Every year they lighten the mood and brighten the province
All Things Bright and Local at Marco's African Place in Cape Town
Boy, do South Africans know how to eat
You can't miss Marco's African Place – it's the vibrant orange and black building located in historic Bo'Kaap's Rose Lane. Sowetan born Marco Radebe began his affair with mielies, chicken and maize at a very young age when his father worked as a chef. Despite Apartheid dictating that he should aspire to own little more than a local shebeen Marco went on to become South Africa's first black restaurateur and opened his first restaurant in 1989. He understands the universality of food, isn't afraid to take on challenging dishes and understands the inseparable relationship between African Cuisine and African Music.
As we enter the 280-seater restaurant we are greeted on first-name terms by a smiling lady draped from head-to-toe in traditional African robes. We sink into a comfortable couch next to a fireplace at the bar whilst we browse the wine list with a good selection of varietals from local estates including Paul Cluver, Waterford and Hartenberg. Lively afro-jazz and the powerful scent of game waft through from the restaurant and fill our senses.
A warm, earthy and traditional space
Although a large space with high ceilings the two -storey restaurant is warm and earthy decorated with rustic colours, traditional African prints and characteristic animal skins. It's homely yet the candle-light feels romantic and classic. We've reserved a table in advance and are fortunate to have an intimate table for two on the upper balcony directly facing the stage although the stage is centrally located so most diners will be able to watch the entertainment. The restaurant can accommodate a cosy dinner for two or a birthday bash with a large group of friends equally.
Brian, also dressed in traditional African attire, will be our waiter for the evening. He's an extravert and likeable character who is knowledgeable about which side dishes complement each main course and makes honest recommendations based on taste rather than price. He's intent on making our experience a relaxed one where we can take time to appreciate our food, wine and entertainment.
As we sip on a robust glass of red and nibble on warm sweet bread and butter we browse a menu that showcases the best of South African fare including springbok, kudu, ostrich, pap, samp and beans. Whilst other traditional South African restaurants might be tempted to cash in on Cape Town's tourism industry Marco's dishes are modest in price, yet lose nothing of the quality and authenticity we savour with every mouthful of our sublime dinner.
A glorious belly-buster of a meal fit for an African King
To start with I opt for stuffed green pepper with diced mushrooms, onions and herbed crumbs (R45) whilst my partner opts for Zube's pumpkin soup which is pureed and gently spiced with a rich splash of cream (R48). When our main course arrives we are glad that we have taken some time out to digest the starter as we discover that South Africans sure know how to eat. My partner opts for oxtail curry which is served in a thick sauce and is so tender it literally falls off the bone and I opt for succulent Karoo lamb (R99). We're served a variety of sides including pap, chips, samp and beans, delicate creamed spinach and roasted pumpkin. I haven't left enough room for Mama's Brandy Tart but I cannot help but polish off every last crumb of my main course. It's a glorious belly-buster of a meal fit for an African King.
An afro-jazz accompaniment
As we dine we are entertained by one of South Africa's musical icons Mpho David accompanied by her band Uvimba. We listen to enlightening and joyful afro-jazz and are even treated to some traditional dancing whilst we dine. The band serenades one of the diners with a rendition of 'happy birthday'.
In a city abundant with restaurants Marco's African Place has made a firm paw print with a delicious take on traditional African fare, characteristic decor, warm hospitality and lively entertainment that make up a memorable and special African dining experience. I've already decided what I'll order on my next visit.
By Lisa Nevitt