Stellenbosch stakes a claim as the ‘Kingdom of Cabernet’ and nothing pairs quite as well with a glass of full-bodied red as a perfectly cooked steak. RICHARD HOLMES scouts the best spots in town for flame-grilled fare.
Traditional Charm: The Hussar Grill Stellenbosch
When it comes to steakhouses in South Africa, The Hussar Grill is a household name. With a pedigree dating back to 1964 – when Graham Texeira opened the first Hussar Grill in Rondebosch, Cape Town – it has since grown into a nationwide chain where consistency is key.
But consistency is nothing without character, and what sets The Hussar Grill Stellenbosch apart – it opened in 2010, as the third Hussar in South Africa – is that it is one of the few owner-run members of the franchise. That means you’re likely to find owner Elzahn van Lamp keeping a close eye on the floor, while general manager Danie van Rooyen is a familiar face in the cosy space on Plein Street.
And while The Hussar menu is standardised across the branches, the chalkboard menu allows each branch to put its own stamp on the food offering. In Stellenbosch that means the impressive grass-fed ‘tomahawk’, a bone-in rib-eye, sourced from Stellenbosch farm Usana. “We try to support local suppliers wherever possible,” explains Elzahn. “Both our tomahawks and our mince come from Usana.”
Another signature in the kitchen here is the generous 400g rib-eye served with canoe-cut bone marrow and served with bone marrow butter. “Just for that cherry on top,” says Danie with a smile. “Our second biggest seller is the Hollandse biefstuk, with a salt and pepper crust. Flambéed with brandy, it makes an incredible sauce.”
The Hussar Grill prides itself on never charging a corkage fee for wine, but here there’s little need to bring your own bottle along from home. Alongside an extensive wine list, the restaurant’s chalkboard offerings dig deeper into the local Winelands with a rotating selection of local estates.The decor is as reliable as the menu and there’s a definite traditional charm to the space, with its wood-panelled walls and polished bar. White tablecloths and gleaming steak knives adorn the cosy indoor tables, while wine crates fill the nooks and crannies. On a balmy evening the best tables are those outdoors, spilling out onto the small wooden terrace to offer a distinctly European ambience.
Upscale Affair: The Fat Butcher
The Fat Butcher is not a steakhouse.
Of course, on the menu here you’ll find a superb variety of steaks: pasture-reared and grain-fed, sourced from Chalmar beef. There’s an enviable wine list of exclusively Stellenbosch estates and elegant stemware adorns the tables. But that’s about where the easy comparisons end, because The Fat Butcher, housed in historic buildings on Van Riebeeck Street, breaks the mould of traditional steakhouses.
For starters, it’s a supremely elegant space of wooden floors and high ceilings, bookended by mirrored bars serving bespoke cocktails and craft beers. Here russet leather booths and wooden tables set the scene, while sash windows look out onto the bustle of Van Riebeeck Street. There are splashes of greenery on the bar and bright jazz on the speakers. Outdoors in the popular courtyard, Parisian bistro-style tables overlook the lush gardens of Grosvenor House, a stately patrician townhouse built in 1782.
No, this is not a steakhouse.
Instead, The Fat Butcher is a rather elegant dining destination with a passion for protein. On the menu you’ll find the usual prime cuts, along with Dormer lamb, poultry plates and a handful of seafood options.
But the standouts here are the four signature fillet steaks. There’s The Collins, named for the historic house that the restaurant calls home, which is fillet rolled in crushed Madagascan peppercorns and flambéed in Cointreau. The Grosvenor is a fillet accompanied by foraged mushrooms and Dijon mustard. The Huguenot? Expect port wine, roasted garlic, blistered grapes and bone marrow jus. But for sheer indulgence look no further than The Drostdy, where your fillet arrives topped with foie gras and served with a delicious date and Hanepoot reduction.
