The Snarky Chef Behind South Africa’s Best Seafood
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Cantankerous chef with chips? Yes, please.
You won’t forget your first meal at Hook Line and Sinker in the South African coastal village of Pringle Bay. Chef Stef Kruger, whose uniform comprises a faded green T-shirt and threadbare rugby shorts, will make an impression with his cooking or with his brusque manner. Most likely both. His squid patagonica on a bed of savory rice is the best you’ll ever eat — at least that’s what he says.
Just getting to the small, 20-seater restaurant is an attraction. The 20-mile road from Gordon’s Bay to Pringle Bay hugs the precipitous False Bay coastline. From June to November it’s also an excellent place to spot the whales coming to the bay to calve. But it’s not the kind of road you want to drive at night, so if you’re planning on coming for dinner you’d best stay in the area. The nearby penguin colony and botanical gardens more than justify the outing.
Burly, bearded Kruger has been cooking since he was four years old (his policeman dad and midwife mom often used to work night shifts), and he had to stand on a chair to reach the stove. He learned his way around a bush kitchen during the 20 years he spent diamond diving on South Africa’s rugged West Coast.
Then came Hook Line and Sinker. Since 1997, for five nights a week and at lunchtime on Sunday, Kruger has been cooking simple seafood dishes over a raging wood fire (he’s tried gas and electric cookers, but says it’s simply not the same), while his wife, Jacqui, serves customers and prepares the fries that accompany most meals. The à la carte menu — delivered verbally and with no mention of prices — varies according to what has come off the boats, but usually includes wild Zululand prawns, which are pan-fried in butter and basted with homemade honey peri-peri (about $11, which is reasonable for the area). “Seafood has to be cooked as hot as possible,” he says, “with butter, not oil, in the pan.”
I’m not going to cook something I wouldn’t eat.
Chef Stef Kruger
Wednesday and Sunday nights are “steak nights,” when Kruger works his magic on dry-aged hunks of South Africa’s finest beef. Tip: Unless you want your steak bleu, which will put you in the chef’s good books for life, do not request your meat a certain way. He’ll also cook the Hollandse biefstuk (filet in a brandy sauce) the way he wants to, no discussion. “I’m not going to cook something I wouldn’t eat,” he says. The wine list, featuring only South African wines, is short but interesting and affordable.
Lunchtimes Monday to Saturday are a different story. Kruger watches TV at home while Jacqui takes over in the kitchen. And there’s only one thing on the menu — the crispiest fish and chips you’ll ever eat ($5) — but if you phone in advance you can also get fried prawns or calamari as well. Daytime dining allows for the appreciation of the restaurant’s setting beneath the towering rock formation known as Hangklip, and lays bare the complete absence of decor … save for the graffiti from admiring patrons that adorns every single brick of the walls. The lunch may be good, but you haven’t fully experienced Hook Line and Sinker until Kruger has lectured you about the virtues of “live beer” (unpasteurized brew) or ordered you to remove your hat.
Dining at Hook Link and Sinker is by reservation only, so be sure to book before heading out. And leave room for dessert. The options have barely changed in two decades, but the creme brulee — which Jacqui prepares at your table using a semi-industrial blowtorch — always gets my vote.