22 Hidden gems to check out in your city

Restaurants a little off the beaten track in Cape Town, Joburg and Durban.

by: Ceili McGeever | 10 Feb 2017
 

Cape Town

Korean Soju Restaurant, Sea Point
Soju, an authentic Korean restaurant, signifies the term hidden gem in every way and has been around for over a decade. Named after the popular Korean alcoholic drink (which is, of course, served here too), Soju offers a personal experience, its Korean owners always present, ready to guide you through the menu or steer your chopsticks when you're not stirring the Bimbimbap quick enough. This is one of their signature dishes, a Korean staple rice-based dish served in a piping hot stone bowl allowing the rice and other ingredients to fry just before you eat.

Sea Point

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Osteria Tarantino, De Waterkant

The world could never have enough Italian restaurants, and when this hidden gem joined the ranks last year, naturally we were delighted. This cute, tucked away eatery fits neatly into the quaint, narrow streets of De Waterkant, offering diners a chic space for lunch and dinner. The blackboards, homemade quality of the pasta, and rich flavourful sauces, show off the restaurant's authenticity. It's Italian through and through. Try the 4 P's pasta or ravioli, you will not be sorry. Make a booking as they are small and get booked up quickly!


(Image by Ceili McGeever)


Shio, De Waterkant
The food here will have you exclaiming with every mouthful, with dishes embodying multiple bold flavours at once, making for a sensational dining experience. Cheyne's style has always been striking, mixing and matching different elements of a variety of Asian cuisines. Fresh tuna and salmon in tacos might steal the show, or perhaps the black rice risotto, or even the creamy shiitake mushrooms - you cannot go wrong with anything here. The dark inside space is lit up by a red neon sign, met by minimal Japanese-style elegance. Outside the veranda overlooks Napier street, ideal for still evenings.


(Image by Ceili McGeever)


The Blue Café, Tamboerskloof
If you live in Tamboerskloof, chances are you've been to The Blue Café, if you don't, there's a chance you might not have even heard of this neighbourhood gem nestled between Victorian houses. They offer deli items to take home, takeaway coffee and croissants on your way to work, or grab a seat and enjoy one of their delicious gourmet meals. They are open both day and night serving breakfast, various café style comfort dishes and at night they do wood-fired pizzas. 


(Image by The Blue Café)


Vintage India, Gardens
Vintage India is rather vintage indeed, being open for around 10 years now, and emanating an old school feel that takes you straight to India. They are well known for their curry buffet and their abundance of orange cushioned iron chairs that allow space for big groups. The service is always warm and helpful and the curries are consistently good and in a huge variety. All curries can be served with a meat of your choice, or vegetarian with paneer, and can be had as a takeaway.

Hokey Poke, CBD
Hokey Poke, a hidden gem in the utmost literal sense of the term, sitting quietly on the end of Church Street. You might not notice the seemingly small restaurant's exterior, with a facade of sand coloured breeze blocks that blends into the buildings around it. A curved neon pink light, however, gives you a clue to what lies ahead. Owner Max Botha collaborated with Hoick and interior designer Christine Joubert to develop the restaurant's cheeky edge, and heavily considered design. The space is somewhat clinical and orderly, but this is broken down by playful, suggestive imagery like the neon pink palm tree which might have you humming the Miami Vice theme. And the poke... it is as good as it gets! There is so much choice with ingredients, and always good quality fresh fish.


(Image by Ceili McGeever)


Cucina Labia Restaurant at Casa Labia, Muizenberg
Casa Labia is an iconic feature along the Muizenberg coastline. The old building stands proudly embodying the grandeur of 18th century Venetian design. Many know this location as a place for weddings and art exhibitions but the restaurant, overlooking the ocean is totally breathtaking, serving breakfast, lunch and high tea. The food is constantly changing, as the Dish Food and Social team reinvent the menu to keep things alive.

La Frasca, Gardens
A very strong contender for Cape Town's best pizza, La Frasca sits in a quaint two-story heritage building in the City Bowl. Bursting with charm, the restaurant is owned by two Italians, the chef Fabrizio from Trieste and Erika from Genoa who runs the front of house. The food is all made in-house and from scratch and Fabrizio is constantly updating the specials board with fresh seasonally-inspired dishes. Italian cooking traditions are carried out proudly here with beautiful dishes like fresh burrata, pea and mint ravioli, oxtail gnocchi and of course crispy wood-fired pizzas which you can watch being prepared from your seat.


(Image by La Frasca)


The Cousins, East City

Another Italian gem, but this one focuses on fresh homemade pasta, recipes that the three cousins and owners received from their grandmother. The relaxed trattoria is an honourable recreation of the cousins' Italian culinary heritage, the result is exceptional pasta, with a verbal description of each variety from one of the cousins. They also serve a version of Massimo Boturra's famous Parmigiano pasta, where the pasta goes directly into the Parmigiano wheel, coating itself in cheese.


(Image by The Cousins)


Cargill's, Rondebosch
Cargill's is one of a kind in Cape Town. The restaurant sits in one small room, between two neighbouring restaurants, directly opposite the Rondebosch train station. The quaint strip, adds to the overall charm and cosy appeal of Cargills. Inside its white tables clothes, and an old-fashioned French feel with a menu to match. Because of its size, the experience is intimate with dinners followed by check-ins from the chef himself. The food focuses on classic French cuisine with dishes like duck confit and crispy pork belly. The desserts also deserve a mention, with a warm pot au chocolate that will make you weak at the knees.

