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If you want to experience the heart and soul of Cape Town, says Sampson, explore the colorful Bo-Kaap neighborhood.
The star chef—and Cape Town native—shares her favorite restaurants, art store, and stretch of beach in and around her hometown.
Cape Town is one of the great melting pot cities of the world. And no one knows this better than local chef Charné Sampson.
Sampson grew up in the Cape Town suburb of Fairways surrounded by home cooking. Through meals with her parents, who are also Cape Town natives, she learned about her city’s many flavors and global influences, which range from Dutch and Cape Malay to French and British. “Cape Town is surrounded by such cultural diversity, colors, and food,” she said. “I love the creativity around me, and I’m inspired by my surroundings: the ocean, fynbos, mountain areas, and almost never-ending winelands.”
The former sous chef of Cape Town icon La Colombe, Sampson now leads the kitchen at fine-dining hot spot Epice in the heart of the bucolic Cape Winelands, where she works her love of spices into dishes inspired by India, Spain, Japan, and more. “Developing Epice has been a roller-coaster ride of exploring new flavors in my own country and then traveling through India to see what else is out there in terms of spice,” she said.
No matter where her work takes her, Sampson will always love Cape Town best: “I don’t think I could ever leave. The oceans, the mountains, culture and diversity, it’s all here, surrounding you every day.” Read on for her favorite finds in and around her hometown, from dining experiences to desserts, with a few culture hits in between.
“The menu [at Epice] is based around spices, however it’s not burn-your-mouth hot and spicy, but rather layers of flavor that develop as you go through the meal and remind you of something special. You will see a weave of Cape Malay flavors going throughout the menu. My favorite dish is the fish course on the full tasting menu—it’s a smoked curry velouté with smoked mussels, crispy squid, leeks, and coriander, finished off with a crispy-skinned fresh fish of the day.”
At La Colombe in Constantia, “your meal begins at the gate as you travel up a winding road on the organic wine estate. . . . As you enter, you’re welcomed by the team and a refreshing palate cleanser—I don’t want to tell you any more. You have to experience the breathtaking mountain views at lunchtime for yourself, but I personally prefer to go for dinner for special occasions. I’ve had three of my birthdays there. I’ve always left feeling special, as it’s not just a meal but an experience.”
Foxcroft “is more-casual fine dining, but it’s definitely a favorite spot for lunch or an early dinner outside on the terrace, under the trees, enjoying good wine and excellent food. At the moment, I’m loving the apple dessert that consists of green apple, yogurt, lychee, and geranium—it’s fresh and tasty.”
“It’s difficult to say what’s the best at the beautiful, casual Vadas Smokehouse & Bakery at Spier Wine Farm—the atmosphere, the food, or the desserts. But a must is the pasteis de nata [a Portuguese custard tart]. I never leave without eating a few and grabbing a takeaway.”
“If you’re up for a night out in Cape Town, you must pop in at the Commissary, which you might mistake for a hole in the wall. As you enter, the staircase is filled with unexpected graffiti until you finally enter the restaurant—and what a vibe. Each bite here is a burst of flavor; it’s something to check out.”
“Four & Twenty Café in Wynberg reminds me of Alice in Wonderland—whimsical and fun. It’s open for lunch, too, but I enjoy going for breakfast and won’t leave before a visit to the bakery counter for a few takeaway Cape Malay boeber choux puffs and a slice of ‘shutupyourface’—it’s chocolate cake, coconut biscuit, and peppermint and caramel mousse with a marshmallow and caramel center.”
“The branding of Terbodore features a Great Dane, which is what first drew me to have a look. I’m a sucker for dogs, and you can find them roaming around here—very friendly. The café has the best coffee, and if you don’t feel like drinking your caffeine, they sell packets of their beans coated in chocolate. It’s a must-try. I’m there on breaks from time to time, or on my day off for breakfast.”
“The Silo hotel at the V&A Waterfront has a rooftop bar with a breathtaking view of Cape Town; it’s a great spot for a sunset cocktail. I also enjoy lunch at Granary Cafe there, then a walk through the waterfront to Marcel’s for a frozen yogurt—always English toffee, my favorite.”
“I’ve always been one for arts and crafts, and walking into the Deckle Edge you almost feel overwhelmed by all the supplies, immediately thinking of different things to make or do with them. I never leave empty-handed.”
“The South African Museum at one of South Africa’s oldest commercial wine farms, Groot Constantia, is filled with historical paintings and furniture, and you can also see the historical wine cellars. The surroundings are beautiful vineyards and large, leafy green trees. You can enjoy a picnic there after viewing everything the museum has to offer and, of course, end with a winetasting.”
“Based in an old Methodist church in the heart of Cape Town, the District Six Museum is filled with so much heritage and information on the people who lived in District Six and made it a vibe. [Editor’s note: The area was home to a lively, diverse community before the apartheid regime forcibly removed more than 60,000 residents during the 1970s.] When I look at all the history, it makes me wonder what a time it would have been to be alive then, with the creativity, and music, and different food and flavors that developed in that time. I think it’s amazing and a must-see.”
“This stretch of the beach, from Kalk Bay to Fish Hoek, is very special to me. Growing up, we often went here as a family for beach days, camping, or fish and chips. Now, the fresh sea breeze and surroundings help me come up with ideas for possible plating, or produce we could use on the menu. My favorite place to go after being at the beach is Olympia Café, where the fresh breakfast is best.”
“The Bo-Kaap [neighborhood] is the heart and soul of Cape Town. Just walk the area and explore all the heritage, museums, and stories to be told. I like a little spice shop on Wale Street where you’ll always get the best produce; new ideas develop for my dishes from the smiles and flavors alone.”
>>Next: AFAR’s Travel Guide to Cape Town
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