Unwind, wine, and dine at The Alphen Boutique Hotel’s brand-new Incognito Bar

We know how important that after-work unwind spot is: you only have one opportunity to cleanse the palate of the day’s stresses and if the establishment you choose doesn’t help you forget the high-pitched whine of your colleague’s voice or the smell of cheap coffee, your only hope is at least three episodes of your favourite Netflix series, which means yet another late night. So, your after-work spot is an important decision.

It should have a calming ambiance, a little style and pizzazz, interesting and delicious cocktails, a wine list that is a compliment to the South African wine industry, and, because it is vrek cold at the moment, a sexy fireplace that radiates heat. It should be run by happy people who are so well versed in the menu that they make menu and wine suggestions that are actually very good (some, better than your own choices – true story) and they should have a tapas menu stacked with both indulgent and healthy bites. A view of Constantia’s verdant, clipped lawns, towering winter naked oak trees, and heritage buildings doesn’t hurt, either.

What a coincidence because Incognito Bar at the Alphen Boutique Hotel has all of the above!

incognito bar

Anytime good time

incognito-bar-4 alphen hotel

Incognito is a relatively new space at the Alphen Boutique Hotel. Past a gaily-painted rhinoceros, you’ll find this bar tucked behind the hotel and it offers guests with all manner of agendas an intimate place for, as previously stated, after work drinks and small bites. It’s also the perfect venue from which to launch a grand evening, whether it’s a dinner at Alphen’s flagship restaurant, Blanko or a jol in town.

Basically, if there’s a glass of wine or a signature cocktail to be enjoyed and an appetite to be whet with friends, family, or a date, Incognito is a devilishly seductive place to do it. It’s open until midnight on most nights and, on Fridays and Saturdays, they have a DJ providing the perfect sound track to get you in the mood for whatever mischief is on your mind.

incognito-bar-4 alphen hotel

Wine, cocktails, and tapas

Arriving at Incognito, we were graciously led to our fire-side table, where we wasted little time getting comfortable, admiring the view, and appraising the wine list. Being a bar – and being there to appreciate its full offering – we accepted the offer of a signature cocktail, even though wine is and always will be my first choice. I’m glad we did, though because the passion fruit whisky sours was all kinds of creamy, sweet, deliciousness and, in the absence of any sweet dishes on the tapas menu, would have made a fabulous “dessert”.

incognito-bar-4 alphen hotel

incognito bar

I then wavered over the wine list and it was here that our server, the dashing Kudakwashe, stepped in and suggested the Glen Carlou Grand Classique. He even went so far as to bring us a taste of the Classique and the wine I had almost settled on; and would you know it, the Glen Carlou was the superior choice. Kudos to Kuda! With a smooth, supple, and dark chocolatey glass of red wine in hand, we were now ready to launch our assault on Incognito’s tapas menu.

We started with the fried, stuffed olives with garlic and Parmesan and the arancini – breaded and fried balls of risotto rice and mozzarella that are crisp on the outside and gooey on the inside. We followed this rich and indulgent “first course” with the Caprese stack (fresh tomato, basil leaves, and fior di

It should have a calming ambiance, a little style and pizzazz, interesting and delicious cocktails, a wine list that is a compliment to the South African wine industry, and, because it is vrek cold at the moment, a sexy fireplace that radiates heat. It should be run by happy people who are so well versed in the menu that they make menu and wine suggestions that are actually very good (some, better than your own choices – true story) and they should have a tapas menu stacked with both indulgent and healthy bites. A view of Constantia’s verdant, clipped lawns, towering winter naked oak trees, and heritage buildings doesn’t hurt, either.

What a coincidence because Incognito Bar at the Alphen Boutique Hotel has all of the above!

latte mozzarella cheese), the grilled sirloin tapas plate, medium rare and served sliced with a walnut salsa verde, and the tomato bruschetta (toasted bread) with basil, garlic, olive oil, black pepper, and sea salt because sometimes it’s the simple pleasures in life that are the best. We also had the smoked salmon bruschetta.

incognito-bar-4 alphen hotel

incognito-bar-4 alphen hotel

Our final wave of tapas probably extended one big toe into the realm of over-indulgence but when it comes to pizza, there’s always space for more. We ordered the asparagus pizzette, a 30 cm pizza dressed with swaths of prosciutto ham, pecorino cheese, fresh asparagus, and olive oil. I’ve never thought of tapas as substantial food – more like what you eat before you eat – but, as it turns out, if you order enough of it you can walk out of a restaurant or bar feeling blissfully full and more than ready for a bit of shut-eye. This is particularly true when paired with beautiful Cape wines and inventive cocktails.

Yet another seamless offering from the Alphen

incognito-bar-4 alphen hotel

We were superlatively impressed by Incognito Bar. It has a warm, uber appealing ambiance with truly beguiling views of manicured, centuries old gardens. There are quality beverages to unfurl even the most clenched of nerves and really, really good tapas! The Alphen Boutique Hotel and its constellation of eateries have established a rather formidable reputation as luxury hospitality and foodie destinations and, I’m happy to say, the Incognito Bar fits in perfectly seamlessly with this offering.

Incognito Bar is open Monday to Friday, 16:00 to 00:00 | Saturdays 12:00 to 00:00 and Sunday and public holidays, 12:00 to 21:00. For bookings and enquiries, please email info@incognitobar.co.za or call +27 (0) 21 795 6300.

www.incognitobar.co.za

Alphen Boutique Hotel, Alphen Drive, Constantia

This 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/2019/07/09/alphen-boutique-hotels-incognito-bar/

One of a Million V&A Waterfront Restaurants, Firefish Manages to be “One IN a Million”

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have your tried-and-tested V&A Waterfront restaurant: the one you make a beeline for because you know the sushi is good, the wine list isn’t an insult to the wine educated, and the prices aren’t a total swindle. I know, right? Sounds like a bit of a unicorn at the V&A. The problem with this tendency is that restaurants like Firefish can sail under the radar, when in fact they more than meet all of the above criteria: the food is delicious (and healthy to boot), the atmosphere cheery and chic, and the views of Table Mountain a postcard of Cape Town you’ll take home and keep with you forever. And if all of that isn’t enough, Firefish is currently offering a winter menu special, which runs until 31stAugust 2019.

