Bloemfontein’s large university population, plus its status as a “double” capital city (it is the Free State’s capital and also South Africa’s judicial capital) have allowed the restaurant scene thrive in Bloem.
Though the dining scene is nowhere near as large or dynamic as Joburg’s or Cape Town’s there are a few dozen places top places to choose from. While some are the typical upmarket South African chains of the Oyster Basket and Spur variety, there are also a number of excellent independent choices.
Here we list five favorites for different occasions, from breakfast to a fancy dinner. But note you’ll find plenty more places to eat along Second Ave, and also in the Waterfront and Mimosa shopping centers.
1. New York
When locals go out for a special meal, they head to New York. Not the city, the restaurant. Walls are decked out with Jazz Age era murals, and the restaurant has a classy atmosphere to it. The menu includes the usual steak, fish and seafood favorites – the grilled calamari tubes in a lemon butter sauce are always delicious, as are the steaks, which come in a number of cuts and sizes and are cooked to order. The menu also features the usual range of sauces offered in South African steakhouses and quite a few salad choices. Service also gets high marks, but really it is the quirky decor that makes The New York stand out. Located in the Medene Center on Second Ave, which has been in business since 1989.
Tel: 051 447 7279, 60 Second Ave.
2. Seven on Kellner
It’s been around for years now, but this eclectic restaurant with a very trendy lounge vibe is still very popular. It’s in an industrial part of town, so you won’t just stumble upon it, but it is well worth going out of the way to eat at. Chef Kim Brackenridge is most famous for her pork dishes, but the choices extend far beyond the other white meat. Besides a blackboard with daily specials, the menu includes everything from wood-fired pizzas to Middle Eastern and Indian inspired dishes. It also offers a lot of seasonal fare: during hunting season go for the fresh kudu; in late summer try a fresh salad. Regardless what you order, the food is usually fresh and sumptuous. After dinner, hang out with Bloem’s beautiful people in a chair on the patio, sipping a glass of bubbly that was chosen from the curated (but still extensive) wine list.
Tel: 051-447 7928, 7 Kellner St.
3. The Picnic
Open for breakfast and lunch only, The Picnic is a favorite morning spot at the Waterfront Mall. The menu is very back-to-basics, especially at lunch, when sandwiches arrive with most of the ingredients separated on the plate, allowing you to add as much or little as you’d like to your creation. This same blank palette is reflected in the interior design, which owner Almarie Wessels keeps plain on purpose, so as to not take away from the real star: the farm fresh food – some of the herbs and veggies are grown in the house garden. Overlooking the lake, The Picnic is the perfect place to wake up with a cup of fresh brewed coffee and one of the made-from-scratch bacon-and-egg style dishes. At lunch try the peppery fillet sandwich on ciabatta; it is served with carmelized onions, rocket and a wedge of brie on the side.
Tel: 051-430-4590, Shop UG 8, Loch Logan Waterfront, Henry Street
4. Bella Casa Trattoria
Another long time favorite in Bloem, especially with families (it’s large enough for the kids to make noise without bothering other diners too much), Bella Casa is a cheery spot that offers a big Italian menu at very fair prices. Most choices are of the pasta and pizza variety — which is honestly what you should order — but the menu also features salads and a few one-off choices like the Black Beast, which is a black pepper crusted fillet steak that is first sautéed in lemon butter and then flambéed in brandy. There is plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, including many blue-checkered tables in a courtyard for warm-weather dining. The restaurant also offers takeaway service if you prefer to dine in your hotel room.
Tel: 051-448 9573; 31 President Steyn Ave
Popular with the college crowd, this self-described “Latino social caffé” is right in the middle of Bloem’s restaurant row at the corner of Second Ave and President Reitz Ave. Although the restaurant claims to serve Cuban and Mexican fare, the food doesn’t taste like the cooking from either of those countries. Still, the atmosphere is fun, if you’re looking for a lively young social scene that still feels sophisticated. The cocktail list here stretches on for four pages and includes some potent choices, including a very strong Caipirinhia, which vaguely tastes like the real thing. The food menu is as lengthy as the drink list, and though I said it doesn’t exactly taste Latin, the chicken and beef dishes aren’t bad — they are actually quite tasty, just not classifiable. The décor is equally eclectic. Beyond the large patio is an interior under a thatched roof where Victorian chandeliers hang over gold threaded couches. There are also plenty of hookahs to smoke flavored tobacco through. If nothing else, it’s good for people watching.
Tel: 051-447 1920, corner of Second & President Reitz Aves.