Franschhoek wines and Cape flavours served in a rustic space, infused with traditional elements.
It is imperative when visiting Franschhoek – and particularly overnighting in Franschhoek – to pick a good breakfast spot. Why? Well, make no mistake, there will be wine and good wine at that, which means that the morning after the day’s indulgence will, in great likelihood, bring with it a hankering for some gorgeously greasy sustenance. I ain’t talking about no Wimpy breakfast, either. I’m talking about a breakfast buffet table groaning with cheese, charcuterie, pastries, breads, fresh cut fruit, cereals, and yoghurt, and a menu with every warm breakfast known to civilized man and woman (well, westerncivilized man and woman)…I’m talking about breakfast at Bistro BonBon.
Whether you like your eggs fried, scrambled, Florentined or benedicted, Bistro BonBon does a breakfast that is practically guaranteed to help you atone for the sins of the day before and to restore your body and mind to sufficient enough rigor to get you right back on that horse for round two in the Franschhoek winelands. Or three: who’s counting?
But it’s not only breakfast Bistro BonBon has earned a widespread reputation for (clearly, judging by how full they were on the morning we visited). Located on the breathtakingly beautiful La Petite Dauphine Estate on Franschhoek’s Excelsior Road, this charming restaurant with its rustic, country interior and views of dewy gardens, orchards, and mist-swathed mountains, does lunch and dinner too. Scottish Chef Archie Maclean is the creative driving force behind the menu, which takes full advantage of the Franschhoek Valley’s rich fruit basket of fresh produce.
Lunches and dinners are typically taken in The Studio of Bistro BonBon, a converted fruit packing shed with oodles of naked wood and natural textures giving it that beguiling, rustic feel and paintings from local artists adding pops of colour.
We, however, arrived late morning for breakfast and a strong cup of Sega Fredo coffee. After a warm welcome from Dominique Maclean, Chef Archie’s wife and Bistro BonBon’s front of house manager, we snuggled in for breakfast.To our backs, a wood-fire stove radiated delicious heat, beating back the icy chill of the Franschhoek Valley after a night spent in the teeth of a tempestuous Cape storm.
Having spent the day before steeping ourselves in Franschhoek’s beautiful wines, we made no pretences about “being healthy” – the diet can start on Monday – and so we ordered that ultimate, loving ode to cholesterol: the English breakfast. Two gooey eggs, a pork sausage, crispy bacon, sautéed mushrooms, seeded toast, a potato rosti, and sweet tomato relish later, I was ready to brave the new day!
Bistro BonBon provided the perfect, cosy setting for breakfast on a cold Franschhoek morning but watching the sun bathe La Petite Dauphine estate’s manicured gardens and orchards in silvery winter light left us somewhat regretful that it was too cold to sit outside. By the way, if you look “tranquil” up in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of the view from Bistro BonBon, which might explain why we departed feeling like more than just our bodies had been recharged.
This is truly a magical location with a warm, country vibe that makes you feel right at home. We will just have to make our pilgrimage back to experience a lunch or dinner, outside this time, and under the shade of their 200-year old oak tree!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
Snow in South Africa might sound as ill fitting as a giraffe in Antarctica, but every now and then, when a Western Cape winter storm system becomes particularly intense, it can cause temperatures to plummet to below freezing. In high-lying places along and beyond the escarpment, this cold snap can leave towns, farmlands, and mountains frosted in snow. Rather than seeking refuge from the cold, Capetonians and South Africans from further afield jump in their cars to spend a day or weekend cavorting in the wintry wonderlands; doing all of those things we see Americans doing in the movies, like making snow-men, lobbing snowballs at each other, casting snow angels, and… wasn’t there something about yellow snow cones?
Well, with winter fast approaching – bringing with it the possibility of snow – here are some of the Western Cape’s best destinations for seeing, playing, and, uh, peeing in the snow.
* All prices indicated are per person, per night.