A unique touch is the dedicated knife locker for regular guests. Here loyal diners are able to purchase their choice of handcrafted, and engraved, steak knives, with handles of indigenous hardwoods. These are stored in hand-stitched leather folders in a locked side cabinet, eagerly awaiting their next outing.
Family-Favourite: Cattle Baron Stellenbosch
While some steakhouses are ideal for special occasions or a date night indulgence, you also need an everyday favourite. The kind of place to turn to when you can’t cook dinner in the dark days of load shedding. Where you’re happy to pop in on a whim, fresh from the beach or off the golf course. And the Cattle Baron Stellenbosch is that sort of place: a family-friendly steakhouse serving up reliably good food at pocket-friendly prices.
Set just outside town on the R44, the Stellenbosch branch of this popular chain has a decidedly homely feel to it, with both the main dining room and shaded terrace overlooking wide lawns and a playground to keep kids entertained while you wait.
The menu runs from prime cuts to signature steaks – try the 1kg Chateaubriand, serves four – but locals equally swear by the pork ribs, offered here as large as 1.2kg. The wine list focuses on mainstream brands, but page to the back and you’ll find a separate selection of more interesting boutique offerings, often drawn from the Stellenbosch Winelands. For more local flavour, you’ll also find Stellenbrau on tap.
THE GLAMOROUS ONE: DE VLEISPALEIS
Stuart Bailey knows a thing or two about running a restaurant. Over a career spanning 23 years, he has opened 19 restaurants and managed some of the biggest names in the local hospitality business. But in November 2020 he decided it was time to strike out on his own.
“My passion is steakhouses and I knew it was time for a lovely little steakhouse in Stellenbosch,” says Stuart, chatting in the quiet moments before the lunchtime rush at De Vleispaleis. “Nothing pretentious, nothing over the top. But great steak and well priced.”
De Vleispaleis ticks all those boxes, but there’s certainly more than steak on offer here. Flip through the menu and you’ll first be tempted by more than a dozen tapas plates.
“Guests really love the smaller plates, which can be shared across the table,” says Stuart. “Because people are going to enjoy a big steak they don’t always want a full starter, so ordering a few tapas beforehand is perfect.” These may take their cue from the time Stuart
spent exploring the pintxos bars of San Sebastian, Spain, but there’s a thoroughly local touch too. Think flame-grilled skaapstertjies finished with lemon juice and rock salt, or beef kaiings with baguette.
Still too heavy? Turn the page for the unique Raw Bar offering, where you’ll find the likes of springbok carpaccio, classic beef tartare and freshly shucked oysters. “They all do extremely well, especially on the hot days we get here in Stellenbosch,” remarks Stuart.
Of course steak remains the reason to visit, and here patrons are spoilt for choice. Alongside the prime cuts, De Vleispaleis does a roaring trade in Wagyu beef, brought in from the Eastern Cape. “Wagyu is extremely popular, but because there’s so much marbling in the meat it has to be done properly. We don’t cook it on the open grill, but rather sear it in a smoking-hot skillet, then cook to medium.”
Stuart also takes pride in ensuring everything is made on site. “We buy everything raw and everything is made in the kitchen here,” he adds. “The pork ribs, the beef cheeks, lamb shanks. All my desserts are baked on site. All the sauces are made here. It’s very important to me.” That personal touch and attention to detail extend to the decor at De Vleispaleis, which takes the well-worn steakhouse aesthetic and adds a splash of colour and glamour. Yes, there are the rich wooden floors and deep-buttoned banquettes of dark leather, but on the walls above are kudu skulls spraypainted in gold and gilded frames filled with faux portraits of cattle as aristocracy. Somehow, it all works.
In the rear dining area, the banquettes are of emerald velvet, beneath imposing wallpaper that wouldn’t look out of place in a Renaissance palace. But this is the Winelands, after all, and al fresco dining is part of the joy of cooler autumn days. Happily, there are tables in the sheltered courtyard or on the terrace facing busy Dorp Street. V