Kitchen kudos: Chef Kobus van der Merwe and his team not only serve up exciting, delicious food, but also make you feel as though you are part of the family. Picture: REUTERS
Kitchen kudos: Chef Kobus van der Merwe and his team not only serve up exciting, delicious food, but also make you feel as though you are part of the family. Picture: REUTERS

My family’s love affair with Wolfgat restaurant and its owner, chef Kobus van der Merwe, started in February 2014, when my father passed away.

I wanted to have a family lunch at Oep ve Koep in Paternoster during my holiday back home two months earlier. A few of my friends recommended it, but, as always, the festive season was already packed with events and we never got around to it. I was back in London, hard at work and suffering through the cold weather when the dreaded news about my father came.

We wanted to have some family time after the funeral before I made the trek back to London and my sister and her family went back to Joburg. So, on February 21, we finally made our way to Oep ve Koep for lunch.

The food was amazing and Kobus was very engaging.  He took the time to talk us through the ingredients and how he incorporated it into his unique seafood menu, which included whitefish pickle, summer ice plant, pomelo and fennel. There was also rooibos and tomato consommé, and West Coast rock lobster.

The mood was light under the trees and we were able to reminisce fondly and, most of all, laugh at what my father would have said eating these different fish combinations and pairing with local florae. My father, who was born and bred in Saldanha, loved all seafood but in its most traditional form without fieterjasies. That lunch was definitely cathartic and made the idea of leaving my family and heading back to London a little more bearable.

Sea and sky: The stoep at Wolfgat is perfect for a few pre-lunch drinks. Picture: REUTERS
Sea and sky: The stoep at Wolfgat is perfect for a few pre-lunch drinks. Picture: REUTERS

In December 2014 I was back home to have our first Christmas without my father. Maybe we wanted to relive that euphoria from our first visit, or perhaps we were just curious to see and taste Kobus’s latest creations.

Yet again our host was keen to chat and explain his thoughts behind the Saldanha mussels and peaches in a vygie broth dish, or my favourite: Maasbanker bokkom, watermelon and kelp with garden marrow.

The tasty and somewhat quirky seafood concoctions, with the friendliness of Kobus and his team plus the laughter with family, made that otherwise sad Christmas so very joyous.

In 2016, when Kobus announced that he was opening a new restaurant,  our family became very excited to see what the Wolfgat experience would be like. There was definitely some trepidation. How could you improve on the rustic backyard and ambiance of Oep ve Koep?

We were, however, in for a pleasant surprise at the new location in Sampson Street. We were welcomed by the familiar and friendly face of She-Earl, who also used to serve us at Oep ve Koep.

The homeliness of the venue took me back to when we would visit my parents' friends in Paternoster and they would welcome you with some crayfish curry, or fish and home-baked bread.

Wolfgat's stoep, with its breath-taking views of the sea, provides a tranquil setting to have a few pre-dinner drinks. The meal started off with the most amazing bread sticks, accompanied  by a pan of melted bokkom butter.

It was so moreish we asked for an extra helping. The wild garlic pickle fish, maasbanker bokkom sambal, cabbage, and coconut was my favourite, as well as the unique dessert of dune celery ice-cream.

What was immediately noticeable was that Kobus had upped his game, from the presentation of each course, a wine list of hidden gems and staff that is as engaging as the owner. A truly fine dining experience, with no pretentiousness.

We made our way back there this past December. The breadsticks with bokkom butter are still on the menu and still just as good. The new additions that won us over  were the heerenbone, rooibos-smoked angelfish, dune spinach and the oysters prepared two ways: warm with klipkombers, mushroom, kruipvygie with seagrass tea; or cold with litchi and seepampoen.

Kobus proves with each visit that he doesn’t rest on his laurels and is still finding new ways to excite the diner.

 It was a welcome coincidence that this February, as we were commemorating the five-year anniversary of my father's passing, Wolfgat was awarded the ultimate prize at The World Restaurant Awards in Paris.

I have been fortunate to eat at other “acclaimed” restaurants the world over but can wholeheartedly say that Kobus and his loyal team of Emily, Emmerson, Rochelle and She-earl are deserved recipients of this award.

Wolfgat still remains my favourite, not only because of the amazing and sometimes unconventional foods, but the warmth and friendly service you receive that makes you feel you are part of their family.

We can’t wait for our next visit in December.