“I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.”
‒ An excerpt from the poem “Sea-fever” by John Masefield
Cape Town, a seafront city, offers the visitor the finest in fish restaurants. While we lie asleep at night, fishermen are busy catching the fish we will be able to eat later the same day.
- Read here a previous article by the author of this article, which covers some excellent fish restaurants along the coast of False Bay.
Herewith is a selection of some excellent restaurants in Table Bay.
Table Bay (Tafelbaai, in Afrikaans) is a natural bay situated on the Atlantic Ocean at the city of Cape Town. It was named after the mountain above it, which is in the form of a table.
One of the early visitors to the Cape was Johan Anthoniszoon “Jan” van Riebeeck, who settled in what was to become Cape Town, and became the first administrator of the Dutch Cape Colony of the Dutch East India Company in 1652.
- Visit here for a history of the development of the Table Bay harbour.
One late afternoon, I took to the waterfront of the Table Bay harbour to see what the food was like at a few of the fish restaurants at the quayside, ahead of the 2019/2020 Cape Town tourist season. Perhaps, this will provide the traveller with a few options of some of the more mouth-watering places that serve fresh fish in the city.
Arriving at the V&A Waterfront (“Where the city meets the sea”) one late Sunday afternoon in springtime, I was surprised to see the large number of tourists enjoying their perambulation on the quay along the water’s edge of Table Bay harbour, where the land and sea meet.
- Read here for more information about one of Africa’s most frequented visitors’ sites, the V&A Waterfront.
The backdrop of Table Mountain served as the perfect setting for the bay and harbour. Seals were frolicking in the water as gulls hovered above. There were the representatives of the helicopter company advertising commercial helicopter rides, those from boating companies offering boat rides, and those offering scuba-diving excursions.
Sailing, scuba-diving and helicopter rides:
⇒ Luxurious sailing trips
Visiting the V&A Waterfront is a safe exercise, offers enjoyment for the whole family and has easy access and secure parking, as well as a wide range of eateries, from affordable outlets to restaurants for the discerning diner.
- Visit this website for affordable fish dishes in the area.
Sevruga offers the diner the best in seafood.
- The menu at Sevruga, however, is not restricted to seafood. Here is the full menu.
See the blackboard for the specials of the day, including:
♦ Fresh linefish
♦ Pan-fried baby calamari tubes with a herb emulsion
♦ Lemon and salt hand-cut chips or rice pilaf
♦ Pan-fried prawns with a topping of garlic, chilli, lemon, parsley or smoked paprika aioli
♦ A seafood selection for one or two (sq – subject to quotation), consisting of linefish, black West Coast mussels, pan-fried calamari tubes, pan-fried garlic-chilli prawns and langoustines, and deep-sea crayfish.
This restaurant has recently been renovated, and its interior offers an inspiring synthesis of old and new, and, in their own words: “The perfect marriage of traditional fine dining elements with added contemporary detailing and opulent colours, is the result of our new look, which energises and reinvigorates the classic Sevruga.”
Still on the water’s edge of Table Bay harbour, I decided to visit what remains a very sad and tragic site with regard to the history of our country. This is the Robben Island Jetty 1 Museum. It was here that prisoners left the land to proceed to incarceration on the island in Table Bay known as Robben Island.
No visit to Cape Town is complete without a visit to Robben Island.
- You can buy tickets for the trip from the ticket office at the Mandela Gateway at the V&A Waterfront, where ferries depart every hour.
Robben Island, named after the seals on the island, was the political prison where political activists who opposed the apartheid government’s inhumane laws, were sent for their actions against the state. It was to this island that Mr Nelson Mandela, among other political prisoners, was banished for protesting against the brutal apartheid regime.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, born in the Transkei on 18 July 1918, died in the suburb of Houghton, Johannesburg, on 5 December 2013, at age 95. He was South Africa’s most renowned political revolutionary and leader, playing one of the most instrumental roles in liberating the country from apartheid. He served as the republic’s first democratically elected president from 1994 to 1999, after which he retired from public life.
- Read more here for an account of his life.
Visiting the Robben Island Jetty 1 Museum at the V&A Waterfront, where one can remember all those people who had to leave for Robben Island and see out their life imprisonment there, will provide the tourist with a great deal of information about the tragic events of this time in South Africa’s history.
