The 20 Top Foodie Experiences in the Cape Karoo

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The 20 Top Foodie Experiences in the Cape Karoo
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The 20 Top Foodie Experiences in the Cape Karoo
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Defined by wide-open spaces, dreamy hamlets and lost-in-time towns surrounded by vast farmlands grazed by sheep and gazed upon by night skies ablaze with stars, the true personality of the Karoo is found in its prodigiousness, and its endearing hospitality. The land is charmed, and whether that means innovation and creativity in the face of drought, or effortless abundance when times are good and water is in ceaseless supply, the fact remains that some of South Africa’s heartiest meals are served in this part of the world.

Plus there’s the characteristic presence of fresh produce, tasty meats from sheep that dine on herbaceous grasses and shrubs that sprout from this hard-wearing land, and – to service weary travellers – farm stalls that pop up in unexpected places, stocked with everything handmade, home-cooked and locally-spiced. Plus a few butchers and bakers and, of course, the olive farmers who have made it their business to squeeze some of the country’s best oils from one of agriculture’s most valuable crops. Whatever you thought you knew about the Karoo, the real way to get to its heart, is by tucking in, taste buds at the ready…

African Relish

A headline act in the Western Cape’s Great Karoo, Prince Albert is a buzzing little town of well-preserved Victorian and Art Deco architecture that sparkles in a fertile valley at the foot of the Swartberg mountains. Clean water that flows off the high slopes has supplied the town’s gardens, groves and various surrounding farms (olives, figs, grapes all grow around here) for years. In more recent decades, a revival wrought by an influx of curious, itchy-fingered new residents has triggered a surge in traveller-friendly activities. African Relish, a beautiful culinary school on the main road, has been the key instigator, luring food-loving tourists to its novel cooking classes and attracting celebrity chefs as well as local farmers and kitchen fundis to demonstrate their talents.
With its bright, funky, state-of-the-art kitchen – and gorgeous views and lovely garden – the school sets the scene for all kinds of immersive culinary experiences. Students might eat what they cook for lunch and then contribute to preparations for dinners served to paying customers that night. Locally-sourced ingredients are a focus and courses tend to have a traditional South African flavour – their most popular course is Karoo Tapas. Students often forage in the vegetable, herb and flower garden for many of their ingredients.
The school’s new operators – sisters Madri and Orscilla Luttig – also operate the Chef’s Café (open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday) that serves pizzas alongside a varied menu.
Good to know African Relish runs two types of courses throughout the year. Easy to book at short notice are the Anytime cooking courses (such as Karoo Classics or Vegetarian), which are either half- or full-day affairs. Scheduled weekend courses with invited chefs (such as Neil Jewell, Nina Timm or Stef Marais) may be longer and linked to specialised activities.
Contact 023 541 1381 or 076 048 5959,
Where to find it 34 Church Street, Prince Albert, Great Karoo, Western Cape


Fresh is the operative word for this brand-new Prince Albert restaurant established by renowned charcutier and chef Jeremy Freemantle (who has long associations with the town’s African Relish culinary school, and whose Real Food Company was a Prince Albert food favourite). His new spot eschews the rustic Karoo decor often found in eateries across the region in favour of a pared-back modern interior and a contemporary, globally-inspired menu to match. We visited a week and a half after it had opened and bumped into Bertus Basson, who’d just arrived on his Harley!
There are 10 to 15 items (depending on what Jeremy finds fresh and in-season) on the menu that can be eaten as mains or starters, plus two desserts. We ordered the Asian chicken salad, Korean fried chicken wings and beef tataki, all of which were utterly delicious and packed with fresh, clean flavours. Service is polished and professional. It’s definitely worth a stop on your next road-trip adventure.
Opening times Tuesday – Saturday, 6pm – 9pm
Contact 063 682 5302,
Where to find it 61 Church Street, Prince Albert

