The StrandloperIf you're headed to Cape Town and you're not restricted to a "It's Tuesday, our tour leaves for Robben Island" kind of schedule, beat the crowds by taking a drive about 100 km north of the city to Langebaan and the most unusual restaurant around. It's a meal you'll remember when all the other fine dining experiences of your life blur into a pile of empty plates. This is the West Coast, boet, and they do things differently here. (Check the glossary below to make some sense of the West Coast dialect).
Salt, Seafood and SuffusionOn the table d'hote at this historic Tavern of the Seas, seafood and local culture are the specialties. In fact, there seems to be a touch more salt on everything. Like the salt-of-the-earth people who'll tell you fishing and farming here are such gambles, it's a wonder the Lord allows them at all. In truth, The Strandloper is not so much a restaurant as a jumble of old rowing boats, fishing nets, wind shelters and other flotsam and jetsam that seem to have landed on the beach in a storm. You sit on the sand and you eat. As much as want, or can. The name Strandloper comes from Stone Age beachcombers who left evidence of their own beach braais in shell middens all around the South African coastline.
There are 10 courses in all, but no-one announces them, you just get up and help yourself whenever you're ready. Mussels in white wine, mussels in garlic butter, haarders (mullet), seafood paella, braaied snoek, smoked angelfish, stumpnose bream and kreef. It's a bit like that parable in the Bible where the fish just keep coming.
Salad-dodging heavenIf you live on salads, this might not be the place for you. As the West Coasters say, "if you want salad with your meat then have some chicken". At a fish braai, the salad will be slabs of freshly baked roesterbrood with farm-made apricot jam (no butter, they don't do dairy here). Followed by moerkoffie, camp-fire style.
Fish ChasersDrinks are very much a bring-your-own affair, and a Coleman cooler doubles as a comfy chair. If you're stuck for a choice, allow me to suggest one of the no-sulphur-added Stellar range from the Olifants Valley nearby, or an organic Waverley Hills Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc blend from just over the Elandskloof hills near Wolseley.
If you've had a few dops of the locally favoured spook and diesel (brandy and Coke), you might be tempted to try the bokkoms. It takes a strong man, or women, to enjoy this local delicacy, but that's how they make 'em around here. (Remember the glossary below).
Once you've been satiated, take a plunge in the sea to help wash it, and yourself, down. But be forewarned: due to a quirk of physical geography, the longer and stronger the southeaster blows the hotter the land gets and the colder the sea. You get used to it, they say.
What to Take, What Not ToHigh heels are out; ice in your cooler box is definitely in. Beach wear is in; designer labels and a prissy attitude are out. Bringing your own musical instrument and joining in the entertainment (think Cajun, Cape style) is encouraged, as you'd only expect from a meal that lasts up to five hours (from midday to 5 pm for lunch, dinner from 6 pm to whenever).
What it CostsIt's R190 (around $30) for adults and children are charged according to their height; they've got a thing about size here. You can buy some drinks, but if you bring your own they suggest you double up your normal order. 'The liquid just seems to evaporate in the heat,' says the jovial maitre d'. And when he asks you how you enjoyed yourself, the correct answer is that "it was lekker" (hint -- roll the 'r' like you're describing the sound of a truck).
ReservationsYou can make a reservation online directly with the restaurant, this is especially advised around the weekends and holidays. Or call them at: +27 (0)22 77 22 490. Click here for a map and directions.
Spending the NightIf you're clever you'll have made an overnight booking in Langebaan (the lagoon is a Ramsar birding site and national park). For self-catering try a houseboat at Kraal Bay, or The Farmhouse for some pampering.
GlossaryThey talk kind of funny on the West Coast, so it helps to know a little of the local lingo:
boet -- brother, like bro (pronounced like 'foot'; you can also say bru)
bokkoms -- air-dried haarders/mullet, a local delicacy (sic)
braai -- barbeque
dop -- a drink
kreef -- crayfish or rock lobster
lekker -- nice or very nice, depending on the emphasis (le-krrrrr)
moerkoffie -- ground coffee
roesterbrood -- bread made on the coals
snoek -- a type of mackerel
spook -- spirit, usually as in ghost
Strandloper -- literally beach walker, extinct Khoisan beachcomber