Matroosberg Private Nature Reserve
Situated an easy two-hour drive from Cape Town, the southern slopes of the Matroosberg (of the Matroosberg Nature Reserve) frequently receive snowfall in the winter, and oftentimes heavy rainfall. After a good snow, the landscape remains painted white for several days after, giving visitors sufficient warning to plan a quick getaway. The nature reserve has even rigged up a private ski-slope, so if you’ve fallen in love with the sport on holiday in Sweden or Canada, you can satiate your craving right here in Cape Town’s own backyard. For overnight or longer stays, the Matroosberg Nature Reserve offers several accommodation options at Erfdeel Farm, from camping and ski huts to romantic candlelit cabins (seriously, they have no electricity).
The Cederberg Wilderness Area in winter is strikingly beautiful with its vast plains and boulder-strewn slopes soaring skywards into craggy cliff-faces and rocky pinnacles. It is a landscape of grand scale in both the horizontal and vertical axes, and in winter, after a particularly cold spell, the high mountain passes, peaks (particularly Sneeuberg), and slopes can become utterly transformed by snowfall. Located three-hours’ drive (or 2.5 if you gun it) from Cape Town, the Cederberg Wilderness Area does offer self-catering cottages (from R640 per person, per night) and camping sites (from R120), just make sure you go prepared for the cold. Alternatively, you can book one of the many accommodation options (guesthouses, hotels, self-catering, and more) offered by found the two neighbouring towns of Citrusdal and Clanwilliam.
Unless Table Mountain has received an unusual dusting of snow, the closest place for Capetonians to travel is the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve, which covers a wide swath from Elgin all the way to Stellenbosch. The Hottentots Holland is that craggy range of mountains we can see to the East of the city, by the way and, at only 90 km distance, it makes for a quick and fun day trip. The nature reserve is beloved for its spectacular, yet rugged terrain with its three highest peaks, Rifberg, Pike Mountain, and The Triplets, receiving the heaviest doses of snow. Rustic overnight huts with bunk beds, matrasses, wood, and running water are available (no electricity) at Landroskop and Boesmanskloof. Each feature four rooms and sleeps 30 people (from R240).
Located in the Kogelberg Nature Reserve near Stellenbosch and Paarl, the Boland Mountains are no stranger to snow during particularly cold spells in the Cape. The reserve itself, a World Heritage Site, is considered by many to be the most beautiful of Cape Nature’s protected areas and its exceptional diversity and quality of fynbos means it is also considered the heart of the Cape Floral Kingdom. In terms of accommodation, the five glass-fronted Oudebosch eco-cabins afford guests breathtaking views of the reserve and sleep four people. Each cabin features two bedrooms, one bathroom, one en-suite, and a spacious kitchen, lounge and dining area, and goes for R1170 (1-2 people, off-peak), plus R390 per additional person, per night (max four). The Boland Mountains also span over the Jonkershoek, Assegaaibosch, Hottentots, and Limietberg reserves so if you’ve already been to Kogelberg, you have options!
The Hex River Mountains are the second highest mountain range in the Western Cape, so it’s little surprise that their sandstone 2,000-metre-high peaks are frequently kissed by snow during winter. Located an approximate 120 km to the northeast of Cape Town, between the towns of Worcester and De Doorns, the Hex River Mountains’ highest mountain is the Matroosberg, which even offers visitors two kilometres of ski slopes. For information on accommodation in the Hex River Valley, visit the tourism website.
The wine growing regions of Robertson and Worcester are known for their snow-capped mountain views in the winter months, and there is also plenty to do here, from trout fishing in the lakes to historical winter walks through the town and, of course, wine tasting! The Langeberg is the mountain range that most frequently receives a frosting of snow in winter, particularly its highest peak, Keeromsberg, which lies 15 km to the northeast of Worcester. There is plenty of accommodation located throughout the Robertson and Worcester wine valleys – where you stay all comes down to your budget and preferences so check out the accommodation pages on the websites for Robertson and Worcester to explore your options.
