Celebrating the Arrival of Neethlingshof’s New Wine Vintages / Brood of “Babies”

It doesn’t matter how old you get: tractor rides are a whole lot of fun. The diesel-laced, farm-fresh air in your face, the roar of its three-cylinder engine, and lush summer vineyards so close you could almost reach out and caress their leaves as you fly by at 6 km/h. Ah…tractor rides are fun. And it was in a tractor-drawn trailer that we kicked off our day at Neethlingshof Wine Estate, one of the Cape’s earliest grape-growing and wine-producing farms.

The crowd of media folk had gathered at Neethlingshof to taste the Stellenbosch estate’s new brood of babies: the 2019 white wines and some newly released vintages of red wines. But nothing works up a wine appetite quite like an appreciation of its provenance and so we were hauled high up and deep into Neethlingshof’s vineyard-carpeted hills to survey its kingdom and the various terroirs that give rise to its delicious ranges of wines.

Neethlingshof

Terroir, terroir, terroir

The tractor wheezed to a stop atop a koppie where, at over 200 metres above sea level, we were afforded sweeping views of the estate’s jigsaw puzzle of vineyards, Eucalyptus stands, granite outcroppings, pastures, and Renosterveld reserves, as well as the greater Stellenbosch valley, which expands outwards from False Bay like a natural amphitheatre.

Here, Neethlingshof’s winemaker De Wet Viljoen regaled us with tales of the farm, its terroir, and the estate’s dedication to “giving back” to nature in the form of Renosterveld rehabilitation, erecting owl posts amongst the vineyards, and, rather than having them removed to make space for more vineyards, allowing pockets of nature to thrive in the Eucalyptus stands and granite outcroppings strewn about its grounds.

Of special note is the fact that Neethlingshof’s vineyards sprawls up a series of undulating slopes that vary from 190 to 260 metres above sea level. At this altitude, the vineyards are bathed in the cool maritime breezes that flood the valley from False Bay and so, while many people tend to think of Stellenbosch as a hot climate terroir, it is in fact far more complicated than that, particularly when you take into account the varying altitudes each vineyard block resides at, their particular aspect (angle towards the onshore breezes and sun), and soil types, of which the farm has two.

This complexity shows up in each sip of Neethlingshof’s wines, as well as in the diversity of wines produced by winemaker De Wet and assistant winemaker Jacobus van Zyl.

Neethlingshof

Wine cellar tasting

Back on the ranch, we made our way through the wynproesentrum into the vast cellars for a private wine tasting hosted by winemaker De Wet. A long, luscious table with all the usual tasting paraphernalia had been set for us and we wasted little time tucking in to the first three of Neethlingshof’s new vintage wines: the white wines.

First up was the crisp, fresh, and vibrant Neethlingshof Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2019, with a rich tropical fruit nose balanced nicely with herbaceous, almost green peppery aromas. Next up was the Short Story Collection Jackal’s Dance 2019, a clear, fresh, and crisp single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc with distinctive minerality and flirtatious notes of ripe figs and gooseberries. The final white wine was the Short Story Collection The Six Flowers 2019, a Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay-driven blend of six white wine varietals, including Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Weisser Riesling, and Gewürztraminer.

The wine delivered a beautifully perfumed, floral yet spicy nose (thanks to new French oak) with each of the six varietals being individually vinified before blended to achieve this delicious and devilishly moreish wooded white.

The Short Story Collection

The Short Story Collection is Neethlingshof’s signature wine range that consists of five different wines, two of which I have already covered. What is so wonderful about these wines is that each bottle tells a beguiling anecdote about the estate’s rich history.

The Jackal’s Dance, for example, originates from farmer Willem Barend Lubbe who, in 1692, made the honest mistake of confusing a pack of jackals for the wolves of his homeland. He then named the farm De Wolvendans (the wolf’s dance), which was only changed in the late 1820’s when Johannes Henoch Neethling bought the property. The Jackal’s Dance unfurls this early history – and honest taxonomical error by Mr Lubbe. It also draws attention to the fact that, to this day, Neethlingshof farm is home to a population of shy Cape foxes.

