Interview by Soo Kim, The Daily Telegraph, October 13, 2013
Why Cape Town?
I first visited Cape Town with a friend about 12 years ago and immediately fell in love with its eclectic balance of communities and ethnicities. I was also fascinated by how clean and tidy the city was, the modern architecture and the phenomenal food scene. Most European cuisine is based on traditional French cooking, which can be quite heavy, but in Cape Town the food is much lighter. I’ve been returning regularly since for work and holidays. February is the best time to go because it’s hot, but not too hot, and most of the tourists are gone.
Anything special I should pack?
Take something smart to wear – Capetonians tend to dress up when they go out to eat and drink.
What do you miss most when you’re away?
The friendliness of the people and the sense of local community. I also love how visitors are embraced when visiting vineyards, whereas owners in France are grumpy and want to get rid of you quickly.
What’s the first thing you do on your return?
I usually head straight to the coast and often stay at the Bay Hotel (0027 21 437 9701; thebayhotel.com ) because you can see the sea from its pool. I refresh myself there and then head for lunch at Café Caprice (021 438 8315; cafecaprice.co.za ), which makes the best steak tartare and it’s also a great place from which to watch the sunset.
Where's the best place to stay?
I recently stayed at The Steenberg (021 713 2222; steenberghotel.com ), which is set on a beautiful vineyard on the outskirts of Cape Town. Most of the hotels in Cape Town are quite modern but this one is different – it’s a listed old farm building offering full-on luxury. What they call their casual “bistro” restaurant is anything but, with its see-through glass wine cellars and grand chandeliers made of grape-shaped glass bulbs. I had the best vegetable consommé I’d ever tasted at its other restaurant, Catharina’s. It was spring on a plate, a vegetable garden in my mouth – I was blown away.
Where would you meet friends for a drink?
The Camps Bay area is where you’ll find the trendy bars and between December and February it’s really buzzing with people. For a more classic feel, go to the Mount Nelson (021 483 1000; mountnelson.co.za ), the city’s grand dame of old-fashioned hotels – the Claridge’s of Cape Town – which is a popular spot for a drink or afternoon tea. Five Flies (021 424 4442; fiveflies.co.za ) is great for a drink right in the centre of Cape Town and nearby is The Grand Daddy Hotel (021 424 7247; granddaddy.co.za ), which has a caravan park on its rooftop garden, where each shiny metallic caravan functions as either a bedroom or lounge bar.
And the best place for lunch?
Constantia Uitsig (021 794 4480; constantia-uitsig.com ), which overlooks a beautiful park and has simple, locally sourced dishes. Blues (021 438 2040; blues.co.za ) has a great seafood platter of lobster, fish and prawns.
And for dinner?
Beluga (021 418 2948; beluga.co.za ), which is housed in a converted warehouse, has everything from sushi to meats. There’s also the Test Kitchen (021 447 2337; thetestkitchen.co.za ), which is set in a former biscuit factory with the best views of Cape Town.
Where would you send a first-time visitor?
Apart from Robben Island (021 409 5100; robben-island.org.za ) and the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront ( waterfront.co.za ), do the hike up Table Mountain – on a clear day it’s worth it for the view. Also visit Long Street, which has a vibe similar to New Orleans and at night has balconies overflowing with people.
What should I avoid?
Tour buses and the touristy shopping areas.
Public transport or taxi?
The roads are great in Cape Town with little traffic, so you can zoom from one side to the other quite quickly, and it’s easy and affordable to hire a taxi for a day at a flat rate.
Manbag or moneybelt?
Manbag, but I wouldn’t wave it around.
What should I bring home?
Local art and crafts. There is a market every Saturday near the Test Kitchen, which sells great artisan goods, from handmade bead necklaces to stuff for the home.
Anywhere that isn’t your kind of town?
Seattle. I’ve been a few times but each time I go I think to myself: “I would hate to live here”. It’s a dark, grey city and I found it depressing.
Eric Lanlard’s book, 'Chocolat’, is published by Mitchell Beazley, priced £18.99