Weltevrede Fig Farm

Among the country’s original fig farms (and perhaps one of the most beautifully tucked-away places you will ever venture into), this gorgeous old estate sprawls out in a dreamy valley below the Swartberg, reached via a dirt road that you follow for some 20km. It’s a great place to make your acquaintance with how figs are grown, and also harvested and processed – at the right time of year (fig season is from end-January to end-April). See figs being laid out in the sun to dry, and discover what differences exist between little Cape brown figs and big purple Adam figs. With some 2 000 fig trees, it’s a considerable enterprise, and yet the atmosphere is utterly laid-back and genteel – which makes stopping in for a beverage and maybe a slice of fig tart at the charmed little tea shop a worthwhile excursion. There are self-catering farm cottages, too, all completely off-grid. Weltevrede supplies fresh figs to Woolworths, and its farm shop sells dried fruit, jams and preserves. But it’s the boxes of fresh figs that will make you an addict (however many figs you think you need, buy more!).

Opening times Monday – Friday, 9am – 4pm; Saturday, 9am – 2pm
Contact 087 095 6229,
Where to find it Weltevrede Farm, Weltevrede Road, which is at the end of a dirt road about 25km from Prince Albert, Great Karoo, Western Cape

Karoo Biltong 

Even if the Karoo town of Laingsburg isn’t on your bucket list, it’s worth keeping it in mind on your next road trip – particularly if you want to sink your teeth into some delicious biltong, cured by the inimitable Henk van Zyl, proud proprietor of this excellent meat-lover’s stop on the main road (the N1, in fact) that cuts through the town. Inside Henk’s shop, it’s not exactly cutting-edge decor, but instead you might spot a zebra head on the wall, a few posters, and shelves laden with all sorts of Karoo products – besides dried fruit and preserves, they do amazing pies here, and sell honey, olives, rusk, and other handmade items, like boerseep (farmer’s soap) and crocheted items. The main focus, though, is the fresh, tender, well-spiced biltong – it’s the sort of dried meat that will keep you returning again and again. There are a few special products, such as the garlic droëwors and the chilli bites, which are deemed a favourite, plus there’ll be kudu or springbok biltong (or both) available – stock up! The secret, says Henk, is that everything is naturally dried, and none of the biltong is outsourced. If you’re not all that clued up about biltong, the staff will provide some insight. These days, there’s another reason to stop, too: a mobile coffee truck, Koffie en Kie, is now parked right outside.
Opening times Monday – Friday, 8am – 5:30pm; Saturday, 8am – 2pm; Sunday, 9am – 1pm
Contact 023 551 1619,
Where to find it On the N1, in the centre of Laingsburg

Lazy Lizard

Prince Albert’s main drag is full of variety: boutiques, art galleries, museum, even a funky-looking theatre in a fabulous Art Deco building, plus all sorts of places to pop in for a meal. An inviting spot that’s evolved into quite the hub is this farmstall-cum-restaurant with its soulful atmosphere that spills out from what was once a bus terminal (built in 1903) onto a verandah and then into a lovely garden, where you can keep one eye on what’s cooking in town, and another on the birds flitting about in the treetops. You kind of sink in and get comfy, and quickly feel 100% at home. It’s owned by Juan Pastrana, a Peruvian who has ensured that the Lazy Lizard serves noteworthy coffee, and his South African wife Caryn. They serve a varied and satisfying menu (with a wine list to boot), and cater to a mixed crowd – you’ll find locals, tourists, and even folks tinkering on their laptops (there’s free wifi). The food’s good too, from hearty breakfasts to full-on lamb curries – it’s kind of an all-day brunch venue that segues into mealtimes on either side of midday, too. Plus there’s a huge range of local homemade goodies laid out on the tables and shelves inside the shop. Just go – and feel like you’re part of the town.
Opening times Daily, 7am – 7pm
Contact 023 5411 379 or 071 103 8079,
Where to find it 9 Church Street, Prince Albert