With all of this considered, I was seduced away from my usual V&A Waterfront routine for lunch at Firefish, hosted by the Kove Collection, the hospitality group behind this sophisticated harbour-side eatery and a portfolio of other South African restaurants, bars, and hotels.

Welcome drinks

Graham-Beck-Brut

Firefish Restaurant opened its doors towards the end of 2017, adding to V&A Waterfront’s existing cornucopia of eateries. Initially, the sheer variety of restaurants on the Waterfront’s Breakwater Boulevard can seem a bit overwhelming but once inside Firefish, its naturally bright and cheery interior and sophisticated, chic atmosphere drown out the noise and distraction of its neighbouring restaurants.

Firefish is an upmarket restaurant – and a Writer’s Choice Top Rated one at that – perched right on the harbour’s edge, yielding iconic views of the Cape Town harbour, from its tourist boats and restaurant-lined quay to the coruscating Ferris wheel and Table Mountain beyond. It has a delightful sheltered outdoor seating area but, due to the cold weather, we gathered inside and eased into our lunch with a flute of Graham Beck Brut and a bit of a chinwag with fellow foodie writers, bloggers, and photographers.

Firefish Restaurant Cape Town-2

Three-course lunch with Kove Collection Wine

The Kove Collection has teamed up with various wine estates around the Cape to put together a signature range of wines, which we were treated to over the course of our lunch. To begin with, I had a glass of the Kove Collection Thelema Mountain White, an aromatic, lively, and elegant French oak barrel matured blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, and Rousanne. This paired excellently with my delicious starter of tuna tartare: cubes of raw, tender tuna served with avocado purée, crème fraiche, citrus dressing, and what tasted like a wasabi soy sauce with slices of raw chilli for kick. Also on offer were the parsley, butter, and lemon-dressed grilled baby squid and a fried goat’s cheese pastry, which, according to the exclamations of joy from my fellow diners were equally as delicious.

Firefish Cape Town-Tuna-Tartare
Tuna Tartare

Kove-Collection-White-Blend

For mains, I chose the pan-roasted sea bass, cooked to succulent perfection with a crispy skin, and served with mussels, olives, cherry tomato halves, buttery baby new potatoes, and fresh thyme and fennel. Curious to try another of the Kove Collection wines, I veered from the tradition of pairing fish with white wine and ordered a glass of the Thelema Mountain Red, a gentle, smooth, and cherry-fragranced blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Grenache, Shiraz, and Cabernet Franc. Whoever said red wine and fish don’t go together has clearly never paired their seafood with the right red wine.

pan-roasted-sea-bass-firefish
Pan-roasted Sea Bass
Other dishes served for lunch were the grilled cauliflower steak with cauliflower purée and a walnut caper salsa, and grilled sirloin with walnut salsa verde, charred shallots, and potato fries. Here, it should be mentioned that while Firefish presents as a seafood restaurant (probably because of its ice bar, where guests can make their choice of fish, crustacean, or freshly shucked oysters), its menu is more accurately described as “surf and turf”. Making use of a Josper Charcoal Grill, Firefish turns out seafood, meat, and even vegetarian dishes that are both grilled to perfection and that retain their nuanced flavours. Also, using this state-of-the-art cooking equipment means that the restaurant can offer guests a varied menu that caters to all palates.

Our final course was a choice between creamy coconut panna cotta with mango sorbet, lime soil, and fresh wedges of grapefruit and orange, and vanilla crème brûlée with strawberries and olive oil sponge. I know: what a cruel thing to do making us choose between the two! I opted for the former, since my love of coconut panna cotta knows no bounds; not even the lure of crème brûlée.

Firefish Restaurant Cape Town-Panna-Cotta

One in a million

Firefish is one in a million for several reasons. Quite literally, it is one of a million V&A Waterfront restaurants, many of which are located cheek-by-jowl along the harbour’s edge. In spite of that, it manages to stand right out with its delicious, well-priced, and varied menu; impressive wine list; artful food presentation; chic ambiance; friendly, efficient service; and, let’s not forget, extraordinary harbour and mountain views. And so, for more esoteric reasons, Firefish is, to me, one in a million!

Firefish Restaurant Cape Town-1

Firefish is open Monday to Sunday, 12:00 to 22:30. For bookings and enquiries, please call +27 (0) 21 286 4933 or go to the website at www.firefishrestaurant.co.za

Shop 154 Victoria Wharf, Breakwater Boulevard, V&A Waterfront

This article was originally written for Southern Vines, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/07/02/firefish-one-in-a-million/

Braving the Rain for the Oh-so-Worth-It Terroir Winter Special Offer

Bathed in the warm glow of a flickering fire, our table beckoned to us from across the intimate dining room of Terroir at Kleine Zalze Wine Estate. With its warm charcoal walls, bamboo ceiling, and Spanish style terracotta tiles, this rustic, homey restaurant felt to us like a wholesome retreat from the wintry outdoors, a sentiment soon confirmed by the sound of the rain pelting against the roof. The imagination could scarcely cook up a more inviting space in which to sit down to a meal…but it does get better.

In honour of the season and to seduce Capetonians from the comfort of their homes to Stellenbosch, Executive Chef Michael Broughton of Terroir has designed a heart-warming menu of indulgent, winter-worthy dishes, which the restaurant is offering for only R295 for two courses, or R395 for three, including two glasses of Kleine Zalze wine of your choice. Click here for more information on Terroir’s winter special menu. Needless to say, I was thoroughly seduced and so we braved the rain and frigid cold to see if Terroir indeed lives up to its rather formidable reputation as one of the most sought-after gourmet destinations in the Cape Winelands.

