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The Wild Fig Restaurant
Step-back-in-time country dining in the midst of Cape Town’s urban sprawl
You’ll find The Wild Fig Restaurant on the historic Valkenberg Estate, just outside of Cape Town’s oldest suburb, Observatory. A hidden gem on the outskirts of the city, the tract of land hugs tight to the banks of the Liesbeek River and has been spared intrusion from the urban frame around it. The ancient waterway seams through the Mother City, as alive today with fish and birdlife as it’s always been, its banks popular with cyclists, photographers and dog-walkers (your pooch is welcome at the Wild Fig too).
The whole scene makes me think of old Cape Town. The one you glimpse in faded photographs in your parents’ albums. It’s Table Mountain, whitewashed walls, endless summers, academia and poetry. And it’s the kind of space that immediately intrigues with its stories and sense of place.
Driving up, ample parking spaces shaded by trees are the first thing to greet me, quickly followed by Freddy, the smiling security guard. On the way up to the restaurant make sure to stop and admire its namesake: a giant Moreton Bay wild fig tree, which was planted between 1840 and 1860 (one of the oldest in South Africa) and is a living national monument (also on the estate, growing by The Manor House, is the oldest almond tree in the country).
The restaurant consists of a two-storey main building, a garden courtyard as well as a country-style pub, Annie’s Arms, set in a converted dairy barn. The style of the architecture is Cape vernacular (an informal version of Cape Dutch design), again reminding me of sepia photographs from another time.
Inside, the gracious dining room has deep, cool stone walls, and a slatted bamboo ceiling. I can imagine long, cosy dinners with friends and family here or a romantic interlude at a corner table. There’s a large stone fireplace – so typical of this kind of old Cape homestead – that roars to life all through the colder months. But today it’s a still, warm afternoon and there’s only one place to be, and that’s outside.
Long, languid dining in a garden courtyard setting
Dappled sunlight spills in golden splashes into the courtyard and the herb garden in the centre of the space mildly laces the air with aromatics. Lunch is going to be a family affair with the three owners: Bill and Jan Slater, and the Jan’s brother Trevor Hughes (the Slaters also have a seven-year-old son, Cody, who regularly helps out around the restaurant too).
The menu matches the setting beautifully: think hearty, country cooking (Jan says they always have game available) buffered by garden salads, seasonal vegetables and daily specials, freshly prepared by the chef to tantalise taste buds.
What’s their most popular dish? “Succulent Greek lamb wrapped in crispy, golden phyllo pastry is a crowd pleaser, along with the fragrant springbok hot pot, which is rich, meaty and tender,” says Jan.
“And the oven-baked Camembert with honey glazed figs, crushed almonds, and fresh thyme,” Bill chimes in. Also known around here as the ‘wine magician’, he compiles the restaurant’s multiple-award-winning wine list (Diner’s Club Diamond Award).
There aren’t any bog-standard supermarket type brands listed, but rather wines that have been selected with thought and care, as well as a unique Wild Fig range. That’s not to say it’s expensive though; there are many affordable wines (including some international ones), and the wines-by-the-glass section is well priced with plenty to choose from. Don’t know your Sauvignon from your Chenin? At this owner-run restaurant, Bill is around daily and will (with some delight) help you choose a wine for your meal.
Bill takes his beer just as seriously and offers a range of craft brews on tap to be enjoyed in the pub or restaurant. Interestingly, there’s a story behind the name Annie’s Arms. “My late mother Annalea,” says Jan, “wanted to keep the family together after she passed. That’s where the idea of us going into business together came from and the name Annie’s Arms.”
Additionally, the pub has an exceptionally affordable (R80 a dish) light meal menu: think ostrich burgers, bangers and mash, beer-battered hake, and the like. And I’d struggle to name another place in Cape Town where you can get a proper pub lunch amidst such beautiful scenery. Lunch is served from Monday to Sunday from 12pm to 6pm, and the hearty fare is as generous as it is delicious.
There’s also live music every Saturday from 1pm to 4pm, with Matt Roux, Amy Tjasink, Kai Connor, Riptide and the Kim Swartz Project providing sweet serenades to complement the serenity of the restaurant’s surrounds.
Needless to say, whether you’re on the hunt for elegant dining in a relaxed historic setting, alfresco lunches under the trees or a beer and a plate ‘o food in an authentic pub, The Wild Fig has it all. Not to mention, you’ll find the wild beauty of the Liesbeek rushing past, carrying this time and the times before right along with it.
Tip: Save room for the delectable desserts: the White Chocolate Cheesecake is a favourite.
The Bill: Starters go for between R50 and R100, while mains range from R80 to R185.
By Malu Lambert
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