View some of the devices (photograph below) that were used to restrict the movement of the prisoners, and think of Mary-Mary’s approximately 6 402 264 views on YouTube:
Take the shackles off my feet so I can dance
I just want to praise you
I just want to praise you
You broke the chains now I can lift my hands
And I’m gonna praise you
I’m gonna praise you
The museum’s exhibits are very well explained, and by going to the upper level, one can get some good views of the Table Bay harbour. It’s a national monument and is well worth visiting ahead of your trip across the bay to Robben Island.
Harbour House at the V&A Waterfront is at the quay. The place has breathtaking views of the harbour itself, and serves the freshest of produce. Choices include the following: kob, kingklip, yellowfin tuna, swordfish and hake. Each of these dishes comes with its own delicate flavour, and the hake is said to be among the fish richest in omega acids.
- See the full menu here.
One of the dishes that I ordered was the avocado ritz with a twist (see the photograph below). It consists of diced salmon, avocado, caviar and a tempura prawn – this, with a glass of the Cape’s loveliest and simplest white wine, a Chenin blanc.
Somehow, when we think “tempura”, we think Japanese. But, in fact, it dates to the mid-16th century, when the Portuguese “colonised” parts of Japan and introduced this form of cooking – seafood or vegetables deep-fried in batter – while residing on the island of Nagasaki. The word “tempura” comes from the religious ceremony called Lent, and the phrase “ad tempora cuaresme”. If you prefer to write the word in Japanese, it looks like this: 天麩羅. The Japanese mistook the word “tempura” for the dish’s name, hence the word today relates to that specific kind of cooking method.
- Read more here about this history.
For the sushi lover, there are several choices at the V&A Waterfront. Cape Town has plenty such places to choose from, such as the Balducci Asian Noodle & Sushi Bar, and Willoughby & Co, with booking essential at the latter if you want to be sure to get a place in the evenings or over rush-hour times on weekends.
One of Cape Town’s most renowned fish restaurants, dating from 2001, is Baia, overlooking the Table Bay harbour, and with equally superb views of the mountains.
On the day that the photograph for this article was taken, the clouds were covering Table Mountain, as if the table cloth were being laid for the perfect meal (see the first picture in this article).
The word “baia” itself appropriately means “bay” – a classic restaurant on the bay. The interior colours in the restaurant reflect the blue of the sea, with the waves also reflected in the undulating mosaics and the way the restaurant’s name is written, in curves.
For some of the best in fish platters and dishes from Baia, the following are on offer: tempura prawns, tempura lobster, black mussels in Riesling, mini langoustines, grilled calamari, abalone, Pernod lobster tail, calamari lobster and a squid plate.
- Read Baia’s main menu here.
Perhaps a visit to Exclusive Books in the same complex would be a good idea for buying a seafood cookbook featuring some nice classic fish dishes.
- View the details of the complete cookbook for South African cookery here.
There are several excellent recipes for fish in many cookbooks, but one that is probably quite scarce is the preparation of abalone (“perlemoen” in Afrikaans). This is a Cape delicacy that dates back to the earliest days.
The following is a suggested recipe, which has specially been written up by me, as I have prepared it over and over again.
Perlemoen à la Olga (abalone starter)
◊ Take four medium-sized abalone of legal measurement.
◊ Shell them and eviscerate them till they are pure white, which means scrubbing them.
◊ Clean them and wash off all the excess.
◊ Steam them for 20 minutes in a copper-bottom saucepan, retaining the juices.
◊ Cut the abalone into pieces and mince.
◊ Add a bit of coarse brown bread into the mincing process, and add some pepper.
◊ Put the mixture back into the saucepan with the stock in which it was boiled.
◊ Simmer until the juices are mixed into the emulsion.
◊ Add a teaspoon of good vodka.
◊ Sprinkle with a bit of lemon juice.
◊ Serve together with coarse brown bread and salted butter.
◊ Serve with chilled Chenin blanc.
◊ Eat with a silver fork (aluminium or nickel is sure to spoil the flavour).
Herewith is a selection of various fish restaurants in the vicinity:
» Pigalle is in the central Cape Town area, well known for its fresh seafood platter.