Yellow House

The name’s a giveaway, so you can’t miss it. In this yellow-walled guesthouse in Prince Albert, the affable Petro Lotz specialises in highly localised farm-to-fork cuisine, which is thought through all the way down to planting each season’s crop of garden veggies and herbs to meet the needs of her upcoming menus, which change every second month. Meat is locally sourced, as are the cheeses (Petro’s husband, Joubert, is a cheese wizard). So, from duck spring rolls to lamb shank, fried burritos to crisp vegetables in a Thai green curry, it’s only a few outlier ingredients (such as calamari) that come from far away. Plus Petro turns out beautiful pizzas (for a taste of the Karoo, try the Casablanca – it’s topped with slow-roasted lamb, tzatziki served on the side), and there’s a wonderful burnt-butter fig tart when figs are in season. Petro also presents the odd cooking class, handing over a few of her special ways with Karoo farmstyle cooking. Attending one will probably make you want to relocate here and settle in for a life lived close to the land.
Opening times Thursday – Monday, 12pm – 8:30pm (pizzas), 6pm – 8:30pm (à la carte available)
Good to know The restaurant boasts a good wine selection, and pizza-and-wine-pairing events can be arranged for groups of 6 people and more.
Contact 082 480 3725, (booking essential)
Where to find it 519 Christina de Wit Street, Prince Albert

Karoo Blessings

“It’s a whole different taste,” says Marian Esterhuizen, co-founder of Karoo Blessings, a tiny home-kitchen operation in the tiny blip-in-the-middle-of-nowhere Karoo town of Merweville. Marian makes Italian-style nougat with her friend and business partner Suzaan Theron, and they say it’s “a softer, melt-in-the-mouth nougat that’s very different from the French-style nougat that we’re familiar with in South Africa”. The duo started their nougat enterprise in response to the drought that has afflicted the Karoo for going on a decade now. A portion of what they earn is donated to Merweville’s farmers. It’s 100% a home operation, completely hands-on and, says Marian, “a miracle rather than a business,” since it has made such a difference to the lives of the people in their small community. They sell their nougat at Karoo farm stalls, but will also send it to you with a courier; just WhatsApp or email them. Or you can pop in for a cup of coffee and a chat to taste and buy directly from their nougat factory when you’re in town (just please call in advance). They make 13 different flavours, some of them pretty original and slightly outlandish. A box of seven bars of nougat (it’ll be a surprise which of the 13 flavours you get) costs R240 – of that, R30 gets donated to local farmers.
Opening times Monday – Friday, 9am – 5pm
Contact 083 659 4684,
Where to find it 59 Voortrekker Street, Merweville

Karoo Kombuis

The story goes that a trio of SAA “trolley dollies” settled in Prince Albert when their careers delivering in-flight chicken or beef came to an end. They decided to open a little fly-by-night kind of restaurant and it became a hit. It’s still a treat, decades on, with no-frills, nothing fancy, just proper plates of proper Karoo food. Oh, and a side-order of quirky service and decor, and quite the vibe. It’s marvellously intimate and old-school, with things like slow-roasted Karoo lamb, chicken pie, and bobotie, or a plate comprising three Karoo-reared meats plus veggies, and finished off with malva pudding. Heed the message on the menu board outside reminding you to bring your own wine (it’s BYO as far as the drinks are concerned, and many customers end up kuiering until very late – late for Prince Albert, at least!). It’s relaxed, down-to-earth and definitely nothing fancy, in fact you might meet guys in wigs and dresses having a laugh and making everyone feel like they’re sitting down to a family gathering. Oh, and no credit cards – hard cash only!
Opening times Monday – Saturday, from 6.30pm until late; booking essential
Contact 023 541 1110
Where to find it 18 Doordrift Street, Prince Albert, Great Karoo, Western Cape

