With music by Cyndi Lauper, several Tonys and a Laurence Olivier Award
Dune spinach and samphire
Oep ve Koep has ensured that West Coast cuisine will never be the same again
Kobus van der Merwe is a maverick chef. While his Weskus contemporaries bang out rollmops and seafood platters, he instead creates fantastical dishes with samphire and dune spinach. Coming out of the kitchen to greet us, all blond curls and a big smile, he quickly shows us around. Kobus ‘quit his day job’ and left Cape Town a year and a half ago to set up a restaurant in what was then a tea garden in his mother’s shop: Die Winkel op Paternoster, or as it’s better known, Oep ve Koep.
The store itself is a labyrinth of West Coast treasures; there’s naturally harvested sea salt, rows of homemade jams, preserved lemons in big glass jars with bay leaf and clove, cupcakes with edible glitter, and more. I could easily get lost in here.
Oep ve Eet
The restaurant area is in the back garden of the property. A few tables are scattered about covered with bright Afropop plastic tablecloths and there’s a jungle of herbs growing out of an old boat with faded blue sides.
We settle on a spot under molting purple bougainvillea, and Kobus brings us a chalkboard with today’s lunch written on it. “It changes daily,” he says referring to the menu. “I always try to keep some staples, like a bobotie, or our signature, which is pan-fried breaded bokkoms served with a poached egg and beurre blanc.”
My partner and I split a butterbean soup to start; Kobus obliges and serves it in Tietiesbaai enamel mugs. It’s creamy, with the residual sweet, earthiness of the bean, and an added richness from the lamb stock base.
Next up is the calamari bobotie, an unusual take on this classic dish. The execution is faultless, and the plating inspired. I remark to Kobus that it reminds me of a trend called landscaping. “Yes,” he says, “it's not new at all, but I would say my take is more food inspired by nature. The West Coast is a very unique place, and I try to visually reference it. Things naturally found together in the wild; it’s a very similar concept to terroir with wine.”
After eating halfway, I swap plates with my lunch companion, and tuck into Sandveld potato dumplings, with dune spinach, almonds and mushrooms. Whereas the bobotie had a sharp, sweet, spicy flavour profile, this dish is more subtle; soft earthy flavours paired with the never-before-eaten texture of dune spinach. Of course, we have to have dessert; two spoons and a green fig bread and butter pudding served with cream and crushed meringue.
Kobus comes to sit with us after we finish lunch. We chat about how the locals have taken to his avant-garde style. “It took a while for people to get used to it,” he says. “In the beginning it was quite touch-and-go. Customers were after fish and chips, not dune spinach and samphire. I’ve had to convert and convince the regulars.”
Soon we’re on the topic of foraging: just where does Kobus find his unusual plants? Does he scour dunes and river marshes? “You need to be a bit more conscious than that,” he says. “You either grow your own, or find what you need in other people’s gardens or empty plots. I mean, Cape Columbine Nature Reserve is amazing for dune spinach; but it’s protected.”
Sustainability is entrenched with his philosophy on food. Kobus is a big SASSI advocate, and this causes problems for him and his signature ingredient, bokkoms. Normally made with haarders (a type of mullet), the fish is now on the orange list. “I’m making my own; I use maasbankers (Cape Horse Mackerel) instead. It’s quite a fatty fish, so it’s a different take.”
Kobus leaves us with a parting gift of homemade ciabatta. And I know, without a doubt, I’ll be back when samphire is on the menu.
By Malu Lambert
Oep ve Koep
St Augustine Road | Paternoster | Western Cape | +27 (0)22 752 2105
Opening times: Monday to Saturday: 9am - 5pm and Sundays from 9am - 3:30pm
Rather in the mood for a burger? Try Hudson’s on Somerset.