Why you should care
Because it’s a whip-cracking — and … hugging — good time.
The dessert menu at Cape Town’s Bar-B-Que Steakhouse is basic, but if you’re not feeling like something sweet — and if you ask nicely — chef and owner Marius Strauss will crack his kudu-and-bushbuck hide bullwhip for you. His copper bangles glinting in the headlights on always-busy Voortrekker Road, he’ll deftly maneuver the 10-foot strip of hide, sending earsplitting cracks into the grimy night sky. If you’re really lucky, he may even let you have a go.
Wedged between a bridal hire spot and a lawnmower hospital, Bar-B-Que Steakhouse has been serving up steaks, ribs and schnitzels since 1969. The 70-seat restaurant has a reputation for massive portions (“I always give big people a little extra,” says Strauss.) and even huger welcomes — Strauss makes a point of sitting down at every table for a chat, and he talks of “friends” not “customers.”
That said, its dimly lit, wood-paneled interior is a monument to a chapter of South African history that many are trying to forget. The much-maligned old South African flag near the entrance gets quite a lot of flak on TripAdvisor, but Strauss says it “means fokol” to him and should be seen in context. The restaurant is chock-a-block with historical artifacts from the Great Trek, the Boer War and even Robben Island — most of which were there already when Strauss bought the place — in 1989!
The ladies’ ribs ($10), are big enough to down most rugby forwards.
Not that Bar-B-Que’s 2,000 monthly covers are complaining. The consistent quality of the food (Strauss grills every single dish himself — apart from the salads, which he says are “not food” — and boasts that his chip oil is “the cleanest in Cape Town”) coupled with his legendary hospitality means that dinner bookings are essential. Dining at the Bar-B-Que “has become a bit of a ritual for me,” says longtime regular Antony Schneider, who explains that it’s about a lot more than just the food: “It’s great to go somewhere with no pretense.”
The menu — almost as long as the bullwhip — includes quite a bit of seafood (calamari, fish, mussels) and a couple of veggie options (crumbed mushrooms, those salads), but most folks come here for the meat — and the cloyingly good sauces that smother it. The ladies’ ribs ($10) are big enough to down most rugby forwards, and the monkey gland rump ($13 for at least 300 grams of dry-aged SA beef smothered in a tangy tomato and chutney sauce) is a true South African classic. All meals come with fries, rice or a baked potato — and a mandatory dollop of sweet pumpkin. And a half-liter carafe of the surprisingly smooth house red will set you back only $4.50.
Schnitzel lovers can choose from an array of toppings ranging from simple to audacious. The sliced banana, ham and hot cheddar cheese on the Copacabana are probably a bridge too far for most. But that’s precisely the point — dining at the Bar-B-Que Steakhouse is all about abandoning your comfort zone. As Strauss always says, “On a bad gravel road, never ever swerve for a rabbit.”
Go There: Bar-B-Que Steakhouse
- Location: The Bar-B-Que Steakhouse is in a grimy but perfectly safe part of town about 10 miles from the city center. An Uber will set you back around $17. Map.
- Hours: Open for lunch Tuesdays to Fridays (12 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.) and dinner Tuesdays to Saturdays (6:15 p.m. until late).
- Pro Tip: The Namaqualand Special ($23) is advertised as “1 kilogram rump for the very hungry,” but it usually weighs closer to 1.3 kilograms, according to Strauss.