There is only one unequivocal winner that blows all other restaurants in the city out of the water - 95 on Keerom. Ignore the mean shrug-off from the Rough Guide that the place is simply expensive and there for those feeling flush. This is a fabulous testament to one man's passion for food and it should be labelled as such.
On the two occasions that we dined there, we were sat in the thoughtfully designed, light-filled upstairs dining room. I did see some seats downstairs, but you've really got to sit upstairs to enjoy the full experience. This is an old, historical building which has been sympathetically modernised and furnished with a nod to Eames and the Danish school, but with an attitude of New York minimalism - albeit in a warm, eco way rather than industrial warehouse chic. Even the presence of a live tree, stretching from the ground between a group of tables is somehow subtle and sets the tone for what to expect from the food - 'fresh and honest.'
The menu offers contemporary Italian food, with a few of the usual suspects like a basil, burrata, and tomato antipasto, which is always a useful measure of an Italian restaurant's quality - in this case, 'burrata' as opposed to 'mozzarella' proves itself a healthy sign indeed.. But there are also wonderful imaginings of its own: a creamy avocado salad with walnuts, quartered cherry tomatoes, blue cheese and pear is faultless.
There is an extensive variety of meat and fish carpaccios on the menu, the lightly seared beef carpaccio with tomato and rocket was a fantastic choice. The limited pasta offerings are all made with fresh pasta and a discernible variety of fresh ingredients, as opposed to being coated in a sloppy boiling ragu of garlic and tomato. The first mouthful of crayfish linguine was the tastiest lesson in understatement I've ever had. Even the steak tartare, notoriously loud and tarty, had tamed its capers - for lovers of rare meat and tartare, this deserves more than a bravo.
Secondi is meat heavy, as expected in South Africa, and I would suggest that this is the perfect place to sample some of the country's national beasts. A trio of springbok, kudu and wilderbeest was tender, tasty and perfectly cooked. Elsewhere, as we learned, you might find these gamey meats tough and unpalatable. But this was undoubtedly the place to go native - with an Italian twist as the rosemary suggested, a true cross-cultural flourish.
There are 14 grappas on offer (yes, I counted), for those of you interested in that sort of thing. Our choice of wine, 'Nederburg,' was sugar free and absolutely beautiful. Our waiter was only too happy to bring out the other Nederburg varietals and give us a brief rundown, without any of the haughty sycophancy that we've experienced in a number of Cape Town restaurants.
Not being sweet people, I can't comment on the desserts, which is an unreserved shame. If truth be told, we would probably have ordered desserts out of respect, gluttony and curiosity, were it not for the welcome we both meted out to our earlier courses.
For those of you concerned about the price, our meals were around the 800 Rand mark, including a bottle of reasonably expensive wine. If you're not drinking, or only after a glass, you could certainly have a two course meal for 2 for around 500+ and it would be thoroughly worth it.
Being somewhat over-awed, we didn't speak to the owner/chef who was wandering between tables revealing the evening's specials. But I did hear a few diners openly declare their devotion, and one lady dining with her family who said it was, 'the best meal she'd ever eaten.' For our cowardice in failing to disclose our feelings, and thank said owner for two occasions made all the more wonderful by the quality, care and pleasure of his establishment, I sincerely hope this review will suffice and encourage other visitors to the Cape to attend.
Make no mistake, this is the best restaurant in Cape Town.