A tiny beach restaurant in an isolated South African fishing village has been named the world best restaurant for its delicious food - obviously. Chef Kobus van der Merwe did not begin to cook seriously until he was 30. He forages every day for ingredients on the wild Atlantic shore of the Western Cape near his Wolfgat restaurant, where he also makes his own bread and butter.
The Wolfgat has mostly female staff and out of those six have no formal training. The restaurant opened just two years ago in a 130-year-old cottage and cave on the beach at Paternoster.
Its 7-course tasting menu costs the equivalent of 53 euros ($60), a fraction of what you would pay at a top Paris table. It's the humble setting and Van der Merwe’s belief in sustainable, back-to-basics cooking won over the judges of the inaugural World Restaurant Awards in the French capital.
Chef Kobus can feed only 20 people at a sitting. While talking to media he said, “I don’t feel worthy. It’s a big title. My staff who go out every day gathering herbs, succulents and dune spinach, should be here… It’s their baby.”
He further added, “I can’t wait to celebrate with them with a big glass of South African sparkling wine.”
With dishes such as twice-cooked laver (seaweed), angelfish with bokkom sambal and wild garlic masala, limpets, mussels and sea vegetables harvested within sight of its “stoep” (porch), Wolfgat also won the prize for best “Off-Map Destination”.
The bearded Van der Merwe said that apart from the influence of the subtle spices of local Cape Malay cooking, his philosophy was to “interfere as little as possible with the products and to keep them pure, raw and untreated.
“It’s hyper-local cuisine but we try to come up with new flavours, like dune celery spice.”
With “no kitchen hierarchy”, he said, “we all do everything. If you pick something you prepare it yourself and maybe then take it to the table and explain it to the customers.”
Chef Kobus said that this win was a victory for the African “continent and my beautiful, diverse country”. He also said that he won’t hike the prices of his dishes.
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