Tasty Surprises Along the Garden Route
This Garden Route restaurant guide is one of our 4-part Unearthing the Garden Route Travel Blog.
It's no foodie destination like Tuscany or Tokyo, but a handful of Garden Route restaurants and food experiences convinced me it's not as far from becoming one as I'd previously thought.
And I'm not so easy to win over. It takes originality, quality, and good service to get my seal of approval.
These Garden Route restaurants earned it.
Favorite Garden Route Restaurants
Before getting to my eight favorite Garden Route restaurants and food experiences, these spots deserve an honorable mention. You'll be glad you stopped by if you're in the area:
- Knysna Gin (Knysna) – A recently-opened craft distillery in the industrial area of Knysna. Come for happy hour on Fridays and get in on South Africans' favorite cocktail, the Gin and Tonic.
- Tsitsikamma Brewing (Tsitsikamma) – Extremely friendly staff, decent beer, and affordable beer tasting flights in the heart of Tsitsikamma village.
- 101 Meade (George) – Excellent cocktails and incredibly helpful and knowledgable bartenders. The foods a little on the expensive side but apparently worth it.
- Double Shot (Plettenberg Bay) – Strong coffee and to-die-for crustless quiches perfect for your hike on Robberg Nature Reserve. Tip: bring your own containers or ask for all of your things to be put in one. The staff put all of our items in about 5 separate paper containers that made me and Mother Nature want to cry a little inside.
- Harkerville Market (Plettenberg Bay) – Every Saturday from 8 a.m. until 12 p.m., there's a laid back farmer's market selling affordable produce, art, and freshly prepared breakfast and snack food. Come for breakfast, free samples, and to enjoy the people watching.
I had high hopes for these well-known Garden Route restaurants but their food did not impress me as much as their settings:
- Enrico's (Plettenberg Bay) – The food is not fantastic, but the sunset and dolphins you can see from the patio make up for it. Skip the pasta and pizza and order the catch of the day that Enrico (the gregarious, Vespa-driving owner) apparently catches himself.
- Kaai 4 Braai (Mossel Bay) – This was our worst-tasting meal of the trip, which is too bad because the harbor-side setting and the ambiance of picnic tables on the sand around the braai pit was cool. We can't speak for the other braaied dishes but whatever you do, don't order the mussel pot.
- Salina's (Wilderness) – Salina's has beautiful views overlooking Wilderness' beach and everyone we asked in Wilderness spoke highly of it but it felt a bit too commercial and the menu wasn't particularly inviting.
Kim's Favorite Garden Route Restaurants and Eating Experiences
Farm Cheese Lunch at Fynboshoek Cheese (Storms River)
We somehow ended up planning our whole trip around this one Garden Route restaurant.
What we didn't plan for was to be stuck in a Garden Route-style traffic jam:
Between us and Fynboshoek were 500 cows being ushered, very slowly down the rough gravel road.
After finally arriving nearly half an hour late, Alje, the owner, and his three Great Danes came to meet us at our car and took us to our table on the patio behind his cozy house.
Then the food started to come.
Alje whet our appetites with aged cheddar choux pastry that raised our expectations even higher than before.
Then came a garden salad with pickled pear and goats cheese that was so fresh he must have somehow picked the greens after our arrival.
A minute later came a fresh-out-the-oven focaccia to accompany a burrata, mozzarella, and tomato salad.
And finally, Alje brought out a board of eight different cheeses, all made on the farm. My friend Rebecca and I were in cheese heaven. Chris was too, especially when Alje told him he could have more of whatever cheese he liked.
Planning our trip—or at least our day—around Fynboshoek turned out to be an excellent choice.
Tips and Info
- Advanced reservations are required.
- Feel bring your own wine (no corkage) and enjoy a relaxing afternoon on the farm.
- The set menu costs R210 per person.
- When you reserve, ask Alje if he can make some cheesecake. Based on what others told us later, we missed out by not doing so.
