Cape Town’s Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is one of South Africa’s commercial success stories. A rundown working harbour reimagined, repurposed and reinvigorated to create one of the most popular tourist destinations in Africa, drawing some 24 million visitors per year, all accomplished without losing the precinct’s sense of historic charm and character.
From the start, it’s been a hotspot for hotels and retail brands, but as a destination for memorable meals and upscale culinary experiences? Here it has long been lukewarm. Happily, that’s changing as a clutch of celebrated chefs set up shop on the quayside.
“Some time ago we realised that one of the gaps we had was in the fine dining space,” explains David Green, CEO of the V&A Waterfront. “I’ve always taken the view that the Waterfront should have three or four top restaurants, and we’ve identified unique spaces that would work for these. When you look at fine cuisine, we have been talking to celebrity chefs for quite some time. They all want a destination location, so it’s taken a little while to unlock the right spaces within the Waterfront.”
For a bellwether of this new shift towards fine dining look no further than PIER, which opened on the quayside in December 2021 with acclaimed chef John Norris-Rogers at the helm.
“This was always an iconic site, and we wanted to be able to offer an experience that we thought the Waterfront really needed,” explains Norris-Rogers, chatting during a rare gap between booked-out services. “There are very few places in Cape Town where you can have a fine dining experience like this right on the water.
PIER is one of seven restaurants in the La Colombe group, which has become something of a culinary juggernaut in Cape Town over the past decade. While most of the other restaurants are set in the lush Cape winelands PIER stands apart, the remarkable seafood-focused menu offers the perfect foil for the tableau of sea views enjoyed from every seat in the house.
Norris-Rogers – who won Chef of the Year at the 2022 Eat Out Restaurant Awards – has crafted a memorable 12-course menu that includes unique interpretations of La Colombe staples, alongside a few unforgettable PIER signatures. A highlight is surely the unforgettable oyster dish, where plump Saldanha Bay oysters are prepared on a trolley tableside for a dash of dining theatrics.
Served in bespoke oyster shell ceramics, they are warmed through in a Cap Classique velouté and topped with the crunch of fresh apple, cucumber and mustard salsa. The addition of delicate Imperial Heritage caviar brings a decadent flourish.
“It’s a rework of another La Colombe signature, but the DNA of the dish is still there,” explains Norris-Rogers.
Retaining the DNA of a hugely successful restaurant brand is also top of mind for restaurateur David Higgs, who will this year bring his acclaimed Marble dining experience to the V&A Waterfront. Since opening in Rosebank, Johannesburg in 2016, Higgs’ upmarket homage to South African barbecue has become one of the country’s most talked-about restaurants.
“We’ve been looking around for a new space for Marble,” says Higgs. “It’s an international brand that’s worthy to be anywhere in the world so we had a good look at places like Dubai, but ultimately I have a strong connection to the Cape. I worked there for 20 years of my career, so it was a logical step rather than going overseas.”
For Higgs, the V&A is the perfect destination for the second outpost of his hugely-popular brand.
“It’s a bit of a no-brainer, actually. The Waterfront is a city within a city. There’s infrastructure, there’s parking, there’s power. All the things we battle with when running standalone restaurants, the Waterfront offers solutions to. Plus, it attracts both local and foreign visitors, which is something that’s really important to us.”
Higgs has had an eye on the Waterfront for the past five years but was biding his time until the right location became available. The stars aligned in 2022 and construction began on an impressive new space in the heart of the Waterfront. A historic building is being sensitively revamped, with the top floor entirely reimagined to create a glass-walled space offering impressive city and harbour views.
While the final designs for Marble are being fine-tuned, the signature sense of arrival is sure to remain, from the elegant reception area to the homely lounge-bar that tempts diners into pre-dinner drinks.
“The blueprint is the same,” says Higgs. “What’s very important is that when you walk in, you know you’re in a Marble restaurant. The open-plan kitchen with the fire, the sense of theatre, that will always be there.”
What is likely to change to suit the setting is the focus of the menu. While prime cuts of aged beef and lamb are key to the offering at Marble in Rosebank, and will have a part to play here, the new Cape Town setting lends itself to a greater focus on seafood and vegetables.
“Being in the Cape, we want to bring more of the Mediterranean into the experience,” says Higgs. “There will definitely be more emphasis on seafood, all cooked on an open fire and in the Josper ovens.”
Another Johannesburg émigré that’s found a home at the V&A Waterfront is TANG, which opened in Cape Town in December 2022. And it’s a restaurant of two distinct spaces. The large terrace embraces the waterfront location, with views over the quayside and Table Mountain, while indoors offers a more upscale experience in an elegant space of pared-back décor, organic textures and marble tabletops.
Whichever you choose, the excellent menu is the creation of Executive Chef Vixa Kalenga, who oversees TANG in both Cape Town and Johannesburg.
While the offering is pan-Asian, there is – happily – little ‘fusion’ of the cuisines, with Kalenga instead allowing each region to retain its unique identity.
The small plates of ‘izakayas’ are a highlight, paying tribute to the casual ‘bars with food’ that are filled with salarymen on the streets of Tokyo. The yakitori chicken was as good as any in Tokyo, while the tuna tataki is unmissable. These are small plates, neatly presented and ideal for sharing, although you’ll want a portion of the fresh oysters – topped with a truffle-infused shibo salsa – all to yourself.
Swopping Tokyo for Hong Kong, there’s an upscale approach to the selection of dim sum and gyoza, here filled with everything from scallops and lobster to Wagyu beef, while Thailand makes an appearance in the wok-fried ‘Angry Duck’.
The robata grill uses charcoal imported from Mozambique for its unique combination of heat and smoke, a nod to the Japanese obsession with binchotan coal, and a selection of prime cuts from the fire will appeal to those of heartier appetite. But honestly? The real pan-Asian magic lives elsewhere on the menu.
Like in the signature dishes, large plates that you’ll happily not have to share. There’s Black Cod Miso, made famous by Nobu, alongside soft-shell crab, salmon teriyaki and a host of seafood-focused main courses.
In truth, it’s hard to choose. And as the menu of upscale culinary experiences continues to evolve, it seems that the time has come to finally add the V&A Waterfront to your list of mouth-watering destinations in the Mother City.
by Richard Holmes