Terroir-outside-photo-Mark-Hoberman
Photo by Mark Hoberman

Chef Michael Broughton and Terroir cuisine

Terroir first opened its doors in October 2004, when chef Michael Broughton exchanged tenure at the Mount Grace Country House and Spa in Magaliesburg to head Terroir at the Kleine Zalze in Stellenbosch. Having previously opened his restaurant Broughton’s in Parkview in 1997 to critical acclaim and garnered serious respect in the subsequent years, it was little surprise to see Terroir’s walls adorned with prestigious accolades and awards. Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Restaurant Awards’ Top 10, Boe and Moët & Chandon Top 30 Restaurants in Africa, and RASA Rosetta Service Excellence Awards are just a few.

Terroir-Chef-Michael-Broughton-photo-Mark-Hoberman
Executive Chef Michael Broughton | Photo by Mark Hoberman

Chef Michael designs his menu according to the seasons, available local ingredients, and whatever whimsical inspiration may strike, as is true of any artist. He describes his cooking style as “deceptively simple”, applying a “less is more” philosophy in his approach to crafting exciting and satisfying dishes. The proof, however, is in the pudding and so we sat down at our cosy fireside table to explore Terroir’s offering and chef Michael’s creative genius, washed down with some beautiful wine from Kleine Zalze.

Three-course winter-inspired meal

We were welcomed most warmly with a chilled glass of Kleine Zalze’s NV Brut Rosé MCC, a lavish bread platter of sourdough and cheesy focaccia slices, smoked olives, hummus, and honey and soy butter, and a little “love letter” from the kitchen: an amuse-bouche of fish croquette in a creamy green pool of asparagus velouté. All of this and we hadn’t even made a start on the winter menu yet!

Terroir Winter Menu Stellenbosch

Our lovely server brought the chalkboard menu to us to make our selection of starters and mains – there are only wine menus at Terroir, and in the absence of printed food menus, chef Michael and his team have the elbowroom to be inspired, spontaneous, and creative.

For starters, I chose the hand-made tagliatelle in a divine black truffle sauce, with roasted tomatoes lending a pleasant and sharp juxtaposition to the otherwise rich, creamy pasta. Being smacked in the face by the earthy, woody, pungent aromas of a hot truffle dish is one of my favourite culinary experiences, second only to taking the first bite of said dish!

Terroir

Another of my favourite things to do when sitting down to a meal is to pick the perfect wine to accompany my food choices. And with Terroir’s winter special including two complimentary glasses of Kleine Zalze wine – of which guests have a choice of about 16 different wines – the experience was really elevated. Devastated to learn that the Vineyard Selection Pinot Noir 2017 was sold out, I opted instead for the Zalze Range Shiraz, Grenache, Viognier 2017: a worthy substitute and perfect pairing for my starter of truffle tagliatelle.

For mains, I chose the Karoo rack of lamb cooked to pink perfection and served with Bulgur wheat pearls, aubergine and courgette, tomato jus, and what tasted like a mint purée. Now, usually, I cut the fat off my meat – I know, how un-South African of me – but those slivers of lamb fat were singed to the most sumptuous crisp and it was just too melt-in-your mouth delicious to shun. My wine of choice was the heady and robust Vineyard Selection Shiraz 2015.

We concluded our meal with a trio of sorbet (apple, litchi, and berry) and a varied and generous cheese plate.

A winsome winter dining experience

The fire crackled pleasantly to my left, its warmth lapping gently at my legs while my “plus one” and I spent a leisurely two hours savouring Terroir’s scrumptious winter meal, the restaurant’s warm atmosphere and attentive service, and Kleine Zalze’s exquisite wines. The drumming of rain on the roof served only to enforce the ambiance of winter refuge, leaving us with happy bellies and heavy eyelids. Terroir proves itself to be more than worthy of the rain-sodden drive out from Cape Town.

terroir-winter-special-menu-karoo-lamb-loin-696x557

Terroir’s winter special: the details

Terroir is located on Kleine Zalze, a family owned wine farm that has risen to prominence both in South Africa and internationally thanks in particular to its award-winning Chenin Blanc and Shiraz. The winter special at Terroir offers guests a choice between a two-course and a three-course meal for only R295 and R395 respectively. Both options include two complimentary glasses of Kleine Zalze wine.

The offer is valid until 30th September 2019 so even though the restaurant will be closing its doors for its annual winter break from 17th June to 10th July 2019, there’s still plenty of time to make the most of this incredible deal. Just be sure to book in advance: Terroir is busy for very good reason!

Terroir is open for lunch on Tuesday to Sunday, 12:00 to 14:30 and dinner on Tuesday to Saturday, 18:30 to 21:00. For bookings and enquiries, please email restaurant@kleinezalze.co.za or call +27 (0) 21 880 8167

www.kleinezalze.co.za

Strand Road, De Zalze Golf Estate, Stellenbosch

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/2019/06/07/braving-the-rain-for-the-oh-so-worth-it-terroir-winter-special-offer/

The Light House Boutique Suites: a Pearl Within the Paarl Winelands

A short 45-minute drive outside of the Mother City, lies a pearl within a pearl; a luxury guesthouse tucked into a verdant oasis of clipped hedges, flowering bushes, and winding garden paths, in the charming town of Paarl. The Light House Boutique Suites is a tranquil haven to retreat and recover from the rigors of the working week, or from travel, as is the case with 90% of the guests here. It was here that we found ourselves on what would turn out to be the hottest weekend the Cape had seen all spring. It’s just as well, because with air-conditioned interiors and a gorgeous pool at our disposal, not even Paarl’s sweltering heat could compromise our comfort.