The Six Flowers is a tribute to the young widow Maria Magdalena Marais, who took over the building of Neethlingshof’s manor house after the death of her husband in 1813. She rather creatively crafted six flowers (five representing her children and one for herself), which she then had cast into the manor house’s gables. Today, the story behind those six flowers has been expanded to represent the estate’s environmental consciousness and its restoration of the area’s indigenous Renosterveld vegetation.

The red course

Back to the wine tasting, our second wave of tastings was the estate’s most recently released reds, starting with the astoundingly delicious and intoxicatingly fragrant Neethlingshof Estate Merlot 2017, which served up rich, red cherry fruits laced with hints of coffee and nougat. Then the Neethlingshof Short Story Collection The Caracal 2017, a dark and intense Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet France, and Malbec that offered up a distinctive cherry tobacco nose, big body, and firm, supple tannins. Finally, we tasted the delightful and delicious Short Story Collection The Owl Post Pinotage 2018, in which I instantly identified coffee-chocolate notes and plums without even having to read the tasting notes first (that’s how distinctive they were).

Neethlingshof

(Vegan) lunch at the manor house

Neethlingshof’s rather substantial innings is reflected in the Stellenbosch estate’s glorious clutch of thatched Cape Dutch buildings and towering oak trees that have become home to the farm’s rather effective mode of pest control: spotted eagle owls. Now, sitting down to a vegan lunch in a 200-year-old manor house may seem like a bit of a study in contradiction but Brendan Stein, Executive Chef at the Restaurant at Neethlingshof, is clearly not afraid of innovation and adaptation.

Neethlingshof
Yuzu compressed watermelon, tomato consommé, cucumber and lemongrass gel, pickled radish, crisp shallot, and shiso

To showcase the season’s incredible flavours and satisfaction achievable without having to turn to animal products, Chef Brendan put together a truly delicious four-course vegan meal for our group. This began with an amuse-bouche of tofu and black bean chilli crumbed fritter with teriyaki and miso; followed by a starter of yuzu compressed watermelon, tomato consommé, cucumber and lemongrass gel, pickled radish, crisp shallot, and shiso; absolutely gorgeous mains of chermoula roast cauliflower, quinoa and dukkha, carrot purée, crispy kale, and herb oil; and finally poached nectarine, spiced syrup, peach sorbet, and almond chips. Each course was paired with a wine from Neethlingshof estate: respectively, the Ode to Nature Riesling 2018, Estate unwooded Chardonnay 2019, Estate Shiraz 2016, and the noble late harvest Short Story Collection Maria 2019.

Neethlingshof chermoula roast cauliflower, quinoa and dukkha, carrot purée, crispy kale, and herb oil
Chermoula roast cauliflower, quinoa and dukkha, carrot purée, crispy kale, and herb oil
Neethlingshof
Poached nectarine, spiced syrup, peach sorbet and almond chips

Almost persuaded to turn vegan…almost

It was quite literally one of the guilt-freest multi-course dining experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting down to. Composed of fresh, colourful ingredients, every dish was a fragrant and flavourful expression of summer, enhanced greatly by the wines. And rather than rolling out the door like a distended blueberry, as I often do after such events, I hopped and skipped out the door feeling like I’d earned a slice of cheese cake.

“Vegan” may have been a dirty word to many of the people seated in the restaurant that day but after our four-course vegan meal by Chef Brendon (who is unapologetically carnivorous but doesn’t shy away from a challenge), we all walked away just a little persuaded by the merits of such a diet.

Neethlingshof

Seek out the stories of Neethlingshof

I greatly encourage you to go to Neethlingshof Estate, not only for the food, the views, the farm-fresh air, and the wine itself, but also to discover the stories behind the wines – particularly those in The Short Story range. While you’re at it, bath your teeth in the Neethlingshof Malbec, an elixir of the Gods if there ever were one.

