Wolfgat’s Kobus On His Meteoric Rise to Global Gastronomic Stardom

By Wendell Roelf

PATERNOSTER – In a small fishing village on South Africa’s rugged west coast, restaurateur Kobus van der Merwe is struggling to process his meteoric rise to gastronomic stardom.

Chef Kobus van der Merwe poses for a portrait at the Wolfgat restaurant in Paternoster, outside Cape Town, South Africa February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham

He recently got back from Paris, where four days ago his 20-cover Wolfgat was named Restaurant of the Year at the inaugural World Restaurant Awards, also winning the remote location prize.

An entrance to the Wolfgat restaurant in Paternoster, outside Cape Town, South Africa February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham

“In our category, which was for the off-map destination… there are restaurants that we literally hero-worship and we were like, this is insane,” the food-journalist-turned-chef told Reuters TV on Friday in his first interview with foreign media since returning home.

A general shot of the Wolfgat restaurant in Paternoster, outside Cape Town, South Africa, February 22, 2019. REUTERS/ Sumaya Hisham
A staff member prepares food at the Wolfgat restaurant in Paternoster, outside Cape Town, South Africa February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham
Patrons eat lunch at the Wolfgat restaurant in Paternoster, outside Cape Town, South Africa, February 22, 2019. REUTERS/ Sumaya Hisham

Others on that shortlist included Japanese wild dining sensation Tokuyamazushi.


Of both prizes, he added: “We never dreamed of making the shortlist, let alone winning.”

Situated in Paternoster, about 160 km (100 miles) northwest of Cape Town, Wolfgat’s speciality is seafood.

A staff member prepares a lunch dish at Wolfgat restaurant in Paternoster outside Cape Town, South Africa February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham
Chef Kobus van der Merwe serves a lunch dish at the Wolfgat restaurant in Paternoster, outside Cape Town, South Africa February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham

Van der Merwe’s seven-course tasting menu pays homage to the region’s long-gone indigenous inhabitants, and his signature dishes are flavored and supplemented with ingredients foraged locally, such as seaweed and succulent plants.

They include Rooibos tea-smoked yellowtail with dune spinach and buttermilk rusk, and freshly baked bread served with bokkom (salted dry fish) butter and infused herbs.

Chef Kobus van der Merwe holds leaves of Soutlaai at the Wolfgat restaurant in Paternoster, outside Cape Town, South Africa February 22, 2019. REUTERS/ Sumaya Hisham
Chef Kobus van der Merwe prepares a lunch dish at the Wolfgat restaurant in Paternoster, outside Cape Town, South Africa February 22, 2019 REUTERS/ Sumaya Hisham

Guests at the 130-year-old whitewashed restaurant, nestled above Wolfgat cave within hearing distance of crashing waves, pay 850 rand ($60), or 1400 rand including drinks.

Van der Merwe, who took the plunge into full-time cooking before completing his culinary studies, said he had no wish to expand or replicate Wolfgat in an urban setting.

“We certainly don’t aspire to be in the city because the west coast is our muse and I can’t see Wolfgat existing anywhere else,” he said.

A staff member prepares food at the Wolfgat restaurant in Paternoster, outside Cape Town, South Africa February 22, 2019. REUTERS/ Sumaya Hisham

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

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

(Reporting by Wendell Roelf; writing by John Stonestreet)

UPDATE MARCH 2020: Paternoster’s Wolfgat named one of the Most Beautiful Restaurants in the World by Conde Nast Traveler.