The forgotten sibling

Paarl has been given somewhat of a raw deal as far as reputation is concerned. Forced to contend with the likes of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, the historic town has unfortunately lost out on a little bit of the attention it deserves. Sure, while Franschhoek may be a “fancy box of chocolates” compared with its more rustic cousin, Paarl is the real deal. Here, frills, fuss, and French charm are roughly exchanged for the kind of honest, rustic goodness that we all, at heart, find so endearing.

Luxury Accommodation Paarl, Cape Town

Named for the bulbous granite extrusion that stands sentry over the town (and whose constituent quartz and mica crystals make it glitter in the sunlight), Paarl – meaning “pearl” – features a fabulous array of diversions. Notably, a wine route dotted with exceptional wineries such as Avondale, which is an absolute must visit for great wine, an enchanting cellar tour, and a delicious lunch or dinner at its restaurant, FABER. The town is also home to a plethora of historic attractions and other top-notch restaurants like Noop, Terra Mare, and The Red Table at Nederburg wine estate.

Paarl Rock itself offers a decent hiking challenge and breath-taking views from the top. The Light House Boutique Suites, therefore, is the perfect base from which to explore the treasures this somewhat ignored town has to offer. Your biggest challenge will be extricating yourself from the sweet embrace of the poolside chaise longues or your bed’s Egyptian cotton sheets to go exploring!

Luxury Accommodation Paarl, Cape Town

Décor and aesthetic

The gentlemen that run The Light House Boutique Suites on behalf of the owners are Darrol and Hendrik, whose career has been unpacked in various disciplines of design and, according to their own testament, have “absolutely no hotelier experience”. Of course, you would never guess from the stratospheric standard of hospitality achieved here. Their design background, however, is evident in every quarter from the gorgeous artworks that thoughtfully adorn the walls to the unique design theme and colour palette of every suite. Even the dining room changes colour every day with the different themed tablecloths that are laid out each morning for breakfast.

Luxury Accommodation Paarl, Cape Town

At our request, Darrol was kind enough to take us on a brief tour of the guesthouse’s five suites, each of which has a unique personality inspired by luxury designer Ralph Lauren, with a dash of warm Africanism thrown in. Our particular suite, the Manhattan room, had black and white photographs of its namesake city with gorgeous lemon yellow highlights adding colour and vivaciousness to a design base of clean whites, warm greys, and crystal embellishments.

Luxury Accommodation Paarl, Cape Town

Luxury Accommodation Paarl, Cape Town

Every element of the design here – colour, texture, and otherwise – has been thoughtfully curated to achieve a theme and feel that is at once luxurious and comfortable. For this reason, The Light House delivers a level of comfort above that of any hotel; you don’t need to scatter your possessions and clothing all over the place for it to start feeling like “yours”. It feels familiar from the outset.

Weekend plans out the window

Outside, The Light House’s garden lazily sprawls down a series of terraces, culminating at the lowest level in an enormous crystal-clear swimming pool. Although temperatures soared in the thirties, the water was surprisingly icy and so we repaired to the poolside chaise longues on which we happily lounged with a glass of Avondale MCC 2010 in hand. With that, all of our carefully crafted weekend plans to give Paarl a thorough exploration went completely and utterly out of the window. I made peace with it, though. This place is so darned beautiful that I’d be willing to sacrifice the hours spent hiking Paarl Rock, visiting the Taal Monument, and enduring the unforgiving sun to remain within the cool, luxurious embrace of this tranquil location.

Luxury Accommodation Paarl, Cape Town

Outstanding service

The promise of excellent wine and food did eventually lure us from the pool and so we dined at Noop on Friday night and indulged in wine and lunch at Avondale on Saturday, both located a short drive from The Light House. We barely had to lift a finger; the staff made the bookings for us and even dropped us off and collected us in The Light House’s resident steed: a very sexy and sleek Limited Edition Chrysler.

From beginning to end, we were thoroughly spoiled and wanted for nothing. Anything your heart or stomach could desire, just ask and The Light House staff will pull the necessary strings (and pop the necessary corks) to make it happen for you. The staff almost constantly stands to attention at the bottom of the staircase and wherever you go – to your suite or down to the pool – you’re never far from the assistance you might need in getting a snack, a glass of bubbly, or arranging weekend plans.

High Tea, Luxury Accommodation Paarl, Cape Town

Take me back!

I stand stubbornly by my original sentiment – The Light House Boutique Suites is a pearl within a pearl, a verdant oasis, and a luxury guesthouse of the highest order; indeed, higher than any I’ve experienced previously. The fact that it has a smorgasbord of wineries, fine restaurants, historic attractions, and outdoor adventures at its doorstep is a plus but, if you’re anything like me, you’ll struggle to get there.

Why seek pleasure outside when The Light House is already such an exquisite escape? 

For more information on the Lighthouse Boutique Suites, peruse the website at www.thelighthouse.co.za or call +27 21 863 4600 | +27 72 687 4516.

Address: 2 Lille Street | Courtrai | Paarl 7646 | Cape Winelands

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: http://www.southernvines.co.za/2018/10/11/the-light-house-boutique-suites-a-pearl-within-the-paarl-winelands/

For an Education in Authentic Japanese Cuisine, Head to Kyoto Garden Sushi This Winter

Japanese cuisine sushi, Kyoto restaurant
Claire Gunn Photography

In Cape Town, where rain is enthusiastically welcomed, winter is no excuse for staying indoors. In fact, most restaurants in the Mother City celebrate the wet season with fabulous winter specials and Kyoto Garden Sushi is no different. And so, on a crisp winter’s Friday evening, we found ourselves in the tranquil embrace of this small, intimate, and incredibly unique restaurant to experience its five-course tasting menu.

You’ll find Kyoto Garden Sushi tucked discretely into an elbow in Kloof Nek road, where the surrounding bars’ clientele bursts out onto the sidewalks on a weekend evening. Leaving the rowdy noise of this popular nightspot behind you, you cross the threshold into a peaceful, low-lit, and superbly romantic oasis.

