Castella Amare Restaurant in Melkbosstrand

It’s all about sun, sea and spice at this oceanfront Portuguese dining gem

If there ever was a place that embodies that lazy-days feel of a summer seaside vacation, it is Castella Amare. Balancing almost on the rocks right on the edge of Melkbosstrand’s placid shores, the Portuguese restaurant radiates beach holiday vibes, and on my very first lunchtime visit, greets me with the salty scent of the ocean, the familiar cry of gulls and the sense of tranquillity that comes with being far, far away from worries and woes.

But considering the eatery’s history, it’s not all that surprising that it has the ability to lull guests into R&R mode. For decades before it was converted into a dining and sundowner spot, this ‘castle by the sea’, as its name translates from Portuguese, was a family beach house, and no doubt, several generations spent many a happy holiday here relishing the splendid coastal views, as restaurant visitors can do today.

Though, unlike its unsuccessful predecessor – the building was formerly the home of a mediocre eatery called Die Kliphuis – Castella Amare has not made the fatal mistake of relying on its perfect location and unrivalled vistas alone. No, here, the food and service is designed to match the space’s magnificent setting.

“It’s important that we do the venue justice,” explains Head Chef and co-owner Laurie Meiring, who took over, renamed and reinvented the place with partner Lino da Silva in late 2013. “I’d like people to come just for the menu; I want to be busy even in the winter when it’s raining and you can’t see the ocean or in the evening when it’s dark and there’s no other reason to be here.”

One of the key ways the duo has set out to achieve this objective is by adopting a fresh-over-frozen philosophy. This means crafting the patties for the juicy Castella Amare Classic Burgers by hand, slicing potatoes to make tasty thick wedges and chips, rolling out the dough for the pizza bases from scratch and experimenting with different homemade sauces for the seafood and steaks. And, as Laurie stresses, you can certainly taste the difference.

But more than this, the owners have also set their menu apart by giving it a popular Portuguese twist. As Lino grew up in this culture, Iberian fare is his forte, and Laurie, who is local by birth, has quickly and passionately taken to the challenge of perfecting the paprika- and peri peri-dominated cuisine, learning from his partner, poring over old family recipes and testing out different methods and techniques.

“It’s as if I went to Portugal because I’ve been so immersed in that environment, with all the mothers and aunties and everyone showing me how it’s done,” he says, as we take a seat outside on the quiet verandah and gaze out at the coastline sweeping around the bay.

He’s been so successful at plating authentic Portuguese fare, in fact, that his generously portioned dishes have even received the hearty approval of many of the country’s natives. And the Grilled Calamari starter I begin lunch with certainly wins a nod from me too. Ocean-fresh, tender and served partly doused in garlic, lemon and herb butter and partly dressed in a deliciously fiery Portuguese spice mix, the meal is a heavenly ode to the seafaring nation’s love for quality coastal fare, and it goes swimmingly with a chilled glass of Pierre Jourdan Tranquille (the restaurant also does a range of cocktails, but I’m in the mood for wine).

Similarly, the unique Yellowfin Tuna Espetada that I enjoy as a main – I opt for this over other equally tempting items, like Peri Peri Chicken, Lamb Loin Lollipops or Grilled Sole – does Portugal proud. The flavourful fish is so soft and succulent it falls off the skewer, and a to-die-for garlic butter sauce trickles down over the meat and onto the homemade chips and veggies sitting below. It’s the sort of dish that feels like something I’d never be able to recreate myself, and yet still manages to ring of hearty home cooking.

Speaking of home, the founders of the oceanfront ‘castle’ have also strived to create a welcoming ambience and to balance the marvellous landscape outside with a comfy, familial look and feel inside.

“We’ve tried as best as two men can to make the restaurant feel like a place that has some soul,” says Laurie modestly. “We focused on the theme that it was once a family beach house, and we’ve tried to bring that out, so that it actually feels like you’re visiting a home.”

So, old black-and-white photographs of the folks that once lived here hang proudly on the walls, cosy black couches lend the foyer warmth and a family-friendly atmosphere pervades the space (there’s even a great, diverse kids’ menu, and the grass and rock pools that stretch out in front of the eatery make for a wonderful natural playground). It goes without saying, I’m fully settled in and quite ready to set up a permanent base here when my classically Portuguese Pastéis de Tentúgal dessert arrives.

Beautifully presented, the crispy phyllo parcel is plump with sweet, hot custard that oozes and flows and offsets the refreshing cold of the vanilla gelato that accompanies it. It tastes of warm summer sun, cool ocean breezes and carefree days. As does the whole experience. And so, it’s a fitting way to close my brief little seaside vacation at Lino and Laurie’s charming coastal castle.

Tip: Every first Friday of the month, Castella Amare hosts a live cooking and wine pairing event that’s not to be missed. Classic Portuguese dishes are prepared outside on open fires, and every course is matched with a glass of complementary vino – the menu changes monthly and the dinner costs around R245p/p.

The Bill: Food prices are in line with what you’d expect from a seaside restaurant. Breakfasts cost between R18 and R69, starters/tapas range from R45 to R75, mains go for from R79 to R145, pizzas sit between R45 and R89 and desserts ring in at between R20 and R55. Cocktails cost between R30 and R50, and wine is very affordable, with prices targeted at the local market.

Note: Unfortunately, due to the eatery’s business licence, the kitchen closes at 8pm and all guests have to leave by 9pm.

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Enjoy watching the waves while dining? Read our overview of other outdoor restaurants with sea views in Cape Town.

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