Muisbosskerm – the first restaurant of its kind to open on the Cape West Coast. Free from haute cuisine and cutlery, Muisbosskerm is unquestionably the most popular open-air eatery in South Africa. Since its inception in the early Nineties, there have been many interpretations but none have come close to the real thing. Although my inaugural visit was 3 years prior, I had lost the piece I had originally penned during my last great blog crash (I failed to back up any of my articles and imagery before changing web hosts). Subsequently I’ve been hankering for a return visit ever since and fortunately the opportunity arose last month.
Situated between the coastal towns of Elandsbaai and Lambert’s Bay, Muisbosskerm is the best spot to enjoy traditional Weskus fare cooked over the coals and served up over the course of a few hours (and a few bottles of wine). As the guest of Joos Engelbrecht and Theunette van Heerden of Kookfontein, I had the benefit of staying close by in their farm cottages. Opting for accommodation nearby is a must for anyone wanting to head to the restaurant for their famed lunches and dinners as eating at Muisbosskerm is not a rushed affair. Naturally I spent my first 20 minutes in photojournalist overdrive, as this outdoor eatery offers up exactly what one would expect from the West Coast. Rustic, windswept and salt-bleached, accessible only from a dirt road out of a fishing town. In other words, my personal idea of paradise. Shells adorn the wooden foundation posts and bokkoms (salted, dried harder fish) hang in the eaves.
Catering best to bigger parties, expect picnic benches and marble-topped tables, a communal fire pit and more food than the average diner could ever hope to consume in a single sitting. With lunch and dinner each lasting about 2 to 3 hours and serving up multiple courses, the highlight is the seafood. Locally-caught and endorsed by SASSI, be sure to try a bit of everything – there are few than can prepare fish in the true West Coast way. Salted snoek is pegged to dry in the warm afternoon wind, offering a picturesque foreground to kilometres of deserted beach while fillets of hake are salted and fried to golden perfection over the coals. Crashing waves and the screech of gulls provide the soundtrack to what is a hive of activity as dinner is prepared by Muisbosskerm’s team of skilled cooks. Multiple fires are lit in the concrete pits whilst the tempting scent of mackerel, angelfish and snoek emanate from cavernous smokers. The atmosphere is convivial and expectant, with tables claimed and wine uncorked. I visited at the tail-end of August and so was treated to an early sunset, a glass of Kookfontein’s famed single-block Sauvignon Blanc in hand.
Named after the muisbos, an indigenous bush used by native herdsmen to build small temporary dwellings while grazing their livestock, there are no citified luxuries at Muisbosskerm; the starring factor is definitely the food while the lack of electronics (bar the rather industrial lighting) adds to the restaurant’s rustic appeal. After sunset, the eternal crashing of the Atlantic provides the perfect background music and the sense of community within the restaurant made things increasingly warmer, although an excellent wine list and a few fleecy blankets aided and abetted. There are no waiters and everything is self-service, but the bevy of local ladies preparing everything from the caramelised sweet potato (a must-try) to the seafood are artists with their collection of cast iron cooking pots, and the homely setting is one of the most comfortable and inviting I’ve ever experienced. It’s easy to see how time seems to slow down here.
When it comes to food, little comes close to the spread of local delights laid on by the Muisbosskerm team. Join the tourists in the buffet line and help yourself to an abundance of seafood ranging from smoked snoek, angelfish, paella, mussels, fried hake, calamari, rollmops, bokkoms and crayfish in all of it’s coral-hued glory. For those not as enamoured with ocean bounty, there is a choice of traditional boerekos like waterblommetjiebredie, tripe stew and veldkoolbredie. The potato yeast bread, served steaming hot straight from the oven with farm butter and homemade apricot, green fig and orange konfyt (preserves) is a meal on it’s own, so be sure to take it easy on the eating and treat each course at Muisbosskerm like a tasting menu – a little goes a long way. There are also no knives or forks, and the delicious fare is greedily scooped up with the half-mussel shells provided – but remember that when it comes to crayfish, fingers are the most fun. For the sweet-toothed and those with hollow legs after all that food, dessert arrives in the form of stickily syrupy koeksusters and moerkoffie served in enamel kettles. The ideal conclusion to the ultimate destination dining experience one can have on the Weskus.
Booking is essential as although other similar spots like The Strandkombuis in Yzerfontein and Die Strandloper in Langebaan have appeared with the growing trend of rustic restaurants, Muisbosskerm is the still one of the more popular places for those following the surf, the sunset and the seafood.