Pick up the phone, Make a booking, get in your car and savour the greatest food adventures of your life

MEN LOVE LISTS. IT’S THAT simple. Almost every man on the planet has detailed wish lists for places he wants to visit, adventures he would like to experience, cars he wants to drive and, for most men, lists of dream women he wants to date. Most of the time, these dreams stay as fantasies. But we like you to get real, so we’ve put together a list of the best dining experiences in South Africa – the culinary adventures that should and must make up your personal bucket list of dining. This isn’t about extravagant meals or elitist clubs – it’s about great food in even greater surroundings.

1. Rust en Vrede, Stellenbosch
Fine dining is still the acme of the chef’s craft, and in South Africa no restaurant is as polished, elegant and downright sexy as this winery fine diner. From being greeted at the door by a beautiful, leggy hostess to sitting in chairs fit for royalty and sipping from the best crystal wine glasses – all this is only a prelude to the fantastic food that chef David Higgs and his team conjure from the visible kitchen. Sure, it’s a little more expensive than your average night out, but this is the place for a special occasion, and a guaranteed memory.

021 881 3881 www.rustenvrede.com

2. Ile de Pain, Knysna
The best food experiences often begin with the simplest things, done just right. And if you consider that the humble loaf of bread is the very symbol of food and life, the one place that makes the best bread in the country has to be on this list. This Garden Route gem is the epicentre of artisanal bread. It’s also a delightful cafe serving killer breakfasts, brunches and lunch. It’s all about craft, tradition and the natural order here: the oven is woodfired, the butter is from the farm and the baker is a soul surfer.

044 302 5707

3. Hantam Vleisfees, Calvinia
You’ve heard about Karoo lamb, but you have not tasted it until you visit the annual Vleisfees in this heartland town, where the love for mutton and lamb is celebrated in a weekend of protein overload. Start easy at the braais with chops and sosaties, settle into stews, gingerly sample the tripe and trotters and then go native with the sheep’s head, tail and gonads. Mix in the beauty pageant, vintage car parade, a countrified version of Idols and the biggest Saturday night “sokkie” jol, and you’ll be drinking your brandy double forever. Book it in your calendar – it’s usually the last weekend of August every year.

027 3418 219 www.hantamvleisfees.co.za

4. The Troyeville Hotel, Johannesburg
Serious business over prego, espetada, platters of prawns, peri-peri chicken and vinho verde – the Troyeville is a justly famous slice of real Joburg life (though one that the women generally don’t embrace as warmly as the guys do). During the day, it’s best to sit out back on the patio with downtown views. But at night you could entice the female companions to a retro table in the “Flamingo” dining room, so named for the seriously kitsch mural of a… you guessed it. And it certainly is not all about nostalgia – the Portuguese food is delicious.

011 402 7709

5. Fynboshoek Cheesery, Tsitsikamma
Classically-trained musician Alje sure can bring the best out of a goat, or cow. At his Garden Route house, which doubles as the most intimate kind of restaurant, you can lunch on some of the best cheese this side of the moon. Everything he presents for these limited-seating lunches is likely to be made himself: the bread, salads, sausages and, of course, his famous cheeses and perfect cheesecake. An afternoon on his veranda with the view of the river and hilltop pastures beyond is simply idyllic. And it’s not the easiest place to find, which makes the whole experience even better.

042 280 3879

6. Bombay Brasserie, Cape Town
Forget what you know about Indian food and chintzy Indian restaurants, and pay a visit to this Brasserie. The exquisite room is perfect for romantic evenings, everything you look at is beautiful and bespoke. The service is spot on, but never too much, and the menu redefines how subtle and delicious Indian cuisine can be. This is not about lad-strength vindaloo; it’s about perfectly-integrated herbs, spices and tendercooked meats. The term “mouth-watering” was invented here, and once you have a habit for it, the higher prices will be forgotten (as will all inferior Indian grub).

021 819 2000 www.tajhotels.com

7. Mariana’s, Stanford
Cape country cuisine at its finest and most soul-fulfilling. Wife and husband team Mariana and Peter are only open for lunches on a few days of the week and they are always busy – not surprising, because once you’ve tasted their
offering, you will be back. Mariana forages pretty much all the vegetables from her large garden out back, and cooks most of the food slowly and overnight in the best tradition. Peter looks after the front of house with the eccentric charm and charisma of a man freed from his previous life as an electrician. Book, stay for the afternoon and retire for an afternoon nap at one of Stanford’s many guesthouses.

028 341 0272

8. Britannia Hotel, Durban
Once upon a time, this hotel’s address must have been good, but now it’s tucked away under fly-overs in the corner of an industrial zone. Despite this, it has somehow retained a certain poise, no doubt also because much of Durban knows this is the place for curry and – notably – bunny chow, that “zef-cool” lunch of curry mushed into a half-loaf of bread. Decline the slightly fancier dining room and move through to the bar where you can eat like a king and then lose all your money on the many horseracing slots. You’ll be in the fascinating company of all types.

031 303 2266 www.hotelblitz.co.za

9. Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse, KZN Midlands
One of the last bastions of butter in the land. Chef Richard Poynton knows that food just tastes better when butter is involved. So the team cooks multiple decadent courses from the old French recipe book, served after polite drinks in the library. It’s a true food destination (read: it’s in the sticks), so be prepared for a harrowing drive back home or, even better, stay over in their fantastic rooms. The next day you can fly-fish, horseride and generally practise your Rocky Mountain accent.

033 267 7243 www.cleomountain.com

10. Mzoli’s, Gugulethu
On weekends the players pull up and turn up their sub-woofers; the women pout, preen and grind. The setting is a very plain arrangement of communal tables and plastic chairs on the street off a famous butchery – you step inside
to choose your chops and wors, then they braai it for you with slatherings of the signature Mzoli’s spicy sauce. It arrives at your table, in an enamel bowl, with pap. You’ve bought your quarts, you eat (mostly with your hands), you dance, you shout, you sully your reputation. Mzoli’s is a quintessential township scene, and now far from secret – as the eclectic mix of patrons proves.

021 638 1355

11. Mosaic, Pretoria
“Build it and they will come,” seems to have been the philosophy at this romantic hotel outside Pretoria, designed to look very much like a Moorish king’s fantasy. But it’s nowhere near Seville. In fact, it’s in the middle of a Gauteng conservancy. Chef Chantel Dartnall has been drawing food-lovers like a magnet to her plates that match the “wow” of the location – modern dishes that deliver on flavour and look pretty all the while. The fantastic wine list
is another reason to programme this into your GPS. Plus the service gives you a feeling of Arabian royalty, just without the multiple wives.

012 371 2902 www.the-orient.net

12. Strandloper, Langebaan
Dreaming of an island holiday? Cheaper to drive up the Cape West Coast and pull in here with a crowd of mates. Shoes off, feet in the sand, its all about seafood cooked on the coals and cold white wine at the seaside. Lunches linger well towards sunset and sunset leads to dinner… Here you pay your flat rate and then you eat until your iodine levels are saturated. One of the tricks is not to fill up on the delicious “roosterkoek” and jam, though you will forget this as soon as you’ve tasted them. A few “potjies” tempt the meat-lovers, but this really is one of South Africa’s best seafood experiences.

022 772 2490