107 Storms River, Tsitsikamma, fynboshoek.co.za/
Gourmet Breakfast With Views at La Vista Lodge (Plettenberg Bay)
Breakfast usually isn't a big deal for us. Chris normally skips it entirely and I can take it or leave it.
But our morning at La Vista Lodge was a glorious exception.
It had everything you'd expect from a nice hotel breakfast buffet, except in extra high quality. To give a few examples, the fruit salad was loaded with fresh berries and mangos, the cheese quiche was so good I asked for the recipe, and the carefully-constructed yogurt parfaits were works of art.
And if that wasn't enough, we could complement the buffet with a breakfast dish from the menu. Having already had so much food already from the buffet, we could only spit one eggs Benedict.
If all breakfasts were this good, we'd never skip it again.
Tips and Info
- Breakfast is included for all hotel guests.
- If you're not a guest and want to get in for a meal, call ahead (+27 44 533 5407)
17 Rosheen Cres, Plettenberg Bay, lavista.co.za/
Bumpin' Brunch at East Head Cafe (Knysna)
So many people recommended Knysna's East Head Cafe that we had to go. We also wanted to check out The Heads, an upscale part of town where the cafe is located. So, it was a win-win.
The scenery at East Head Cafe at the entrance to the lagoon, was even nicer than we expected, which goes to explain why the cafe was bumping when we arrived on Saturday morning at 9 a.m. We were lucky to snag a prime spot on the edge of the patio.
The menu was small and they had a chalkboard of daily specials that seemed to change often. I went for eggs Benedict on homemade sourdough and, though it was small, I was happy with my choice. The eggs were cooked perfectly and the serving of hollandaise was generous.
Also, the chocolate chip biscotti that came with my coffee was so good that I would have bought a pack if Chris wouldn't have disapproved.
Tips and Info
- Go early or you'll be battling it out on the outdoor patio for a seat.
25 George Rex Dr, The Heads, eastheadcafe.co.za/
Grandma's Cooking at Tottie’s Kitchen (Knysna)
Hungry from a run in Circles of the Forest, we'd planned to go to Ile de Pain for lunch. Everyone in Cape Town we'd asked for Garden Route restaurant recommendations had mentioned it.
But, we didn't make it because Tottie's stole our stomachs.
Tottie's was a lucky find. Nobody had recommended it to us and we only stopped because it was on the way back from the trail to Knysna and we wanted to show our friend Rebecca who was with us what a farm stall is like.
We popped our heads inside the restaurant, saw the eclectic decor and inviting garden area, and decided to stay for a scone and some coffee.
Then we saw the servers bringing out main dishes to other patrons. They were big, full of fresh vegetables, and the prices were on point. We made a split-second decision to scrap our Ile de Pain plans and stay.
The vegetarian dishes we ordered were as good as they looked and it ended up being maybe our favorite Garden Route restaurant experience of our entire trip.
Tips and Info
- Skip the burger and sandwiches and order one of their specialty vegetarian dishes or wraps instead.
- If you're in town on a Sunday, be sure to check out Tottie's Sunday buffet. Book in advance. We hear it's out of this world.
- Circles in the woods trail is a nice 9km jog or walk, but if you've got trees back home like we do, we'd recommend skipping it in favor of something more unique to South Africa.
Main Rd, Rheenendal, Knysna. tottiesfarmkitchen.co.za/
Outstanding Old-School at Pembrey’s Bistro (Knysna)
We were hesitant to go to Pembrey's.
The locals we talked to about Knysna restaurants warned us about its stuffy, old people vibe. But, at the same time, they all said the food, made by the Cordon Bleu-trained chef and co-owner, was spectacular.
Since we care about food and not much about vibe, we went.
The vibe was fine. Sure, the decor was dated, the lighting was too bright, and everyone else there was older than us, but it wasn't too fancy and we didn't feel out of place.
More importantly, the service was top notch and they didn't even bat an eye at our R60 BYO wine we brought.
And most importantly, the food delivered on expectations. We took the recommendations of those we talked to and started with a stand-out cheese souffle. The fresh, homemade mushroom-filled ravioli and lemon posset desserts were also our favorites.