Neethlingshof Wine Estate is open 09:00 to 17:00 Monday to Friday and 10:00 to 16:30 Saturday and Sunday. For bookings and enquiries, please email info@neethlingshof.co.za or call +27 (0) 21 883 8988.

www.neethlingshof.co.za

This blog was originally written for Southern Vines, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/11/08/celebrating-the-arrival-of-neethlingshofs-new-wine-vintages-brood-of-babies/

Falling in Love with Tintswalo at Boulders

“Because there’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it’s sent away.”
~
 Sarah Kay

On 16 February 1870, Cutty Sark, the fastest clipper ship of the time took to the waters on its maiden voyage from London to Shanghai. Considered the pinnacle of design, the merchant ship successfully completed the journey, returning with 590 tonnes of tea in its hull. For the next 52 years of service, the Cutty Sark earned its keep transporting goods between the continents, visiting sixteen different countries and travelling the equivalent of two and a half voyages to the moon and back. Today, at 150 years old, she is the world’s only surviving extreme clipper hip and, having been retired, is open to visitors in Maritime Greenwich in London.

Cutty Sark was, is, a famous ship (named after a short nightdress nogal) but this article isn’t about famous ships…it’s about the theme inspired luxury suites named after famous ships and the glorious Atlantic-facing villa that houses them. This is about our one-night stay at the Tintswalo at Boulders Boutique Villa in Simon’s Town.

Tintswalo at Boulders

An ode to the Cape’s vibrant colour palette

The name “Tintswalo” has deservedly become synonymous with luxury, but it is a brand of luxury that does not attempt to outperform the spectacular natural landscapes in which each of the brand’s six lodges are ensconced. Rather, Tintswalo’s interiors are created and curated to pay homage to its setting with colours and textures that compliment those framed by its generous windows, balconies, and sliding doors. Tintswalo at Boulders is, of course, no different.

Each suite has a unique colour theme and is named after famous ships, such as Bounty, Grosvenor, Water Witch, Drommedaris, and the Mayflower, the lattermost of which is regarded as one of the most important ships in American history because it brought the pilgrims to Massachusetts during the Great Puritan Migration in the 17th Century. All are an affectionate and luxuriously appointed ode to the vibrant colour palette of the villa’s surrounds, from the luscious aquamarine of Boulders Beach’s shallow waters to the rich, royal blue of the impending evening.

Location, location, location

This spectacularly beautiful villa is in Simon’s Town, centre stage to Boulders Beach, which, being home to a world-famous resident colony of endangered African penguins, hardly needs an introduction. Standing on one of the lodge’s large balconies, one can easily see the penguins, previously called Jackass penguins for their donkey braying-like call, carpeting the granite boulders, the beach sand, and even in the turquoise waters. Occasionally, a wanton ocean breeze carries the sounds of their braying up to the villa and its this, the yelping of black-backed gulls, and the gentle sigh of the Atlantic ocean kissing the shore that is the soundtrack to your stay at Tintswalo at Boulders.

Tintswalo at Boulders

A stone’s throw away from the lodge, less than a minute’s drive down the road, is “downtown” Simon’s Town, a historic seaside anchorage nestled into the eastern flank of the Cape’s dramatic peninsula. For more than 350 years, this sheltered harbour, which overlooks False Bay, has served as a major naval base, first to the Dutch settlers, then the British, and now the South African Navy. This explains why there is an enormous battleship and a retired submarine in the harbour. In spite of its small size and relative remoteness, there is a lot to do in Simon’s Town, including kayaking out to the penguin colony, perusing its various art and antique stores, curio shopping at Jubilee Square, and taking a photo with the statue of Just Nuisance, a Great Dane and the only dog to ever be officially admitted to the Royal Navy.

But sitting there on Tintswalo’s balcony with its panoramic ocean views or in my suite, swimming in poofy white duvet, all thoughts of stepping outside this slice of paradise were so far from my mind, it would have taken a high powered telescope to locate them.

Dinner and wine

Tintswalo at Boulders operates on a bed-and-breakfast basis; however, for our stay, we were treated to a four-course feast prepared by Executive Chef Christo Pretorius from none other than the 12 Apostles Hotel & Spa. This was paired with wines from Bouchard Finlayson, a boutique winery in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley dedicated to the making of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc wines.

