A Harbour-Front Icon
Rich in history and pulsating with character, Mariner’s Wharf must be Hout Bay’s greatest asset. As the pioneer of harbour-front developments in the Southern Hemisphere, Mariner’s Wharf is now in its 332rndd year, and continues to captivate visitors with its unique array of delicacies, history, curios and collectables.
There is an air of excitement as seagulls proudly parade along the pier and fishermen offload their morning’s catch. Lobster trawlers bob gently in the water, their cargo of crates and nets piled high, while off in the distance a group of minstrels begin their morning song and dance. It is a mix of all that a hot South African summer’s day encapsulates, while Mariner’s Wharf, situated at the entrance to Hout Bay harbour, offers visitors a truly eclectic experience.
Stanley Dorman conceptualised, created and developed Mariner’s Wharf after visiting the USA in 1974 where he was inspired by the hustle and bustle of the San Francisco harbour-front. He made the decision to use his knowledge of several decades in the fishing industry to create something similar in South Africa.
Having grown up in Hout Bay, this seemed the obvious location for his masterpiece. He started assessing waterfronts around the globe and his vision began taking shape. He wanted something very different, that was memorably South African, and authentically Western Capelike. After ten years, his thoughts evolved into Mariner’s Wharf, South Africa’s very first harbour-front emporium.
Mariner’s Wharf is now world-renowned and made up of an impressive complex of outlets specialising in seafood and maritime products. The Wharf as a whole serves as a sort of working museum, with the antique shop crammed full of most things maritime, with a remarkable array of items ranging from old carved whale’s teeth, maps and bells to shipwreck artefacts.
The Wharf is also home to a seafood factory, as well as the Fisherman’s Wharf Fish Market, where the remarkable hull of the original 1940’s trawler The Kingfisher welcomes one inside. The Fish Market is stocked with delicious delicacies, including internationally renowned Cape Coast Smoked Snoek, which is produced at the factory’s smokeries.
Adjacent to the Fish Market is Ye Olde Wine & Liquor Locker, the fist bottle store in South Africa to be licensed for Sunday trading. Stocking an extraordinary range of local wines, beers, liquor and imported liqueurs, one can even buy special bottles of wine made exclusively for Mariner’s Wharf, presented in fish-shaped bottles.
Through extensive perusing of waterfront harbours in places like Tokyo, Seattle, Sydney and Reykjavik, Dorman acquired an unrivalled collection of maritime memorabilia, much of which
he used as décor in the Wharfside Grill restaurant. The Wharfside Grill has a distinctly historic maritime theme, and a walk through the restaurant is an absolute must, as memorabilia from days gone by dangle, decorate and delight visitors plucky enough to dodge the busy tables to look around.
Divided into precincts, namely Foredeck, Captain’s Quarters, Midships and Long Room, plus six private dining cabins, the Grill also boasts a Sundeck for al fresco dining and the Crayclub Bar, where speciality drinks are served. Each of the six themed dining cabins is individually decorated with artefacts from famouse liners or pieces of maritime history. The Grill's menu is extensive and extravagant, stocking a "cargo of goods", ranging from Hout Bay Chowder and fresh oysters through to succulent fish and exquisite desserts. The food is indulgent and utterly delicious, and Dorman takes pride in the well-developed menu, using the slower winter months to experiment with new dishes. With the Winter Value Menu Dorman gives his chefs the opportunity to try new things. Should these prove popular on the winter menu, they may become permanent features on the summer one.
In season, as many as 10,000 visitors a day pass through Hout Bay, and the 350-seater restaurant hosts up to 1,800 customers a day. That's a right cargo-load of meals! The Wharfette Seafood Bistro is where it's at for tasty take-outs. But be warned - because the Bistro's reputation stretches as far as the horizon, so does the queue.
Mariner's Chest is the official stocklist of Republic of Hout Bay Passports, and overflows with ocean treasures, shells, and souvenirs. And in the Pearl Factory, visitors can harvest their own pearls by picking an oyster and cracking it open. If they so desire, the shop manager will set the shimmering sparkler in gold or silver, as a dazzling reminder of their brief treasure hunt.
Recent developments include freshly made sushi direct from the Fish Market, the launch of Olde Seadog Draught Beer, and an on-site bakery producing the Wharf's famous seed-loaves and muffins. Given the ongoing popularity and achievements of Mariner's Wharf, it is certainly well worth a visit, besides being situated in one of the most beautiful bays in the world.