Chef Kobus van der Merwe after he receiving the best Restaurant of the year award for his restaurant "Wolfgat" in Paternoster during the inaugural World Restaurant Awards on February 18 2019 at the Palais Brongniart in Paris. Picture: AFT/THOMAS SAMSON
Chef Kobus van der Merwe after he receiving the best Restaurant of the year award for his restaurant "Wolfgat" in Paternoster during the inaugural World Restaurant Awards on February 18 2019 at the Palais Brongniart in Paris. Picture: AFT/THOMAS SAMSON

In Paternoster on the country’s rugged west coast, restaurateur Kobus van der Merwe is struggling to process his meteoric rise to gastronomic stardom.

He recently got back from Paris, where, four days ago, his 20-cover Wolfgat was named Restaurant of the Year at the inaugural World Restaurant Awards, also winning the remote location prize.

“In our category, which was for the off-map destination ... there are restaurants that we literally hero-worship and we were like, this is insane,” the food-journalist-turned-chef told Reuters TV on Friday in his first interview with foreign media since returning home.

Others on that shortlist included Japanese wild dining sensation Tokuyamazushi.

Of both prizes, van der Merwe added: “We never dreamed of making the shortlist, let alone winning.”

Wolfgat’s speciality is, unsurprisingly, seafood. Van der Merwe’s seven-course tasting menu pays homage to the region’s long-gone indigenous inhabitants, and his signature dishes are flavoured and supplemented with ingredients foraged locally, such as seaweed and succulent plants.

They include Rooibos tea-smoked yellowtail with dune spinach and buttermilk rusk, and freshly baked bread served with bokkom (salted dry fish) butter and infused herbs.

Guests at the 130-year-old whitewashed restaurant, nestled above Wolfgat cave within hearing distance of crashing waves, pay R850 or R1,400, including drinks.

Van der Merwe, who took the plunge into full-time cooking before completing his culinary studies, said he had no wish to expand or replicate Wolfgat in an urban setting. “We certainly don’t aspire to be in the city because the west coast is our muse and I can’t see Wolfgat existing anywhere else.” 

His clientele is split evenly between foreign tourists visiting the village and well-heeled South Africans. But those who make the two-hour drive from Cape Town had better be sure of their reservations before they set out because he’s fully booked for the next three months.

Reuters