Riverine Rabbit: Inventive Fine Dining with an Environmental Conscience (and a Spring Menu to LIVE for!)

With an emphasis on eco-conscious dining, Riverine Rabbit delivers a gastronomical experience that is both kind to the environment and its fauna and flora and, in equal measure, absolutely unforgettable to the diner. This is the chronicle of my epic 10-course spring menu tasting at this lauded Cape Town restaurant!

The Riverine Rabbit is a critically endangered animal found in the Western Cape, below the Nuweveld Mountains in the semi-arid Central Karoo of South Africa. In fact, it is one of the most endangered mammals in the world with a living adult population estimated at well below 1,000 individuals. In other words: it is a rabbit in trouble.

Riverine-rabbit-Endangered-Wildlife-Trust-min

This sounds a bit off, doesn’t it? After all, don’t rabbits bonk like, well, rabbits? Even if their habitat is being mercilessly destroyed and food is scarce, don’t females give birth to a dozen or more kits before the males get right back on that horse…or should I say lady rabbit? Yes and yes, to the last two questions but the Riverine Rabbit is rather special because females only produce one offspring per year. Rather than ruthlessly over-populating an area, as most rabbits are wont to do, Riverine Rabbits are rather chaste in their approach to multiplying. And, unfortunately, in the face of relentless agricultural development, they simply don’t stand a chance.

There’s an important metaphor in all this and one that sisters Head Chef Ash Heeger and Sommelier/General Manager Mandy van der Berg have employed as the powerful philosophy behind their eco-conscious, fine dining restaurant in Cape Town, Riverine Rabbit.

And, no, there’s no rabbit on the menu.

Eco-conscious fine dining

Farming in the Karoo has left much of the Riverine Rabbit’s natural habitat completely overgrazed and decimated, which has positioned them on the very brink of extinction. Thankfully, more and more of Cape Town’s eateries are shifting their dining philosophies to be more eco-conscious, environmentally friendly, and humane. Riverine Rabbit embodies that shift because Chef Ash Heeger prioritizes hyper-local, freshly caught or harvested, and sustainable ingredients.

“We are a family owned restaurant and strive to promote and encourage the sustainable use of our natural resources.”

With an emphasis on eco-conscious dining, Riverine Rabbit delivers a gastronomical experience that is both kind to the environment and its fauna and flora and, in equal measure, absolutely unforgettable to the diner. I should know because, last week, I was treated to a meal at the Chef’s Table!

Meet Ash, culinary boss babe

Riverine Rabbit Ash Heeger

Chef Ash Heeger has established a Herculean name for herself on the international restaurant scene. Having graduated from the Silwood School of Cookery, she cut her teeth (and probably several fingers) under the tutelage of Chef Luke Dale Roberts at La Colombe and then at The Test Kitchen, both top 10 restaurants in South Africa and, for various years, top 50 restaurants in the world. In other words: holy shit that’s impressive! 

Chef Ash then set sail for foreign shores to expand her repertoire and skillset, working with Brett Graham at The Ledbury in Notting Hill (London) followed by two years at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park. Both are Michelin 2 Star kitchens and, again, holy shit that’s impressive! Then, in 2018, she competed on The Final Table, Netflix’s version of Master Chef, except that the participants are all vastly accomplished chefs from all over the world. 

Today, Chef Ash Heeger has become somewhat of a household name and if you aren’t suitably impressed by the above biography then you might as well eat at McDonalds because you are beyond redemption.

Meet Mandy, manager and sommelier extraordinaire

I never got to meet Mandy but after tasting the wines she selected for each course of our expansive meal, I am utterly convinced that I’d love the heck out of her. With an astute business background in marketing and events planning, Mandy runs all aspects of the front of house at Riverine Rabbit with a focus on training, curating the incredible wine list, and general administration. Somebody’s got to do it. She also has her WSET Level 3 in wines, which is not only an extraordinary feat of pronouncing virtually unpronounceable French and German wine growing regions but also of palate perceptivity, smell memory, and covet-worthy intelligence.

Together, Ash and Mandy are a formidable team and their restaurant, Riverine Rabbit, is a testament to the spectrum of stratospheric skill they bring to the table. And now that you have met the talent behind the restaurant and the exigent philosophies behind the name, let’s delve into the dining experience!

Riverine Rabbit Restaurant

Spring has sprung!

Indeed, spring has arrived in the Cape and with the warmer weather comes the need for reinvention. Being seasonally inspired by locally available ingredients, Riverine Rabbit’s menu is implicit in this transition, and it was our task – three media folk – to play guinea pigs for Chef Ash’s spring menu, which is due to launch mid-October. What a life, I tell you!

Riverine Rabbit chefs table

We were seated at the luxurious chef’s table, a little nook adjacent to the open plan kitchen, and from where we (and the whole restaurant really) could see Chef Ash and her team at work. What a thing this is to witness! Whisper quiet, the kitchen operates like a well-oiled machine with each and every team member knowing exactly what is required of him or her. Barely a conversation was necessary. Then began the procession of Riverine Rabbit favourites and spring-inspired dishes paired with truly sumptuous wines from all over the Cape winelands….

