I’ve never been a huge fan of game reserves that aren’t in the “real” bushveld. They’re like a bad toupee: Everyone knows it’s not genuine and even though it is accepted as an adequate alternative where the real thing no longer exists, it just never quite blends in flawlessly with the surrounds. If I can’t hear a Greenspotted Dove by day or a Scops Owl at night then I’m not buying it. That said, I would be lying if I pretended that sitting on the deck at Botlierskop near Mossel Bay, sipping on a G&T while an elephant browses in the gorge below you and Knysna louries feed in the Cheese Wood 5 feet away isn’t a rather nice way to work up an appetite for dinner.
The restaurant is distinctly African with sumptuous fabrics, thatch, wood and earthy tones of warm oranges and browns. The gorgeous ostrich shell light fittings bear testament to the fact that, in the right hands, even African kitsch can feel stylish. Depending on the number of guests, lunch and dinner is either a la carte or buffet, but always with a modern South African twist. Expect dishes such as biltong and blue cheese soufflé or waterbuck wrapped in pancetta and served with a red wine and berry jus. And if ever chocolate is going to kill you, then there can be no better way to go than their Chocolate Lava Pot. Service is friendly and efficient. Once you’ve worked your way through your meal, you can make your way back to the deck to have coffee around the massive bonfire.
The reserve offers a host of activities for both overnight guests and day visitors. There are game drives, horseback safaris, elephant rides and feeding, helicopter flights, guided walks and more.
La Locanda has long been a favourite amongst our book club members (we read wine labels). George struck it lucky when the Soresi family from Varese, Italy decided to open their restaurant in our little city. As cozy at night indoors as it is inviting under the crab apple outdoors on a summer’s day, it is perfect for Al Fresco dining with a bunch of friends or a romantic evening for two. This is Italian the way someone’s grandmother used to make it. Though probably not yours. Unless your grandmother is Italian.
Dario cures his own authentic Italian style meats and makes handmade mozzarella. The Caprese salad is my favourite dish on the menu – mainly because they are not shy to give the tomatoes a good dose of salt and olive oil. None of this sensible sodium intake rubbish. There is an extensive Chef’s Choice menu that changes all the time to make use of fresh, seasonal ingredients. Expect dishes such as Creamy Papardelle (fresh, of course) with Prawns & Mushrooms, Osso Bucco with Porcini Mushrooms and Beef Fillet on a bed of Asparagus. I very much doubt you’ll get past page 1 before you’ve made your choice, but should you peruse the standard menu there is also a large variety of dishes to choose from. Excellent choices are the Fritto Misto (crumbed and deep fried seafood with homemade aioli), pretty much all the pizzas (the bases are paper thin, slathered with a generous lick of Marinara sauce and topped with all the cured meats and mozzarella that they are famous for), Gamberi vestiti (gorgeous, crispy prawns wrapped in lardo) and the Capocollo di maiale con funghi e panna (pork neck in creamy mushroom sauce).
Service is friendly and you should expect to be called “darling” at least once before the night is out. Most of the waitrons have been with the restaurant for many years, so they really know the ins and outs of the menu. (This also means they know exactly who you are when you walk in there, so best not take your skelmpie.) The wine list isn’t large, but they have a good selection of good South African wines as well as a few special Italian ones.
La Locanda: www.la-locanda.co.za Address: 124A York Street (behind the Tourism building) Phone: 044 874 7803 Hours: 11:00 till late, Monday to Friday 18:00 till late, Saturday Closed Sundays