South African Fare

Katherine Cancila

Before it was converted into a restaurant in 2008, the Roundhouse, in Cape Town, South Africa, had served as everything from a fort and a hunting lodge to a tearoom and an upscale hotel. Today, the white concrete structure, which is almost 200 years old and, as the name suggests, circular, houses one of the country's best spots for thoughtfully prepared, locally inspired food served in a luxurious setting. Owned by the African hospitality group Let's Sell Lobster, the Roundhouse is nestled in the hills of Camps Bay, an affluent Cape Town suburb overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and is manned by a fleet of graceful young servers who address diners by name. (That's just one example of the restaurant's almost fetish-like attention to detail.) Happily, an equal focus is put on the food. On a recent trip to South Africa, I stopped by for lunch and sampled a chilled tomato consomme that was at once sweet, tangy, and earthy; it surrounded a stack of buffalo mozzarella discs made at a nearby farm. Risotto with crayfish and corn was good, but the real showstopper was the eland (antelope) filet, from the northern part of the country, served with mashed potatoes, roasted onions and a generous drizzle of port jus. The eland was perfectly cooked; paired with bites of buttery potatoes and rich sauce, it was grown-up comfort food. Chef P.J. Vadas, a native of South Africa who trained with Gordon Ramsay in New York and London, says he draws on European influences but always strives to use South African ingredients. Classically trained chefs attuned to local flavors are no longer an anomaly in Cape Town, but few are as talented as Vadas. Dessert followed suit: a delicate peach souffle made by another Ramsay apprentice, Vanessa Quellec, who has since been replaced by Jessica Scott. Nearly every meal I had in South Africa—from stewed vegetables and tripe in Soweto to lamb biriyani in Cape Town's Bo-Kaap neighborhood—was memorable, but the Roundhouse, a lovely, secluded perch with fantastically delicious food, topped the list.