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Travel + Culture

A Nice Way to Eat in Namibia


The most interesting places to eat in pretty little Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, used to be Joe's Beerhouse for its superb steaks (Namibia exports high-quality beef to Europe) and Restaurant Gathemann, which occupies a gabled, red-roofed building (it dates to the brief period that this southwestern African country was a German colony) and serves food largely inspired by Das Vaterland. Then something NICE happened—the Namibian Institute of Culinary Education opened a year ago in another handsome, German-vintage building in the heart of town. Created to supply chefs to the country's booming tourist industry, NICE has made Namibia a surprisingly great place to eat by sending well-trained talent to safari lodges all over the country. In Windhoek itself, NICE also runs the best restaurant in town, a low-lit space that looks like it could be in Cape Town or Santa Monica. Overseeing the restaurant is German chef Ralf Herrgott, who arrived in the country in 2001 and quickly earned a reputation for making the food at the Wolwedans lodges, a portfolio of game and nature properties, the best in the country. Herrgott trains ten to twelve chefs during the course of a yearlong program, and has coined an alluring indigenous cuisine that features starters like tomato and papaya soup with popadams and wild mushroom ravioli, and mains like Oryx (local game) steaks with a sauce of local herbs. With inspiration from contemporary South African cooking, and also Asia and Italy, Herrgott showcases local produce, including wild game, asparagus, truffles, wild mushrooms, wild spinach, South Atlantic fish and oysters from Swakopmund and Walvis Bay. NICE has instantly become the most fashionable restaurant in Windhoek, and NICE's graduates in the field have ended the drudgery of safari lodge cooking, which long took a major leaf from Mrs. Beeton's Cook Book and other British Victorian sources.