“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.” – Oscar Wilde.
Whilst I wish I were an intrepid traveller, valiantly traversing unchartered territories with courage and bravado, the truth is, I’m not. Honestly, I am a little bit of a wimp in many aspects of my life. There is one minor aspect of my life; however, where the word intrepid could be used as a descriptor – and that’s my appetite. Even more advanced when my Mum is in town and can treat me to delicious meals. Because though my appetite might be intrepid, my old bank balance, certainly is not.
We were lucky enough to get a reservation at Wolfgat – a tiny coastal restaurant, nestled in a 130-year-old cottage in Paternoster, South Africa. Almost off the map, until earlier this year when it won the 2019 World Restaurant Awards. An intrepid traveller would have known about it long before this global stardom was gleaned, but since I’m basic, I only learnt of it when it once it was securely put on the map.
The available date availed itself to my Mum and me in a serendipitous moment of sorts. We were sitting at a tiny Italian restaurant in Bedford, England and in between bites of risotto we were casually discussing future meal plans (I told you my appetite was intrepid). I casually mentioned Wolfgat, and once I told my Mum about the regional menu that consists of foraged flora and local seafood she was sold. “Book it now” she proclaimed, with a velocity usually savoured for shouting at me when I fail to dry the bathroom floor after a shower. I quickly found their website and lo and behold; a date was available for two people the day before her birthday three months later. “A sign” we both chimed as we sprinkled more parmesan onto our plates.
The day arrived, and we were incredibly excited. Dressed accidentally in somewhat matching dresses and oversized hats, we arrived in Paternoster, and off we toddled to the restaurant (stopping for a glass of West Coast wine en route, naturally).
The first thing that struck me about Wolfgat was the modesty of it all. It had just won this prestigious global award, and yet the name on the wall was smaller than the name that adorns my Bedroom door. Yes, I have my name on my bedroom door like a 7-year-old, and no my house is not big enough to justify the need for such an identifier, but that’s a story for another day. The name was so small in fact that I initially walked into the wrong restaurant, much to my horror, and the all too familiar annoyance of the hostess at the door. It’s that way she lamented softly, with a resigned sigh and an unassertive point of her unenthusiastic index finger.
Wolfgat (which translates to Wolf Cave and speaks of the brown hyena or beach wolf that resided in the area until the 19th century) is located on the stoep of the old cottage and overlooks Paternoster Beach. It boasts a simple, yet elegant design. The furniture has been crafted by regional artisans, and the very table that we sat on was made lovingly by chef Kobus van der Merwe’s Dad.
Kobus only learnt how to cook at the age of 30 (which gives hope to all us Millenials who are still trying to find out who the hell we are), and what I like best about this place – other than the food and local wine – is his commitment to no hierarchy in his restaurant. The chefs, front of house staff, and sommeliers all work together as colleagues, and everyone takes a hands-on approach to the food. None of them has had formal chef training. Yet, all strive to learn all about the regional cuisine and various culinary talents that make the magic happen. Kobus’s team are all born and raised Paternosterians (if that’s a thing), and thus the revenue is continually circulated back into the community. They also use local fisherman and smaller wine farms in the Swartland region. The common phrase ‘local is lekker’ truly looms large in this tiny little place.
With each course – be it the Bokkom botter with homemade bread, the black mussels with foraged aquatic flora, or the mielie ice cream, Kobus passionately tells you about the course and the particular wine pairing that goes with it. He brings you a regional wine whose terroir spectacularly captures the unique flavours of the dish.
The food is impeccably presented, but also honest. It’s the kind of place that can win global awards, but that you can happily dine in with your flipflops on and some sea salt in your hair. Despite the accolades, it still only seats 20 guests and thus retains its intimate charm.This is a serious must-taste for anyone with a passion for food, a fearless appetite, and a love for West Coast wine.