Fredo says that if you want to chill out this summer with some good food and one of the Cape’s best wines, you should serious consider spending some time on the patio of the Chapman’s Peak hotel in Hout Bay in the Cape Peninsula.
The seafood platter is one of the best one can find and on a hot summer’s day the view across the bay towards the harbour is always inspiring. The calamari is to die for and if you do not enjoy yourself, it will certainly not be the chef and the staff’s problem.
The history of this hotel is very colourful. When you look at the historical photographs on the walls of the hotel foyer, you can imagine the days when people first travel there to enjoy the fine cuisine which have always been served there.
[divider] I have known the legendary Carlos who turned Chapman’s Peak into the meeting place of the who is who in South African society since the middle of the 1980’s. This has been the hunting ground of famous people such as the Rhodesian Prime Minister, Ian Smith, and countless ambassadors, businessmen and politicians. If my memory serves me correctly, our very own Pik Botha also dined there.
Jane always reminds me of the fact that Carlos is almost the spitting image of Marlon Brando of God Father Fame. These days he is taking a back seat with the children running the hotel and restaurant, but there is always time to share a few words with friends and acquaintances when he visits the hotel.
When I first met Carlos he was in his heyday! I was asked to look after an American Congressman and his staff, who were on a visit to South Africa in the mid 1980’s, not long after the United States imposed sanctions on South Africa. I was working for the largest South African fruit exporting company and building relationships with our clients all over the world was my responsibility. I therefore knew what it took to keep international visitors happy. This particular group were invited to our country by the wheat industry. Them being mostly Free Staters and Transvalers did not quite know the nooks and crannies of the Cape. I did, and this is where I stepped in to help our brothers of the wheat fields.
My choice was to do a traditional Peninsula tour, despite the fact that it was winter and seeing Cape Point would probably not be as spectacular as it would have been in summer. I knew that lunch would probably make the day. It had to be somewhere new, not the usual old places we dropped into normally. Someone suggested Chapman’s Peak hotel and I was advised to call a man called Carlos. By early Sunday morning I was getting desperate, because Carlos proofed to be very illusive. I could simply not turn up without a reservation, not finding a table for such an important group would have been suicide.
Finally, an hour before picking up my charges the gruff voice finally came on the line. “We do not take reservations,” he said. “But don’t worry, we will fit you in!”
[divider] On a cold rainy morning, the Congressman and his wife, and their entourage of two Aids and their wives walked into the Chapman’s Peak behind me. I would learn later that Aids were something like personal secretaries or in more modern terms ‘PA’s’, and very important to keep the Congressman and his show on the road. I asked for Carlos and ‘Marlon Brando’ soon appeared and guided us into a lounge which housed one of several bars in the hotel. We were invited up to the bar and Carlos shoved a bottle of sherry across the bar towards the Congressman. He grabbed it just in time before it fell on the floor. Next came a tray of glasses, with Carlos pretending to lose the grip on the tray and promptly proceeded to drop all the glasses on the counter. As they clattered on the counter, he muttered something like ‘help yourselves’. Sheepishly, we did and behind me I could see the chief ‘Aid’ rolling his eyes. What next?
The sherry warmed us up and Carlos emerged from the kitchen with two pans of calamari. No knives and forks, just toothpicks. It was the first time I tasted the stuff and have been hooked ever since.
To cut a long story short! Shortly afterwards I found the Congressman and Carlos sitting on a table in the kitchen with a pot of black mussels between them. We were eventually seated and orders were taken. The Chief ‘Aid’ insisted on having the biggest stake in the house. I think he was probably from Texas. It soon arrived, hanging over the sides of a fairly large plate. The rest of us ordered calamari, fish, prawns and whatever Carlos could offer. In the end we did not proceed much further on that day and the Congressman had such a good time that he used his only free night in Cape Town two nights later to again dine at the Chapman’s Peak.
Since then Jane and I became regular visitors and many of our overseas clients spent their first lunch or dinner there when they arrived in Cape Town. We got to know Carlos and his children and the staff. Our favourite amongst the staff is Temperance. “Call me ‘Temperature’,” she said the first time she served us. We learnt about her daughter and shared her joy when one day she pointed across to the car park – towards her own new car. She had learnt to drive and you could not wipe the smile off her face. When she served us, along with our children, whom we almost inevitably took there for a special lunch when they were home from London, there was always something extra on the plate. She spoilt us and is a good friend.
Given this you will understand our bias towards Chapman’s Peak as possibly the best seafood experience in Cape Town. However, we can clearly state that the food speaks for itself. If you are hungry, the seafood platter is the answer. It is enough for two to three people. Otherwise you can eat one of the many combo’s they serve in smaller pans, calamari and fish, or calamari and prawns – pick your own combination.
[divider] Needless to say that it is not always a good idea to order starters; you may spoil your appetite for the main course. We normally settle for a Greek salad to start with and this comes with a delightful brand of feta which we always enjoy. To round off the meal there is a good choice of desserts – that is if there is still space for that.
Handy tips are that on Saturday’s and Sunday’s in summer you should get there around 12:30 at the latest, or you will have to wait. They still do not accept reservations. If you fancy sparkling wine, go for the South African brands and avoid the word ‘Champagne’- it may bankrupt you.
Carlos and Chapman’s Peak remains a special experience and the seafood is something to die for -trust Fredo’s opinion.