When it comes to fine dining in South Africa, Cape Town is, without a doubt, the forerunner in terms of both quality and quantity. There is no comparison. In fact, the assortment of ‘upper echelon’ establishments in smaller coastal towns tends to be rather limited.
Plettenberg Bay is one of the exceptions to this statement. It’s a scenic, coastal region that’s dotted with a variety of fantastic restaurants offering splendid views, great service and superb food. The majority of four- and five-star hotels have seriously good adjoining restaurants and the neighbouring town of Knysna hosts the spectacular Zachary’s at Pezula, which is a must-visit for any connoisseurs of fine cuisine.
I recently visited five of Plett’s top restaurants to discover what makes them unique and exceptional.
Seafood at The Plettenberg
The service you’ll receive at Seafood at The Plettenberg is testament to their five-star hotel rating; for not only is it personal, but it’s also extremely subtle and refined.
The décor is simple and tasteful with accents of blue and aqua echoing the exterior; a patio overlooking an exquisite infinity pool that extends into the ocean. Dolphins are a common sighting, swimming across in vast pods and playing in the breakers — as are beautiful women sun tanning by the pool for that matter.
The menu is seasonal and designed to reflect what chef Peter Tempelhoff calls a “taste of the bay.” There is an emphasis on fresh fish, prepared in a diversity of styles: Cape Malay, Asian and Italian are the main influences, with every dish presented as a work of art. Signature dishes include the Thai scented fishcakes, moules frites, grilled tiger prawns, and for those looking for something a little meatier, the Thai red duck curry and the grass-fed beef sirloin steak will never fail to please. Each dish showcases Tempelhoff’s astute ability to create a synergy of flavour-balance, using only the best ingredients, but without overwhelming patrons with too much fuss or frippery.
Their wine list is dynamic and extensive, with thirty superb options by the glass, at very reasonable prices, as well as over one hundred excellent choices by the bottle.
The setting is pristine and tasteful; you’re guaranteed superb service, food and great views. And, they’re open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, both of which are recommended.
Emily’s Restaurant at Emily Moon
The views from Emily Moon are comparable to some of the best in the world. Overlooking the Bitou River, valleys and Outeniqua Mountains, one gets a feeling of floating above the landscape, and with that, a sense of real serenity. The venue itself, with all its’ eclectic statues and sculptures, is a sight to be seen, but it truly comes alive as the sun sets; giving way to candles, open fires and twinkling tree lights.
You’re welcomed by management and staff and invited to bask in the view with pre-dinner drinks on one of several viewing decks located around the pool area. Moving inside, you’re met with a dizzying array of wonderful and exotic ornaments, artworks, pictures and Samburu spears, paying tribute to the owners’ myriad of African and Asian adventures. Emily’s is a feast for the eyes as well as the senses.
The ambience is rather romantic, with candles and dark hues of red and blue throughout, backlit by a warming fire. Yet the music, which could be orientated to enhancing the romance, is unashamedly young and hip, giving Emily’s a more laid back, family feel.
The menu mirrors the setting, with African inspiration enriching each dish. There is an almost cheeky, Alice in Wonderland-like use of herbs, spices, fruits and nuts throughout that is both charming and exciting. The menu changes according to the fresh ingredients sourced daily, but will always include the signature dishes: a faultless, grilled Karan beef fillet, cooked to perfection, served with hand cut chips and Emily’s luscious béarnaise; a cider-braised pork belly with potato croquettes and an onion marmalade samosa; and, if you’re lucky, you’ll find the Amarula and coconut panna cotta on the dessert board, which is positively inspiring.
I’d recommend Emily’s for dinner. (They also have a casual, pizza and cocktail bar upstairs called ‘Simon’s Bar’, which is fabulous.)
Zinzi forms part of the majestic Hunter Hotels group; a set of five-star, boutique, luxury hotels in Plettenberg Bay and the Eastern Cape that, quite simply, take your breath away. The restaurant itself was built to accommodate the increasing number of rooms at Tsala Tree Lodge, but has become known as one of the best dining experiences in the Plettenberg Bay region, and for good reason.