Declared a World Heritage Site in 2004, Swartberg Nature Reserve stretches 121,000 hectares between the Klein and Groot Karoo, bordering the Gamkapoort Nature Reserve to the north and the Towerkop Nature Reserve to the west. The town of Oudtshoorn is 40km away. Visitors staying overnight sleep in restored cottages in the Gamkaskloof (otherwise known as Die Hel) and delight in the reserve’s rich heritage from the San rock art and artefacts found in caves throughout the reserve to its rich diversity of indigenous vegetation, including Renosterveld, mountain fynbos, and spekboom veld. There are self-catering cottages from R380 per night and camping sites from R150; alternatively, the nearest town of Oudtshoorn, known for its ostrich farms, has a greater variety and some sophisticated options for accommodation.
In 2018, a Japanese fraternity of sommeliers named the Limestone Hill Chardonnay from De Wetshof the “Oyster Wine of the Year”. Being a Pacific Ocean-embraced island with a culture and cuisine deeply rooted in seafood, they should know, shouldn’t they? Originating from South Africa’s very own “House of Chardonnay” in the Robertson Wine Valley, the Limestone Hill Chardonnay is no stranger to accolades with bottles of past vintages appearing more decorated than a Christmas tree.
But it wasn’t to celebrate and explore the wines of vintages past that we gathered at SeaBreeze Fish & Shell Restaurant on Bree Street, the carotid artery of Cape Town’s culinary scene. No, it was to celebrate the arrival of the brand new vintage, the 2019, over a lavish three-course seafood lunch!
South Africa’s “House of Chardonnay”
For three generations, the De Wets have toiled over their hectares in the Robertson Wine Valley, transforming sunshine, terroir, and grape juice into a generous selection of variously styled and site specific Chardonnay wines. So intimately intertwined is the history and present of this estate with this noble Burgundian grape varietal that De Wetshof has earned an international reputation as South Africa’s eminent Chardonnay House. The De Wets live and breathe Chardonnay: it runs in their veins (and probably not just figuratively speaking either).
The Limestone Hill Chardonnay
The Limestone Hill Chardonnay is one of the estate’s more accessible wines, both in price and in ease of drinkability. It’s widely known, well trusted, reliably delicious, and (be warned) dangerously quaffable. Now, typically, I like my wines wooded and with a few years under their belts, but there’s a whole lot to be said for this youthful, vivacious, unwooded Chardonnay and even more so because, at only a few months old, it is rich and complex yet elegant, with fresh flavours of citrus and ripe fruits underscored by a gentle minerality.
Actually, since I couldn’t possibly better the words of American wine critic Robert M. Parker in describing this wine, I’ll simply quote them here:
“The De Wetshof Estate Limestone Hill Chardonnay offers impeccably pure, refreshing apple, peach and lemon fruit, a lovely leesy richness of texture, and a nutty, chalky, fruit-filled finish of imposing length. Understated and less tropical than some of the better un-oaked Chardonnays, this wine possesses far better balance and sheer drinkability – not to mention more finesse – than 99% of the world’s Chardonnay I have experienced.”
Yeah: what he said.
The De Wetshof Limestone Hill Chardonnay carries quite a hefty reputation and, as we’ve seen, one that extends both east and west of South Africa. But it’s when this accessible wine of great substance is paired with food that it truly sings.
Three-course seafood lunch ft. Limestone Hill Chardonnay
We sat down to lunch at the SeaBreeze Fish & Shell, which is owned and run by Britons Alex and Ruth Grahame, previously of the Hornblowers seafood restaurant in Gourdon, Scotland. This contemporary take on the traditional seafood restaurant prides itself on “sourcing local, sustainable seafood presented creatively and with a lighter touch.”
For starters, we were treated to a plate of fresh, naked oysters of various provenances (Saldanha Bay and Knysna) and two dressed with lime, horseradish, and Amasi – yoghurt-like fermented milk. Next up was an absolutely delicious and perfectly seared steak of locally landed yellowfin tuna served on a swath of herb pesto and garden peas, with grilled baby fennel and sautéed new potatoes. And finally, a tart wedge of lemon, uh, tart with a rich whipped, vanilla-infused Chantilly cream.