The opening act

Our epic ten-course meal kicked off with some freshly baked focaccia and a trio of “snacks”: pani puri with chickpea curry and lime yoghurt; “cheese on toast” with burnt onion mayo and truffle; and Riverine Rabbit eggs benedict, all served with a flute of crisp yet biscuity Colmant Cap Classique Brut Reserve NV from Franschhoek. Chef Ash literally invents these titbits daily. 

Then, I smacked my lips through the beef dish, featuring tender pink slices of beef with honey, anchovy, rich egg yolk, aged Balsamic vinegar, garlic, potato, and locally foraged mushrooms. This absolutely exceptional dish was paired with the floral fragranced Paul Cluver Riesling 2017. Finally, we were served the soba noodles from Riverine Rabbit’s autumn menu, a savoury, umami-laced noodle and broth dish featuring chilli, kimchi, seasonal vegetables, and dashi, all served cool and paired with the uber sexy Saronsberg Viognier 2017.

Riverine Rabbit sobu noodles
Sobu noodles

The main event

Four courses down, we relinquished ourselves to a further deluge of sumptuous, imaginative dishes: leeks smothered in vegan béarnaise with breadcrumbs, hazelnuts, and herbs (paired with the exquisite Catherine Marshall Chenin Blanc Fermented in Clay 2018); mushroom and potato with blue cheese, egg yolk, onion, and herbs (paired with the Lismore Chardonnay 2016); and sustainably caught Red Roman linefish with cucumber, fennel, leeks, dill, and hyper local “sea vegetables”, such as West Coast sea lettuce (paired with the Diemersdal Wild Horseshoe Sauvignon Blanc).

Our meal reached a crescendo with the duck served with turnip, cashew nut, citrus, and mustard and paired with my favourite wine for the evening: the Catherine Marshall Pinot Noir. If Ash had served us nothing but this dish and Mandy conceived of nothing other than this wine and food pairing, I would have gone to bed equally as satisfied. I’m certainly not complaining that we were treated to nine other wine paired plates of foods, although my liver had a little something to say about it the morning after.

Riverine Rabbit duck dish

Sweet finale

Finally, after a blackberry, buttermilk, yoghurt, and black pepper palate cleanser, complete with liquid nitrogen sending great blankets of vapour cascading all over our table, we faced off with dessert. Having recently returned from a trip from New Zealand, Chef Ash was inspired to put together this absolutely delicious Hāngi steamed pudding of potato, caramel, honey, crème fraîche, and vanilla, paired with the saccharine Noble Late Harvest from Diemersdal Wine Estate in Durbanville.

An epic experience with an important message

Riverine Rabbit delivers experimental gastronomy that is inventive, beautiful to behold, brave, and – importantly – absolutely delicious. Most importantly, however, is the subliminal, yet pervasive messaging that the Cape is home to a cornucopia of fresh, sustainable ingredients that if harvested in an eco-conscious manner could prevent the loss of precious flora and fauna, like the Riverine Rabbit. I found the experience to be an education, a visual feast, and a hedonistic indulgence (you’d better skip lunch) with intelligent wine pairings in a cosy, unpretentious atmosphere. And I believe Chef Ash to be a true artist and master of her craft. Mandy, your choice of wines and pairings are testament to your enviable skill as a sommelier and wine lover!

I may have rolled out of Riverine Rabbit but I’ll certainly be back again for more, more, and more of all of the above!

Riverine Rabbit

For more information or to make reservations, please contact Riverine Rabbit on info@riverinerabbit.com or +27 (0) 21 424 7204.

81 Church Street, Cape Town, www.riverinerabbit.com

Wander Woman Thea is for sale (but in a totally legal and classy way)

If you like what you see and fancy a talented, witty, and ridiculously verbose writer for your website project, blog, or marketing materials, don’t hesitate to get in touch at thea@wanderwomanthea.com.

Meet Gorgeous George

Launched very recently in April 2019, Gorgeous George is a boutique designer hotel tucked into two lovingly restored heritage buildings on St George’s Mall in the historic, cultural, and culinary heart of Cape Town. The hotel’s interior is the creative effort of a constellation of local artists and designers brought together by German owner Tobias Alter. One such artist is Lucie de Moyencourt who hand-painted the 1,800 ceramic tiles that now adorn the walls of the foyer, depicting a map of the city; another is David Brits, whose painted murals add colour, depth, and intrigue to walls throughout the hotel, including the interior of the bell tower on the pool terrace. The outcome of this artistic collaboration is a grand masterpiece that is quirky, chic, cheeky, tranquil, fashionable darling, and, of course, gorgeous!

Meet George…

Gorgeous George has 20 studio apartments, eight one-bedroom suites, and four two-bedroom suites, all trendily dressed and kitted out with the usual mod cons and luxuries. The suites have a consistent South African contemporary design aesthetic, which is framed by raw, industrial elements, like the exposed ceiling pipework and original steel or wood window frames. Handpicked treasures, velvety drapery, and patterned rugs add personality and pops of colour.

The bathrooms are equally impressive – some even feature freestanding Victorian-style bathtubs. All are stocked with designer fragranced soaps and creams that are biodegradable and vegan-friendly. A kaleidoscopic floral carpet winds its way through the hotel’s sleek, black corridors like a river of paint. In no other place on Earth have I been so bewitched by the floor and if it weren’t for the guide showing me around the hotel, in my trance-like state I very likely would have walked straight into a wall.

