In 2018, a Japanese fraternity of sommeliers named the Limestone Hill Chardonnay from De Wetshof the “Oyster Wine of the Year”. Being a Pacific Ocean-embraced island with a culture and cuisine deeply rooted in seafood, they should know, shouldn’t they? Originating from South Africa’s very own “House of Chardonnay” in the Robertson Wine Valley, the Limestone Hill Chardonnay is no stranger to accolades with bottles of past vintages appearing more decorated than a Christmas tree.
But it wasn’t to celebrate and explore the wines of vintages past that we gathered at SeaBreeze Fish & Shell Restaurant on Bree Street, the carotid artery of Cape Town’s culinary scene. No, it was to celebrate the arrival of the brand new vintage, the 2019, over a lavish three-course seafood lunch!
South Africa’s “House of Chardonnay”
For three generations, the De Wets have toiled over their hectares in the Robertson Wine Valley, transforming sunshine, terroir, and grape juice into a generous selection of variously styled and site specific Chardonnay wines. So intimately intertwined is the history and present of this estate with this noble Burgundian grape varietal that De Wetshof has earned an international reputation as South Africa’s eminent Chardonnay House. The De Wets live and breathe Chardonnay: it runs in their veins (and probably not just figuratively speaking either).
The Limestone Hill Chardonnay
The Limestone Hill Chardonnay is one of the estate’s more accessible wines, both in price and in ease of drinkability. It’s widely known, well trusted, reliably delicious, and (be warned) dangerously quaffable. Now, typically, I like my wines wooded and with a few years under their belts, but there’s a whole lot to be said for this youthful, vivacious, unwooded Chardonnay and even more so because, at only a few months old, it is rich and complex yet elegant, with fresh flavours of citrus and ripe fruits underscored by a gentle minerality.
Actually, since I couldn’t possibly better the words of American wine critic Robert M. Parker in describing this wine, I’ll simply quote them here:
“The De Wetshof Estate Limestone Hill Chardonnay offers impeccably pure, refreshing apple, peach and lemon fruit, a lovely leesy richness of texture, and a nutty, chalky, fruit-filled finish of imposing length. Understated and less tropical than some of the better un-oaked Chardonnays, this wine possesses far better balance and sheer drinkability – not to mention more finesse – than 99% of the world’s Chardonnay I have experienced.”
Yeah: what he said.
The De Wetshof Limestone Hill Chardonnay carries quite a hefty reputation and, as we’ve seen, one that extends both east and west of South Africa. But it’s when this accessible wine of great substance is paired with food that it truly sings.
Three-course seafood lunch ft. Limestone Hill Chardonnay
We sat down to lunch at the SeaBreeze Fish & Shell, which is owned and run by Britons Alex and Ruth Grahame, previously of the Hornblowers seafood restaurant in Gourdon, Scotland. This contemporary take on the traditional seafood restaurant prides itself on “sourcing local, sustainable seafood presented creatively and with a lighter touch.”
For starters, we were treated to a plate of fresh, naked oysters of various provenances (Saldanha Bay and Knysna) and two dressed with lime, horseradish, and Amasi – yoghurt-like fermented milk. Next up was an absolutely delicious and perfectly seared steak of locally landed yellowfin tuna served on a swath of herb pesto and garden peas, with grilled baby fennel and sautéed new potatoes. And finally, a tart wedge of lemon, uh, tart with a rich whipped, vanilla-infused Chantilly cream.
Every course was delicious: fresh, beautifully balanced, and satisfying without over-extending the belly, as can be the case with multi-course meals. What was truly extraordinary about it all – and to this I take my hat off to the Chef in the crafty design of the menu and skilful execution of flavours – was how every course showcased a different facet of the De Wetshof Limestone Hill’s personality. The Chardonnay’s citrus notes sang with the oysters, reached a fruity crescendo with the tuna, and settled into more saline flintiness and minerality with the sweet lemon tart. In turn, each course was elevated by the wine.
On the whole, it was a wonderfully flirtatious pairing and even a bit dangerous how easily that Chardonnay went down!
A tried, trusted, and true gem
A good wine and food pairing is the pinnacle of pleasure for yours truly and I was wholly impressed with the 2019 De Wetshof Limestone Hill Chardonnay, not only as a wine to be enjoyed on its own but as a pairing to three remarkably different seafood courses. It’s unsurprising that its one of the top selling unwooded Chardonnays in Cape Town and, according to winemaker Johann De Wet, the 2019 is set to become one of the best vintages too (with fantastic aging potential).
The Limestone Hill Chardonnay is drinking proof that a great wine doesn’t need to cost a small fortune, be accessible only by stepladder, or be older than Kirk Douglas. Oftentimes, true gems are made in the same year and exist at eye level.