Every course was delicious: fresh, beautifully balanced, and satisfying without over-extending the belly, as can be the case with multi-course meals. What was truly extraordinary about it all – and to this I take my hat off to the Chef in the crafty design of the menu and skilful execution of flavours – was how every course showcased a different facet of the De Wetshof Limestone Hill’s personality. The Chardonnay’s citrus notes sang with the oysters, reached a fruity crescendo with the tuna, and settled into more saline flintiness and minerality with the sweet lemon tart. In turn, each course was elevated by the wine.
On the whole, it was a wonderfully flirtatious pairing and even a bit dangerous how easily that Chardonnay went down!
A tried, trusted, and true gem
A good wine and food pairing is the pinnacle of pleasure for yours truly and I was wholly impressed with the 2019 De Wetshof Limestone Hill Chardonnay, not only as a wine to be enjoyed on its own but as a pairing to three remarkably different seafood courses. It’s unsurprising that its one of the top selling unwooded Chardonnays in Cape Town and, according to winemaker Johann De Wet, the 2019 is set to become one of the best vintages too (with fantastic aging potential).
The Limestone Hill Chardonnay is drinking proof that a great wine doesn’t need to cost a small fortune, be accessible only by stepladder, or be older than Kirk Douglas. Oftentimes, true gems are made in the same year and exist at eye level.
The Portuguese are an indelible part of the Cape’s rich tapestry of history, having paved the way for the Dutch seafarers and the Cape’s first settlement by European explorers more than 500 years ago. So, while Verdehlo, Tinta Barocca, Souzã, and Touriga Nacional might not sound like they belong here in South Africa, there is something about Boplaas’ range of Portuguese wines that feels like a return to the roots for us.
The question asked by many, though, is why? Why Portuguese wine? Well, that comes down to a fortuitous, yet quite accidental turn of events…
The Portuguese connection
After a visit to the Swartland in the late 1970’s Boplaas patriarch Oupa Danie Nel returned with a desire to plant Shiraz in Calitzdorp, so he promptly ordered vines from a nursery, only to discover several years later that what he had planted was, in fact, Tinta Barocca. What could have been viewed as a disastrous accident set the Nel family on a course that would forever change their farm, bringing to South Africa a range of grape varietals that are actually very much suited to our hot and dry climate, particularly that of the Klein Karoo.
Today, Boplaas Family Vineyards produce, in addition to several other table wines, award-winning Cape Vintage Ports, and spirits, a “Portuguese Collection”. This is a range of single varietal and blended wines that really showcase the quality and diversity of wines produced from traditional Portuguese varieties as interpreted by South African soil.
On a more practical level, Boplaas’ introduction of Portuguese varietals constitutes an important move towards a more sustainable future for South Africa’s wine industry. Through conditioning, these vines tend to be hardy, well-adjusted to heat, and comfortable with drought, making them an excellent fit for parts of the country that were previously not considered suitable to viticulture, such as Calitzdorp in the Little Karoo, which is where Boplaas is located; and potentially a better fit overall considering our drought crisis.
Portuguese wine has a deep connection with the Cape’s past (early Portuguese explorers) and a very valid connection with our present and future (it’s suitability to our climate and ability to withstand drought).
But is it any good?
We gathered at Jonkershuis Restaurant in Groot Constantia to find out because, at 370 km distance from Cape Town, a trip to the town of Calitzdorp would have been a bit too far, even for a good lunch!
A tasting of Boplaas’ Portuguese Collection
We commenced our tasting with a flight of four wines and two vintages of the Boplaas Cape Vintage Reserve Port. The first wine was the Boplaas Cape Portuguese White Blend 2018, a refreshing and easy-drinking blend of 50% Verdehlo (Portuguese varietal), 25% Chardonnay, and 25% Sauvignon Blanc. This light white wine has a fragrant nose of tropical fruits, pineapple, citrus, and yellow pair with a crisp acidity, making it easy drinking and, at only R70 per bottle online*, incredibly good value for money.
Next up was the Boplaas Gamka Branca 2017 (R177), the estate’s flagship white, a Chardonnay-based blend featuring an alchemy of five other wine varietals, including Chenin, Rousanne, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, and Verdehlo (Portuguese varietal). This barrel fermented and matured white blend displays a satisfying mélange of citrus blossom, lime marmalade, creamy lemon, and subtle spice, supported by grippy tannins.
