Port Elizabeth may be the 5th largest city by population in South Africa, but PE’s food scene has struggled to get much attention. If Gauteng is a distant second to Cape Town in leading culinary trends in South Africa, PE isn’t even on the map.
The city has much to offer tourists. It boasts some of the best dolphin, whale and penguin watching in the country. It offers malaria-free Big 5 viewing in various reserves, in addition to the famous Addo Elephant National Park. It also has a myriad of adventure experiences and heritage activities.
But when it comes to dining out, it has been found wanting. Until lately, that is.
In the last few years, Port Elizabeth has upped its game to the point that it now has a broad culinary offering with stand-out restaurants in various genres.
Each year the offering improves, with interesting restaurants popping up around the city. This year has seen the arrival of PE’s first food market. The Valley Market opened its doors in May and the level of support was completely unanticipated.
Hundreds of locals queued patiently for hours to have a wander through the market.
Over the years there have been some attempts to open trendy restaurants in PE, but a lack of support has seen them all close eventually. So are Port Elizabethans finally ready to tear up their Spur loyalty cards and join the culinary revolution that has so far left them behind? The annual Wine Show in Port Elizabeth certainly gets overwhelming support with many of the stands selling their entire wine stock on the first day of the show! It’s this sort of support that is making it possible for cool, contemporary eateries to finally establish themselves in the Friendly City.
Ginger restaurant, located next to the Beach Hotel on the popular beach front strip, has thrived with its offering of accessible fine dining. Bridge Street Brewery has not only given a face to the craft beer brewing scene in PE, but also shown locals that tapas can be filling! Around this brewery in the Baakens Valley, a few other interesting spots have sprung up. The Colonial Kitchen, The Friendly Stranger and Fratelli Foods are all worth more than one visit.
However, the real epicentre of the new wave of restaurants in PE is Stanley Street, located in the previously unremarkable suburb of Richmond Hill. Years ago, when driving up Russell Road from the freeway, on the left was the upmarket area of Central with many of PE’s best restaurants. On the right was Richmond Hill, slightly run down and perhaps under-valued. In an interesting twist of city dynamics, Richmond Hill is now the place to be, and the other side of Russel Road is now rundown and slightly dangerous.
One of the early pioneers in Richmond Hill was Vovo Telo, which started as a tiny artisan bakery a block away from Stanley Street. It grew into a very popular restaurant and has since been purchased by Famous Brands and franchised around the country. But the restaurant that was probably responsible for the kick-starting the new wave of contemporary restaurants along Stanley Street was Fushin.
Fushin Sushi & Eastern Cuisine
15 Stanley Street, Richmond Hill
+27 (0)41 811 7874
After honing his skills as a chef in Cape Town for several years, first at Willoughby’s & Co and then in his own catering business, Mark Oosthuizen opened Fushin on Stanley Street in 2009. For the first time Port Elizabeth could offers its locals and visitors top quality Asian cuisine. The menu includes exotic dishes such as Australian eel, soft shell crab and Peruvian scallops, in addition to tempura, Asian tapas and sushi.
Popular menu items include the New York, a tuna and avo California roll topped with Japanese bread crumb prawns tossed in a spicy mayo. The Peruvian Prince, a prawn style California roll topped with avo and baked Peruvian scallops. Those who are not fans of sushi may like to try the Sparta Fillet, which is cubed and tossed with potstill brandy. The website has no mention of SASSI (South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative) compliance, which is disappointing. Hopefully they will pay some attention to this important issue. In the meantime as a consumer, be sure to only buy seafood on the green list. Click this link to download the SASSI seafood classification card.
Fushin has expanded and taken over another space two doors down. The Fushin Lounge specialises in whisky and is the perfect place to pass some time while waiting for a table to become available at the restaurant.
Corner of Stanley & Moffat Streets, Richmond Hill
+27 (0)41 585 1306
Le Med was originally on the other side of Russel Road, when that was the better side. It was very popular in its day, but as the area degenerated it eventually closed down. Some years later Le Med has popped up again and is still very popular.
The brightly coloured serviettes and plastic chairs can create the initial impression that this restaurant is more about festivities and less about the food. But while there is certainly a great vibe at Le Med, the food always receives rave reviews.
The menu is extensive, as it would have to be to ‘sample the flavours and tastes of the countries around the Mediterranean’. Lamb is a house specialty. Enjoy a shank in a tagine with tomato, harrisa, coriander, ginger, cumin, cinnamon, apricots and figs or try the piccolo, baby lamb shank prepared in a Bordelaise style French sauce. I was assured that the seafood never disappoints either. Mains are served with vegetables of the day and a choice of starch, or interestingly, ‘cauliflower mash’ for the Banters out there.
1 Stanley Street, Richmond Hill
+27 (0)41 585 0371
Perhaps Two Olives should be called One Olive now as it recently halved in size. With the exit of one partner, the restaurant downsized, giving up the downstairs section. This is bad news for patrons because it’s now even more difficult to get a table at this popular eatery, but the upshot is that the kitchen is not over-stressed and the service is quicker. The menu is described as ‘Mediterranean with a South African twist’, offering tapas, main meals and pizzas. The lamb shank spring rolls and the crispy fragrant prawns are firm favourites from the tapas menu, as are the Greek-style lamb chops and albondigas (Spanish meatballs in sauce). For those with a more substantial appetite, the espetada is a reliable option and the pizzas are popular for a reason (try the slow roasted lamb pizza with spinach, onions, mushrooms, & parmesan shavings).
For The Love Of Wine
20 Stanley Street, Richmond Hill
+27 (0)72 566 2692
Somebody deserves a medal for having the courage to open a wine bar in PE and stock it with fantastic wines. Visitors from Cape Town will feel at home and will be very pleased to find some of their favourite wines there for much less than they would pay back in the Mother City. For The Love Of Wine sells wine for on and off consumption, and they are open until late so a great option if you need a bottle of wine at the last minute.
For The Love Of Wine is not actually a restaurant, it’s a wine bar. They don’t have a kitchen, but if the snacks of olives, biltong and cheese don’t satisfy you, you can order from the other restaurants around. They will deliver to you and FTLOW will provide you with what you need to eat comfortably, like cutlery and serviettes, etc. That actually makes it a clever option for when your favourite restaurant is full!
The lounge is cosy and comfortable, a perfect place to spend time with friends and taste some new wines. Chat to them about their regular wine education evenings which include presentations by the winemakers. There are many other great restaurants on Stanley Street. Fans of Greek food should visit Yiayia’s or Zorba’s. Meat On Stanley is a good destination for meat connoisseurs. There are many more restaurants and still more to come. At the time of writing, there were three new restaurants under construction on Stanley Street.
Turn off Stanley Street onto Bain Street and you’ll find Flava and The Bain Street Grill. Less than 5 minutes’ walk away you will find plenty of other great dining options such as Royal Delhi for fans of Indian cuisine and The Beer Yard for a great craft beer selection and killer burgers.
There are a bunch of new restaurants opening around the city and undoubtedly there will be some more gems among them. It seems that the days of tourists and visitors being disappointed by the culinary offerings in PE will soon be long forgotten, making this city a well-rounded destination.
Dax Villanueva is a Cape Town based lifestyle blogger. Follow his adventures on his blog www.relax-with-dax.co.zaand get live updates via social media by following him on Facebook, Twitter& Instagram.