The 40th edition of the Platter’s Wine Guide 2020 has arrived!

In 1980, a book went to print containing detailed insights into each and every one of the wines produced in South Africa. More than merely mentioning this 1,200-bottle-strong assembly of wines, the book detailed specifics on their estate and region of provenance, the growers, winemakers, and families behind their names, and other considerations like terroir, price, history, vintages, and more. Each wine was also awarded a rating out of five stars with the goal of giving the “wine confused” a rather fool-proof and comprehensive guide to buying wine in South Africa. I’m speaking, of course, of the Platter’s Wine Guide, conceived in 1978 and officially birthed by printing press in 1980.

Platters-Wine-Guide-Launch-Wines

This year, as with every year (but with the added importance of it being the 40th anniversary) Diners Club South Africa and Platter’s Wine Guide threw an award ceremony at the Table Bay Hotel in the V&A Waterfront to announce the South African wines, winemakers, and wine estates that have been rated the best of the best. To be invited to such a celebration is, therefore, not only an immense honour but also an unmissable opportunity to steep my liver in the country’s and, quite honestly, some of the world’s very best wines.

Naturally, I RSVP’d “yes”.

From “boring” to bible for the oenophile

The Platter’s Guide was lovingly put together by wine lovers and print journalists John and Erica Platter, who had been inspired by the ground-breaking ‘Pocket Wine Book’ by Hugh Johnson. At the time, one of the print staff rather brutally dismissed this considerable compendium as “boring”. I bet they feel like a real cretin now because 40 years on, this formidable tome of wine knowledge has become a bible for the oenophile and a GPS for those navigating the overwhelming waters of the SA wine industry.

Platters-Wine-Guide-Launch-Wines

And overwhelmed was precisely how I felt whilst swimming in a sea of the who’s who of the South African wine industry at the Table Bay Hotel. A glass or two of Graham Beck bubbly later, we all filed into the hotel’s luscious Ball Room for the awards ceremony and the presentation of the 2020 Platter’s Guide.

And the winner is….

The year 2019 gave the gift of 125 five-star wines to South Africa so I won’t mention them all here, but the three pinnacle achievements went as follows:

  • The Top Performing Winery of the Year award went to Mullineux Wines, the husband-and-wife team of which also triumphed in 2014, 2016, and 2018. They also received FIVE five-star ratings, including Shiraz of the Year for their Granite Syrah and Straw Wine of the Year for their renowned version.
  • The Newcomer Winery of the Year 2020 award went to Pieter Ferreira Cap Classique. While Pieter, who is cellarmaster at Graham Beck and the country’s “undisputed ‘Bubbly King’” is no newcomer to the industry, his and his wife Ann’s latest project is indeed a new venture, the fruits of which is a long-matured Blanc de Blancs 2012. This wine also snagged the award for Méthode Cap Classique of the Year with the highest score the Guide has ever awarded a sparkling wine.
  • Finally, the Editor’s Award Winery of the Year 2020 went to Boekenhoutskloof Winery, a Franschhoek-based producer that won Winery of the Year in 2012. What sets Boekenhoutskloof apart is the fact that it produces good and even numerous five-star wines in large enough quantities to be extremely significant, which is something still comparatively rare in South Africa.
Platters-Wine-Guide-Launch-Wines
Platter’s 2020 Top Performing Winery of the Year awarded to Mullineux Wines

Regular folk achieving extraordinary feats

Thrust a wine novice into a ballroom full of wine industry bigwigs and the expectation is that you’d need a gas mask just to breathe the air, so thick the atmosphere is with ego, masculinity, and snobbery. Yet, over the course of the two-hour ceremony, as I watched winemaker after winemaker (or estate representative) take to the stage to receive their deserved accolades, I was struck by how normal these people are, and – praise be – how many women were finally being recognised for their talents and abilities as winemakers.

These award-winners are just regular folk doing what they loved but doing it so well that they have been thrust into a limelight of sorts. In fact, they are far more accustomed to the stillness of the vineyards and the gloom of the cellars than they are to celebrity. And while these winemakers shyly accepted their awards, the crowd was unashamedly supportive and rambunctious in their celebrations. There wasn’t a nose to be found thrust in the air. Or at least none that I saw.