Tintswalo at Boulders

We embarked upon the evening with a “celebration of summer wines” in the courtyard, featuring Bouchard Finlayson Sauvignon Blanc 2018 and canapés of seared beef teriyaki roll, yellowfin tuna sushi rolls, and the most divine springbok and chakalaka kare pan, a Japanese curry-filled pie. With introductions done and the wine beginning to melt away the social shyness, we headed inside to take our place at a long table glittering with impeccably polished cutlery, crockery, and glassware. Thus, beganneth our meal.

Tintswalo at Boulders
Tintswalo at Boulders

Our first course was Moroccan lamb en croute prepared in the traditional French technique and served with pickled apricot purée, home-made labneh, crispy chickpeas, and cured lemon peel. This was paired with Bouchard Finlayson’s unwooded Sans Barrique Chardonnay 2017. Next up was the Fizantakraal salmon trout tartar, served on a bed of garden pea panna cotta, with pea and mint salad, chive crème fraîche mousse, and trout roe. This was paired with the gorgeous 2017 and, as yet unreleased, 2018 vintage of Bouchard Finlayson’s Missionvale Chardonnay.

Tintswalo at Boulders
Tintswalo at Boulders

The main course was Angus bavette steak with artichoke purée, soy truffle cream, grilled king oyster mushrooms, pickled shitake mushrooms, and a Pinot Noir beef jus I would have gleefully licked off my plate had I not been sitting at a table full of people. The wine for this course was the 2015 and 2018 vintage of the truly exquisite Galpin Peak Pinot Noir. Nirvana found.

Tintswalo at Boulders
Tintswalo at Boulders

Our meal was brought to a sweet close with a medley of desserts: a coffee and caramel chocolate torte crowned with gold leaf, vanilla bean and passion fruit macaron (my personal favourite and not only because it was purple in colour), hazelnut bon bons, and citrus tart. With a fairly impressive number of empty wine bottles lining the table, we let our inner children free by plastering the gold leaf to our teeth and seeing if our table neighbours noticed.

Tintswalo at Boulders

A frame for nature and an unforgettable stay

A stay at Tintswalo at Boulders is really a frame for the appreciation of the surrounding area and its sublime natural beauty. While deeply, deeply luxurious and comfortable, there isn’t a sliver of ostentatious display to distract one from the glorious section of coastline and glittering Atlantic Ocean that unfurls below and before you. For one blissful day and night, we relinquished ourselves to the caring embrace of Tintswalo and steeped ourselves in fine wine and food, courtesy of Bouchard Finlayson and Chef Christo Pretorius. And the morning after, saying goodbye to it all – the views of penguins, our expansive bed, the villa’s tranquil interiors, and murmur of the ocean – was really rather heart-breaking.

But you know what they say: better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.

For bookings and enquiries, please call +27 (0) 21 612 0113 or go to www.tintswalo.com/boulders/villa/

7 Gay Road, Simon’s Town

This blog was originally written for Southern Vines, the largest leisure and lifestyle magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/11/22/falling-in-love-with-tintswalo-at-boulders/

It’s Truth. After Dark Smullekker Nostalgic Local Cuisine at Cape Town’s Sexiest Café

Typically, when writing about some restaurant dining experience, I have to scratch my head over a unique angle of attack so that it doesn’t read as just another food or wine blog. I like to bequeath a personality and identity upon all of my children, no matter how many my brain gives birth to. Truth. After Dark has completely relieved me of that responsibility because their new concept is so unique – and so uniquely South African – that I scarcely need to plunder my intellectual coffers to come up with anything clever. I simply have to write about the experience. It’s brilliant. Let’s go…

Truth After Dark

sokkie jol through nostalgic local foods

Less than a month after smashing England in the World Cup Rugby, the country is still cruising along at 37,000 feet on the psychedelic euphoria. To perpetuate the patriotism that victory achieved, Truth Coffee has cooked up an ingenious concept that celebrates our South African-ness and how our country’s diversity has defined our cuisine, especially here in the Cape, which is a melting pot in so many more ways than one. The new Sowf Effrekin menu – offered “After Dark” (18:00) – is a veritable sokkie sokkie jol through all the foods that are uniquely South African and, to South Africans themselves, dizzyingly nostalgic.

