number of seats for lunch and dinner on select days of the week. He forages wild ingredients specifically for the day’s menu, and then proceeds to turn them into a seven-course extravaganza. Food primarily features items from or nearby the sea, so you can expect a seafood influence in most dishes. It’s a spectacular dining experience from start to finish – and that’s before you consider that the views from the terrace must be some of the best in the world.
Oysters appear on most Paternoster restaurant menus, and it’s no surprise what the most popular item is on the Noisy Oyster’s. They’re so fresh that they need little more than a splash of lemon and Tabasco. But there are several main courses on the menu that are worth saving space for. Given the location, most dishes lean towards seafood, but you’ll also find unique and adventurous mains based on land-dwelling animals. The menu also changes regularly, and though there’s no sea view, it’s full of warm, hospitable charm that makes it a local and visitor favourite.
Perhaps the best thing about dining in Paternoster is how simple meals become all-day dining experiences. It’s not unusual for meals to start in broad daylight, and end with the sun hovering low over the shimmering ocean just a few feet away. The Square Spoon embraces this philosophy, and its relaxed atmosphere and accommodation of vegetarian and carb-conscious diners, make this one of the more accessible spots in the village. Understandably, most of the mains focus around fresh seafood plucked from the nearby waters, and the daily catches are written up on the chalkboard for all to consider. There are also meaty dishes on offer, and the location is perfect for a long lazy meal to match the sedate tempo of Paternoster.
There’s more to Paternoster’s restaurant’s than shabby-chic fishing cottages and endless seafood dishes. Popular chef and restauranteur Reuben Riffel decided to get a slice of the Paternoster foodie action with a restaurant opened in Abalone House in 2015, called Reuben’s at Abalone House. Though they serve lunch and dinner for guests and visitors, given the competition from the other established restaurants in the village your best bet for a quality meal here is at breakfast. They serve up a hot or cold spread, including champagne and orange juice, that will tick all the opulent buffet breakfast boxes. And the regal atmosphere and bay windows with views out towards the ocean make it an idyllically tranquil location in which to start the day.
It’s true that most restaurants in the town focus on seafood. The same is true for Gaaitjie, which may have the best location in Paternoster, given its stunning ocean views from the quaint 70-year-old fishing cottage. But there are many more reasons why this restaurant has become one of the most lauded in the region. The warm, welcoming atmosphere is one of them, and the fresh, diverse menu is another. The food at Gaaitjie is simple and unpretentious, but packed full of flavour. Though much of it draws on ingredients gathered from the nearby bay, the distinctly Asian twist gives this memorable restaurant an edge over the growing list of competitors.
Stellar food aside, one of the main appeals of dining out in Paternoster is the beautiful historic buildings in which many restaurants are set. One of the most iconic in this regard is Voorstrandt, and there’s a reason why many locals and visitors sing the praises of this popular restaurant. The bright red cottage with large terrace may stand out among the otherwise uniform architecture of the town, but is the perfect spot to while away an afternoon. The unpretentious menu caters for a range of tastes, but it’s when you consider that you’re dining in a 114-year-old tin house, that’s literally on the unspoiled Paternoster beach, that you realise just how special this iconic restaurant is.