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Sotano at the Lighthouse in Cape Town's Mouille Point
Mediterranean food, live music, and wine, wine, wine (or Stella happy hour)
I’m a local here. Often, I pop in for a quick glass of wine after work, and soon it turns into tapas, another glass and, before I know it, the sun is sinking over the Atlantic. It's just that kind of place – so utterly undemanding that you easily relax.
I’ve come in the early afternoon this time; the sun is still high in the sky, and there’s a gentle flow of people walking dogs, drinking in the panoramic views and moseying about on the portion of Mouille Point promenade just in front of the eatery.
A few restaurants have rested in this space before, all of which quickly closed shop – a surprising fact considering the locale.
Situated opposite the beachfront neighbourhood’s iconic barber pole lighthouse, Sotano is a hop, skip and jump away from the aforementioned greenway and just five minutes from the storied V&A Waterfront. A greasy spoon could have been successful, one would think.
It would seem, though, that the Mediterranean kitchen’s predecessors couldn’t quite cultivate the easy, breezy feel that owners Brendon Crew, Jean Muller and Marc Langlois have so expertly put in place.
Outside, the Trudeau range of furniture – it’s made from converted wine barrels’ French Oak – beckons. The expertly crafted tables and chairs align flawlessly with the restaurant’s vino-drenched theme; Sotano translates to ‘cellar’ in Spanish and the eatery offers close to 80 wines by the bottle and 40 wines by the glass.
Inside it's masculine with greys, bronzes and touches of mustards with ample space for summer soirées.
Relaxing outdoors under the slatted roof, my dining partner and I tuck into chilled asparagus soup perfumed with truffle and topped with a soft-boiled egg. Next, we share crispy sardines. We crush the buttery flesh onto ciabatta with our forks and devour the dish of the day. We also split potato fishcakes made with salted cod.
Eating, talking, drinking
“We let good ingredients speak for themselves,” Brendon, a man who’s drawn on the lessons he learned from his Lebanese mother, tells me. “Sotano is all about simple, uncomplicated food made well.”
Think fresh bread, homemade tzatziki, squid tentacles and, more generally, full-flavoured, pared-down fare pulled fresh from the ocean, plucked straight from the garden or reared free range on the farm.
On days like these, when my one glass turns into two, I generally order the tapas: aubergine tempura, grilled calamari, haloumi, flatbreads and spicy tomato meatballs. It’s an offering that’s perfect for soaking up wine and sun.
If need be though, dinner can be a more serious affair, with a menu plump with delectable starter, main and dessert options and a stylish indoor section of the restaurant complete with formally dressed tables and ambient tunes. On these occasions, hungry diners can look forward to inclusions like Beer-braised Rabbit, Crayfish and Zucchini Ravioli, Rosemary-glazed Duck Breast in winter and traditional Spanish Paella, Seafood Linguini and Tuna Nicoise Salad in summer (the menu changes seasonally).
I’m told that they make a cracking breakfast too. Add fresh sea air to dishes like Israeli-inspired Shakshouka (red pepper and tomato eggs) and Eggs Benedict, and you have one invigorating way to wake up.
In the end though, whether you’re here to eat tapas, drink wine or even have a full-on gourmand evening, this restaurant, with its easy, breezy Mediterranean feel, has been designed to cater for you.
By Malu Lambert
Tip: Visit on Sundays between 4pm and 7pm to see the sun down with live music, and come on Wednesdays for Sotano’s 2-for-1 lamb burger special.
The Bill: While mains start at R90, tapas can set you back as little as R15 apiece; the bite-sized morsels generally average about R38 in cost.