Lunch with Kobus
When overseas friends called a few months ago and invited me to join them for lunch at Wolfgat, Paternoster, I immediately said YES. Wolfgat won the Best Restaurant of the Year Award in 2019, as well as the 2019 Best Off-Map Restaurant in the World Award. It is virtually impossible to get a booking, people travel from all over the world to eat here, and wow, what a treat.
Paternoster is a small fishing village with a laid-back whitewashed kind of vibe, an hour and forty mins out of Cape Town. We decided to drive up in the morning, have lunch which is a prix fixe menu, and rather than rushing back, spend the night.
Our friends booked the restaurant and I booked the gorgeous Afro-Scandi Gonana Guesthouse. I was comfortable about the hotel choice, Gonana has a splendid reputation, but was a little nervous about fine dining. I don’t do it all that often.
I googled fine dining etiquette and messaged my few friends, some of whom are expert at this kind of thing. Help, I said, are there any rules to follow?
Just eat everything, they replied, which I thought was excellent advice.
We arrived at noon, dropped off our bags and wandered through the sleepy roads to Wolfgat, finding ourselves outside the one hundred and thirty year old fisherman’s cottage, recognisable only by the worn wooden door and simple Wolfgat sign. Kobus van der Merwe, the owner and chef, warmly welcomed us and guided us to our table. There were maybe just six tables on the porch, seating twenty in total, simple, no fuss, minimal decor, with magnificent views of the beach, ocean, boulders, sunshine, fynbos and fishermen - The Strandveld.
Which in a way is what Wolfgat is all about. Nature. Good air. Foraged food. Flowers. Things from the earth. Things from the sea. Local. Sustainable. Genuine. Creative. And breathtaking.
I can only describe the experience as holistic. It starts with the staff, who work together as an incredible team. It is about the menu, printed on a simple sheet of paper, beautifully folded origami style, listing the seven courses. It is about the perfect ceramic cups for the Buchu flavoured water and the bread basket with the freshest sourdough and melted butter seasoned with salted fish, oh my gosh I have a thing for good butter. It is in the staff’s simple but crisp black aprons, their attentiveness, Kobus’s green tee-shirt that matches his intense green eyes which match the colours of the food, and the way he spends time, before each course, explaining how the food has been prepared and how best to eat it.
We chose to do the wine pairing which was an excellent idea. As Kobus poured, he told us his thoughts behind each carefully selected bottle. I feel safe saying I have never eaten food like this before, or tasted wines like these before, and dear sweet goddesses, it was an unbelievable thing to do.
What were my favourite things?
Was it the single oyster, large and fresh, ice-cold, with a cucumber puree and pickled kelp. Perhaps, yes.
Could it it the squid and pomegranate, served in a wooden teaspoon, on a bed of - succulents - so good that I wanted to hold on to the flavours, forever. I think so.
Or was it the Cape St. Martin Abalone, with mushroom, sea lettuce and samphire, so divinely presented, each mouthful a new taste, a new texture, a new experience. Definitely.
Abalone by the way is a kind of sea snail, a fairly fancy one, gathered by hand from the ocean. Kobus and his team go foraging almost daily for sustainable foods, including but not limited to sea cucumbers, sea pumpkin, dune spinach and seaweed.
I loved that lunch is at 12.30 pm and that it is neither too slow nor too fast. I love that the chairs are super comfortable. I love that you get glimpses of the staff preparing the food, with Kobus involved all the way, everyone working with focus, consideration, care and gentleness. I love that the first course is just called Snacks and that I will never think of Snacks the same way again. I love that it is so pretty and quiet and only while eating course number six, the Catch of the Day over wild sage with a couple of klipkombers, does Bryan Adam’s album 1989 suddenly come on the vintage record player, the crescendo, the climax, carefully curated and yet so casual.
The wines come from within a short radius of Paternoster, all boutique, all local. Cutlery changes with each course. The food is served on a variety of local crafted ceramic plates, on beds of stones and rocks, on plants or succulents and in the shells from where it comes.
I was so glad that I was with beautiful people to enjoy this beautiful experience and that we all had the same fine dining etiquette. We ate everything and were all equally enthralled and engaged.
After lunch we said our thank-yous, stopped ourselves from hugging the chef or dragging him to the bathroom for sex, and walked home, feeling deliciously satisfied but not full. We napped, swam, strolled and just hung out. Gonana Guesthouse is almost an extension of Wolfgat, but unintentionally so. It is also about sustainability, raw materials and an open heartedness, luxurious yet understated, with the most charming staff and a fabulous honesty bar.
We had planned on going out for a light dinner but instead, sat on the Gonana deck where we were treated to an extraordinary display of nature, the New Moon rising over the ocean, with Jupiter and Venus in alignment.
We felt we did not need anything more.
You can book Gonana Guesthouse with me, it's the best place to stay in Paternoster. thandeka@Icon.co.za.