Japanese cuisine sushi, Kyoto restaurant
Claire Gunn Photography

A five-course exploration of Japanese cuisine

Kyoto Garden Sushi is a bit of a digression from the standard sushi eateries Cape Town has to offer but because of this, it would seem to deliver a far more authentic experience for adventurous diners. Forget store-bought wasabi in a tube, complex sushi creations featuring biltong and cream cheese, and fashionable photographic artwork of young, smiling westerners. The décor here is minimalist yet beguiling, the menu reflects the ocean delicacies coveted in Japan, from sea urchin to squid (with ink), and the beverage menu is an ode to the country’s booze-making traditions and trends, offering guests a vast selection of Japanese gins, whiskies, cocktails, and sake.

We began our meal with a trio of ocean ingredients – eel, sea urchin or “uni”, and scallop – prepared simply with the natural flavours and textures of the meats taking centre stage. To be perfectly honest, we both anticipated this first course with much trepidation but, bite after bite, we were both astounded by how delicious these exotic delicacies were. The eel was rich, fatty and perfectly complimented by a sweet barbeque-type marinade, the scallop was tender, soft, and sweet, and the sea urchin a pure blast of fresh ocean… like being smacked in the face by an Atlantic Ocean wave.

Japanese cuisine sushi, Kyoto restaurant
Claire Gunn Photography

Actually, to describe the latter, a new paragraph is necessary. Sea urchin outside of its pretty green shell is not the most attractive meat: “orange and gooey” accurately describes it. Its flavour, however, is one of pure nostalgia for anyone who has grown up next to the ocean, bringing to mind childhood memories of playing in the tidal rock pools alongside Fish Hoek beach. The flavour was neither salty nor fishy, but if ever there were a flavour analogy for the ocean – the living, breathing ocean – sea urchin would be it. What a treat.

Japanese cuisine sushi, Kyoto restaurant
Claire Gunn Photography

We accompanied our first course with chilled sake, a traditional sweet Japanese beverage made from fermented rice.

Next up was a whole squid from Port Elizabeth, sliced and served on a bed of rich, salty squid ink followed by spinach leaves and oysters served tempura style with a delicious ginger sauce. Three courses in – and with sake glasses drained of their delicious contents – we decided to explore Kyoto Garden Sushi’s fabulous Japanese inspired cocktail menu. With names like Japanese Apple Tree, Dirty Ninja Saketini, Geisha, and Green Tea Destiny, how could we resist?

Our fourth course was a refreshing, palate-cleansing bowl of chilled broth laced with lime and served with thick noodles and chopped spring onions. Then there was the Maine lobster with brown butter; a meat so rich and naturally sweet that I actually preferred it without the butter (but that’s just a matter of personal taste – my plus one looked like he’d won the lottery when I told him he could have it all to himself).

Finally, dessert: three dollops of dense, creamy ice cream, each of which incorporated different, unorthodox (for us here in South Africa) flavours: salty-sweet miso, refreshing lime, and citrusy yuzu. Our final course was washed down with French Chardonnay because… well, when does one ever need an excuse to drink French Chardonnay?

Japanese cuisine sushi, Kyoto restaurant
Claire Gunn Photography

Japanese whisky tasting

With all five courses demolished and cheeks rosy from the sake, cocktails, and wine, we were contemplating our next move when the restaurant proprietor, Scott Wood, approached us with a bottle of Japanese whisky. Apparently, this is something he does quite frequently with guests who show a real interest in the cuisine and the authentic experience. Thus began a most fascinating journey through Japanese whisky of which we tried about four and while I have never been very fond of whisky, the Japanese craft it in a way that I find wholly palatable – sweet, nutty, and smoky.

Japanese cuisine sushi, Kyoto restaurant
Claire Gunn Photography

Our new go-to sushi spot

We had an extraordinary time at Kyoto Garden Sushi. The whole experience felt authentic, wholesome, and unpretentious. Scott is a very hands-on owner, who is as happy to clear away plates and wipe down tables as he is to take you on a tipsy tour of Japanese booze. The service was top notch, the waitrons a real pleasure to interact with, the food simple, yet spectacular, and the ambiance romantic with a real air of Eastern enchantment.

Japanese cuisine sushi, Kyoto restaurant
Claire Gunn Photography

If you’re looking for a go-to sushi restaurant or just an escape from whatever it is that ails you, try Kyoto Garden Sushi in Cape Town. And if you plan on endearing yourself to the proprietor for a whisky tasting, prepare to Uber home!

Phone: 021 422 2001
Address: 11 Kloof Nek Road, Gardens, Cape Town
Web: www.kyotogardensushict.com

This article was originally written by Thea Beckman for Southern Vines Magazine: http://www.southernvines.co.za/2018/05/29/for-an-education-in-authentic-japanese-cuisine-head-to-kyoto-garden-sushi-this-winter/

Why I Love Franschhoek in Winter

Winter schminter! Franschhoek in winter is all about red wine, great deals, and multi-course “the diet starts on Monday” meals

Do you know why I love Franschhoek in winter?

The historic town – one of the Cape’s most famous wine and food destinations – tends to be quite seasonal and so, with the northward migration of the warm weather, visitors to this neck of the woods dry up, leaving its streets, restaurants, and wineries much quieter. No queuing for tables, no jostling for the server’s attention, and no accidental photo bombing while meandering from shop to shop (seriously, some tourists take pictures of everything.)

Mullinieux & Leeu, Franschhoek, Cape Winelands, South Africa

Franschhoek becomes sleepy in the winter and it’s a most darling atmosphere. It feels like it’s all yours – yours to explore at your leisure and your little secret slice of heaven. Besides, there isn’t a forecast that could keep a wine lover such as myself away from a quality wine tasting, and so on a blustery day with skies pendulous with heavy clouds, my ‘plus one’ and I drove to Franschhoek to spend the day and night sampling what this town has to offer in winter.