We then tried the Boplaas Tinta Barocca 2017 (R89), an aromatic, medium bodied red wine with a gorgeous earthy and red fruit perfume of ripe plums, raspberry jam, and lively spices and velvety soft tannins. It was the accidental planting of this grape varietal that pretty much kicked off Nel family’s affinity for Portuguese wines. Today, a paltry 221 hectares of this tenacious, quality Portuguese grape varietal grow throughout the Cape, which accounts for only 0.2% of the total vineyard area in the country.
Our final wine before the two ports was the Boplaas Gamka 2015 (R259), a seductively smooth, full bodied red blend (the estate’s flagship) of old vine Touriga Nacional and Tinta Barocca from the Boplaas farm, and Shiraz from Stellenbosch. This Portuguese varietal-driven blend is matured in new French oak for 12 months and boasts dark, plummy fruits, lovely spice, strong tannins, and a long, languorous finish. My favourite thus far!
A charming bit of trivia: The name for both the white and red flagship wines comes from the Gamka River, which flows through Calitzdorp, and from which the farm receives its irrigation. The Gamka River was named after the Xhosa word for lion because of the roaring sound it makes when swollen with rainwater.
Boplaas Cape Vintage Ports
Boplaas also pays homage to Portugal through its Cape Vintage Reserve Ports, of which we tasted the 2006 and 2016 vintages. Port – or Cape port, lest I get into trouble – ages exceptionally well; so well that our host Carel Nel kept referring to the 2006 vintage as “still a baby”. In that case, the 2016 must be positively prenatal, although it tasted beautifully lush, fruity, and moreish to my uneducated palate.
Carel then related a most interesting anecdote about a blind port tasting he participated in, which involved “real” port from the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal and Boplaas’ very own Cape Vintage Reserve Port. With Boplaas’ Cape port declared the best, Carel had the pleasure of revealing its provenance, and I’m sure there were more than just a few red faces around the room that day.
Lunch and (even more) wine
With the tasting concluded, it was now time to test the wines’ mettle against food. Lunch was catered for by the farm-style, yet elegantly dressed Jonkershuis Restaurant at Groot Constantia and was a three-course affair starting with creamy mussels and freshly baked bread paired with the Boplaas Bobbejaanberg Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (R116). This wine is made from single vineyard grapes high up in the Outeniqua Mountains of the Upper Langkloof ward. Owing to its cool climate origin, it delivers a rich vegetal bouquet of capsicum and green asparagus, flavours of lime leaf, white peach, and calciferous minerality, and a lush fynbos finish.
Mains was slow-roasted lamb with rosemary reduction, crispy potatoes, new broccoli, and carrots, which beautifully paired with the Boplaas Touriga Nacional 2017 (R92), a varietal aptly known as “the king of Portuguese vines.” This powerfully elegant wine featured fulsome tannins, a nose of ripe black plum, vibrant rich spice, and fynbos, and notes of cocoa with a savoury undercurrent.
Finally, dessert was a vanilla pod panna cotta with a seasonal berry compote and fresh strawberries, which was paired with the honey sweet Ouma Cloete Straw Wine 2015 (R154), named after Carel Nel’s great grandmother who originally moved from the Constantia valley in the late 1800’s to settle in Calitzdorp. It was then that we all recognised the significance of hosting the Boplaas tasting at Groot Constantia, aside from saving us the monstrous drive to Calitzdorp. The Cloetes used to live here!
In the spirit of things
In addition to their numerous wine ranges, ports, and gorgeous sweet dessert wines, Boplaas also has a distillery, and it’s here that Daniel Nel is the boss. The event kicked off with Boplaas gin and tonics beneath Groot Constantia’s ancient oaks and concluded with a tasting of their six-year single grain whiskey, aged in a port cask, and their famous potstill reserve brandy. It’s a miracle I walked out of there with my dignity intact.