They serve classic dishes with a subtle Portuguese flair.
There is a spacious cigar lounge and private dining room.
» At NV-80, there are a number of fish dishes, such as the miso salmon, the calamari, and the queen prawns and linefish.
» For something more specialised, try The Mussel Monger, which is a mussel and oyster bar, also centrally located. For adventure, they offer helicopter rides allowing for an oyster and mussel feast on the beach, about 150 kilometres from Cape Town.
» For an alternative to seafood, there are a number of fine restaurants serving meat.
» Visit here for a choice of vegetarian restaurants.
♦ La Perla ♦
One of the most attractive restaurants in Cape Town, from both its interior design and its location, is La Perla, meaning “pearl” in Italian. Its menu includes excellent fish dishes.
The purpose for my visit one evening, on the verge of springtime, to this majestic eatery was to try their highly recommended fish soup; besides the soup of the day and the typical Italian minestrone, there is the exquisite La Perla fish soup.
At an extra cost, you can have crayfish added, although the soup portion that comes served with prawns, calamari and a few pieces of crayfish, is ample. Nice fresh ciabatta and butter seal it all off.
Mr Cassiem, the person who attended my table, recommended the dish, so I was pleased that I had come to the right place for this exquisite item on the menu.
To be honest, the texture was like bouillabaisse, which contains garlic, tomatoes, olive oil, a host of spices and, of course, lean fish.
I was not one bit disappointed, and will go back for it again – that’s certain. Instead of the traditional white, I preferred to have it with a red wine, although I cannot recall the cultivar. Mr Cassiem led me to the bar area to do a tasting, and I settled for a carafe of a fresh, spicy red.
Slowly, I enjoyed this dish – in such a beautiful space, as the sun was setting. The interior spaces, counterpoised by the most exquisite taste in art, are decorated along the lines of a fish tank, represented in the water feature on the “stoep” (verandah).
The La Perla restaurant, built on the seafront of this sought-after part of Cape Town, dates back to 1959. Since then, it has established itself as a definite landmark of the area, hosting statesmen/women, actors and dignitaries, as well as loyally serving local diners keen on a dining experience of note.
Its fish tank design was added in the 1970s, fitting in with the elegant beachfront location, making it one of Cape Town’s classic places for eating. While it prides itself on its seafood menu, it is, after all, an Italian restaurant.
Features include its stunning bar area and pool deck. La Perla is well known for its classic Caesar dining chairs.
There are stunning views of the setting sun in the evenings. The vibe and hustle and bustle of the day are equally energetic.
The stunning sunsets and clear views of the sea are reminiscent of the following poem about the sea:
“Sea-fever” by John Masefield
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
The restaurant is linked to the SMAC contemporary art gallery.
SMAC exhibits contemporary art as its flagship in the gallery, showcasing emerging international and African talent.
Currently exhibited at the SMAC gallery is Wallen Mapondera, with the title of the exhibition, Moving target.
As the write-up for the exhibition explains: “It is notoriously difficult to hit a moving target, for this device is, by its very nature, meant to challenge or even escape our reach.”
But, through his medium, Mapondera is exploring his own experience of moving targets, and the impact they have on the psyche of the Zimbabwean population.
One of La Perla’s most dedicated patrons, and a conoscente of 20th-century English poetry, was the late Raymond Danowski.
Raymond was responsible for collecting all the 20th-century English poets’ anthologies and publications which today make up the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library, a 75 000-volume collection of rare and first editions of modern and contemporary poetry at Emory University.
It includes every poetry volume in English published worldwide in the 20th century. In addition, there are 50 000 literary journals and several thousand broadsides, recordings, newspaper articles and manuscripts, among other artefacts.
The whole endeavour took 30 years from when Danowski started with the collection, until it was finally donated to Emory in 2004. Today, it is a living library, with additions and new acquisitions. More specifically, visit the Rose Library at Emory, where the collection is. The collection is said to be the largest of its kind in the world today.
Raymond just loved La Perla, and spent many hours there, sitting and reading, eating and conversing with friends and those around him. The photograph on the wall of La Perla is a fine testimony to a great person!
And, what do you do once you have finished this scrumptious fish soup at La Perla?
You go back for more!
- All photographs are by the writer.