The sun rises on one of the most ancient fishing villages Paternoster at the west coast of South Africa. Even though the origin of its name is not known outright, it is believed that the word Pater- Noster comes from the Latin meaning “Father of Ours' muttered as words of prayers by catholic Portuguese sailors when they ran aground.
In a region that has witnessed countless sailors’ adventures throughout history, the famous chef Kobus van der Merwe who left behind urban life to create a calmer and more creative existence, now walks, leaving his footprints on sand which will be washed away in seconds by the Atlantic Ocean. On an ingredients hunt for his unrivaled restaurant Wolfgat, the Chef prefers these endlessly blue shores to markets or shops. The weather is clear but bitingly cold at the crack of dawn, and the first rays of the sun reflected from the water hit his face while starting their vibrant dance. The chef leaves his shoes on the shore and begins to move towards the rocks, tying a fish basket to his back. He quickly finds what he is looking for throws it point blank into his basket – a bouquet of seaweed, named “rock blanket” in the local tongue. The seaweed in the basket will be enough for his small restaurant all week long. The chef has a grasp of the basics of foraging; that is to collect not more than what he needs! Simply by rinsing the collected seagrass, he will have toned up several garnitures on the menu, giving them a flavour reminiscent of the freshness of the ocean.
Despite being a tiny and simple restaurant, since it was awarded “The Restaurant of the Year” and “Best Destination out of the Map” in the World's Best Restaurant Awards in February, Wolfgat is now on the radar of gourmets who search for the best dishes all over the world.
Even though Chef Kobus is pleased with the interest towards him and his restaurant, he also finds the situation a little worrying and adds; “Before we had no idea what a big deal this was! We were face to face with such big names. We don’t even have tablecloths here and our service is quite relaxed.” Even if he is happy to now be so well-known, he doesn't have any plans to change his working style or that of his limited number of employees. Chef’s viewpoint focuses on reflecting naturalness not only on the table but also in every inch of the restaurant and adopts it as his primary principle no matter what. He vows to never change the fundamental character of his restaurant which has been appreciated from the very beginning.
We can define Wolfgat as a laid-back, rustic style and unassuming restaurant. Nevertheless, this quaint restaurant has some bold and well thought out touches. Located in a traditional white fisherman’s shelter, it can serve a maximum of 24 guests at its six tables.
The walls are painted in white as in many interiors seen in this region and with its textured green door, it welcomes its guests by giving a hint of all the natural flavours inside. Featuring a small and well-equipped kitchen the wooden and steel furnishing of the restaurant is striking in itself.
As a result of Wolfgat’s location on the seashore, you see seashells in baskets, a collection of small animal skulls and Chef Kobus’s botanical infusions, all touches that render the restaurant unique. On days with clear weather, patrons enjoy their dishes with a beautiful ocean view on the patio, while on cold days and nights the chef and his team place the tables inside, lighting the fireplace to present their guests with an experience of an open kitchen.
A few steps downhill there is a cave called Wolfgat believed to have been inhabited by the locals thousands of years ago, which has inspired the name of the restaurant. Wolfgat means “wolf’s hole” or “cavern”; this archaeologically and geologically significant piece of land is the primary inspiration for the restaurant. The first archaeological exploration of the cave uncovered countless terracotta pots and sheep bones dating back up to 2000 years ago. According to local myths, many passageways lie below the cave.
Contrary to many other award-winning kitchens, this restaurant embodies a calm pace and an unruffled ambiance. Its world is built perfectly in harmony with the seasons and their natural flow. On the menu, the meat (local deer meat and lamb) is served during the season, in autumn and winter, while in summer the focus shifts to seafood from sustainable sources.
As for the desserts, each can have its own spontaneous story. As a consequence of a seasonal menu, you have to be prepared for surprises daily. For instance; if the restaurant is out of stock of a dessert ingredient like the local plant seapampoen, one of the team members might bring a bouquet from his or her garden. Kobus indicates, “ It is quite reasonable to use it because it is for free, sustainable, it grows locally and belongs to here.” The same qualities are reflected in Wolfgat’s story as well.
All the beautiful elements served by nature in all its generosity; grown and picked at the right season are revived in this simple and self-sufficient kitchen. From its low-key location in a modest village, Wolfgat continues to grow by word of mouth, mesmerizing its guests from all over the world.
words: Emre Ergenekon
photography: Warren Heath