Arriving in Knysna on a quiet Tuesday morning and driving over the bridge to Thesen Island we wondered where all the people were. It looked like a bit of a ghost town to be honest. We wandered around for a while thinking that there had been some sort of viral epidemic that had claimed the lives of all the inhabitants overnight.
Then we spotted Ile de Pain, our main reason for visiting Knysna. It was packed with people eating at the wooden tables or queueing to buy the fabulous bread and cakes. It was like the whole of the town and a fair few tourists were sharing in the joy that the the Ile de Pain experience brings.
We had reservations for lunch and it was only 11 am. You have no idea how much I wish we had booked for breakfast too. I had to get a blow dry just to waste some time before lunch. We also had a look around a new boutique hotel called The Turbine which is a converted wood fired electricity power station. Its industrial past combines with chic comfortable design pieces to create a contemporary space with a relaxed vibe.
But back to the food. We arrived at Ile de Pain hungry and excited. For lunch the vegetarian choices are excellent. I went for the Butternut Squash and Chickpea Cakes with tomato salsa, tzatziki and fruit chutney. The Washer Up ordered the Halloumi Bruschetta with rocket and a lemon caper vinaigrette. Other options that looked equally good were the Wild Mushroom Tart with roast tomatoes, leeks and a shitake mushroom pesto or The IDP Pissaldiere, a thin crust french style pizza topped with caramelised onions, mozzarella, olives and rocket.
Both dishes were delicious. The squash & chickpeas cakes were light and spiced with cinnamon. Too often any cakes made with pureed chickpeas can be dense and heavy. The bruschetta was amazing – I can see why their Companio bread is so popular. It’s chewy, crunchy, airy and has fantastic flavour. The dressing was zingy to contrast with the salty Halloumi and the heirloom tomatoes and peppadew peppers were sweet and spicy.
Stuffed as we were from cleaning our plates, I was still powerless to resist when they brought around a two tiered cake stand filled with all the different cakes and pastries they had on offer that day. The difficult thing was which ones to choose.
They very cleverly put the lunch and breakfast menus on the same sheet so you get to see both. I couldn’t think of leaving Knysna without trying out the breakfasts too so we decided to come back the following day.
I ordered the Green Envy, scrambled eggs, basil pesto, rocket and parmesan on wholegrain toast which was lovely but The Washer Up made me green with envy when his choice arrived at the table. “Como” is delicious steamed vegetables, mushrooms, poached egg and tomato shitake pesto. It has a slightly Asian flavour from the vegetables and is the best breakfast dish I have ever eaten. Yes I had to help him eat it, for research purposes only, you understand. The poached egg was perfect too.
We were meeting up with my Dad on the next leg of our tour later that day so I thought it was only right that we buy some of the beautiful tarts as a gift. He has never been to Ile de Pain and loves a little cake with his afternoon coffee. We chose the Portuguese custard tarts Pasteis de Nata (pictured above) which also happen to be The Washer Up’s favourite, a creme brulee tart…..
They were all beautiful, even though everything got a little bit squashed in the box on the back seat of the car when my suitcase slid along the seat on a sharp bend. We saved them though. It was hard to chose a winner, but I think the custard tarts just made it. Not eggy or bouncy at all, just creamy and ever so slightly burnt, which is a good thing. And that pastry…..
Ile de Pain is a must on any trip to Knysna or Plettenberg Bay. They only open for breakfast and lunch and you will want to try both. It gets very busy especially at weekends so make sure you book. You really wouldn’t want to miss out believe me, this place is special and so is the food.