The grand reveal

Finally, with all award winners announced, the veil was ripped from the countenance of the 2020 edition of the Platter’s Wine Guide, revealing a sexy, deep blue cover (the colour of which changes every year). This year’s colour?

Karoo night sky.

As a South African who has witnessed the incomprehensible grandeur of the night sky from the stillness of the Karoo, I cannot think of a more enchanting name. And as a wordsmith, I have developed a devastating crush on it.

The fun part

So, what happened afterwards? Basically, the equivalent of unleashing the Cookie Monster on the grocery store cookie aisle. All 125 of the five-star wines were laid out for us to taste, grouped by cultivar or category (white blends, bubblies, red blends, etc.) It was pure, unadulterated wine heaven: tables groaning with the country’s best rated wines with baskets of droëwors and almond nuts to nibble on.

Platters-Wine-Guide-Launch-Wines

I was like a dog in the woods, a kid in a candy store, and any other adage you can think up. I dived right in with the Pieter Ferreira Blanc de Blancs MCC 2012, Ridgeback Viognier 2018, and Rickety Bridge’s The Pilgrimage Old Vine Semillon 2017, followed by a glorious selection of delectable reds that just about brought tears to my eyes: Mullineux Iron Syrah 2017, Dorrance Syrah Cuvée Ameena, Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2016, Anthonij Rupert Cabernet Franc 2013, Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Erika Obermeyer Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, and the Crystallum Pinot Noir 2018 by Andrew and Peter-Allan Finlayson.

Within half an hour of – I’m not ashamed to admit – gluttonous levels of wine tasting, the crowds mercifully eased up, leaving me to continue my sipping spree untethered by a concern for civil appearance. I also found a few friends who were as reverentially appreciative of the opportunity to drink five-star wine as I was.

Platters-Wine-Guide-Launch-Wines

A treat of the highest order

The first time I ever clapped eyes on a Platter Guide, I was a first-year university student working as a waitress and falling deeply in love with the world of wine. I marvelled at this book then, as I do now: it is a formidable tome of South African wine knowledge, a bible for the oenophile, and the best birthday or Christmas gift you could give a wine lover. From reverentially paging through my 2004 platter Guide between serving customers to sipping my way through a heroic sampling of the 125 five-star Platter wines, it feels as thought I’ve come full circle. And it was worth the headache.

Platters-Wine-Guide-Launch-Wines

Congratulations to all the award-winners, Platter’s Wine Guide, and Diner’s Club International for this year’s tremendous success!

www.wineonaplatter.com

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/2019/11/15/the-40th-edition-of-the-platters-wine-guide-2020-has-arrived/

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/

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/

Treat yo’self with a visit to the Award-winning Heavenly Spa by Westin™

As it turns out, the stairway to heaven isn’t a stairway at all but actually a sleek stainless steel elevator. And it’s located within the sweetly scented lobby of the Westin Hotel in Cape Town. Set the destination for floor 19 because it’s here you’ll find the international award-winning Heavenly Spa by Westin™.

Now, I’m typically suspicious of establishments that liken themselves to the abode of the Gods. My personal concept of heaven is a pretty lofty ideal to reach: anything short of milky maidens bathing in great glass vestibules of Chateau Lafite 1787 simply won’t do! And so it was with middling expectations that I entered Heavenly Spa, clean as a whistle and ready for my 60-minute Heavenly Spa Signature Massage.

Heavenly spa westin

Step into the oasis

The noise fell away, the temperature dipped ever so slightly, and the smell of essential oils pervaded. The neatly dressed staff at the front desk welcomed me with demure smiles and wasted little time in ‘signing me in’. Administration out of the way, I was lead along a winding, airy corridor to the ladies bathrooms, where I changed into my assigned fluffy bathrobe and Westin branded slippers. The bathrooms boast generously sized showers (with complimentary toiletries), lockers in which you can store your valuables whilst undergoing treatment, a hair and make-up station, and a staggering north-facing view of Cape Town.