Gorgeous George Interior

Location, location, location

Gorgeous George exists at the very epicentre of Cape Town. In every direction, the Mother City’s famed attractions, historical sites, restaurants, and bars line the streets. Towards Table Mountain, there is the Company Gardens, Iziko Natural History Museum, and South African National Gallery. Towards Lion’s Head, Long Street’s bar scene and foodie favourite-Bree Street unfurl at your feet with the cultural gem of Bo-Kaap a stone’s throw beyond. Then, there’s the vibrant shopping street of St George’s Mall and a vast buffet of artisanal coffee shops, uniquely flavoured eateries, food and craft markets, and sexy cocktail bars, making Gorgeous George oh-so-desirable in the eyes of visitors to the Cape.

Gigi Rooftop Bar at Gorgeous George
Gigi Rooftop Bar at Gorgeous George

Gigi Rooftop Restaurant and Bar

On the topmost floor of the hotel you’ll find Gigi Rooftop, a jungle-inspired lounge, bar, and restaurant where hotel guests can take their meals, sprawl out on the enormous couches, or lounge by the pool, and day visitors are encouraged to “come for breakfast and stay for dinner.” On the covered veranda, the ceiling drips with textured woven baskets and planters with moss beards, while large palm trees lend their verdant fronts to the oasis-like atmosphere.

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It all works together to create a tranquil, green space that appeals to the sub-conscious’ need to feel close to nature. Inside, the restaurant has a decidedly different feel of an 18th Century gentleman’s lounge with a rugged, industrial edge. Chef Guy Bennett, previously of The Restaurant at Grande Provence in Franschhoek, heads up the kitchen of Gigi Rooftop, crafting seasonally and locally inspired dishes that are both healthy (read: guilt-free) and delicious. Behind the bar, inventive cocktails are proudly brought to you by well-known mixologist, Jody Rahme.

A place you’ve got to meet

Gorgeous George exudes history, fashion, and charm and presents as a work of art. More than that, however, it feels personal… like someone’s warm, colourful, and perhaps a little eccentric personality has been transposed onto its physical interior. And after spending a few hours poking about the hotel and sitting down to lunch at Gigi Rooftop, I wish that there were more people in the world with personalities like Gorgeous George.

Gorgeous George Hotel and Gigi Rooftop bookings and enquiries: +27 (0) 87 898 6000 | Gigi Rooftop Bar & Restaurant: gigi@gorgeousgeorge.co.za, +27 (0) 87 898 6000

The Den: a Base to Explore the Best of Stellenbosch

The Den Stellenbosch

The wind gently tousled through the rooftop area and as the sun descended below the western horizon, the chill crept, reminding us that although spring is on its way, winter still has dominion over the Cape; particularly the nights. We milled about, glasses of Waterford “Rose-Mary” Blanc de Noir and gin-and-tonics in hand, chatting and admiring the views over the entirety of Stellenbosch.

In the winelands summer heat, the pool would be irresistibly seductive but tonight, it is just pretty to look at. The rooftop of The Den, the venue for our drinks and canapés (and chin-wag), offers a remarkable space for visitors to spend time. Clean-cut and modern with extraordinary valley and mountain views…how could one not be inspired up here, I mused as I hoovered down my fifth basil, buffalo mozzarella, and cherry tomato hors d’oeuvre.

The Den Stellenbosch

The Den in Stellenbosch

The Den in Stellenbosch is a large apartment complex located on Dennesig Road, on the very doorstep to the historic town centre, the University of Stellenbosch, and all the wonderful wine estates beyond. Cape Summer Villas is a privately owned hotel group that began in 1996 as a single three-bedroom guesthouse, which has since expanded to a boutique collection of high-end properties scattered throughout the Western Cape. All feature “tastefully decorated interiors, the finest linen, and five-star amenities that have all been selected to showcase their surroundings.”

What do The Den and Cape Summer Villas have to do with each other? Well, the hotel group has just added 18 of The Den’s apartments to its portfolio, which it now offers as beautiful and super convenient self-catering accommodation to visitors to the Cape. And it was one of the 15 open-plan studio apartments that I would be spending the night – taking it for a test run, if you will.

Thank you Waterford Estate for the gift of wine and chocolate, and Stellenbosch’s very own Banhoek Chilli Oil Co. for the gift of oil that I shall slather my next slice of pizza with!

The Den Stellenbosch

Modern, comfortable, and entirely serviceable

If a luxury hotel and the student digs of your dreams had a whirlwind romance, the offspring of that would be what the Cape Summer Villas have done with their self-catering apartments at The Den in Stellenbosch. The rooms are compact and feature everything you could possibly need to live, never mind spend a night or two. Yet they also convey a sense of space so that you don’t feel claustrophobic. For example, my humble open-plan studio apartment had a queen-sized bed, a fully kitted-out kitchen (complete with high-end appliances, a washing machine, stove, and medium-sized fridge), small table for meals, study nook, large flat-screen TV, and ample closet storage on either side of the bed. It even had a balcony with a built-in braai. You could actually live here and very comfortably too.