A part of the story of the Cape
531 Years ago, Portuguese mariner Bartolomeu Dias became the very first European to explore the southern coastline of South Africa. His mission was to plot a trade route to the Far East via the “Cabo das Tormentas” – the Cape of Storms. Nine years later, Portuguese seafarer Vasco da Gama completed the trip, landing in India a whole 14 months after departing Lisbon. In a way, the Nel family of the Boplaas Family Vineyards are as intrepid explorers as these early Portuguese seafarers, which, to me, tells a wonderful tale of innovation, unquenchable curiosity, and bravery.
As a lover of red wines – robust, voluptuous red wines – I have been looking forward to the Franschhoek Winter Wines festival since the first press release hit my inbox. This is a festival that celebrates, honours, and showcases those wines that are best suited to a frosty, wintry day in the Cape: in other words, red, red wine (and the odd wooded white).
A clear and cloudless Saturday dawned over the Franschhoek valley on the day of the festival but with morning temperatures in the single digits, the wines would still be showing their mettle against the cold. We were amongst the first to arrive at the Franschhoek Cellar, the venue for this year’s instalment of the festival – and what a fabulous venue it was!
The Franschhoek Cellar
Franschhoek Cellar, “a beautiful asset to the Franschhoek wine route”, can be compared in layout and concept to Paarl’s Spice Route. Its sprawling grounds are home to a collection of gems like a tram-side restaurant, a bistro & beer garden, a wine cellar for tastings and food pairings, and an alfresco eating area complete with central water feature. Visitors here can enjoy the leisurely charms of country life with all the elegance and deep sense of history the Franschhoek valley is known and loved for.
Thanks to the unseasonably sunny day, the festivities were sprawled out in the open with the wine tasting booths scattered across the clipped lawns and beneath the shade of the oak trees. There was also a large separate area furnished with an elaborate jungle gym and guarded by watchful staff, which not only offered parents a respite from being responsible but also saved festivalgoers from tripping over kids. After your 10th wine tasting, you’d be surprised how easy that is to do.
After collecting our tasting glasses and a brief wander, we and sat down to strategize (because when there are 19 wines to taste, a strategy is absolutely necessary if you plan to walk, rather than be carried out of the festival!)
Leg one: dipping our big toes
We decided like good wine nerds to begin with the lighter-style reds and the one white wine present and so, armed with our branded wine glasses, we commenced on the first leg of our grand tour of the Franschhoek wine valley. We tasted:
The Wildeberg White 2018, a wooded Sémillon with a lovely crisp acidity.
La Couronne Malbec 2016, touted as “the best Malbec in Franschhoek” and a beautiful food wine.
La Bourgogne’s 1694 Progeny Red 2016, the only Syrah and Malbec wine blend to be found in Franschhoek.
Pardonnez-Moi Cinsaut from Old Road Wine Co., named for its dangerous ease of drinkability and tendency to necessitate the drinker to later ask for forgiveness.
Leg two: wading in
With four tastings done and dusted, we paused for a tender barbequed chicken kebab and a pull of water – all a part of the strategy, you see. We then resumed our assault upon Franschhoek’s winter wines with a tasting of:
The sultry Cape of Good Hope Southern Slopes 2014, a Shiraz, Mourvèdre, and Petit Syrah blend from Anthonij Rupert Wyne (grapes sourced from Swartland).
Amazing Grace 2015 from Black Elephant Vintners, a rich and velvety Cabernet Sauvignon with lovely Eucalyptus notes on the nose.
The inaugural vintage of the Holden Manz Proprietors’ Blend 2015, an unusual but absolutely exquisite blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
Rupert & Rothschild Classique 2016, an impeccably smooth and versatile Bordeaux style blend featuring rich dark fruits and tobacco on the nose.
By this stage of the day – sun merrily beaming down upon the festivities, crowds thickening, teeth purpling – the effects of all the quality red wine were beginning to show themselves. And so we ordered a truffle mushroom pizza and sat down to eat in the tram-side restaurant located adjacent to the gardens, with spectacular views over autumnal-coloured vineyards to the blue, hazy mountains beyond. By the way, when (not if) you visit the Franschhoek Cellar, you owe it to all that is good in the world to try the truffle mushroom pizza. It will ruin you for all future pizzas: it is that good.