Our first stop: La Motte Wine Estate.

La Motte art experience

La Motte, Franschhoek, Cape Winelands, South Africa

Twice per month in May, June, and July, (usually on a Tuesday at 10:00), the picturesque La Motte stages a dynamic art experience for guests. Hosted by museum curator Elzette de Beer at the estate’s Pierneef Art Gallery, the experience consists of a gallery tour, followed by a demonstration by a local artist or art student, which affords visitors a privileged window in on the creative process; something that is oftentimes not quite as glamorous or as romantic as we expect!

Currently, Pierneef is running the “Ink on Paper” exhibit, which showcases the artistic processes, various techniques, and conventions behind printmaking. Our demonstrator was the lovely Margarite Neethling, a Fine Arts student at the University of Stellenbosch, who showed us the lengthy and painstaking process behind this popular art form.

Our takeaways from the hour-long experience was, firstly, the incredible skill required to create a decent print (and there I was thinking printmaking was nothing more than sophisticated photocopying!) Secondly, I was struck by just how blurred the lines are between art and science, when quality craftsmanship demands an impeccable standard of precision, patience, and repetition.

Click here for more information on La Motte’s upcoming art experiences (R80 per person) scheduled for the 21st and 28th May, the 4th and 11th July, and 2nd and 9th July 2019.

Winter warmer special à La Motte

La Motte winter, Franschhoek, Cape Winelands, South Africa

Our art experience concluded with a glass of La Motte Collection Syrah 2016 for me and the Pierneef Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2018 for my partner-in-crime, and a rich, creamy bowl of smoked potato soup, which we enjoyed in front of the fireplace in the estate’s gorgeous flagship restaurant, Pierneef à La Motte. This winter warmer special of soup and a glass of wine goes for only R150 and includes a pan of the estate’s devilishly moreish sweet baked bread.

Where: R45, Franschhoek, next door to Leopard’s Leap Family Vineyards
Contact: +27 (0) 876 8000
Web: www.la-motte.com

La Motte, tasting, Franschhoek, Cape Winelands, South Africa
Cheeky wine tasting at La Motte’s cellar.

Tuesday burger special at Bovine Restaurant

Following our delicious winter warmer special and cheeky wine tasting in La Motte’s prepossessing cellar and tasting centre, we made our way to Bovine Restaurant for a meal that was guaranteed to help us cope with the day’s wine indulgence: good old burger and fries!

Located on Franschhoek’s main road, Bovine is the place to go when you’ve got a hankering for honest food that won’t set you back R300 a meal (we know that’s the money you’d like to be spending on wine). Now, with their Tuesday burger special on the go – R100 for any burger on their menu, except the “Fat Cow”, and a side – you can refuel and continue on your merry way without having to consult your family’s finance minister.

We shared two: the 100% springbok “Bonnievale Bok” burger with cheddar, tomatoes, pickles, and red onion and a side of sweet potato chips; and the 100% Oudtshoorn ostrich burger with onion jam, and Stellies blue cheese and a side of wood-roasted carrots and chimichurri.

By the way: unlike most other Franschhoek restaurants, Bovine is open on Mondays.
Where: 42 Huguenot Road, Franschhoek
Contact: +27 (0) 21 205 3053
Website: www.bovinerestaurant.co.za

Bovine, Franschhoek, Cape Winelands, South Africa
Credit: Jess McArthur (and the best “plus one” ever) of http://www.FoodTravelWine.co.za

La Galiniere Guest Cottages

Even the most intrepid of wine drinkers need to put their feet up at the end of a long day’s indulgence, and our abode for the evening was La Galiniere Guest Cottages, which you’ll find sandwiched between Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines and Big Dog Café. Naturally, we couldn’t turn down the opportunity to pop in at Mullineux & Leeu for a quick tasting and to admire the views of the truly resplendent Franschhoek Valley from this more altitudinous vantage point. Make sure you call ahead (+27 (0) 21 492 2224) – the tasting room is by appointment only.

Mullinieux & Leeu wine tasting, Franschhoek, Cape Winelands, South Africa

Thereafter, we finally settled into our accommodations, barely escaping with our faces unlicked by an enormous and friendly (albeit rambunctious) resident puppy. Kicking off our tired shoes, we lit a fire, cracked open a bottle of Mullineux’s Kloof Street Chenin Blanc, and enjoyed a bit of downtime before dinner.

The three-star La Galiniere Guest Cottages are a convenient and rather pretty base from which to explore the Franschhoek Wine Valley and they come in at an exceptional price point for their location, facilities, and standard of comfort. Our cottage had two bedrooms, both with beds the sizes of cruise ships, one bathroom with a shower, a well-equipped open-plan kitchen, and spacious lounge and dining room with fireplace. There was also free Wi-Fi, a pool, and TV. All of that for only R1,400 a night (R700 per person sharing). They even left us a complimentary bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, which they make from grapes grown on vineyards fronting the property.

La Galliniere Cottages, Franschhoek, Cape Winelands, South Africa

Note: Book in advance – La Galiniere only has two guest cottages (sleeping four each for a maximum of R2,500 per night) and, given their convenient proximity to Franschhoek and excellent price, they can sell out quickly!

Where: Franschhoek Main Road (R45), next door to Terbedore Coffee Roasters.
Contact: +27 (0) 72 612 3806
Web: www.lagaliniere.co.za

La-Galiniere-Guest-cottages

Le Petit Manoir

For dinner, we sat down to an unbeatable four-course winter special at Le Petit Manoir, a lavish, elegant, and trendy restaurant on Franschhoek’s main road. For the winter special, guests can choose three courses from a slightly reduced à la carte menu, with a cheese course and bottle of Protea Wine from Anthonij Rupert thrown in for only R350. Not bad! Having come from La Motte and Mullineux & Leeu wines (and being the wine snobs that we are) we decided to change things up with a Viognier, settling the price difference with the bill.