The staff, headed by manager Sally-Anne, are outstanding. You’re greeted at the front door before being led outside to enjoy drinks on the restaurant’s patio overlooking the rolling lawns, manicured gardens and Egyptian Geese frolicking on the tree-lined pond.
The word ‘Zinzi’ means ‘abundance’ and it’s a concept that runs through every entity of the restaurant: the décor and lavish furnishings, the custom made cutlery and crockery, the menu and the service. The tables are big and bold, made from solid wood with carved detail and are enclosed by sumptuous, oversized armchairs, whilst handmade clay and crystal chandeliers delicately light the rooms.
The menu at Zinzi hints at North African, Moroccan and Asian influences, with a strong emphasis on seasonal and exceptional ingredients. They veer away from the ‘fine-dining’ label and prefer to promote their cuisine as ‘flavourful and fresh’, but the exquisite attention to detail in the creation of every dish rivals that of most fine dining establishments. The menu is diverse: a great selection of starters, vegetarian dishes, platters, fish, red meats and poultry, with their signature fifteen-spice Moroccan lamb shank an absolute must for those in search of something rich, succulent and special. Chef Antoinette Meyer’s imaginative use of spice and understanding of flavour and textural balance is remarkable.
I’d recommend it for both lunch and dinner.
The venue is bright and welcoming, spacious and tranquil, with white and wood featuring throughout, and a show stopping view of the Tsitsikamma Mountains framing the terroir in the distance. The restaurant sits at the edge of the vineyard with lime green vines tickling the tables and inviting patrons to walk amongst them.
The tables are generously spaced giving you a feeling of exclusivity, whilst still allowing you to enjoy the buzz brought on by a busy establishment. The menu is simple yet sophisticated with an emphasis on tapas-style dining: you’ll find an array of cheeses, pates, dips, cured meats and delicious finger foods alongside the most sumptuous homemade bread, which is served both warm and delectably crisp.
Their award-winning MCCs and Sauvignon Blancs will woo you, whilst a light rosé and gorgeously smooth Chardonnay perfectly pair with the fresh and seasonal menu. It’s difficult to choose from the expanse of tantalising morsels on offer, but I’d recommend the avocado and roasted Parmesan salad, any of the baked brie cheeses, the prawn cakes and the spinach and feta cigars…It’s very easy to order seconds as you while away the day in absolute bliss.
The service is relaxed, but personal, with the lovely addition of live music on most Saturdays which perfectly punctuates that holiday feeling that Bramon so beautifully encapsulates.
(It should be noted that the restaurant is only open at lunch.)
The Grand Café forms part of ‘The Grand’ chain of restaurants; two of which can be found in Cape Town (Camps Bay and Granger Bay) and one of which is in Plettenberg Bay. There’s a definite ‘brand’ consciousness that flows between the three; they all embrace a sense of ‘Boho-chic’ opulence, giving careful attention to the décor and the ambience, as well as a very considered choice in the Café del Mar-style music playing the background. The Grand is very trendy, and unapologetically so.
The restaurant is divided into two seating areas; the inside is painted in luxurious hues of deep purple and black, with candelabras, a piano and ballet slippers hanging from the chandeliers, while the outside showcases a more subtle, eclectic mix of pinks and natural woods. The patio itself hosts stunning views over the bay and leads onto a courtyard with a charming fountain. By day it’s a vibrant occasion, and by night it’s a more romantic affair.
The menu is seasonal; in summer you’ll find lighter dishes taking centre stage with an emphasis on fresh ingredients and salads, whilst richer, slow-cooked dishes are the name of the game in winter. Certain specials remain highlights of the menu throughout the year, including the kingklip tagliata, steak béarnaise, sugared salmon, and bouillabaisse.
Service is relaxed, but on point. I’d recommend it for light lunches on the patio in summer and candlelit dinners all year round.