The garden route is a beautiful place with, I can honestly say, equally beautiful people.
In Knysna I was struck with the hands-on approach of restaurant owners and managers and I experienced care and service on a level that I have never come across in Cape Town or Johannesburg (generally speaking that is, don’t get angry now).
Maybe it’s the scenery, or the sea air, or the fact that it’s October, whatever it is, I’m just dying to go back doll!
P.s. If I talk about fish a lot and it irritates you, then I am sorry, but that just comes with the territory.
The best value for money:
The locals fondly call it ‘the sandpit’; they started out as a fish stockist selling takeaway fish and chips, but have recently created a charming, outdoor eating area shaded with cloth and umbrellas, the floor covered in sand with wooden tables and benches for sitting.
At night they light log fires between the tables and offer blankets to keep you toasty. And the fish, OH the FISH, it’s perfect every time – I can assure you this is true as I went back thrice - whole baby kingklip for R45, Hake for R27, Gurnard for R23, and you can be assured everything you order was caught that morning.
Simple sides of salads, chips and rice and smiling waiters will add to your joy.
FYI: No liquor licence as yet, so take your own at no extra cost.
The best of The Knysna Waterfront:
Whilst I have never been fond of waterfronts as a place to visit on holiday (too many tourists and screaming children), The Knysna Waterfront is small and cheery.
The restaurants are mostly run of the mill but, if you’re venturing there, then the place to go is 34º South.
It’s a deli-come-sushi-bar-come-restaurant-come-whatever-you-feel-like really, but I would opt for the hake and chips (I had a very tasty baked sweet potato with mine).
The service is simple and friendly and the prices reasonable.
FYI: Hake and chips is half price on Thursdays
The best for people with kids:
I am not a fan of chain restaurants, Spur and the likes of which make me cringe a little, but Col’ Cacchio is one of those quality chains that has never let me down, and the new Knysna branch is no exception.
Great service from happy waiters and a great outdoor section with a big children’s play area equipped with jungle gyms, swings, play horses and even boules will fill you and your kids with glee.
Savour their great selection of quality wines by the glass and their superb pizzas and salads whilst watching your children exhaust themselves, leaving you in well-deserved-holiday-peace.
The best view:
East Head Cafe
A fresh interior with white chairs and tables and dotted with elegant décor leads out to a shaded deck with an exquisite view of the lagoon, cliffs, Heads and the Milkwood forests – it can’t be beaten.
Superb for breakfast: great Deluxe coffee, French toast and fabulous omelettes or, for a relaxed lunch, where the great burgers and fish and chips rule the roost.
Friendly and attentive service, blankets provided for colder weather and a small children’s play area and kiddies menu form the cherries on top of this very tasty spot.
FYI: Very hard to get parking in season, so be prepared to walk a fair way.
Best outdoor spot:
It’s colonial elegance at its best. After a walk on Buffels Bay beach – pop into The Belvidere Manor where there’s a charming little pub called ‘The Bell’ that leads onto rolling lawns and palatial (it makes you want to use posh words) views of Knysna from the west shore of the lagoon.
Have a draft, a glass of wine and bite to eat: simple salads and pub fare such as fresh hake and chips (Freshline Fisheries are their stockists).
The manager and owners are just delightful and will be happy to show you around.
(If you’re looking for something a little different ask Panky, the manager, about his Township Tours)
Best quirky spot:
Firefly eating house
It’s relaxed, many would say too relaxed (the waiters are very, VERY chilled), but if you don’t mind service on the slow-side and you’re in the mood for great food and great personalities then this will definitely be up your street.
The red walls, candelabras and funky art-meets-décor interior create the perfect backdrop for their spice route of a menu. You have to try a curry: Vietnemese, Indian or Thai…they’re eclectic to say the least, and of course, don’t forget their famous babotie spring rolls.
FYI: they only take cash.
The best tea spot:
The Tin House Café
They’re all about carrot cake, choc chip cookies, cup cakes and brilliant fresh fruit juices – think ginger-mint-apple. Enjoy lounging on the couches outside: a pretty courtyard dappled with hearts and bunting and dotted with quirky sayings on walls and potted plants.
