PATERNOSTER, South Africa — Reaching Wolfgat, a restaurant in a small seaside cottage seating solely 20 on this fishing village, takes a good two hours plus by automobile to achieve from Cape Town, about 100 miles away. The payoff is a singularly memorable multicourse dinner that tastes extra of the ocean than anything and is served with personalised appeal in environment which might be without delay rustic and stylish.
The remoteness is a part of the enchantment. It deserved its title because the world’s No. 1 Off-Map Destination, given by the brand new World Restaurant Awards, IMG, which have been introduced in Paris in February. (The group additionally named it restaurant of the 12 months.)
Wolfgat shouldn’t be as distant as Faviken, Magnus Nilsson’s 16-seat Swedish cabin almost 400 miles north of Stockholm, however this South African restaurant is way extra obscure. Kobus van der Merwe, a chef who has not been within the highlight of the world stage, runs it.
“The award came as a complete surprise; even the nomination was amazing, to be on a list with other restaurants we hero-worshipped,” stated Mr. van der Merwe, the chef and proprietor. “We’re so remote we don’t feel like we’re part of the restaurant scene.”
Mr. van der Merwe, 39, calls his delicacies strandveld, a phrase that refers back to the crops alongside the shore of the Western Cape, or Atlantic Coast of South Africa. They are an integral part of his meals.
South African cooking, a lot much less the particulars of strandveld, has not grow to be a international trendsetter the best way Nordic fare has. Its hallmarks embrace a frequent presence of native seafood and recreation like kudu and springbok, substances that don’t journey properly. The local weather and the cooking of South Africa are sometimes described as Mediterranean, with a bounty of native olive oils, tomatoes, herbs, and greens like artichokes, zucchini and peppers.
Many of the substances in Mr. van der Merwe’s kitchen, and on the plate, are hyper-local and bear nearly no carbon footprint. Seaweeds and seafood come from inside strolling distance on the fringe of the ocean. Mr. van der Merwe forages each day along with his employees of 5 or 6, one thing he began doing as a boy, along with his grandmother.
Mr. van der Merwe got here to Paternoster a number of years in the past to assist his dad and mom, who had a small grocery there referred to as Die Winkel however wished to retire. (His mom is from the village.) Mr. van der Merwe had been writing music opinions in Cape Town. Classical music has been an abiding curiosity — he’s a pianist — however he wound up in journalism after quitting culinary college. Jobs for cooks have been primarily in lodge kitchens, which didn’t curiosity him.
In Paternoster, he returned to cooking, taking up a type of fish and chips spot connected to the grocery retailer. He modified the menu with substances he gathered alongside the shore. Then, to ascertain a place of his personal, three years in the past he discovered the whitewashed 130-year outdated cottage that grew to become Wolfgat. “I feel very lucky to have this place,” he stated.
Named for an archaeologically significant cave nearby, Wolfgat is essentially a one-room affair with a porch overlooking the sea. The dining room occupies the front area, divided from the kitchen by a free-standing counter used by the staff to plate the food for each course in full view. Shelves of ingredients, like homemade vinegars, shrubs and flavored salts, cover one wall.
As we entered, the crew was busy arranging mussels, clams and oysters in shallow bowls on beds of stones. Those were first course “snacks” along with limpets, another bivalve, ground up with white wine and butter and served warm. A homespun bag held bread that came with butter seasoned with salted fish.
Another six courses followed, written on the menu mostly in Afrikaans but explained, verbally in English, usually by the genial auburn-bearded Mr. van der Merwe.
Many of the dishes, often inventively presented on stones or plants, incorporated unfamiliar ingredients specific to the region, like those limpets, and made it clear that the shores of the United States can be underutilized. Mussels were also bedded on white bean purée with chewy dune spinach leaves. Pickled silvers (fish spiked with Indian seasonings, like turmeric and cumin) and wild garlic followed. Smoked snook, a South African fish, wrapped in seaweed. sat in a pool of tomato broth. A lush medium-rare portion of springbok fillet with a slightly sweet flavor, like buffalo, came with biltong (jerky) also made from the same local antelope. A swirl of amasi, a fermented yogurt-like product, served with figs was a palate-cleanser. Pear ice cream with meringue provided the finale.
The brief wine list at Wolfgat is entirely South African, a category of wines that is underappreciated in the United States. There’s a strong emphasis on chenin blanc, a grape that does very well and is often vinified with finesse. The reds are mostly Rhone varietals like shiraz, grenache and cinsault, along with pinotage, the hybrid native to South Africa. At Wolfgat they’re poured into delicate stemware, contrasting with the handmade, often rough-hewn pottery and wooden dinnerware.
The six-course menu, snacks included, changes daily, a good thing since many of Wolfgat’s customers are regulars, vying for tables along with an increasingly international following.
Wolfgat, 10 Sampson Street, Paternoster, South Africa. Lunch is served Wednesday through Sunday, dinner Friday and Saturday, 850 rand or about $59, not including beverages. Reservations online can be made 90 days in advance: wolfgat.co.za.
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