Leg three: all in
Stomachs lined with heavenly cheesy, truffle oil-doused pizza and a bottle of water for hydration, we headed back out for the final onslaught and to tackle what we reckoned to be the heaviest reds the festival had to offer.
La Bri Affinity 2015, a beautifully elegant and well-structured Bordeaux style blend.
Franschhoek Cellar Shiraz, a textbook New World Shiraz boasting exuberant and juicy plum, pepper, and mulberry flavours (and a surprising price point of only R70 per bottle!)
A great “Cab-King” of the Cape Winelands: the rich, full-bodied and multi-award winning Plaisir de Merle Cabernet Sauvignon 2015.
The maiden vintage of the Boekenhoutskloof Franschhoek Cabernet Sauvignon 2016.
Truth be told, we tasted other wines…but by the time we got to them, the palates had been dulled and the focus shifted to enjoying the company of the fabulous and interesting people present. So, I would like to fondly acknowledge the Boschendal Wines Nicolas 2016, Anthonij Rupert Optima 2014, Bellingham Pinotage, and Leopard’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 for the role they played in my (deserved) headache the morning after.
Why I’ll go back…again and again
While I can appreciate wines of all complexity, colour, and body, the Franschhoek Winter Wines festival is dedicated to the wines I love the most: red wine. Does it get any better than being able to meander from one wine tasting station to the other, sipping on beautiful winter wines, speaking to winemakers and ambassadors whose passion and knowledge are offered in equal measure, and all in one of the most magical places on Earth, the Franschhoek winelands? It does but only for one reason:
The Westin Cape Town is in the middle of a grand revamp but you really wouldn’t know that because, in our svelte suite fifteen floors in the sky, it’s as peaceful as a spa (without the annoying pipe music). The multi-million-rand makeover – *cough R150 million cough* – is set to be completed by October 2019 just in time for the summer deluge of tourists; although the Westin Cape Town remains perennially popular owing to its appeal to business travellers, both foreign and South African.
Our task is to put the revamped and reimagined rooms to the test by luxuriating in one for the next 24 hours – I know, it’s a tough job but someone’s got to make sure the next guest is getting their money’s worth.
Spoiler alert: they most definitely are.
The grand entrance
The Westin Cape Town is a five-star luxury hotel located right next door to the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) and a five-minute drive from the V&A Waterfront. This sleek and stylish hotel is a mainstay of the Cape Town city skyline, as well as the international luxury hospitality industry. Wherever you travel to in the world, you can expect a high standard of comfort, luxury, and hospitality from the Westin.
Walking into our suite, our eyes were first and foremost drawn to the floor-to-ceiling windows that dominated the far side of the room, affording us sweeping west-facing views of the city from Signal Hill and the V&A Waterfront to the bustling Cape Town harbour, Robben Island, and the shimmering Atlantic Ocean beyond. Beneath our feet, we had a (gut-wrenching) bird’s eye view of a congested N1 highway feeding traffic into and out of the city. However, rather than evoking feelings of anxiety, as one might expect, we felt just a little smug to be ensconced in luxury accommodation while those little ants down there in their toy cars were stuck in traffic.
Suite features and amenities
Our room was the epitome of comfort and convenience, packing practically everything any visitor with any agenda could want and need. There was a large king-sized bed with poofy covers clad in clean, white linen; an office table with lamp, telephone, and multi-plug electrical outlet (where I currently sit and write this); a sophisticated coffee and tea making station with kettle and Caffitaly machine; bar fridge stocked with sodas, water, and beer; closets with complimentary fluffy bathrobes, slippers, ironing board, and safe; and a very beautiful, very executive-feel bathroom with shower, bath, and twin vanities.
Unlimited Wi-Fi and access to the Westin Club Lounge, which is open all day for refreshments, round out the offer. Oh, and we also enjoy complimentary access to the Heavenly spa lounge, pool, and sauna (you only have to pay for treatments). Right off the bat there are two things I’m looking forward to: (1) seeing the view of Cape Town at night from our suite and (2) falling asleep beneath a mountain of duvet after dinner.
