As someone who notoriously plans travel itineraries around food, it is no surprise that I was charmed by the tiny fishing village of Paternoster, a town known for being a food enthusiast’s haven. As we strolled through town, Callum commented that, “surely there are more restaurants than people.” His assessment did not seem too far off the mark. Even more impressive, given the size and that the majority of residents are seasonal, the food is of high-quality and goes beyond the standard fish and chips fare. With ocean vistas, walkable sandy beaches, and a picturesque village with a building code that ensures uniform white-washed homes with painted periwinkle blue, red, or sage green window trim, Paternoster will mesmerize.
Callum and I flew into Cape Town, rented a car, and travelled north along the coast for under two hours before reaching our hotel, the Strandloper Ocean Boutique Hotel, on the far edge of Paternoster. Since I stayed at the hotel with my family three and half years ago, the hotel has expanded to add a pool, additional rooms (bringing the total number of suites to 14), and a restaurant. We were booked in an Ocean Suite that boasted a small lounge, bedroom, spacious outdoor area, and a wood fire stove that was needed – even in early December. The hotel is set back from the ocean, but even with the shutters securely fastened we could hear the ebb and flow of the waves against the beach while we fell asleep. The room is incredibly stylish and comfortable. You may be tempted to not leave the suite. While luxuriating in the loungers and sipping South African bubbly was certainly part of our plan, so were stops at two highly regarded restaurants.
The Noisy Oyster is a casual dining spot that, uncharacteristically for Paternoster, does not occupy a beach front locale and has a zany sense of humor. The Noisy Oyster’s menu is divided into Foreplay, Intercourse, and Afterglow, for instance. Instead of views and rollicking waves, diners sit in a cozy courtyard beneath brightly colored umbrellas. The restaurant is unfussy, don’t be surprised if another diner’s dog come to your table for a visit, and inventive. Callum and I ordered the baby calamari starter to share, since neither of us are able to pass up calamari anything. Honestly, South Africa has the most succulent and tender calamari. True to form, the remnants of the calamari ended up on my shirt. My clothes often suffer in my attempts to scoop up every morsel, but it’s all in the name of good eating and clothes must be sacrificed. For a main, I chose the Whole Pan Roasted Gurnard, a fish I had never heard of and that prompted some digital sleuthing before settling upon it. Basking in our meal, we shared in the afterglow of a lemon cheesecake.
The highlight meal for me, and well worth the pilgrimage to Paternoster from Cape Town for Sunday lunch, is the nearly indescribable Wolfgat. Eating here involves a series of courses none like any you have tasted before. As someone who believes that food is a form of artistic expression and who finds that food is often derivative – even when it is perfectly cooked, immaculately presented, and tastes utterly sublime – Wolfgat managed to defy all expectations of what is food and what is edible. This small 20 person restaurant perched high on a rocky bluff relies on local seafood, foraged veldkos (indigenous) ingredients, and succulents presented in a multi-course tasting menu. The menu is in English, Afrikaans, and Latin. Several of the dishes contained unidentifiable ingredients due to my poor understanding of Afrikaans and non-existent knowledge of Latin. Others I would not have recognized even if they had been written in English and having left my phone in the hotel room, Google was of no use. So we bit into dishes with abandon. Perhaps the most unifying way of describing the food is that nearly every bite had a slight saline hint of the sea. Not everything was the most amazing thing I have ever put in my mouth, but it was certainly the most unexpected and surprising. The night we visited the menu that was heavily dependent on shellfish, but with sufficient notice they are able to make substitutions. Dinner is served at 7pm, but guests arrive at 6:30pm to enjoy a glass of wine and to watch the sunset.
If you want to pick up edible goodies, fresh baked breads and cakes, enamel ware, or wine in Paternoster, Die Winkel op Paternoster is the place to visit. Whilst the shop is small, every nook is crammed with intriguing items. I ended up purchasing placemats and serviettes made from shweshwe (a traditional South African fabric). And this being Paternoster, there is a small cafe, in case you are feeling peckish.
Having filled our bellies and nourished our souls with ocean air, we headed back to Cape Town and onward to Johannesburg, via Botswana. Yes, Botswana. Johannesburg is notorious for electrical thunderstorms that reek havoc at airports. Two aborted landings and a stop-over to refuel in Gaborone later, we landed. Our two hour flight was stretched to six. At the time it nearly overshadowed our idyllic retreat away from it all, but the following morning as I unpacked a seashell heart that the Strandloper gave to us upon checking out, I was reminded of the sand, surf, decompressing afternoons, and the unbelievable food we experienced in the foodie haven of Paternoster.