The Den Stellenbosch

This made me think about the audience for such accommodations. Being a budget traveller, I’m always attracted by accommodations that have kitchen facilities and allow for complete independence. This is what The Den offers – complete independence – which essentially means that the target audience is limited only by imagination: foreign and domestic tourists, business travellers, tour groups, wedding parties, long-stay visitors; heck, even parents visiting their kids at the University of Stellenbosch. From R1,250 per night, it’s incredibly affordable accommodation, conveniently located, and allows for complete travel independence.

Practical considerations aside, these apartments are gorgeous. Artfully decorated with interior design by Clara’s Interiors, each room blends a palette of soft greys, whites, and blonde woods with pleasing accent colours (in my room, a gentle azure blue), whimsically patterned tiles, and artwork inspired by nature. There’s also high-speed fibre Internet and, for those concerned with safety, private parking, closed circuit cameras, biometrics, and 24-hour security. If I were a trust fund baby and a student at the University of Stellenbosch, this is where I’d like to spend my college years.

The Den Stellenbosch

Dinner by Chef Rich Rorich; wine by Waterford

That evening, a glass or two of Waterford’s “Rose-Mary” down (a delectable Blanc de Noir made from Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Tempranillo, and Grenache grapes), we all gathered for supper in one of The Den’s two-bedroom apartments. Just to illustrate to you how serviceable these accommodations are: Rich Rorich, the Head Chef of Cape Summer Villas’ Sky Villa Boutique Hotel in Plettenberg Bay (who had been brought down to Stellenbosch for the purpose of cooking for us), was able to use these kitchen facilities to whip up a delicious three-course meal. On the subject of working in a small kitchen, as opposed to the imposing stainless steel jungles he’s accustomed to, the gently spoken Ritchie had this to say:

“As chefs, we love nothing more than this. This is how we learned to love our craft: by cooking for friends and family in cramped spaces and environments.”

The Den Stellenbosch

How wonderful! Additionally, each course, I was absolutely titillated by, was brilliantly paired with wines from Waterford Estate: a starter of creamy mussels in coconut and coriander with the Waterford Chardonnay 2017. Mains of tender lamb curry, turmeric rice, and vegetables paired with the Waterford Grenache Noir 2017 or tall, dark, and handsome Kevin Arnold Shiraz 2015 (or, if you’re a wine glutton like me, both). Finally, for desserts: a kalaeidescopic selection of macarons and a fun game of “guess the flavour.”

Falling asleep has never been so easy.

The Den Stellenbosch
The Den Stellenbosch

A base to explore

The Den in Stellenbosch is the most recent addition to Cape Summer Villas’ constellation of properties and after spending the night, it’s clear that there is very little restriction on the audience these beautifully furnished and affordable self-catering apartments appeal to. With summer slowly on its way, even I am hatching a plan to get friends and family here to enjoy an itinerary packed with the best the Stellenbosch Wine Valley has to offer.

Cape Summer Villas: www.capesummervillas.co.za

The Den: www.thedenstellenbosch.co.za

Waterford Estate: www.waterfordestate.co.za

Where to See the Snow in the Western Cape This Winter

Snow in South Africa might sound as ill fitting as a giraffe in Antarctica, but every now and then, when a Western Cape winter storm system becomes particularly intense, it can cause temperatures to plummet to below freezing. In high-lying places along and beyond the escarpment, this cold snap can leave towns, farmlands, and mountains frosted in snow. Rather than seeking refuge from the cold, Capetonians and South Africans from further afield jump in their cars to spend a day or weekend cavorting in the wintry wonderlands; doing all of those things we see Americans doing in the movies, like making snow-men, lobbing snowballs at each other, casting snow angels, and… wasn’t there something about yellow snow cones?

Well, with winter fast approaching – bringing with it the possibility of snow – here are some of the Western Cape’s best destinations for seeing, playing, and, uh, peeing in the snow.

* All prices indicated are per person, per night.

Matroosberg Private Nature Reserve

Matroosberg nature reserve in winter
Snow capped peaks in the Matroosberg Nature Reserve. Credit: http://www.Matroosberg.com

Situated an easy two-hour drive from Cape Town, the southern slopes of the Matroosberg (of the Matroosberg Nature Reserve) frequently receive snowfall in the winter, and oftentimes heavy rainfall. After a good snow, the landscape remains painted white for several days after, giving visitors sufficient warning to plan a quick getaway. The nature reserve has even rigged up a private ski-slope, so if you’ve fallen in love with the sport on holiday in Sweden or Canada, you can satiate your craving right here in Cape Town’s own backyard. For overnight or longer stays, the Matroosberg Nature Reserve offers several accommodation options at Erfdeel Farm, from camping and ski huts to romantic candlelit cabins (seriously, they have no electricity).