“We brainstormed some cool – or rather kif – ideas and kept one-upping each other until we hit on a concept to serve up re-imagined, sophisticated versions of the typical Sowf Effrekin comfort food we all grew up with,” says David Donde, founder of Truth Coffee Roastery.

Truth After Dark

Think: Stoney Ginger Beer, Durban bunny chows, Steri Stumpie flavoured milk, oxtail bredie, Bovril beef spread, prawn samosas, and Black Cat peanut butter.

Now take these idiosyncratic South African treats, dishes, and beverages and run them through the mind of a mad culinary scientist or, as Truth Coffee likes to say: “deliberately get it wrong in the most delicious way” and you’ve got the brand new Sowf Effrekin “Gastro-Kaap” menu. Prepare to be surprised.

Truth After Dark

Feeling Snek-ish

First of all, I would like to commend whoever wrote the Sowf Effrekin menu and its descriptions. Sorry Truth Coffee, but they should immediately quit their job as a restaurant employee and launch a glittering career as a comedy writer. I don’t think I’ve ever picked up a menu that has made for such good, entertaining reading. Also, for non-South Africans, it provides fairly essential descriptions of all the colloquialisms, ingredients, and dishes mentioned so that you too can participate in the joy of it all.

For starters, we ordered the Bovril-y on toast and a bietjie biltong: a South African braai snack done a little differently. The plate featured ostrich carpaccio, mushroom biltong, and a buttery brioche with a meaty glaze on top, a pretty accurate visual representation of Bovril on bread, especially since I like mine layered on thick enough to measure with a ruler. In centimetres. We also had the prawn samosa, a dish described in the menu as: “pastry, prawn, and prawn bisque. What is the question?”

Truth After Dark
Truth After Dark

One must remember that these are South African favourites that have been interpreted and reimagined so don’t just expect an haute cuisine version of the original thing. Expect the unexpected.

Moer of a hungry

For mains, we ordered the Durban-inspired, slow-cooked lamb bunny chow and the oxtail bredie, two legendary and proudly South African comfort foods that are infinitely more effective than wine in perking you up after a particularly onerous day; this, coming from a wine lover. Again, these dishes had been “deliberately gotten wrong in the most delicious way” with the bunny chow resembling a rugby ball and being a baked bread filled with tender lamb curry. For the oxtail bredie, they “channelled their inner Ouma”, and the result was oxtail, deboned and stuffed with a chicken and mushroom concoction, and served South African style with a red wine sauce, vegetables, a maize dumpling, and a dusting of spiced crispy rice. We South Africans do love our Spice for Rice.

Truth After Dark
Truth After Dark

Cocktails

I need to create a new section for the cocktails on Truth’s Sowf Effrekin menu because they absolutely deserve it. Served in their original vessels (just with a cheekily revised label), the cocktails are delicious and so gut-bustingly fun and funny. There’s the Fat Cat, a creamy peanut butter, golden syrup, and banana smoothie-type cocktail laced with Amarula liqueur and Floating Dutchman rum, served in an actual Black Cat peanut butter jar. I would happily chug the stuff as a breakfast smoothie before hitting the office, with interesting consequences, I’m sure.

Truth After Dark

Then there’s the Stoner cocktail, served in an original Stoney Ginger Beer bottle, and composed of Blitsem Witblitz, ginger and hemp soda, and saffron, of all things. And the Melktert Pina Colada, a concoction of Mhoba rum, Takamaka coconut rum, condensed milk, pineapple, and cinnamon served in an actual condensed milk blikkie. I mean, who needs dessert after all that?

Truth After Dark

Schweet-like-a-lemon

We do because we’re piglets. And so we ordered the Malva pudding, which was delicious: swimming in custard, topped with a crispy toffee-like latticework thingy, and served with Amarula ice cream. Happy place.

