Fresh fish caught daily in the icy Atlantic Ocean – this is the key to the longtime success of Kalky’s, the original fish and chips restaurant in the seaside village of Kalk Bay, one of South Africa’s oldest working harbors.
In the summer of 1996, the Rosslind family started this small takeout café serving satisfying fried hake (cod) and snoek (mackerel), with fish supplied by the local fishermen of Cape Town’s Kalk Bay. Kalky’s size and menu have since grown, reflecting the harbor’s rich cultural and nautical history. But it remains a no-frills, no-fuss seafood spot, where utensils are optional and cash is king.
“It’s a home away from home. We’d leave on the boats in the morning, have lunch at Kalky’s, even supper,” said Randall Martinez, a fisherman of 28 years. Today, it’s not just local seamen enjoying the ocean’s catch; every type of character in Cape Town comes to appreciate the free soundtrack of seagulls and ocean breezes with the best fish and chips on the Southern Peninsula.
Painted in yellow, and docked outside the terrace, the boats bring in seasonal fresh fish such as snoek, cape salmon, red roman, silverfish, cob, stumpnose and crayfish. One can purchase the fish wholesale off the boats of Kalk Bay or line up outside Kalky’s for any one of half a dozen seafood favorites, the most popular being crisply fried hake and chips, cooked in sunflower oil and served with a choice of lemon wedges, chili sauce or vinegar. Along the docks, you might catch sight of the happily overweight seals that surface next to the colorful bobbing boats and gorge on the scraps from the fish-cleaning table fed to them by smiling fishmongers with sun-wizened skin. The boats in the harbor are traditional vessels that give visitors a glimpse into the day-to-day life of Kalk Bay’s extensive fishing history.
In the 17th century, Kalk Bay was home to a mix of Portuguese, Filipino, Indonesian, Italian, Afrikaans and British cultures. The diverse populations living together and subsisting on harvests from the sea over the years have influenced the variety of flavors and seafood preparations you find on Kalky’s menu. For those who like it hot, there are prawns with peri peri sauce (an African bird’s eye chili marinade) served with rice flavored by garlic, parsley and the house masala (spice blend). The grilled catch of the day is often Hottentot (black bream), brushed with a tangy sauce of lemon, garlic, olive oil and herbs and served with a choice of starch: rice, rolls or freshly cut chips. Smaller bites on the menu are fish cakes, snoek heads, samosas, pickled fish and snoek roe.
“People keep coming back for our quality,” said George Mandalios, co-owner and manager of Kalky’s since 2003. Mandalios was born near the sea in Alexandria, Egypt – part of what was the once thriving Greek community there – and moved to South Africa in 1983, finding his own ocean paradise in Kalk Bay. His own cultural flavors were added to the menu: Patrons can enjoy traditional Greek salad, spinach phyllo pies and pickled octopus in oil.
The bustling yet casual restaurant draws a constant crowd. Orders are made on arrival and when your platter of food is ready, your number is yelled and delivered to your timber picnic bench by one of the six servers dressed in a navy apron uniform. If you’re lucky, Gadeja Williams, self-appointed improv comedian for Kalky’s and server of 18 years, will call your order. But if you’re not listening, she’ll throw out a witty rhyme that will have locals in earshot chuckling with their mouths full. On Sundays, families order the suitably named Family Platter – with snoek, calamari and linefish with two orders of chips, six rolls and a liter of soda – which, like all of Kalky’s dishes, is very reasonably priced.
Seagulls squawk with excitement above the rustic seaside café, keeping a close watch, as they benefit from the generous portions at Kalky’s. Some people share their chips with the cheeky birds, while others walk the picturesque promenade to the lighthouses, where the quaint coastal town takes on postcard qualities against the mountainous backdrop and expansive ocean view. As South Africans like to say, “Local is lekker” – things close to home are often best.