Where: Erfdeel Farm, Matroosberg, Breede River, Western Cape
Contact: +27 (0) 23 312 2282, info@matroosberg.com
Web: www.matroosberg.com

Cederberg Wilderness Area

Cederberg mountain pass
View from the top of a Cederberg mountain pass

The Cederberg Wilderness Area in winter is strikingly beautiful with its vast plains and boulder-strewn slopes soaring skywards into craggy cliff-faces and rocky pinnacles. It is a landscape of grand scale in both the horizontal and vertical axes, and in winter, after a particularly cold spell, the high mountain passes, peaks (particularly Sneeuberg), and slopes can become utterly transformed by snowfall. Located three-hours’ drive (or 2.5 if you gun it) from Cape Town, the Cederberg Wilderness Area does offer self-catering cottages (from R640 per person, per night) and camping sites (from R120), just make sure you go prepared for the cold. Alternatively, you can book one of the many accommodation options (guesthouses, hotels, self-catering, and more) offered by found the two neighbouring towns of Citrusdal and Clanwilliam.

Where: Citrusdal, Western Cape
Contact Cape Nature: +27 (0) 21 483 0190, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za
Web: www.capenature.co.za

Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve

Credit: Cape Nature

Unless Table Mountain has received an unusual dusting of snow, the closest place for Capetonians to travel is the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve, which covers a wide swath from Elgin all the way to Stellenbosch. The Hottentots Holland is that craggy range of mountains we can see to the East of the city, by the way and, at only 90 km distance, it makes for a quick and fun day trip. The nature reserve is beloved for its spectacular, yet rugged terrain with its three highest peaks, Rifberg, Pike Mountain, and The Triplets, receiving the heaviest doses of snow. Rustic overnight huts with bunk beds, matrasses, wood, and running water are available (no electricity) at Landroskop and Boesmanskloof. Each feature four rooms and sleeps 30 people (from R240).

Where: Grabouw, Western Cape
Contact Cape Nature: +27 (0) 21 483 0190, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za
Web: www.capenature.co.za

The Boland Mountains, Kogelberg Nature Reserve

Located in the Kogelberg Nature Reserve near Stellenbosch and Paarl, the Boland Mountains are no stranger to snow during particularly cold spells in the Cape. The reserve itself, a World Heritage Site, is considered by many to be the most beautiful of Cape Nature’s protected areas and its exceptional diversity and quality of fynbos means it is also considered the heart of the Cape Floral Kingdom. In terms of accommodation, the five glass-fronted Oudebosch eco-cabins afford guests breathtaking views of the reserve and sleep four people. Each cabin features two bedrooms, one bathroom, one en-suite, and a spacious kitchen, lounge and dining area, and goes for R1170 (1-2 people, off-peak), plus R390 per additional person, per night (max four). The Boland Mountains also span over the Jonkershoek, Assegaaibosch, Hottentots, and Limietberg reserves so if you’ve already been to Kogelberg, you have options!

Where: Kogelberg Nature Reserve, Western Cape
Contact Cape Nature: +27 (0) 28 271 5138, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za
Web: www.capenature.co.za

Hex River Mountains

Hex River Mountains in winter
The Mostertshoek Twins, Hex River Mountains. Credit: http://www.Fynbospress.co.za

The Hex River Mountains are the second highest mountain range in the Western Cape, so it’s little surprise that their sandstone 2,000-metre-high peaks are frequently kissed by snow during winter. Located an approximate 120 km to the northeast of Cape Town, between the towns of Worcester and De Doorns, the Hex River Mountains’ highest mountain is the Matroosberg, which even offers visitors two kilometres of ski slopes. For information on accommodation in the Hex River Valley, visit the tourism website.

Contact: +27 (0) 23 356 2041, hvtourism@telkomsa.net
Web: www.hexrivervalley.co.za

Langeberg Range, Robertson and Worcester

Langeberg Mountain Range in winter
Credit: Oudtshoorn Tourism (Facebook)

The wine growing regions of Robertson and Worcester are known for their snow-capped mountain views in the winter months, and there is also plenty to do here, from trout fishing in the lakes to historical winter walks through the town and, of course, wine tasting! The Langeberg is the mountain range that most frequently receives a frosting of snow in winter, particularly its highest peak, Keeromsberg, which lies 15 km to the northeast of Worcester. There is plenty of accommodation located throughout the Robertson and Worcester wine valleys – where you stay all comes down to your budget and preferences so check out the accommodation pages on the websites for Robertson and Worcester to explore your options.

Robertson Wine Valley
Contact: +27 (0) 23 626 3167, admin@robertsonwinevalley.com
Web: www.robertsonwinevalley.com

Worcester Tourism
Contact: +27 (0) 23 342 6244 or +27 (0) 76 200 8742, info@worcestertourism.com

Swartberg Nature Reserve (Gamkaskloof – Die Hel)

Swartberg Nature Reserve
Credit: Safari Now

Declared a World Heritage Site in 2004, Swartberg Nature Reserve stretches 121,000 hectares between the Klein and Groot Karoo, bordering the Gamkapoort Nature Reserve to the north and the Towerkop Nature Reserve to the west. The town of Oudtshoorn is 40km away. Visitors staying overnight sleep in restored cottages in the Gamkaskloof (otherwise known as Die Hel) and delight in the reserve’s rich heritage from the San rock art and artefacts found in caves throughout the reserve to its rich diversity of indigenous vegetation, including Renosterveld, mountain fynbos, and spekboom veld. There are self-catering cottages from R380 per night and camping sites from R150; alternatively, the nearest town of Oudtshoorn, known for its ostrich farms, has a greater variety and some sophisticated options for accommodation.