Gay’s Guernsey Dairy

It wasn’t too long ago that you would see Prince Albert residents lining up, containers in hand, to collect their day’s supply of untainted Guernsey milk from Gay van Hasselt’s award-winning dairy, which sits at one end of the town’s main road. Local residents still come and refill their containers every morning between 7am and 12pm for their share of fresh milk or yoghurt. The creamy goodness is churned out by a special herd of Guernsey cows, who you can meet just around the corner from the little shop with its stocked fridges full of delicious cheeses, farm-fresh yoghurts, milk and cream. If you have even a vague infatuation with cheese, you must stop by – to sample and then stock up (bring an empty cooler box and prepare to load up). Gay started in 1990 with just three cows, and although her herd has grown and her operation has evolved to supply a huge variety of cheeses (from feta and mozzarella to a Parmesan-style cheese matured for over a year, Cheddars ranging from mild to marvellously strong, easy-going Goudas and a 18-month-matured Gruyere-like Queen Vic), it still has the heart of a small-town farming operation. The 35 cows (each is known personally by name) graze freely and everything’s natural, unpasteurised and uncontaminated by hormones and antibiotics. Word to the wise: the drinking yoghurts are phenomenal – always buy more than you think you want.
Opening times Monday – Friday, 7am – 4pm; Saturday, 7am – 3pm; Sunday, 7am – 12pm
Contact 023 541 1274,
Where to find it 4 Church Street, Prince Albert

Hope Warrior Coffee Bar

The Prince Albert Community Trust does amazing work in the largely agricultural town where poverty continues to be a burden and can often blight the future for many children. PACT’s Hope Warriors run children’s yoga sessions, teach art classes and offer lots of stimulating activities that foster active minds and potentially stir hope for a better tomorrow. To bolster its funds and raise awareness about what PACT does, there’s this sweet little coffee bar that we think is an essential stop in Prince Albert. Locals will tell you they serve the best coffee in town, and the wonderful barista, Percy Koonthea, will make you believe that all the hype is real; not only does he brew a masterful cup of the black stuff, but he also has pancakes and pasteis de nata, and makes a mean coffee milkshake. There’s also a decent selection of second-hand books for sale, and aside from the simple joy of seeing Percy’s warm smile, your visit will add a heart-melting non-touristy half-hour to your time in town.
Opening times Monday – Friday, 8am – 4pm
Contact 082 407 4079,
Where to find it 42B Botterblom Street, Prince Albert

The Fat Fig Restaurant

The hamlet of Klaarstroom (it’s name means “clear stream”) is little more than a hotel – in that sense, it screams “Karoo” and is precisely the sort of quiet, rural, isolated place you will probably always remember. This restaurant with the gorgeously off-the-wall name is a great reason to trek out here. It’s at the hotel, which has been around since 1874 and still sports its handsome original Victorian livery. Besides a menu offering traditional Karoo dishes, it puts on a formidable Sunday roast lunch. You can also stop by for a sumptuous breakfast, or come for lamb chops, burgers or some time at the bar, done out in yellowwood with a display of Victorian relics and an old wagon wheel.
Opening times Restaurant: Monday – Saturday, 8am – 8pm; Sunday, 8am – 5pm
Bar: Monday – Thursday, 11am – 8pm; Friday – Saturday, 11am – 12am; Sunday, 11am – 5pm
Contact 082 708 1464,
Where to find it Klaarstroom Hotel, Klaarstroom, Great Karoo, Western Cape

O for Olive

Olives are big business in the Karoo, and there are several farms producing quality olive oil close to the culinary hub of Prince Albert. This is one of them, situated a few kilometres out of town at Swartrivier Farm, where there’s also a lovely little café-style restaurant with a gorgeous setting. It’s especially lovely if you’re outside, enjoying the Karoo air in the shaded garden and patio, with running water and handsome views of the mountains. While Café O does sit-down tapas-style lunches, you can also visit to do the farm tour (which takes you through the entire process, from growing to seeing how oil is pressed in the factory, and culminates in a tasting), or simply to stock up on tapenades, olives soaked in interesting flavours, and extra virgin olive oil (it doesn’t get much fresher than this).
Café O opening times Tuesday – Friday, 9am — 4pm; Saturday – Sunday, 9am — 2pm
Contact 023 541 1917, 061 882 2151 (Café O reservations),
Where to find it Swartrivier Farm is 4 km from Prince Albert on the Kruidfontein Road (turn at the Prince Albert Golf Club and follow the signs), Great Karoo, Western Cape