In Cape Town, where rain is enthusiastically welcomed, winter is no excuse for staying indoors. In fact, most restaurants in the Mother City celebrate the wet season with fabulous winter specials and Kyoto Garden Sushi is no different. And so, on a crisp winter’s Friday evening, we found ourselves in the tranquil embrace of this small, intimate, and incredibly unique restaurant to experience its five-course tasting menu.
You’ll find Kyoto Garden Sushi tucked discretely into an elbow in Kloof Nek road, where the surrounding bars’ clientele bursts out onto the sidewalks on a weekend evening. Leaving the rowdy noise of this popular nightspot behind you, you cross the threshold into a peaceful, low-lit, and superbly romantic oasis.
A five-course exploration of Japanese cuisine
Kyoto Garden Sushi is a bit of a digression from the standard sushi eateries Cape Town has to offer but because of this, it would seem to deliver a far more authentic experience for adventurous diners. Forget store-bought wasabi in a tube, complex sushi creations featuring biltong and cream cheese, and fashionable photographic artwork of young, smiling westerners. The décor here is minimalist yet beguiling, the menu reflects the ocean delicacies coveted in Japan, from sea urchin to squid (with ink), and the beverage menu is an ode to the country’s booze-making traditions and trends, offering guests a vast selection of Japanese gins, whiskies, cocktails, and sake.
We began our meal with a trio of ocean ingredients – eel, sea urchin or “uni”, and scallop – prepared simply with the natural flavours and textures of the meats taking centre stage. To be perfectly honest, we both anticipated this first course with much trepidation but, bite after bite, we were both astounded by how delicious these exotic delicacies were. The eel was rich, fatty and perfectly complimented by a sweet barbeque-type marinade, the scallop was tender, soft, and sweet, and the sea urchin a pure blast of fresh ocean… like being smacked in the face by an Atlantic Ocean wave.
Actually, to describe the latter, a new paragraph is necessary. Sea urchin outside of its pretty green shell is not the most attractive meat: “orange and gooey” accurately describes it. Its flavour, however, is one of pure nostalgia for anyone who has grown up next to the ocean, bringing to mind childhood memories of playing in the tidal rock pools alongside Fish Hoek beach. The flavour was neither salty nor fishy, but if ever there were a flavour analogy for the ocean – the living, breathing ocean – sea urchin would be it. What a treat.
We accompanied our first course with chilled sake, a traditional sweet Japanese beverage made from fermented rice.
Next up was a whole squid from Port Elizabeth, sliced and served on a bed of rich, salty squid ink followed by spinach leaves and oysters served tempura style with a delicious ginger sauce. Three courses in – and with sake glasses drained of their delicious contents – we decided to explore Kyoto Garden Sushi’s fabulous Japanese inspired cocktail menu. With names like Japanese Apple Tree, Dirty Ninja Saketini, Geisha, and Green Tea Destiny, how could we resist?
Our fourth course was a refreshing, palate-cleansing bowl of chilled broth laced with lime and served with thick noodles and chopped spring onions. Then there was the Maine lobster with brown butter; a meat so rich and naturally sweet that I actually preferred it without the butter (but that’s just a matter of personal taste – my plus one looked like he’d won the lottery when I told him he could have it all to himself).
Finally, dessert: three dollops of dense, creamy ice cream, each of which incorporated different, unorthodox (for us here in South Africa) flavours: salty-sweet miso, refreshing lime, and citrusy yuzu. Our final course was washed down with French Chardonnay because… well, when does one ever need an excuse to drink French Chardonnay?
Japanese whisky tasting
With all five courses demolished and cheeks rosy from the sake, cocktails, and wine, we were contemplating our next move when the restaurant proprietor, Scott Wood, approached us with a bottle of Japanese whisky. Apparently, this is something he does quite frequently with guests who show a real interest in the cuisine and the authentic experience. Thus began a most fascinating journey through Japanese whisky of which we tried about four and while I have never been very fond of whisky, the Japanese craft it in a way that I find wholly palatable – sweet, nutty, and smoky.
Our new go-to sushi spot
We had an extraordinary time at Kyoto Garden Sushi. The whole experience felt authentic, wholesome, and unpretentious. Scott is a very hands-on owner, who is as happy to clear away plates and wipe down tables as he is to take you on a tipsy tour of Japanese booze. The service was top notch, the waitrons a real pleasure to interact with, the food simple, yet spectacular, and the ambiance romantic with a real air of Eastern enchantment.
If you’re looking for a go-to sushi restaurant or just an escape from whatever it is that ails you, try Kyoto Garden Sushi in Cape Town. And if you plan on endearing yourself to the proprietor for a whisky tasting, prepare to Uber home!