Where: Swartberg Nature Reserve, Western Cape
Contact Cape Nature: +27 (0) 28 271 5138, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za
Web: www.capenature.co.za

This article was originally written by Thea Beckman for Southern Vines Magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/05/14/where-to-see-the-snow-in-the-western-cape-this-winter/

Launching the 2019 Vintage of De Wetshof Limestone Hill Chardonnay

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!

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

DeWetshof Wines: www.dewetshof.comSeabreeze Restaurant is open Monday to Sunday, 12:00 to 21:30. For bookings and enquiries, please call +27 (0) 74 79 39 349 or email hello@seabreezecapetown.co.za

www.seabreezecapetown.co.za

211 – 213 Bree Street, Cape Town

This blog article was originally written for Southern Vines magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/06/18/launching-the-2019-vintage-of-de-wetshof-limestone-hill-chardonnay/

Red, Red Wine and Purple, Purple Teeth at this Year’s Franschhoek Winter Wines

As a lover of red wines – robust, voluptuous red wines – I have been looking forward to the Franschhoek Winter Wines festival since the first press release hit my inbox. This is a festival that celebrates, honours, and showcases those wines that are best suited to a frosty, wintry day in the Cape: in other words, red, red wine (and the odd wooded white).

A clear and cloudless Saturday dawned over the Franschhoek valley on the day of the festival but with morning temperatures in the single digits, the wines would still be showing their mettle against the cold. We were amongst the first to arrive at the Franschhoek Cellar, the venue for this year’s instalment of the festival – and what a fabulous venue it was!

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The Franschhoek Cellar

Franschhoek Cellar, “a beautiful asset to the Franschhoek wine route”, can be compared in layout and concept to Paarl’s Spice Route. Its sprawling grounds are home to a collection of gems like a tram-side restaurant, a bistro & beer garden, a wine cellar for tastings and food pairings, and an alfresco eating area complete with central water feature. Visitors here can enjoy the leisurely charms of country life with all the elegance and deep sense of history the Franschhoek valley is known and loved for.

Thanks to the unseasonably sunny day, the festivities were sprawled out in the open with the wine tasting booths scattered across the clipped lawns and beneath the shade of the oak trees. There was also a large separate area furnished with an elaborate jungle gym and guarded by watchful staff, which not only offered parents a respite from being responsible but also saved festivalgoers from tripping over kids. After your 10th wine tasting, you’d be surprised how easy that is to do.

After collecting our tasting glasses and a brief wander, we and sat down to strategize (because when there are 19 wines to taste, a strategy is absolutely necessary if you plan to walk, rather than be carried out of the festival!)

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Leg one: dipping our big toes

We decided like good wine nerds to begin with the lighter-style reds and the one white wine present and so, armed with our branded wine glasses, we commenced on the first leg of our grand tour of the Franschhoek wine valley. We tasted:

  • The Wildeberg White 2018, a wooded Sémillon with a lovely crisp acidity.
  • La Couronne Malbec 2016, touted as “the best Malbec in Franschhoek” and a beautiful food wine.
  • La Bourgogne’s 1694 Progeny Red 2016, the only Syrah and Malbec wine blend to be found in Franschhoek.
  • Pardonnez-Moi Cinsaut from Old Road Wine Co., named for its dangerous ease of drinkability and tendency to necessitate the drinker to later ask for forgiveness.

Leg two: wading in

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With four tastings done and dusted, we paused for a tender barbequed chicken kebab and a pull of water – all a part of the strategy, you see. We then resumed our assault upon Franschhoek’s winter wines with a tasting of:

  • The sultry Cape of Good Hope Southern Slopes 2014, a Shiraz, Mourvèdre, and Petit Syrah blend from Anthonij Rupert Wyne (grapes sourced from Swartland).
  • Amazing Grace 2015 from Black Elephant Vintners, a rich and velvety Cabernet Sauvignon with lovely Eucalyptus notes on the nose.
  • The inaugural vintage of the Holden Manz Proprietors’ Blend 2015, an unusual but absolutely exquisite blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
  • Rupert & Rothschild Classique 2016, an impeccably smooth and versatile Bordeaux style blend featuring rich dark fruits and tobacco on the nose.

Lunch Interlude

By this stage of the day – sun merrily beaming down upon the festivities, crowds thickening, teeth purpling – the effects of all the quality red wine were beginning to show themselves. And so we ordered a truffle mushroom pizza and sat down to eat in the tram-side restaurant located adjacent to the gardens, with spectacular views over autumnal-coloured vineyards to the blue, hazy mountains beyond. By the way, when (not if) you visit the Franschhoek Cellar, you owe it to all that is good in the world to try the truffle mushroom pizza. It will ruin you for all future pizzas: it is that good.

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Leg three: all in

Stomachs lined with heavenly cheesy, truffle oil-doused pizza and a bottle of water for hydration, we headed back out for the final onslaught and to tackle what we reckoned to be the heaviest reds the festival had to offer.

