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Pierhead, Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town Central 8001, South Africa



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Dinner, Lunch


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  1. Expert Review

    3.0 rating based on 1 rating
    Oct 2014 · Dana Sanchez

    If you count chocolate as food, then food of one kind or another has been served in the Hildebrand name...

    If you count chocolate as food, then food of one kind or another has been served in the Hildebrand name in Cape Town since 1898.

    It started out as a chocolate shop, and now it’s an Italian and seafood restaurant and bar in one of Africa’s top tourist attractions. But if my meal was any indication, Hildebrand does not serve up food that’s consistently great.

    It may not matter. This restaurant has survived ups and downs before, according to its website, and time is clearly on its side. For one thing, there are new tourists constantly pouring in to see Cape Town’s famous V&A Waterfront, and some of them will wind up at Hildebrand. They don’t have to eat. They can drink their calories from Hildebrand’s extensive wine list, or upstairs at the Alba Lounge.

    Hildebrand occupies the old Harbour Café Building. Built in 1901, it served as a post office, officers mess for the Royal Navy, Port Authority and the popular Harbour Café. Hildebrand moved there in 1995 after the V&A Waterfront was developed.

    Hildebrand’s history may be the best thing going for it. In 1898, German immigrant Adolf Schütte and his young bride got exclusive rights to import Theodor Hildebrand & Son chocolates to South Africa, according to Hildebrand’s website. They opened a shop on Adderley Street that thrived and eventually started serving coffee.

    By 1935 the business was a tearoom with 23 tables serving light meals, salads, egg dishes, Cape lobster and other seafood.

    Adolf’s daughter, Isolde Borgelt took over and, after years of working up to 12-hour shifts, sold Hildebrand to a Mr. Hinder who ran the business successfully from 1942 until 1964, when he decided to sell to a group of Italian restaurateurs: Mario Scovenna, Armando Gabbani, Colombo and Tony Bagatta.

    When Gabbani retired in 1979, Bagatta got a new partner, Italian immigrant Aldo Girolo. In 1980 the Hildebrand moved to the first floor of the Old Mutual Building.

    By the end of the 1980s, many businesses had left the city center and Hildebrand lost its evening dinner appeal, according to the Hildebrand website.

    If the Hildebrand was to survive it would have to move. Girolo and Bagatta moved it to the V&A in 1995.

    Nineteen years later, the restaurant was having problems the day I went there to eat and watch sunset over the harbor.

    We ordered the pan fried whole baby calamari in lemon juice; salad nicoise; risotto del giorno (spring onion); and grilled sole.

    They all arrived simultaneously, brought by the manager herself, which made it all the more surprising. The calamari was rubbery and unappetizing. I couldn’t eat it. The salad nicoise was interesting with seared tuna, anchovies, egg, potatoes, and olives. The risotto was forgettable, and the sole was OK.

    We hoped dessert would redeem this meal. The trio of three mini desserts — crème brûlée, Malva pudding and cheesecake — just weren’t up to the task. They were OK, just not great.

    This is a great place to have a drink and watch sunset, though. Just take a jacket. Cape Town evenings can be chilly.


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