Truth After Dark
Truth After Dark

Take a trip down memory lane

With Truth Café having been voted the ‘Best Coffee Shop in the World’ for two years running by The Daily Telegraph, founder David Donde and his team felt inspired to do for the local food scene what they’ve done for coffee by expanding their culinary offering to include dinner. And not just any dinner experience…but one that is humorously and proudly Sowf Effrekin.

I could wax lyrical about all the other absolutely delightful Gastro-Kaap dishes on the menu but I encourage you to discover each comedic and tasty gem for yourself. The menu is as much a delight to read, as it is to experience and there simply is nowhere else in Cape Town that shows off nostalgic local cuisine in as unconventionally romantic an environment as Truth. After Dark.

Truth. After Dark experience kicks off from 18:00 until midnight, Monday to Saturday. For bookings and enquiries, please email info@truth.coffee or call +27 (0) 21 2000 440.

www.za.truth.coffee

36 Buitenkant Street, Cape Town City Centre

This blog was originally written for Southern Vines, the largest leisure and lifestyle magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/11/25/truth-after-dark/

Surfshack, baby, Surfshack!

The newest kid on the Camps Bay strip, and the newest jewel in the Kove Collection tiara is a beachside restaurant called the Surfshack Diner. This brand spanking new contemporary seaside diner is a righteous place for a lengthy afternoon or evening of delicious dinner classics (with a unique twist), drinking cocktails or wine, and enjoying front row seats to one of the best sunset spots in Cape Town.

Island vibe meets trendy LA hotspot

Perched on a prime location on Camps Bay’s golden mile and with views out over Camps Bay beach and the Atlantic Ocean, Surfshack Diner hardly needs to be pretty on the inside (with a view like that, who’s looking in?) and yet it is: most assuredly so. Think: casual island beach café meets trendy Malibu hangout spot. The Surfshack Diner has a rustic island vibe with its bamboo-lined ceilings, rope-wound columns, and, of course, views of beach and palm trees. And yet, it is all executed in an uber stylish way with a generous helping of vivacious buzz. In other words, it’s the kind of venue you would be in absolutely no rush to leave, which is aided in no small part by the gratifying and varied food, wine, and cocktail menus.

Surf Shack Camps Bay

First tide, man

For starters, we ordered a collection of “sharable plates” so that we could all get a feel for the vibe of Surfshack’s cuisine. Our bounty consisted of blistered jalapeno peppers stuffed with goat’s cheese and drizzled with hot honey; rice crispy prawns encased in puffed rice and citrus syrup; seared ahi (yellowfin tuna), avocado, jalapeno slices, truffle citrus aioli, and wasabi flying fish roe perched on crisp tortillas; salt and pepper baby squid with coriander and jalapeno dressing; and, of course, French fries! With a vegetarian in our midst, we also ordered one of the Surfshack’s ingenious creations: crispy, curly corn on the cob (cobs that have been quartered lengthwise to the core to create what looks like ribs) with smoked pepper aioli, pecorino cheese, and lime. Absolutely delicious!

Surfshack-Jalapeno-Peppers
Surfshack-Crispy-Prawns
Surfshack-Yellowfin-Tuna-Tortillas
Surfshack-Calamari

Second tide, man

For mains, I was torn into a million pieces. Should I choose the poor man’s lobster roll with prawns, avocado, lime, and chive aioli? God, that sounds good. Or how about the hot honey fried chicken burger? The baked line fish of sea bass with lemon and citrus aioli also sounds divine. At the end of a lengthy internal battle the scope of Waterloo, and having had a titillating preview of the ahi tuna, I decided on the sesame seared ahi tuna steak with chilli, spring onion, crispy shallots, coriander, and citrus dressing with a side of citrus-based coleslaw (non-creamy).

Surfshack-sesame-seared-ahi-tuna-steak

Two of our party chose pizza, which is made in the attractive wood-fired pizza oven that dominates the far wall of the restaurant. And another two went for the “bucket of shellfish” (langoustines or prawns), which one can order with a flavour (Cajun or lemon and herb), sauce (lemon butter, garlic butter, etc.) and side of their choice. We were happy diners!