For dinner, we had mushroom and truffle risotto to start, pork belly with cabbage compote, pickled apples, apple gel, gem squash purée, and pork jus for mains, and rose and rhubarb panna cotta with smoked plum gel and sous vide rhubarb for dessert. The cheese course consisted of blue cheese mousse on a crispy cracker with fig mostarda (an Italian candied fruit and mustard-flavoured syrup) and pickled beets.

Whichever way you cut it, R350 for a four-course dining experience and bottle of wine from Franschhoek is a smashing good deal! And we absolutely loved Le Petite Manoir’s ultra-modern glassware, pork belly, brass cutlery, and excellent service.

Note: Le Petit Manoir will be closed for their annual winter break from 3rd June to 3rd July 2019.
Where: 54 Huguenot Road, Franschhoek
Contact: +27 (0) 21 876 2110
Website: www.lepetitmanoir.co.za

Le petit manoir franschhoek

Big Dog Café

Proceeding an entire day of wine appreciation (there’s a euphemism if I ever saw one), a good, healthy breakfast and strong cup of quality coffee were exactly what we needed to refuel, rejuvenate, and carry on our explorations of Franschhoek in winter. The Big Dog Café, conveniently located right next door to La Galiniere Guest Cottages, was our port of call and we kicked off the day with their delicious, house-roasted coffee, a tahini and cardamom granola bowl with milkweed’s Greek yoghurt, fermented berry compote, and fresh fruit, and a trio of breakfast toast slices, all of which were delicious but my favourite being the avocado, sumac, savoury granola, and mustard cress toast.

Where: 191 Main Road, Franschhoek
Contact: +27 (0) 21 876 2731
Web: www.bigdogcafe.co.za

Terbedore coffee Big Dog Cafe, Franschhoek
Meet Jack – the Great Dane (puppy) of Big Dog Cafe.

Boschendal farm tour and wine tasting

Our final activity for our whirlwind 24-hour Franschhoek romance was a farm tour of the Boschendal Estate, whose history dates back a whopping 334 years. To most of us, Boschendal is first and foremost a wine farm. In fact, their vast agricultural operations constitute the majority of their acreage and efforts with pears being their biggest export. The farm also sustainably produces all the poultry, beef, pork, fruits, vegetables, and herbs used in its deli and flagship restaurant, The Werf. And they are actively involved in researching the most forward-thinking and holistic agricultural methods for a sustainable and inter-connected farm.

Enrich, our warm and knowledgeable guide, lead us through the main homestead grounds, where the manor house, restaurant, and deli are located and then on through the vineyards, past the citrus orchards, and to Boschendal’s magnificent vegetable, fruit, and herb garden, paying their pigs, Angus calves, and Indian runner ducks a visits en route. Our hour-long tour culminated in a wine tasting under an enormous oak tree. Lookout out over the clipped lawns, Cape Dutch homesteads, and occasional squirrel-chasing-squirrel, it was hard not to feel grateful for the accessibility and affordability of the treats we have right on our doorsteps as Capetonians.

Where: R310 Pniel Road Groot Drakenstein
Contact: +27 (0) 21 870 4200
Web: www.boschendal.com

Boschendal Estate, Franschhoek, South Africa

Winter Schwinter

So many people avoid the Cape winelands during the wintertime, and it boggles the mind why. Here, the weather doesn’t rain on one’s parade. Sure, it’s a treat sitting beneath the canopy of a gnarled old oak tree, but is the atmospheric interior of a traditional Cape Dutch manor house really a poor trade? If anything, the lower prices, sumptuous deals, and less congested roads make this gorgeous French-inspired town an ideal winter destination. And with cloud cover adding drama to an already dramatic landscape, there’s simply no reason to wait for the fair weather to visit Franschhoek.

Franschhoek, Cape Winelands, South Africa

This article was originally written by Thea Beckman for Southern Vines Magazine, the largest leisure and lifestyle magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: http://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/05/24/why-we-love-franschhoek-in-winter/

The Arniston Spa Hotel: Home, Sweet Temporary Home on the South Cape Coast

The Cape countryside is a patchwork quilt of rolling fields dotted with cows, sheep, blue cranes, and the occasional ostrich. Amongst the cultivation remain untouched stands of the Cape’s indigenous flora or taller tree imports from Australia. Winding through this tranquil, timeless scenery en route to Arniston, I mused that John Constable himself couldn’t paint a more bucolic landscape. And it’s in landscapes such as these, framed by the stoic, craggy mountains of the Cape peninsula and escarpment that the Cape Country Routes’ constellation of properties is located.

The Cape Country Routes is a loose coalition of hotels and activity-based experiences sprinkled across the southwestern Cape (in concentration) but that extends as far up the east coast as Port Elizabeth, and as far north as Hanover, the halfway stop between Cape Town and Johannesburg. Our destination, however, was the Arniston Spa Hotel, a large luxury four-star hotel right on the beachfront in the quaint 120-year-old fishing village of Arniston, and whose bright façade gazes into the East over the Atlantic Ocean.

Arniston Spa Hotel

The Arniston Spa Hotel

We arrived fairly early in the day and as the Arniston Spa Hotel and its spectacular coastal surrounds came into view, we all pressed our faces eagerly against the car windows. Eyes aglitter, we could scarcely believe that this would be our address for the next 24 hours. The Arniston Spa Hotel offers pretty much everything one would need/want to enjoy a long, leisurely stay on the southern coast.

There is ample accommodation with four exclusive room options to choose from, all of which are kitted-out with luxury furnishings, satellite TVs, minibars, coffee and tea-making facilities, and complimentary Wi-Fi. There is also a full-service restaurant (more on that later), bar, Ginkgo Spa, and picturesque pool in a central courtyard so that even the rooms that don’t face the ocean afford guests desirable views.

