A visit to Wolfgat, Restaurant of the year

Kobus Van der Merwe, a previous speaker at Identità, won the World Restaurant Awards. We dined there a few days ago

11-03-2019 | 12:00
The view from restaurant Wolfgat in Paternoster,

The view from restaurant Wolfgat in Paternoster, South Africa, winner of the Restaurant of the year award and the Off the map destination award in the first edition of the World Restaurant Awards, which took place in Paris on the 18th February (photo Sartor)

It was quite intuitive ofIdentità Golose to invite Kobus Van der Merwe, patron-chef at Wolfgat, at Identità Milano in 2017. A few days ago, the south African chef received in Paris the Restaurant of the year award and the Off the map destination award from the World Restaurant Awards. It was a brave decision as this restaurant is in a small fishermen’s village, an hour and a half from Cape Town and it is a truly alternative place.

We dined at Wolfgat only a few nights before, completely unaware of the clamour the restaurant would experience only a short while later. That night Kobus was in the kitchen with his brigade of 6 people for 20 guests. Seeing him at work was thrilling. The chef, who only started to cook at 30 (he’s now 39) is a very shy and kind person, quite the opposite to what we’re now used to think of chefs. The simple fact he was there, cooking in front of us, was almost unique in a world where chefs have become brands and disappear from the kitchen. Despite his appearances on TV, Van der Merwe is still a simple Afrikaans guy, with a strong connection to the territory of the West Coast and its products.

Kobus van der Merwe portrayed by Brambilla/Serrani, Identità Milano 2017

Kobus van der Merwe portrayed by Brambilla/SerraniIdentità Milano 2017

The staff (photo Instagram)

The staff (photo Instagram)

His career started in Paternoster with a tiny restaurant (seating some 10 people) at the back of a shop selling local specialties. He stood out right from the start thanks to the original products used, all coming from the local fauna and flora. Around 3 years ago he opened Wolfgat, on a promontory overlooking the bay of Paternoster, with a breath-taking view. But there’s more than the view here: the centennial cottage in which it is located is built on a cave bearing the same name where they found remains of animals and handworks from two thousand years ago. What best connection with the nature and history of Africa could there be?

Our experience at Wolfgat was the most interesting in South Africa and the most interesting generally speaking in a while. The restaurant is small, there are very few tables mixed up. Every dish is presented in plates and bowls made with different materials (china, wood, iron) with different cutlery to complete the set. The menu changes constantly since the chef uses only what available locally. Now Kobus is called the king of foraging, but even before this definition was given to him, he went in search of herbs, molluscs and other ingredients during his expeditions on the coast.

Crispy leaf of nasturtium 

Crispy leaf of nasturtium 

Cuttlefish, cauliflower and salicornia

Cuttlefish, cauliflower and salicornia

We tasted mussels and oysters picked from the rocks on the beach below, herbs and leaves picked from plants with names impossible to pronounce, local fish and cuttlefish, cakes made with indigenous fruits. There was no meat, a very brave choice in a country where they think food without meat or food that doesn’t have to do with meat is not really food. Regardless of labels, the experience at Wofgat is memorable because of its uniqueness and authenticity. It’s a place for strong emotions and you must go there with your tasted buds “open”.

Now everyone talks about him, Kobus announced he won’t increase the price of the 7-course tasting menu, which now costs 850 rand (around 55 euros, excluding wines). The restaurant is fully booked until May, when the next round of online reservations will be open.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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The food world in and near Cape Town told by Giovanna Sartor