Surfshack-PIzza-oven

Kove Collection Wine

The Kove Collection has teamed up with various South African wineries to create a signature range of wines, all of which are featured on Surfshack’s menu, in addition to a handsome selection of wines from around the Cape. It’s lovely to note that for every type of wine (cultivar, red/white blends, and sparkling wine), there is a choice of three different wines by the glass. This gives guests who don’t want to order a bottle, or who prefer different wines with different courses, a more than decent selection. With our meal, we had the Kove Collection Sauvignon Blanc from Waterford’s Pecan Stream range and an unwooded Chardonnay from Glen Carlou.

Kove-Collection-Wine

A reliably awesome time

Restaurants on the Camps Bay strip have a reputation for demanding tourist prices for food that isn’t all that great and service that is so harried and over-worked you could very well take a nap in between ordering drinks and food. I’m very pleased to say that our experience at the Surfshack Diner was a stark opposite. The food was truly excellent and our server Kingston, one of the nicest, most professional waitrons I’ve had the pleasure of being spoiled by in recent memory. So if you’re looking for a place to impress friends, family, and especially visitors to our fair shores (who have been told that Camps Bay is “all the rage”), bring them to the Surfshack, baby, Surfshack!

Surfshack-Diner-Food

P.S. Enjoy having the song “Love Shack” rolling around your head for the rest of the day.

The Surfshack Diner is open Monday to Sunday, 12:00 to 23:00. For bookings and enquiries, please email info@surfshackdiner.co.za or call +27 (0) 21 437 1802.

www.surfshackdiner.co.za

201, The Promenade, Victoria Road, Camps Bay

This blog was originally written for Southern Vines, the largest leisure and lifestyle magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/10/29/surfshack-baby-surfshack/

Grande Provence Celebrates the Season with a New Spring Heritage Tasting Menu

Executive Chef Marvin Robyn is celebrating Cape cuisine and all the fresh, local ingredients the changing seasons brings with his new Spring Heritage Tasting Menu at Grande Provence Heritage Wine Estate in Franschhoek.

It was a spring day so warm it may as well have been summer. Towering oaks cast dappled shade over gardens and sculptures so lifelike, they appeared to be in liquid motion. Row upon row of vineyards celebrated the season with an exuberant dress of emerald leaves. People sat at shaded tables on the veranda, sipping wine and dipping into platters of food. And it’s all so perfect! That’s Grande Provence Heritage Wine Estate for you. A place of such stunning visual perfection that it’s almost as if it has been curated for a movie.

Grande Provence Spring Menu

That, or you’ve fallen asleep in the shuttle and are dreaming. Or so I thought as I meandered around Grande Provence’s sculpture garden on a gorgeous spring day, anticipating a meal that pays homage to the very unique culture of the Cape and the local, seasonal produce of the Cape farmlands and Franschhoek valley. The marriage of the two is being presented as the Spring Heritage Tasting Menu and, spoiler alert, it is one of the best winelands meals and experiences I’ve had in many moons.

The Bistro at Grande Provence

After a stroll through Grande Provence’s art gallery and then wine cellar, lead by winemaker Thys Smit, we gathered at the Bistro for an oyster and bubbly pairing, for which Grande Provence has rightfully cultivated quite a reputation. Incidentally, Thys Smit has been selected as one of the 2019 Diner’s Club Young Winemaker of the Year finalists, a remarkable achievement (we hope you win, Thys!)

Grande Provence Spring Menu

One of the estate’s two eateries, The Bistro has a more laid-back, informal atmosphere and spills out onto the lawn, offering gorgeous vineyard views. The menu covers breakfast (10:00 to 12:00 daily – try their new heritage breakfast menu); lunch and early dinner (12:00 to 18:00); as well as daily specials such as pitas, wraps, salads, platters to share, and the most glorious cakes.

We slurped back fresh West Coast oysters embellished with a variety of dressings, from pineapple and yoghurt to kimchi and sesame seeds. These we chased with sips of Grande Provence’s indomitable Brut Rosé and buttery Vintage Brut 2011.