Arniston Spa Hotel, South Cape Coast of Africa

With her aspect towards the east, I hoped for a sea-facing room, imaging just how beautiful it would be to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic. But before we could settle in, we had somewhere urgent to be and so we deposited our luggage and made a 180-degree turnaround. The tide was rising.

Arniston AKA Waenhuiskrans

Arniston, South Cape Coast of Africa
Typically HORRENDOUS view

Surveying this tranquil, cheery little fishing village today, it’s hard to imagine that Arniston was named after one of the worst naval disasters in South African history but indeed it was. In 1815, the British East Indiaman Arniston was bound for England. Aboard her were 378 passengers, many of whom were wounded soldiers. Tragically, a furious Cape storm – and perhaps a bit of a boo-boo on the part of the captain who miscalculated her longitude – smashed her onto the shore and only six lived to tell the tale.

If that story is a little macabre for you, there’s always Arniston’s other official name of Waenhuiskrans, which literally translates to “wagon house cliff” or “wagon shelter cliff”. This name is derived from an immense nearby tidal cave that was said to be big enough to accommodate an entire ox wagon team, the popular mode of transport several hundred years ago. And this was exactly where we needed to be before the rising tide rendered the sea cave inaccessible to us.

Coastal walk to Waenhuiskrans Cave

Arniston, South Cape Coast of Africa

After a brisk walk alongside craggy ocean cliffs, past odoriferous colonies of cormorants, pristine coastal scrub, and dune systems that beckoned to our inner children, we finally arrived at the village’s namesake attraction. Waenhuiskrans cave was large, cool, and dank with its recent tidal bathing and was surrounded by rock pools riddled with brightly coloured sea life like anemones, sea urchins, and skittish fish. We took our photos, delighted in the sea spray and the reflections of the cave off its subterranean pools, and then, a whole morning’s walking under our belt, headed back to the Arniston Spa Hotel to check in, relieve our feet of their sodden shoes and socks, and finally appraise the views from our rooms.

Arniston, South Cape Coast of Africa
Our guide explains the history of the area, as well as some tidbits on local flora, fauna, and geology.
Arniston, South Cape Coast of Africa
These coastal succulents contain powerful anti-inflammatory properties, making them useful for treating sunburn, among other maladies.

Home, sweet temporary home

We were all lucky and secured sea-facing views. The suites were filled with natural light and spectacular views of the ocean and embracing coastline. I did a quick appraisal, which culminated in some seriously smug satisfaction, and then headed down to the restaurant, where I enjoyed a lunch of chicken and prawn Thai curry with a glass of Arniston Bay Sauvignon Blanc / Sémillon. That afternoon was taken at leisure with the exception of an hour-long massage at the Gingko Spa, from which I emerged pickled with pleasure. Mystified by how my fellow media people manage to use their afternoons productively for work, I sprawled out on my king-sized bed and snoozed.

We concluded a perfectly hedonistic day with a slap-up dinner of fresh wild oysters harvested from the bay at Arniston and washed down with a glass of the delicate and elegantly perfumed Theuniskraal Riesling 2017, followed by a melt-off-the-bone lamb shank, which I savoured with a glass (or two) of the exceptional Strandveld (Rhône style) Syrah 2016. Unable to choose, we ordered three desserts to share: the baked cheesecake with sour cherry compote, iced nougat parfait with toasted almonds and maraschino cherries, and good old-fashioned pavlova with green peppercorn mascarpone cream and fresh fruit. Judging from the alacrity with which those desserts disappeared down our gullets, it’s safe to say that we all enjoyed them immensely.

Arniston Spa Hotel lamb shank and red wine
Now THAT is what I call a quintessential South African feast!

That night, I was lulled to sleep by a belly full of home-style cooking, the region’s beautiful cool climate wines, and the gentle sigh of the waves on the coast.

Kassiesbaai and breakfast

As tempting as it was to remain swathed in sheets, I extricated myself from bed to go on a fresh, early morning walk through Kassiesbaai heritage fishing village, which sprawls right next door to the Arniston Spa Hotel. This is how Arniston began really: as a fishing community and it’s wonderful to see that the rustic, lime-washed, and thatched homes with their colourful doors and window frames remain standing, unspoiled, and inhabited by friendly fisher folk. We meandered through the 120-year-old village, enjoying the company of free-ranging dogs and the views of the sun making its escape from the eastern horizon.

Kassiesbaai fishing village, Arniston
The colourful fishing village of Kassiesbaai, Arniston

Kassiesbaai fishing village, Arniston

Our final indulgence for the trip was a full-out assault on the most epic continental style breakfast buffet you could ever imagine. Quite literally, no breakfast item was left unrepresented, from fruit salad, yoghurts, cereals, and muesli to croissants, scones, flapjacks, cheeses, charcuterie, and smoked salmon. There was even a hot station where you could order your heart’s desire for an on-the-spot breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, tomato, and any and every combination and iteration thereof. I ate like food was going out of fashion and it was good.

Brimstone canary, South Africa birds and birding
A little brimstone canary welcomes the day

Your next getaway

What began as a colourful fishing community has since soared in reputation and popularity for its incredible natural beauty, whale watching opportunities (June to November), and human heritage and history. Chief amongst the draw cards to this rather remote neck of the Cape is the Arniston Spa Hotel, which offers travellers a quintessential Cape country experience and a luxurious and comfortable base from which to explore the region’s charming, breath-taking surrounds. And if you are yet to visit Arniston, you now know where your next weekend getaway should be.

Sunrise Arniston Hotel, South Cape Coast
Sunrise as seen from the Arniston Hotel

The Arniston Spa Hotel is located at 1 Main Rd, Arniston, an approximate 210 km drive from Cape Town. For bookings and enquiries, please email info@arnistonhotel.com or call +27 (0) 28 445 9000

 www.arnistonhotel.com www.capecountryroutes.com

This article was originally written for Southern Vines Magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure publication in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/05/24/the-arniston-spa-hotel-and-cape-country-routes/