Fiona McIntosh tucks in at two new Plettenberg Bay eateries. She reviews Plett’s Arugula Bistro and Equinox Flame & Flavour.
Arugula Bistro, Goose Valley, 044 533 0889
Situated on the 18th tee of the picturesque Goose Valley golf course on the outskirts of Plettenberg Bay, Arugula Bistro has already made a name for itself since opening in June 2015.
The premises had previously housed a traditional clubhouse but owner/chef Neil Swart has seriously upped the standards; this is now a trendy bistro that draws locals from town. There are tables on the terrace, while the inside dining area is homely with a snug lounge area and fireplace to beat the winter chill. In the summer they fold back the full-length glass doors.
Having worked under Michael Broughton at Terroir in the Cape Winelands, Neil went out on his own, opening Arugula in Cape Town in 2012, then in Goose Valley.
Starting the day with a good meal out is one of my favourite treats so we went there for breakfast. A foamy, strong cappuccino made from Origin coffee was the perfect start. Training the baristas to get coffees just right is one of Neil’s priorities I learnt, as is preparing everything – such as bread, ice cream, pasta sauces – from scratch.
I chose the flourless quiche with Parma ham, preserved fig and rocket salad (R69). It was so good I ordered a takeaway for lunch. My friend Shaen had the smoked salmon trout and scrambled eggs with home-made bread (R59) – a huge portion, which she declared to be just the ticket. As befits a clubhouse, the bistro menu has bacon and egg rolls, snack platters, fish and chips, ribs and burgers for those wanting a quick bite. But even these are not bog-standard – burgers include a Camembert burger (R95) and truffled mushroom burger (R79) – and you can swap your starch for salad or veg.
Dishes are beautifully presented and service top-notch but, most importantly, by keeping the menu small, Neil ensures that everything is as fresh as possible. Checking out the drinks menu I was delighted to see that the reasonably priced wine list features local wines from Plettenvale and Packwood, as well as CBC Craft beer, but even in the name of research I couldn’t bring myself to tipple at an early hour. Still, it’s a good excuse to return when off duty.
Equinox Flame & Flavour, Lookout Beach, 044 533 1379
The Lookout Deck & Restaurant in Plettenberg Bay is a long-time institution. Perched on the rocks with an extensive deck and a stunning view of one of the world’s best beaches, it’s very popular for drinks and alfresco dining. And now it has an upmarket sister directly below it – Equinox Flame & Flavour.
The concept behind Equinox is that of Argentinean asado restaurants. Meat is cooked on the fire, and seafood on the coals to seal in the flavour.
Eating there has a sense of theatre. Big windows in front of the open-hearth firepit and a wood-burning oven allow guests to watch the food being cooked on the fire, while copper sheeting on the walls diffuses the light and enhances the flames. It’s funky and fun.
Although I’d describe the general ambience, food and service as sophisticated or fine dining, Equinox manages at the same time to be friendly and casual, welcoming beachgoers with open arms. There are distinct eating areas, designed to maximise the superb setting yet provide protection from the elements – an indoor/outdoor dining area on the beach, elegant tables under the milkwoods and an enchanting, open, rock section under a glass roof. And if the weather really turns mean you can snuggle up in front of the fire.
The food is amazing. I had the grilled side of Norwegian salmon served on burnt lemons (R180) while my partner tucked into beef rib eye on the bone, singed on open coals (also R180). While the emphasis is definitely on meat and seafood, there are various yummy-sounding vegetarian platters for around R130. Home-made ice cream – a portion of burnt Knysna forest honey and one of piña colada (R55) – provided the perfect finale.
The wine list is extensive and designed to suit various pockets, with some fine labels gracing the wine racks at the entrance.
Before we left I went to freshen up. I’ve never seen such wonderful bathrooms built into the natural rock features. With this meticulous attention to detail, I’ve no doubt that Equinox is going to fly.