JOURNEY OF NOTE
Having been in the industry for almost two decades, local chef Garth Almazan’s restaurant, Leeto – in the West Coast fishing village of Paternoster – is the seaside destination his culinary path has led to all these years
At Garth Almazan’s eatery, Leeto, in Paternoster, you’ll get to experience sustainable dining like it’s meant to be served
Whether it’s in highend city hotels, chic safari camps or acclaimed wineestate eateries, over the past two decades Garth Almazan has quietly built a name for himself as one of the most respected chefs in the Cape. So, it’s perhaps fitting that his new restaurant is named Leeto, or “journey”, in the Khoi language.
Situated alongside the luxurious Strandloper Ocean Boutique Hotel, Leeto promises contemporary West Coast cuisine on a menu that’s built around sustainable seafood, as well as dishes inspired by Garth’s long career in the industry. After 18 years as executive chef of Steenberg Farm’s fine-dining restaurant, Catharina’s, Garth left the estate in 2016 and set his sights on a new venture.
A move up the West Coast offered a chance to start afresh, and while the lazy pace of life in this whitewashed coastal village may draw plenty of weekenders and semigrants from upcountry, Garth says he has never been busier. “Slowing down?” he asks incredulously. “It definitely hasn’t slowed down. At Steenberg, I had 20 chefs working with me in the kitchen. Here, I have only four.” From sourcing suppliers and hiring staff to planning menus and clocking in for the breakfast shift, Garth is working harder than ever. But he looks all the happier for it.
Before opening Leeto – which is a partnership between Garth and the owners of the Strandloper Ocean Boutique Hotel – Garth took a sabbatical and seized the opportunity to go back to his roots while planning his new restaurant, layout and, most importantly, his culinary concept.
From joining the local fishermen on their daily catch outings to researching nearby farmers and their produce, Garth really dug deep in exploring the region’s offerings.
Leeto opened its doors to the public in October 2017. It was well worth the
wait, as the restaurant itself is a striking space that offers a distinct contrast to the seascape outside.
Stacking doors open out to a spacious terrace where a handful of tables gaze out over a stretch of empty sands and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. On those rare wind-free days in Paternoster, these are the best seats in the house, though there is plenty of shelter for when the seasonal south-easter kicks up.
Indoors, the feel is Scandinavianchic meets the West Coast: blonde wood panels line the walls, tables are topped with vases of indigenous fynbos and sleek leather banquettes cosy up to open fireplaces. To one side, a spacious lounge and bar area beckons for pre-dinner drinks and digestifs. Here, you’ll be spoilt for choice with a selection of craft gins and a wine list that leans heavily towards some of the exciting wineries that are making a name for themselves along the West Coast. Not yet tried the superb chenin blanc from Donkiesbaai? Now’s your chance. It’s also an excellent foil for Garth’s menu, where seafood reigns supreme and only fish on the Green List of the South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) is served. “I try and get as much local seafood as I can,” Garth says. That includes black bream from the local boats that launch from the village’s main beach, as well as farmed mussels and oysters from nearby Saldanha Bay.
And while the coveted West Coast rock lobster is widely available – albeit illegally – on the streets of Paternoster, Garth has taken a firm stance against serving this recently red-listed crustacean. “Guests come in and ask for crayfish, and wonder why they can’t order it here,” he sighs. “Even though you can get it on the side of the road all over town, I simply don’t serve it because it’s on SASSI’s Red List. Not only would it be irresponsible, but it would jeopardise Leeto’s concept, which is based on sustainable food. Besides, there are plenty of other equally delicious and unique specialities to choose from on the menu.”
To prove this point, whatever linefish is caught fresh that day comes plated with a colourful medley of broccoli, mangetout, chilli and red onions, served with crushed new potatoes with a lemon beurre blanc and a tomato, olive and caper salsa alongside.
If tuna is in season, look out for the superb Asian tuna tartare. “I call it our West Coast take on sushi,” Garth smiles, while chopping luscious cubes of yellowfin tuna before tossing them with lime juice and avocado.
Fennel mayonnaise punctuates the dish with aromatic silkiness, while a deep-fried sheet of nori wrapped in spring-roll pastry adds a nice crunch.
Alongside the focus on seafood and heirloom vegetables sourced from a handful of small, local garden farmers, Garth is also tapping into the wild abundance of the local shoreline. On his plates you’re as likely to find soutslaai as blanched beans, and hand-picked veldkool instead of steamed asparagus.
With that said, for plates away from the shoreline, there are plenty of options, too. And although there are venison, beef and lamb dishes on offer, you won’t want to miss out on the legendary vegetarian dish: Garth’s amazing risotto.
But no matter what you choose, Leeto’s offerings reflect all of the flavours, dishes and inspirations collected by Garth along the way; from the bush to the beach, it’s certainly been a long and delicious journey. PATTERSON SLOT, PATERNOSTER, WESTERN CAPE; 060 927 0403; LEETOPATERNOSTER.CO.ZA