  • La Bri Affinity 2015, a beautifully elegant and well-structured Bordeaux style blend.
  • Franschhoek Cellar Shiraz, a textbook New World Shiraz boasting exuberant and juicy plum, pepper, and mulberry flavours (and a surprising price point of only R70 per bottle!)
  • A great “Cab-King” of the Cape Winelands: the rich, full-bodied and multi-award winning Plaisir de Merle Cabernet Sauvignon 2015.
  • The maiden vintage of the Boekenhoutskloof Franschhoek Cabernet Sauvignon 2016.

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Truth be told, we tasted other wines…but by the time we got to them, the palates had been dulled and the focus shifted to enjoying the company of the fabulous and interesting people present. So, I would like to fondly acknowledge the Boschendal Wines Nicolas 2016, Anthonij Rupert Optima 2014, Bellingham Pinotage, and Leopard’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 for the role they played in my (deserved) headache the morning after.

Why I’ll go back…again and again

While I can appreciate wines of all complexity, colour, and body, the Franschhoek Winter Wines festival is dedicated to the wines I love the most: red wine. Does it get any better than being able to meander from one wine tasting station to the other, sipping on beautiful winter wines, speaking to winemakers and ambassadors whose passion and knowledge are offered in equal measure, and all in one of the most magical places on Earth, the Franschhoek winelands? It does but only for one reason:

Nobody cares that your teeth are purple.

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This blog article was originally written for Southern Vines magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/06/18/franschhoek-winter-wines/

Testin’ the Westin: Dinner and Overnight Stay at an Iconic Luxury Cape Town Hotel

The Westin Cape Town is in the middle of a grand revamp but you really wouldn’t know that because, in our svelte suite fifteen floors in the sky, it’s as peaceful as a spa (without the annoying pipe music). The multi-million-rand makeover – *cough R150 million cough* – is set to be completed by October 2019 just in time for the summer deluge of tourists; although the Westin Cape Town remains perennially popular owing to its appeal to business travellers, both foreign and South African.

Our task is to put the revamped and reimagined rooms to the test by luxuriating in one for the next 24 hours – I know, it’s a tough job but someone’s got to make sure the next guest is getting their money’s worth.

Spoiler alert: they most definitely are.

The grand entrance

The Westin Cape Town is a five-star luxury hotel located right next door to the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) and a five-minute drive from the V&A Waterfront. This sleek and stylish hotel is a mainstay of the Cape Town city skyline, as well as the international luxury hospitality industry. Wherever you travel to in the world, you can expect a high standard of comfort, luxury, and hospitality from the Westin.

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Getting a bit of work in before the great unwind.

Walking into our suite, our eyes were first and foremost drawn to the floor-to-ceiling windows that dominated the far side of the room, affording us sweeping west-facing views of the city from Signal Hill and the V&A Waterfront to the bustling Cape Town harbour, Robben Island, and the shimmering Atlantic Ocean beyond. Beneath our feet, we had a (gut-wrenching) bird’s eye view of a congested N1 highway feeding traffic into and out of the city. However, rather than evoking feelings of anxiety, as one might expect, we felt just a little smug to be ensconced in luxury accommodation while those little ants down there in their toy cars were stuck in traffic.

Suite features and amenities

Our room was the epitome of comfort and convenience, packing practically everything any visitor with any agenda could want and need. There was a large king-sized bed with poofy covers clad in clean, white linen; an office table with lamp, telephone, and multi-plug electrical outlet (where I currently sit and write this); a sophisticated coffee and tea making station with kettle and Caffitaly machine; bar fridge stocked with sodas, water, and beer; closets with complimentary fluffy bathrobes, slippers, ironing board, and safe; and a very beautiful, very executive-feel bathroom with shower, bath, and twin vanities.

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Admiring the view from the bedroom.

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The obligatory cheesy bathroom shot.

Unlimited Wi-Fi and access to the Westin Club Lounge, which is open all day for refreshments, round out the offer. Oh, and we also enjoy complimentary access to the Heavenly spa lounge, pool, and sauna (you only have to pay for treatments). Right off the bat there are two things I’m looking forward to: (1) seeing the view of Cape Town at night from our suite and (2) falling asleep beneath a mountain of duvet after dinner.

In the meantime, with the sun making its slow descent into the west (as witnessed from our room), we hopscotched to the Westin Club for Canapé Hour.

Westin Club Canapé Hour

Every day, from 17:30 to 19:30, the Westin Club (on the nineteenth floor) offers guests a rather sexy lounge environment in which to chill, crack open a beverage, and enjoy a complimentary selection of cold mezze and hot tapas. It’s a place to unwind after a long day of touristing, travelling, or being important; it’s a place to enjoy a cold glass of wine or hot cup of tea, and to whet the appetite in time for dinner.

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The Westin Club is also open for:

  • Continental and hot buffet breakfasts between 06:30 and 11:00.
  • All day “grab and go” snacks and beverages from 12:00 to 22:00.
  • A quick recharge meal chosen from the Westin’s organic and freshly produced daily rotation snack menu, 12:00 to 14:30.
  • Afternoon tea featuring homemade gourmet biscuits and a carefully curated tea selection, from 15:00 to 17:00.