And all for retiree-friendly prices!
Tips and Info
- Make a reservation, and don't book too late or you'll end up eating by yourselves. Remember, retiree hours apply.
- Ask to try the cardamom ice-cream which is the chef's specialty.
Brenton Road, Belvidere Estate, Knysna
Garden Fresh Pasta From Love Earth Farm (Tsitsikamma)
We hadn't anticipated cooking at our self-catering cabin at Love Earth Farm outside Storms River, but when our host Yasmin offered to let us pick whatever produce we wanted from her organic garden we had to give it a go. How could we say no to fresh from the garden Garden Route meal?
Chris and I had fun harvesting zucchini (or marrow as they like to call it here), green peppers, spicy peppadews, kale, basil, and heirloom tomatoes for a veggie-filled pasta. We got the rest of our ingredients from Oppi Plaas next door.
And we had an even better time eating it! We had just created our own Garden Route restaurant and were pretty happy about it.
Tips and Info
- If you stay at Love Earth Farm (or any self-catering cottage for that matter) and want to cook, bring the basics like olive oil, garlic, and seasonings.
Sandriff, Storms River, love-earth-farm.business.site/
Decadent Chocolate Mousse at Ile de Pain (Knysna)
Since Tottie's stole our hearts and appetites, we only had room (and time) for a quick dessert at the famous Ile de Pain bakery on Thesen Island.
Famous for its creative dishes and luxurious desserts, we opted for a decadent chocolate mousse. It was so good it had us fighting over the last bite.
Tips and Info
- Ile de Pain closes at 3 p.m. every day and is closed on Sundays and Mondays.
- Order takeaway and sit outside at The Boatshed and walk around the boutiques on Thesen Island.
10, The Boatshed, Long St, Thesen Island, iledepain.co.za/
Aidan's Cheesecake at Hoekwil Country Cafe (Wilderness)
If someone tells me where the best cheesecake in town is, I go.
So that's exactly what I did when a very-opinionated part-time Eden Adventures employee—and based on her enthusiastic recommendations, full-time foodie—told us we "must" try the cheesecake at Hoekwil Country Cafe.
Hoekwil Country Cafe is a small cafe and general store about a fifteen-minute drive, north-east of downtown Wilderness. They don't actually make the cheesecakes themselves but buy them from a local guy named Aidan.
And they buy a lot. Our server told us that in the month of December alone they bought 85,00 rands ($6,000 US) worth of cheesecake from Aiden.
Did the cheesecake live up to the hype?
Indeed it did.
We skipped the blueberry and chocolate flavors and went for the classic. It was by far the best cheesecake I've had here in South Africa with just the right amount of sweetness and a perfect crust.
Tips and Info
- If we were to return, we'd reach out to Aidan himself and see if we could meet him in person. His website is here: Garden of Aidan.
Hoekwil, Wilderness, 6538, hoekwil-country-cafe-deli-coffee-store.business.site/
Garden Route Restaurants for Next Trip…
I'm hungry to try these Garden Route restaurants on my next trip. If you're really hungry, maybe you can eat at all of them, too:
- Le Maquis (Knysna) – Our friend Timo and his girlfriend went to all the Garden Route restaurants we recommended above but said Le Maquis was his favorite for its French food, attention to detail, and intimate setting.
- Emily Moon (Plettenberg Bay) – Creative dishes made with produce picked fresh from their garden combined with hip Bali-inspired decor. We should've gone here instead of Enrico's.
- Bramon (Plettenberg Bay) – We were only in Plettenberg Bay for one day and spent most of it at Robberg Nature Reserve, so we didn't have enough time to visit Bramon. We've heard good things about their wine and their restaurant from multiple people and hope to try it out next time we're in the area.
- Carola Ann’s (Mossel Bay) – A popular spot in Mossel Bay serving lots of vegetarian and vegan options.
- Nguni (Plettenberg Bay) – Maybe this will be the place for the ever-elusive high-quality African food.