Makan

Remote Restaurant of the Year in South Africa won't change anything after fame

Eatery in remote fishing village in South Africa earns inaugural accolade

PATERNOSTER, SOUTH AFRICA: His eatery in a small remote fishing village on South Africa's rugged west coast has won renown as the world's first Restaurant of the Year, but Wolfgat chef Kobus van der Merwe insists his meteoric rise to gastronomic stardom will change nothing.

"When I saw the other nominees in that list, I actually had a giggle, because I thought we were so out of our league," said the 38-year-old, who did not begin to cook seriously until he was 30.

Unlike many competitors at last week's inaugural World Restaurant Awards, a seven-course tasting menu at the 130-year-old whitewashed restaurant, nestled above Wolfgat cave within hearing distance of crashing waves, costs €52 (S$80) - a fraction of what one would pay at a top Paris table.

Its speciality is seafood, and Van der Merwe forages every day for ingredients on the wild Atlantic shore near his restaurant at Paternoster, and makes his own bread and butter.

The former journalist, who can feed only 20 people at a sitting, said: "We were all sort of finding our feet at the beginning. I was in that tiny little kitchen doing all the cooking, and we were all serving so we sort of figured it out together."

But the award "is not going to change anything about the scale that Wolfgat operates on", he said, as "what we do (is) sustainable - and that is what works for us".

Van der Merwe also vowed not to increase prices despite his newfound fame.

"It is a golden ratio, between the number of people we serve, what we can collect from the wild, what the team (can do) and the size of the building it is comfortable with."

He also has no wish to expand or replicate Wolfgat in an urban setting.

His clientele is split evenly between foreign tourists visiting the village and well-heeled South Africans.

Those who make the two-hour drive from Cape Town had better be sure of their reservations before they set out - because he is fully booked for the next three months.

- AFP, REUTERS

Food & Drink