Die Boekklub Koffiewinkel & Padstal

You might not have heard of the romantic Afrikaans TV show called Die Boekklub which was filmed in Merweville, a place virtually no one has heard of. But that shouldn’t exempt you from detouring from the N1 to find this lovely, sociable café that’s inspired by the show (and was used as a location in Season 3) and has autographed behind-the-scenes production stills up on the walls. Don’t be surprised to find lots of locals chewing the fat here, either on the verandah or inside in one of the rooms – it’s a converted house (the third-oldest house in the town, in fact) so feels marvellously old-fashioned, and the service is just darling. There are cakes on display, the coffee is excellent, and no one ever complained about a breakfast here – always prepared with love and pretty hearty. Then there are the heaped burgers, the pies and quiches, and the toasted sarmies made with proper farm bread. They have a licence to sell beer and wine, so prepare to linger. Plus they sell cute enamelware items – the Boekklub-branded tin mugs are a great souvenir if you’re an espresso drinker.
Opening times Saturday – Tuesday, 9am – 2pm; Wednesday – Thursday, 8am – 4pm; Friday 8am – 7pm
Contact 023 880 0315,
Where to find it 111 Hugenoot Street, Merweville, Great Karoo, Western Cape

Matjiesfontein: Lord Milner Hotel Dining Room, The Laird’s Arms Pub + The Coffee House

In Matjiesfontein, the tiny town almost entirely devoted to giving visitors a time-travel experience back 140 years or so, there’s a choice of three places to tuck in for a bit of sustenance on a long N1 road trip. At the Lord Milner Hotel (which pretty much is the town), the Victorian-style Dining Room is decked out in wood and antiques, and serves proper plates of food in grand old style: think lamb chops, or perhaps a slab of Karoo springbok steak, followed by malva pudding, perhaps with the piano being played in the background. Or you can head next door to soak up the atmosphere at The Laird’s Arms and enjoy a cracking pub lunch (don’t miss their locally-inspired Matjiesfontein Lager). Another option is the converted Logan’s General Store, which dates back to 1888, and is now The Coffee House, a fine spot (with a pretty courtyard) for a light lunch, freshly baked pastries, or something sweet to go with your Java.
Opening times The Dining Room is open daily, 7am – 9pm; Pub lunches at The Laird’s Arms daily, noon – 2:30pm
Contact 023 561 3011,
Where to find it Matjiesfontein, just off the N1, Great Karoo, Western Cape

Prince Albert Markie

Every Saturday morning, if you get up with the roosters, you can join Prince Albert locals and some farmers from the area at the little food-focused market that’s been doing things the Karoo way since 1997. There’s lots of lovely local produce, and lots of opportunities to chat with residents in the intimate environment. You’ll find plenty of preserves and baked goods, and whatever’s just off the trees. There’s locally roasted coffee, or “blikbeker moerkoffie met kondensmelk” (filter coffee with condensed milk served in a tin cup), plus jaffles (proper old-school toasties made in a jaffle iron), and things like pancakes and roosterkoek. Handmade items, secondhand books, used items in good condition and sometimes even a few antiques are also for sale.
Opening times Saturday, 8am – 12pm.
Good to know There’s also a monthly evening event (Moonlight Market). Keep an eye out for details on its social media pages.
Contact 074 818 2740 (Jacqueline Rossouw), 023 541 1366,
Where to find it Market Square (adjacent to the Fransie Pienaar Museum), Church Street, Prince Albert, Great Karoo, Western Cape

Prince Albert Olives

What started as a small, boutique-scale operation has evolved into a producer of some of the best olive oil in the country – a so-called “Karoo blend” of extra virgin oils extracted from frantoia, coratina and FS17 olives. If you visit the factory not too far from the centre of Prince Albert, you can buy the award-winning oil packaged in gorgeously nostalgic yellow tins adorned with an emblematic wind pump. Provided things aren’t too hectic, you can also get a quick tour of the operation – if they aren’t currently pressing oil, you will be taken into the pressing room, otherwise there are windows through which you can spy on the cold-press machinery in action. They also sell jars of their kalamata olives, and Wendy Marais, who runs the shop and will show you the factory, oversees a trio of self-catering cottages, each named for a different olive variety.
Opening times Monday – Friday, 7.30am – 1pm
Contact 023 541 1687,
Where to find it 20 Hope Street, Prince Albert, Great Karoo, Western Cape