If you’re not after something sweet they have a range of light meals: sandwiches, wraps and salads with edible flowers, most of which is organic and/or locally sourced.
FYI: Phone ahead and find out about their live music events
The best bakery:
Ile de Pain
EVERYONE knows about Il de Pain in Knysna, if you don’t, then you must have your head in a whole somewhere. It’s packed to the rafters everyday of the week, except Mondays, because they’re closed on Mondays.
The best breakfast, breads and pastries in town, so like I said, it’s always busy – I prefer to pop in and stuff my basket full of their all-butter and almond croissants, pain au raisin and famous 50% rye-sourdough.
They also have a diverse and fresh lunch menu AND, have opened ‘Mon Petit Pain’ down the road so now you have two to choose from.
The best wine list:
Relaxed, friendly and family-run, they’re known not only for their exceptional pizzas, but also for their exceptional choice of wines. There are no fewer than 17 wines on order by the glass so you’ll be able to find the perfect pinot to pair with your pizza, pasta or panini.
The mark-ups on the wine are the fairest-by-far and their wine list is 12 pages long - it won them a Diners Club 2012 Platinum award. Rustic décor, wooden tables and a simple outside deck area lit with fairy lights complement the vibe, bru.
The best fine-dining experience:
You need to take someone special to experience service and food that is literally out of this world. There’s two parts to Pezula and both are magnificent:
Café Z is the more casual of the two offering a vibrant menu sourced from the resort gardens and the best local produce available.
Go for beautiful breakfasts, lavish lunches and dynamite dinners. The service is mind blowing and the atmosphere sophisticated, but still relaxed.
Try the shitake mushroom open omelette, Caesar or Beetroot salad and the ‘From Farm to Table’ dinner tasting menus.
FYI: They offer a Curry evening every Thursday for the unbelievable price of R95 a head.
Zachary’s is your ultimate fine-dining experience: a tasting menu that will make your mouth water and your senses quiver with delight: pan seared scallops with parsnip puree and crisps, pancetta, watercress, pickled yellow mustard seeds and sultanas – and that’s just one of 6 courses.
If tasting menus aren’t your style, then the ‘a la carte’ menu (bursting with a plethora of deliciousness) will no doubt tickle your fancy, Chef Geoffrey Murray highly recommends the duck confit, pork belly and his infamous risotto.
Everything, and I mean everything, is fresh, seasonal, local and organic.
The best steak on the high street:
The Olive Tree
If you’ve had ‘enough with the fish already!’ then you should pay The Olive Tree a visit; the fillet steak is a must-have, the ambience relaxed, the service hands-on and the locals swear by it.
It’s on the main street so it’s about the people rather than the view, but it’s a lovely spot none-the-less.
The best ‘something different’
A pretty awesome concept: ‘slow food’, vegetarian-style.
Chef Brett Garvie puts it best: ‘Veg-Table offers vegetarian food that even non-vegetarians would savour … not the ubiquitous spinach and feta quiche, but gourmet, four-course meals’.
It’s located in a cottage on a pecan nut orchard on the outskirts of Knysna, is quaint, rustic and very unique.
Think ‘strawberry soup with organic chevin and black pepper croutins’ and ‘pear, pecan nut, gorgonzola dolce latte and rocket salad’.
FYI: you must book, bring your own drinks and cash and…leave the boring people at home.
The best takeaway:
Genuine Thai food, prepared genuinely. You can dine-in but it’s rather small and often heaving with customers, they also tend to serve dishes one at a time which would annoy those at a table for whom sharing is not caring.
The point is that it’s yummy Thai food and easy to take-away: opt for Thai green curry, Penang or Massaman, the Tom Yum and Tom Ka soups are also great.
The best bistro:
Viv and Peter run the restaurant from a delightful house in Belvedere; they’re passionate, hands-on people who care a great deal about pleasing you.
I’d call it ‘Bistro-style food with an air of fine-dining’: braised oxtail burgundy, slow roasted karoo lamb and freshly made raviolis are firm favourites with braised lambs’ kidney crostini and lambs’ tongue, artichoke and caper pasta on offer for the more adventurous.
Leave room for some of their home-made ice cream and desserts.
FYI: They also have a Diners Club Platinum award for their wine list.
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