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The best restaurant of the week: Local seafood is celebrated at Galjoen

Our restaurant of the week series is back and this week we focus on the beautifully acclaimed Galjoen restaurant

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By Yashna Balwanth | June 29, 2023 | Travel Leisure

Winter in Cape Town is here but that is not stopping restaurateurs Neil Swart and Anouchka Horn of Belly of the Beast with the opening of the city’s most exciting new seafood restaurant, Galjoen. The pair have brought an intimate inner city dining experience with a curated set menu, where the spotlight falls squarely on sustainably caught South African seafood.

“People come to Cape Town and eat imported seafood, and that just makes no sense to us,” says Anouchka. “So from the beginning we decided we’re not going to cook with anything that’s imported. No prawns from Vietnam. No salmon from Norway. No calamari from Argentina.” While Anouchka and Neil have created the concept of set menus and guide the culinary philosophy for Galjoen, the kitchen belongs to Head Chef Isca Stoltz.

Owners Anouchka Horn and Neil Swart with head chef Isca Stoltz, Photography Claire Gunn

In creating the restaurant menu of elevated seafood-focused cuisine, Isca draws heavily on memories of childhood holidays in Mozambique, with shellfish foraged on the shoreline and fish fresh from the local market. Building layers of flavour, and with no shortage of creativity and technique on each plate, each dish ensures that fresh seafood is the hero. “With every single plate we really put the focus on the ingredients,” says Isca. “Everything we do in the kitchen is to make them shine.”

Fresh Saldanha Bay Oysters, Photography Claire Gunn

Galjoen will offer a set menu at the restaurant, with the number and composition of courses changing according to the whims of the weather, and what the boats bring in, leaving Isca to create new plates and tweak signature dishes according to what’s fresh. “One of the dishes that will always be on the menu is our own version of the humble fish and chips, but given our own interpretation and a bit of flair,” says Isca with a smile. “We cook the fish, whatever is fresh that day, over open coals with lemon butter. It’s a plate that’s meant to transport you to eating on the quayside, with all those wonderful flavours of salt and vinegar and fish and potatoes.”

Galjoen offers a variety of courses from their garlic bread, to octopus and mussels, Photography Claire Gunn

Perhaps ironically, the one fish you’ll never find on the menu is the namesake. Galjoen is red-listed by SASSI, and cannot be sold commercially, but for the owners the name was a matter of pride. “In all of our cooking we really celebrate South African produce and South African recipes, and by naming the restaurant Galjoen we wanted to both raise awareness of our national fish and spark a conversation with our guests around sustainability in seafood,” says Neil.

That conversation is carried through into the intuitive interior design created by Annelise Vorster, owner of Studio NAN, and Yolandi Vorster of YV Ateljee. Together the pair has shaped a stylish space that combines light-industrial elegance with a subtle coastal motif. The name ‘galjoen’ derives from the Dutch word for a galleon sailing ship, and the duo drew on these two inspirations in creating the look and feel of the restaurant.

Dinner service at Galjoen, Photography Claire Gunn

“We wanted to bring a distinct nautical feel to the space, but without being too overt,” says Annelise Vorster. “It’s relaxed, and tongue in cheek. It needed to have a bit of a twist.” That’s been neatly achieved here, with subtle aesthetic cues scattered throughout the space. Balcony balustrades may remind you of a ship’s gangway – or perhaps a fishing net – while eagle-eyed diners will notice the fish-eye mosaic that gazes up from the entranceway. Above the tables finely crafted woodwork echoes the hull of a ship, the central light fitting the rod and line that delivers each day’s catch to the chefs below, while ceramic light fittings are modeled on traditional buoys used by local fishing boats.

The dining area of Galjoen, Photography Claire Gunn

They’re the work of local ceramicist Amelia Jacobs, who also created the bespoke crockery for the restaurant, and fired the glazed bricks cladding the pass and banquette seating. In their shimmering shades of green and black, they’re reminiscent of a galjoen beneath the water. Don’t forget to look up, where the ‘barnacles’ beneath the mezzanine floor suggest diners might be beneath the waves, while out on the balcony a striking mural by Adele van Heerden brings the dramatic Cape shoreline to an inner-city setting. Pair all of that with the culinary journey created by some of the best chefs in the city, and Galjoen offers a truly immersive South African seafood experience.