Café Puka, Tamboerskloof
Walking or driving past this café in the morning, you'll notice the owner's gorgeous golden retriever contently lying on the pavement, while locals sip their morning cup of coffee over the day's paper. Puka has been serving locals for some years now offering classic breakfast and lunch options, good coffee, and food to take home if you're not up for cooking. The owner is there every day serving coffee and making sure customers, new and old, are happy.

Johannesburg

Assaggi, Illovo
Assaggi has a stream of locals in the area that will back up its reputation as one of the best Italian restaurants in Joburg. Chef and owner Toni heads up the kitchen, applying his years of experience integrated with his Italian culinary heritage. Each dish promises to be as authentic and tasty as the next, with pasta and pasta sauces prepared from scratch and specials changing daily boasting freshness and originality. Their meat selection is also the premium quality which includes a variety of steaks, and whatever you do, make sure you try the zucchini fries.


Ottimo, Kensington
There are a lot of reviews of Ottimo that read 'best pizza', and for good reason. This family-friendly little pizzeria, serve up proper wood-fired pizzas and authentic pasta in which you match your pasta with a sauce of your choice. The eccentric interior welcomes you into a cosy, unpretentious setting with a good amount of Ferrari memorabilia covering the walls. Ottimo is ideal for take-away or sit-down and although pizzas focus on traditional Italian toppings, they do serve the SA favourite of bacon and avocado.

Istanbul, Fordsburg
This is not entirely a hidden gem but it is slightly off the beaten track in terms of Joburg's restaurant scene, let's call it an underground gem. First off this is a Turkish spot, so vegetarians won't find much in the way of main meals, unfortunately, however, the flatbreads and dips are superb! The large outdoor space is situated in Fordsburg's Central Flea Market beneath a canopy, which emanates some aspects of the city it's named after. The food features mainly kababs and various salads and sauces which can be ordered in a platter for sharing. This is as close to the real thing as it can get.

Lucio's Pizzeria, Blackheath
Lucio's welcomes patrons with its warmth and it's not just the effective ambience that does this, but also the restaurant's love and passion for its customers, many of whom have been dining there for years. They've been open since 1987 and boast a heavily eclectic and colourful decor that tells of the vibrant spirit of the restaurant. Ornate, multi-coloured tiles frame the windows and fireplace, where burgundy walls wear chunky hanging picture frames. No surface is left bare, and no tummy is left unhappy. They also have a lovely courtyard outside, centred around a striking fountain, offering a European-esque dining experience.

Troyeville Hotel, Troyeville
The Troyeville Hotel, along with the restaurant has reached icon status over the years, dating back to 1939, today serving a very loyal customer base from different walks of life. The hotel kind of lost its charm along the way, but was recommissioned over a decade ago, and restored to its former understated glory, and with a brand new menu. The unassuming face brick exterior bodes no clue to the irresistible Portuguese fare that lies behind its walls, but insiders will tell you that it's the best in town.


(Image by Troyeville Hotel)


Service Station, Melville
This delightful café is not situated on Melville's 7th Street like most of its counterparts are. Service Station distinguishes itself not only by locale but through its deep consideration and passion for food. Everything is prepared in small batches with ingredients sourced as locally as possible, making sure each dish reflects the café's dedication to its food and patrons. Service Station also offers a retail section of deli food and homeware and they have a chef's table for those special occasions. 



Durban

St Clement's, Berea
St. Clement's is like a little slice of paradise, a tranquil spot tucked away from busy Musgrave road, to relax and enjoy light meals. The restaurant sits in an old Victorian house which has a lovely veranda for outdoor dining surrounded by tall trees and greenery, with more tables beneath. The menu combines simple café food with a dash of Thai and Mozambican cuisines. They serve breakfast and lunch and offer a wide variety of options from burgers to grilled prawns to toasties.

Heidi's Café, The Bluff
Heidi's Café is warm, homey and filled with charm sitting right near the beach surrounded by Durban's quintessentially lush greenery. The outside deck feels like you're far out of the city as you sit enjoying the palm trees and sunshine. Locals know how good Heidi's is especially when it comes to cakes and other baked goods. The cakes are incredible and can be ordered for special occasions. They also make a mean breakfast that is always good value for money, and they serve local coffee from The Bluff.

heidi's Cafe, durban
(Image by Heidi's Café)



Ciao Bella Café, The Point
Situated in the revived The Point area of Durban, where modern high-rise apartment blocks have become the norm, Ciao Bella offers some old world charm in a 2 story Victorian building with cute white awnings. In fact, the street holds beautiful Edwardian and Victorian buildings that offer some architectural sites after a visit to the café. The café serves classic relaxed Italian fare with crispy pizzas, open gourmet sandwiches and cheese and meat boards. Be sure to check out their hidden courtyard which hosts various events.

Charlie's Bistro and Café, Morningside
This cheerful café dishes up quality, simple dishes and good coffee that draws a swarm of locals each weekend. Charlie's is organic as much as possible, focusing on locally sourced produce that is served only fresh. The menu is small and features classic breakfasts and wholesome lunches, as well as freshly baked muffins and sweet treats. The deck looks onto the bottom of Mitchell Park and is a great spot to sit-back and watch Durban go by.

The Chairman, The Point
Another gem in The Point, that fits comfortably into the historical richness of the area. For some, this spot might not be so hidden, however, The Chairman is like an underground jazz or members club from a bygone era you'd expect to find in a place like New Orleans. Music is the essence of this sophisticated and old-world bar. The Edwardian building is filled with character, boasting a worn exterior, and inside exposed brick walls and leather Chesterfields set the mood. For food and drink, it would be rude not to have one of their designer cocktails and also try their rustic oblong pizzas and bar snacks.


(Image by The Chairman)

 

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