The Pollsmoor Maximum Security prison, where the restaurant is located, was also once home to Nelson Mandela.
Cape Town is well-recognised for its diverse restaurants but the Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison is definitely one of the more unusual places to grab a bite to eat.
Anyone can visit and eat in the restaurant, located in one of the toughest prisons in South Africa. Most of the waiters and kitchen staff are current prisoners, involved as part of a rehabilitation programme.
The prison is known not only for Nelson Mandela’s stay there from 1982 to 1988 but for the violent gangs that rule its unsanitary and overcrowded cells.
Situated in the upmarket suburbs of Constantia Valley, the prison is currently operating at twice its inmate capacity and tuberculosis is rife there.
In contrast, the restaurant is spotlessly clean and so well run when visited for lunch!
“The service is nice, the food is good and is very cheap,” said Arnold Daniels, a 57-year-old businessman, explaining why he and his wife Merina are regulars at the restaurant.
Did they not find it a bit odd to eat a leisurely lunch while thousands of prisoners were cooped up in nearby cells?
“It doesn’t bother us,” said Daniels. “It’s not really strange. It’s very safe and we don’t feel threatened at all.”
The restaurant can seat about 30 people and has very simple decor; metal chairs with red plastic seats, bare walls and a tiled floor. The security gates across the French windows are partly hidden with drapes and the table mats feature a colourful African mask design.
The menu is extensive, ranging from “traditional tripe” and ox head to chicken schnitzel, beef cordon bleu and a seafood platter – which, at 60 rand is the most expensive dish.
International journos who tested the restaurant recently described the as food “good”, and the presentation worthy of a “Masterchef” contestant, with herbs and sauces drizzled around the plate.
Across the road from the prison is the Steenberg wine and golf estate. The restaurant in the estate, Catherina’s, charges four times the price for the same hake served at Pollsmoor prison restaurant.
The restaurant opens at 7.30am and closes at 2pm. Diners head for their cars and the gates, while the waiters and cooks are taken back to their cells and locked up until the breakfast service begins.
Would you be keen to have an in-mate meal? Whats the most different restaurant in South Africa that you’ve visited?