In other words, if you’re hungry, thirsty, or in need of a fabulously atmospheric venue for a business meeting, a date, or to get charged up for an evening of fine dining or a night on the town, the Westin Club is the place to kick off. And kick the evening off we did: with a glass of house white wine (Huguenot Chenin Blanc or ‘Steen’ 2018), a little basket of nuts, popcorn, and dried fruits, and front row seats to a spectacular sunset.

Cape Town sunset wine

Dinner at Thirty7 Showkitchen

With the sun tucked behind the western horizon, we caught the elevator to the ground floor for dinner at the Westin’s main restaurant, Thirty7 Showkitchen. This enormous, opulent space is quite something to behold, although a major fundraising event going on downstairs robbed the restaurant of the majority of any patrons it might have had, leaving us to the lion’s share of the staff’s attention.

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For starters, we had ocean trout with trout tartar, and slow-cooked pork with pineapple chutney and a smoked apple aioli so gorgeous, it is my most ardent recommendation that they consider selling it by the bottle. For mains we enjoyed the 12-hour confit Karoo lamb neck, with roast carrot puree and gremolata, and black mussel risotto with smoked onion soubise and slices of regional cheese, both soft and crispy. Unable to extend our stomachs any further, we concluded our meal with an Irish coffee.

The chefs at the helm of Thirty7 Showkitchen are Stephen Mandes and Rohan Mudenda whose philosophy aligns well with today’s demand for free-range, ethically produced meats, sustainable, green-listed seafood, and organic, never frozen vegetables “as full of flavour and nutrients as the day it was harvested”. They also maintain a live-fire kitchen, cooking on charcoal fire, which is beautifully showcased by the food’s flavour and presentation.

Thirty7 Showkitchen is open Monday to Sunday, 06:30 – 10:30 | 12:00 – 22:30. For bookings and enquiries, please email rochelle.voigt@westinhotels.com or call +27 (0) 21 412 9999.

Breakfast of champions

Waking up in the Westin’s immeasurably comfortable king-sized bed, I fantasised briefly about owning Mary Poppins’ handbag – you know, the one that can fit just about anything in it, for example, this king-sized bed. Of course, the Westin staff would soon notice the fact that a bed’s gone missing and since I would hate to be blacklisted by the Westin – never mind the impossibility of such a magical handbag – my fantasies soon shifted to breakfast.

Both Thirty7 Showkitchen and the Westin Club host breakfast each morning but since the former promised a more extensive and abundant hot and cold breakfast buffet, we took the elevator down, rather than up. The scene that greeted us could only be described as “food heaven”. Whatever breakfast food is popular in your country of origin, you’ll find it here. From cereal, oats, flapjacks, and fruit to fried eggs, bacon, salmon, sushi, and charcuterie; cheeses, croissants, and curry for crying out loud, to pretzels, stir-fried noodles, and smoothies.

Think of a breakfasty food: you’ll find it in the Westin’s breakfast buffet, served with just about every add-on, side dish, and condiment known to humankind. I particularly enjoyed their Superfood™ juices (I had the strawberry, date, and rosewater smoothie), which are the ultimate atonement for all the wine you may have drank the night before.

Let’s talk about water

One cannot sing the praises of the Westin Cape Town without mentioning its state-of-the-art reverse osmosis system that saves 40 million litres of municipal water a year. This hotel and many other buildings located on Cape Town’s foreshore stand on land that has been reclaimed from the ocean. Consequently, seawater flows through the underlying soil with the voluminous abundance of a river, which requires buildings in the area to actively pump millions of litres of water out of their foundations every day to keep from flooding.

The Westin Cape Town decided instead to pump this water, which has already been partially filtered by the rock through which it has travelled, through a reverse osmosis plant to remove the remaining salt and impurities. The result of this R4 million investment is 400,000 litres of fresh water every day, 180,000 litres of which is used on site (the rest is piped to its sister establishments, the Tsogo Sun Waterfront and Tsogo Sun Cullinan). The Westin’s reverse osmosis plant is a solution to the water shortages that once threatened Cape Town’s viability as a tourist and business destination and will hopefully contribute to our ability to survive drought conditions in the future.

The Westin Hotel

Reluctant goodbyes

With over a decade of luxury hoteliering under its belt, the Westin Cape Town has been given a multi-million-rand décor and design transformation to update and refresh its offering. It now boasts an interior to rival its sleek and sophisticated exterior, both in aesthetic and function, and with all the modern accoutrements and conveniences even the savviest business or tourist traveller could want and need. We enjoyed 24 hours of beautiful views, beyond comfortable beds, indulgent dining, and peace and tranquillity right here in the heart of the Mother City. And so it was with great reluctance that we bid our accommodations (and bed) a fond farewell.

The next time I travel, I know where I’m staying.

Cape Town sunset

The Westin Cape Town is home to the award-winning Heavenly Spa and the Thirty7 Showkitchen. For bookings and enquiries, please call +27 21 412 9999

www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/cptwi-the-westin-cape-town/

This blog was originally written by Thea Beckman for Southern Vines Magazine, the biggest lifestyle and leisure publication in the Western Cape of South Africa: www.southernvines.co.za/2019/06/04/testin-the-westin-dinner-and-overnight-stay-at-an-iconic-luxury-cape-town-hotel/