The Boeteka Padstal

Who doesn’t love a place to stretch legs, use a clean loo and freshen up with coffee and a quick bite when you’re in the middle of nowhere? This farmstall really is on a farm, and features David Lynch-does-the-Karoo decor, which makes detouring to reach it quite a treat. There is so much to look at, so many nifty (and unusual) things to inspect – the shelves and tables and walls are stocked with everything from Le Creuset pots to books and honky outback souvenirs, plus jams, preserves and baked goods. But, of course, you come for the coffee and the roosterkoek, and the fresh-off-the-farm frozen Karoo lamb chops that you can take away to put on your braai wherever you’re heading.
Opening times Daily, 8am – 5pm
Contact 082 500 6603,
Where to find it On the N12, just south of Beaufort West, Great Karoo, Western Cape

Green Prince Gin Bar

While the minimalist, contemporary styling of this bar at Prince Albert’s stalwart Swartberg Hotel isn’t going to win any awards for cosiness, it can be rather a lot of fun trying out the various local gins on offer, hearing opinions from the bartender about why each is a winner, and what botanicals went into the mix. Aside from such notable gins as Inverroche, Wilderer, and Six Dogs Blue with its unusual colour-changing formula, there’s a pub menu of ploughman’s lunches, kudu burgers and rump steak. You can also opt for a platter of distinctly South African finger food – miniature bunny chows (that’s curry in a hollowed-out bread loaf), beef sosaties, biltong-and-cream-cheese truffles, and chakalaka bites – or a more general pub-style platter with everything from chicken strips to samosas and spring rolls. They do cater to vegetarians, and have a small children’s menu, too.
Opening times Monday – Thursday, 2 – 11pm; Friday – Sunday, 11am – 11pm (kitchen closes at 9pm)
Contact 023 541 1332,
Where to find it 77 Church Street, Prince Albert, South Africa

Karoo Bierstro

For a younger vibe in Prince Albert, and a menu of burgers, beers and other booze (plus great shakes), there’s this slick, hip joint on the main road. It opened in December 2022 and has started making waves for its choice of fillings that extends to premium house choice, the Wagyu beef patty. Also available are standard beef burgers, chicken burgers and a falafel burger for vegetarians. It does other comfort nibbles, such as bierballetjies, jalapeño poppers and loaded fries, and has Karoo lamb chops – delectably grilled, of course – and a mean Karoo lamb burger. Still, people do love to pop in for the vibe that comes with their choice of on-tap bevvies – besides a range of craft beers, they have cider, gin and tonics, and their house speciality Karoo Diesel, aka brandy and ginger ale. There’s wine, too, and proprietor Martin Hitge also makes leather wallets, belts and handbags (all by hand) – on sale from the on-site boutique.
Opening times Tuesday, 4 – 8pm; Wednesday – Saturday, 11am – 8pm; Sunday, 11am – 3pm
Contact 071 342 9006,
Where to find it 6A Church Street, Prince Albert, Great Karoo, Western Cape

Oppikoppi Padstal & Slaghuis

It’s one of those tiny, middle-of-nowhere towns you barely know exist until you fly through as you’re (sadly) racing between Cape Town and Joburg. Our advice: when you see the signs for Leeu-Gamka, get ready to pull over. Because, yes, at this farm shop you can get a coffee, have some decent country food and pick up snacks for the rest of your road trip – but what you will not want to miss is the butchery (that’s “slaghuis” in case you’re wondering). It’s a phenomenon in this tiny hamlet, and one that people inevitably get effusive about. There’s Karoo lamb, beef and wild game biltong in abundance (in winter), but if you have the time, do grab a seat, because people always rave about the braaied meat that’s served here, enabling you to sample the goods in situ – portions of properly grilled meat accompanied by roosterkoek or chips and a sweet milkshake. Because it’s a road trip, after all.
Opening times Monday – Friday, 8am – 2am; Saturday, 8am – 9pm; Sunday, 9am – 9pm
Contact 068 511 7189
Where to find it N1, Leeu-Gamka, Great Karoo, Western Cape