NEW! Galjoen Restaurant – Sustainable Local Seafood with an Inner City Vibe

Words: Julie Velosa | Photography: Claire Gunn

I was recently asked by someone travelling from the UK to Cape Town, where to go for great local seafood, and honestly, I was stumped. Given that we are coastally situated, this should have been an easy question to answer, however, local and sustainable are two elements missing from many seafood restaurants in this town. I am happy to say, however, that the opening of Galjoen restaurant ticks these boxes and more – offering an unforgettable dining experience that showcases flavour and innovation through a sustainably-minded and exclusively local menu.Galjoen Restaurant Cape Town

Faces Behind the Fish

Galjoen restaurant is the brainchild of Neil Swart and Anouchka Horn, chef-patrons of another inner-city favourite – Belly of the Beast. Galjoen’s location, just a hop and a skip down from Belly in the East City Precinct, doesn’t necessarily scream ‘seafood’ but what it lacks in ocean views, it makes up for with subtle coastal décor elements and food that speaks for itself.

Chefs team at Galjoen Restaurant Cape Town

The interior space was designed by Annelise Vorster, owner of Studio NAN, and Yolandi Vorster of YV Ateljee. Taking an industrial space in the city centre and giving it a coastal nod is not an easy feat, but the duo achieved this through subtle nuances like the ship’s hull lighting feature and ceramic fittings modelled on buoys used by local fishing boats. The beautiful balcony mural by Adele van Heerden also brings a bit of the Cape coastline to this urban landscape. Interior Galjoen Restaurant Cape Town

We also had to run our hands along the glazed bricks that clad the pass –  created by local ceramicist, Amelia Jacobs, their green and black veneer shimmers differently depending on where you’re standing and almost mimic a galjoen gliding through the water. Jacobs is also to be credited for the gorgeous crockery used in the restaurant – a canvas that styles each dish like a work of art.

It’s all in the Name

Galjoen (derived from the Dutch word for a galleon sailing ship) is one of the things that you won’t actually find on the menu – the reason being that it is, in fact, a red-listed fish. You may find it a strange choice of name, however, that’s exactly the point – Swart and Horn want it to be a conversation starter. Yes, galjoen is South Africa’s national fish but it is also on the endangered list; once prolific along the coastline, its numbers have dwindled, resulting it in now being protected.

This forms the basis for the restaurant’s ‘raison d’etre’ (reason for being) – to provide a completely local menu featuring sustainably caught seafood. This premise keeps head chef, Isca Stoltz, and her team on their toes.

Catch that comes in is largely from Abalobi, Greenfish,  self-employed artisanal fishermen and other sustainable vendors and is wholly dependent on what the ocean offers up on the day. The menu will evolve and be tweaked according to this. So, dishes like their ‘fish & chips’, will remain on the menu, but the fish used in the dish may change. Trust me, this vis en tjips won’t resemble anything like what you’ll get down at Mariner’s Wharf!

Says Stoltz, “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.”

Diners won’t find any seafood from exotic global locations on the menu, everything featured is local, sustainably caught and consciously cooked and that is the difference.

Stoltz 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 Stoltz. “Everything we do in the kitchen is to make them shine.”

Dining at Galjoen Restaurant

The concept at Galjoen matches its sister restaurant, Belly of the Beast, in that the same set menu is served to everyone during specific seatings. Vegetarians and pescatarians can be catered for but substitutions and ‘dislikes’ are regrettably not.

During a recent lunch, I experienced a number of the dishes on offer and course by course I was impressed.

The fresh Saldana Bay oyster appetiser with vierge dressing, grilled pineapple salsa and lemon-black pepper emulsion was an absolute flavour bomb, with perfectly balanced salinity and sweetness.

Oysters Galjoen Restaurant Cape Town
tuna sashimi Galjoen Restaurant Cape Town

The dish of Yellowfin tuna sashimi dotted with roasted garlic aioli, caramelised ginger dressing and Scarborough-foraged nori was another favourite.

The ‘bread’ course – beautiful and tasty enough to convert any carb avoider – was also a standout; a lightly curried snoek roll, delicious on its own or slathered in fiery Kashmiri chilli-infused butter. Fire-roasted garlic buchu flatbread was torn and dunked into the delicious white wine and parsley sauce of the accompanying mussel dish, dressed with a drizzle of bright green parsley oil and delicate fennel flowers. Galjoen offers a curated wine list and can offer pairing suggestions with each course – my favourite of the day was the Glenelly Chardonnay paired with this course.

mussels Galjoen Restaurant Cape Town
Bread Course Galjoen Restaurant Cape Town

Let’s call it as it is and admit that while fish is meant to be the ingredient of the hour, when it comes to good ol’ vis en tjips, it’s the golden slap chips, slathered in salt and vinegar, that are the true hero. At Galjoen it was no different. Of course, the fish part of the dish was beautifully cooked, however, the crispy pomme anna with salt, vinegar and brown sauce was the highlight. Layers of wafer-thin potato compressed together, meltingly soft on the inside and fried to perfectly crunchy on the outside – dangerously good.

Book your Seats

Galjoen pays homage to local seafood in a way that not many other restaurants I can think of do. The commitment to sustainability is obvious and the team has created a menu that doesn’t feel like it is missing anything, specifically not any seafood that has journeyed through the sea, as well as in a box from the other side of the world. Expect a delicious meal from an accomplished team that truly practices what they preach.

Lunch: R550 per person : 12h30pm : Wednesday to Saturday
Dinner: R750 per person : 18h45pm : Tuesday to Saturday

Galjoen Restaurant – 99 Harrington Street, Cape Town | Instagram

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