Grande Provence’s Cap Classique and oyster pairing is served from the oyster bar in the sculpture garden for R180 per person. Also, enjoy daily happy hour oysters between 17:00 to 18:00 for only R10 each.

Grande Provence Spring Menu

Lunch al fresco under the oaks

Appetites thoroughly whetted, we exchanged the casual Bistro setting for the gorgeous sculpture garden, in which a harvest table had been laid out for us beneath the oak trees. It was finally time to roll up our sleeves and delve into Chef Marvin Robyn’s Spring Heritage Tasting Menu and we were all enthusiastically up to the task.

We embarked upon our multi-course meal with bite-sized canapés of lamb bobotie samosas, soft potato churros, and fresh farm bread with a salted herb and garlic butter so divine that I shamelessly lathered it onto my bread in thick swaths.

Grande Provence Spring Menu

Then, for starters: fire-roasted beetroot with pink beetroot purée, honeycomb walnut praline, chevin, and suurvytjies (sour fig) dressing, paired with the soft, supple, and black fruit forward Grande Provence Merlot 2018. This was followed by the gold Michelangelo award-winning Grande Provence Sauvignon Blanc 2018 and Saldanah bay oysters, fynbos infused kimchi, fresh plums, dune spinach and, hiding within the oysters, something Chef Marvin called “oyster kaiings”, crispy and sumptuous nuggets of battered and deep-fried oyster juice. Sublime. Also, the combination of sweet honeycomb walnut praline, salty goat’s cheese, and earthy beetroot was so delicious, it was something of a spiritual experience to eat it.

Grande Provence Spring Menu
Grande Provence Spring Menu

Wave of mains and a sweet, sweet ending

A quick succession of dishes almost totally arrested conversation around the table as we savoured each bite and sip of wine. The free-range chicken breast served with stewed apricot, pickled curried onion, cream cabbage, and ginger bread jus was a spectacular symphony of flavour, and paired beautifully with the Grande Provence Chenin Blanc 2018, which is one of the two wines that clinched winemaker Thys his prestigious nomination. The other was the Chardonnay 2018.

Grande Provence Spring Menu
Grande Provence Spring Menu

There was also beef rib-eye steak with cauliflower purée, button mushrooms, asparagus, and kapokbos jus (wild rosemary), paired with the Michelangelo award-winning Grande Provence Shiraz 2017; Sea Bass, papaya purée, sweet corn, grilled cos lettuce, chilli caramel, and delicious smoked snoek croquette, paired with the creamy and elegant Grande Provence Chardonnay 2018; and the exquisite carrot risotto with heritage carrots, blue cheese, and white chocolate spuma, which we shared (read: fought over).

Grande Provence Spring Menu

Buttons bursting, we faced our final course: a rich, dark, and velvety 70% Valrhona chocolate fondant served with Amarula crème, KWV brandy snaps, and apricot gel. I’m not typically one for sweet dishes but I couldn’t stop until all that was left on my plate was a chocolate skid mark.

Escape to Franschhoek

Chef Marvin’s spring heritage menu is a glorious ode to the season and to the Cape’s natural and cultural heritage. Each dish was symphonic in colour and flavour, which, paired with the estate’s delicious wines, makes for a meal you’ll remember with a nostalgic sigh for months to come. It is my sincerest recommendation that you bring your friends and family and experience it for yourself!

Grande Provence Spring Menu

The new Spring Heritage Tasting Menu is priced at R495 or R595 for three or four courses respectively (without wines) and R780 or R880 with wine pairing.

The Restaurant at Grande Provence is open for lunch on Monday to Sunday, 12:00 to 15:00 and dinner, 18:30 to 20:30. The Bistro is open for light meals and tastings from Monday to Sunday, 10:00 to 18:00. For bookings and enquiries, please email reservations@grandeprovence.co.za or call +27 (0) 021 876 8600

Grande Provence Spring Menu

www.grandeprovence.co.za

This blog was originally written for Southern Vines, the largest leisure and lifestyle magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/10/23/grande-provence-celebrates-the-season-with-a-new-spring-heritage-tasting-menu/

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.

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