Heavenly spa westin

It was here – 19 storeys in the sky, clad in bathrobe and slippers, and ensconced in the serene climate controlled interior of a luxury spa – that I stared out of the window over the city below with her car-clogged arteries and thumping dockside industry, and idly wondered if anyone down there could see up my bathrobe. Not really caring, I silently admired the view from heaven.

Treatment commences

Much to the relief of the traffic below (or perhaps to their disappointment), I moved away from the window and to the lounge area, where spa guests are invited to relax prior to, and after their treatment.

Heavenly-Spa-Westin Hotel

I’ve always believed that true ‘zen’ lies in nature and, apparently, so too does Heavenly Spa’s interior designer because the décor here centres on nature with earthy tones, natural textures, and organic elements reigning supreme. It’s clever really because, in a way, your therapy begins before you’ve even stepped into the spa room. With 10 minutes to kill, I helped myself to the ice water that had so considerately been provided (along with juices, green tea, and a few nibbles) and commenced my decompression.

Heavenly massage

Heavenly Spa by Westin™ offers a bevvy of treatments, including facials personalised to your skin care concerns, manicures/pedicures, calming body treatments and massages, men’s services, and waxing. They have a gym, an infinity pool, the latter of which has the most incredible view of the city, and an impressive 15 deluxe treatment rooms. Mine was called something seductively exotic like “sea of elixir” or “waves of tranquility” or “this is going to be the best day of your life”.

Heavenly spa westin

My lovely massage therapist left me to arrange myself on the heated massage bed and protect my modesty with big fluffy towels. The treatment in question, the Heavenly Spa Signature Massage (R820), is a 60-minute Swedish style medium to firm massage of the entire body, from toes to fingertips. And with deft, fluid movements of her surprisingly strong hands, she coaxed out the stress and the strain of a life lived writing, adventuring, jogging, and pestering the occasional cat.

The Heavenly Spa promises, in its offering, to pamper its guests and deliver world-class treatments that are both unique and luxurious. I can personally testify to this statement’s verity. Floating out of the dim, fragrant recesses of the treatment room, I repaired to the lounge once again; this time to attempt to wake up sufficiently so as to be able to get dressed and exit the premises without walking into any walls.

Heavenly spa westin

Escape

The Heavenly Spa by Westin™ is an international award-winning one and I say that without a trace of surprise or incredulity. Quite simply, it is heavenly! It’s also on the 19th floor of the Westin Hotel, which is located (and directly connected to) the Cape Town International Convention Centre. This means that it’s quite literally on the doorstep of anyone visiting, working, or playing in the Mother City.

Heavenly spa westin

Instead of becoming a cog in Cape Town’s perpetually gridlocked traffic system, why not wait out the worst of rush hour here? Or impress your special person with a spa gift card? With the frustrations of work, traffic, load shedding, and the political farces that play themselves out on the news and in the media, we could all use a little pampering. And you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more gorgeous place for that than the Heavenly Spa by Westin™.

I know I departed with the effects of weeks’ worth of working days, a few park runs, and one particularly taxing night of karaoke lighter than when I had arrived.

Heavenly spa westin

The Heavenly Spa at the Westin Hotel is open Monday to Sunday, 09:00 to 20:00
For bookings and enquiries, please call +27 21 412 8200.

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/2019/02/28/heavenly-spa-by-westin/

Meet Gorgeous George

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

Meet George…

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

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

Gorgeous George Interior

Location, location, location

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

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

Gigi Rooftop Restaurant and Bar

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

Gigi-Rooftop-Bar-Gorgeous-George

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

A place you’ve got to meet

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

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

The Den: a Base to Explore the Best of Stellenbosch

The Den Stellenbosch

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

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

The Den Stellenbosch

The Den in Stellenbosch

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

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

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

The Den Stellenbosch

Modern, comfortable, and entirely serviceable

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

The Den Stellenbosch

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

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

The Den Stellenbosch

Dinner by Chef Rich Rorich; wine by Waterford

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

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

The Den Stellenbosch

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

Falling asleep has never been so easy.

The Den Stellenbosch
The Den Stellenbosch

A base to explore

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

Cape Summer Villas: www.capesummervillas.co.za

The Den: www.thedenstellenbosch.co.za

Waterford Estate: www.waterfordestate.co.za