As the oyster capital of South Africa, Knysna has a great array of seafood restaurants and we really could not have gone wrong with any of them. At the waterfront, though the seafood restaurants offer equally amazing views, each offered its own unique character and ambiance.
Our first meal at Knysna became our favorite place among the list and the very unique character of 34 South is a determining factor. 34 South is more than a regular restaurant. It is a food emporium with a restaurant, wine shop, deli, sushi bar, and fish monger. At another section is where baked goods and a small groceries selection were sold. This place is not huge but big enough to fit these different aspects into one place.
Seated on the patio, we each had a dozen of wild oysters. We have come to really like wild oysters on this trip to South Africa. While cultivated oysters are in abundance in the U.S., we have to find wild oysters in American restaurants. The freshly harvested wild coastal oysters tasted so wholesome and fresh with drippings of briny taste from the sea. They were excellent with our glass of wine. Wild oysters can be distinguished by their uneven shells as compared to the smoother shells of cultivated oysters.
Traveling to a country with its cuisine heavily driven by seafood meant that we got to try different types of fish that we otherwise would not have been able to. The rich and creamy snoek soup was made with smoked snoek fish, coconut milk, and a hint of aromatic Malay spices.
The deli has a wide array of cold appetizers and the items are priced according to the weight of the amount we would like on the plate, which turned out to be a great concept so we could try a few items without ordering too much. We had Mediterranean mussels were grilled with olive oil, and calamari heads with chilli peri-peri, and domades with rice and nuts rolled in vine leaves.
The Bismark Herring came in a pickled fillet and was very good without any fishiness to it.
The gamefish pate had a hint of spiciness to it with dill and capers and was great with bread. Again, the pate had no hint of fishiness to it which reflects the freshness of the fish.
With so many seafood restaurants in Knysna, 34 South stands out with its unique setup as a food emporium as well as offering the option to try a wide array of seafood items as little or as much as diners would like.
The indoor dining area of Quay Four is themed red and white which almost reminded us of typical American diners although Quay Four is far from being a diner despite its casual vibe. We chose to sit outside on the deck overlooking the very tranquil Knysna lagoon head since that was a No Wake Zone for boats.
One of the best things about travel is being able to try the local brews which was what we did. Mitchell's is brewed in Knysna and Windhoek is brewed in Namibia and named after the capital of that country. Both beers were light and refreshing which turned out perfect for us as we are not big fans of hoppy beers.
Being at the oyster capital of South Africa, another round of wild oysters was a must. Although the oysters at Quay Four were smaller than what we had the day at 34 South, they were still very flavorful and tasted wholesome. From our experience of eating oysters, the taste and flavor of the oyster are what matters and not the size. We have had huge oysters but so tasteless that they felt like they had been soaked in water, while we have had small oysters that were bursting with intensity of flavors.
The fish and chips was an absolute delight from start to finish. It was deep fried until perfectly crispy and inside the batter, the fish remained incredibly moist. The piece of fillet was so huge that the length of the fish filled the entire plate.
One of the things that I really came to love in South Africa was the croutons which always came with a perfectly soft crunch unlike the ones we have in the U.S. that usually comes with a hard crunch. Biting into the South African croutons felt like I was biting into cubes of freshly toasted bread. The mussels and clam chowder at Quay Four was rich, creamy, and full of seafood goodness.
Dry Dock & Co
Besides being situated on the original site of the first dry dock in Knysna, Dry Dock & Co did not appear to us that it stood out among the other seafood restaurants. The food was very good but the decor and characteristics of the place was everything expected of a classic seafood restaurant.
Dry Dock & Co did not offer wild oysters so we ordered cultivated ones instead which turned out to be the first time we had cultivated oysters in South Africa.
The venison carpaccio was lovely with the sauteed mushroom, arugula, and shaved cheese.
The star of the meal was the peri-peri chicken which was so intensely flavorful. First deep fried, the chicken pieces were then coated further with the peri-peri sauce made with African chili pepper. Served on a rustic newspaper cone, the fries were also very well seasoned.