In the meantime, with the sun making its slow descent into the west (as witnessed from our room), we hopscotched to the Westin Club for Canapé Hour.
Westin Club Canapé Hour
Every day, from 17:30 to 19:30, the Westin Club (on the nineteenth floor) offers guests a rather sexy lounge environment in which to chill, crack open a beverage, and enjoy a complimentary selection of cold mezze and hot tapas. It’s a place to unwind after a long day of touristing, travelling, or being important; it’s a place to enjoy a cold glass of wine or hot cup of tea, and to whet the appetite in time for dinner.
The Westin Club is also open for:
Continental and hot buffet breakfasts between 06:30 and 11:00.
All day “grab and go” snacks and beverages from 12:00 to 22:00.
A quick recharge meal chosen from the Westin’s organic and freshly produced daily rotation snack menu, 12:00 to 14:30.
Afternoon tea featuring homemade gourmet biscuits and a carefully curated tea selection, from 15:00 to 17:00.
In other words, if you’re hungry, thirsty, or in need of a fabulously atmospheric venue for a business meeting, a date, or to get charged up for an evening of fine dining or a night on the town, the Westin Club is the place to kick off. And kick the evening off we did: with a glass of house white wine (Huguenot Chenin Blanc or ‘Steen’ 2018), a little basket of nuts, popcorn, and dried fruits, and front row seats to a spectacular sunset.
Dinner at Thirty7 Showkitchen
With the sun tucked behind the western horizon, we caught the elevator to the ground floor for dinner at the Westin’s main restaurant, Thirty7 Showkitchen. This enormous, opulent space is quite something to behold, although a major fundraising event going on downstairs robbed the restaurant of the majority of any patrons it might have had, leaving us to the lion’s share of the staff’s attention.
For starters, we had ocean trout with trout tartar, and slow-cooked pork with pineapple chutney and a smoked apple aioli so gorgeous, it is my most ardent recommendation that they consider selling it by the bottle. For mains we enjoyed the 12-hour confit Karoo lamb neck, with roast carrot puree and gremolata, and black mussel risotto with smoked onion soubise and slices of regional cheese, both soft and crispy. Unable to extend our stomachs any further, we concluded our meal with an Irish coffee.
The chefs at the helm of Thirty7 Showkitchen are Stephen Mandes and Rohan Mudenda whose philosophy aligns well with today’s demand for free-range, ethically produced meats, sustainable, green-listed seafood, and organic, never frozen vegetables “as full of flavour and nutrients as the day it was harvested”. They also maintain a live-fire kitchen, cooking on charcoal fire, which is beautifully showcased by the food’s flavour and presentation.
Thirty7 Showkitchen is open Monday to Sunday, 06:30 – 10:30 | 12:00 – 22:30. For bookings and enquiries, please email email@example.com call +27 (0)21 412 9999.
Breakfast of champions
Waking up in the Westin’s immeasurably comfortable king-sized bed, I fantasised briefly about owning Mary Poppins’ handbag – you know, the one that can fit just about anything in it, for example, this king-sized bed. Of course, the Westin staff would soon notice the fact that a bed’s gone missing and since I would hate to be blacklisted by the Westin – never mind the impossibility of such a magical handbag – my fantasies soon shifted to breakfast.
Both Thirty7 Showkitchen and the Westin Club host breakfast each morning but since the former promised a more extensive and abundant hot and cold breakfast buffet, we took the elevator down, rather than up. The scene that greeted us could only be described as “food heaven”. Whatever breakfast food is popular in your country of origin, you’ll find it here. From cereal, oats, flapjacks, and fruit to fried eggs, bacon, salmon, sushi, and charcuterie; cheeses, croissants, and curry for crying out loud, to pretzels, stir-fried noodles, and smoothies.
Think of a breakfasty food: you’ll find it in the Westin’s breakfast buffet, served with just about every add-on, side dish, and condiment known to humankind. I particularly enjoyed their Superfood™ juices (I had the strawberry, date, and rosewater smoothie), which are the ultimate atonement for all the wine you may have drank the night before.
Let’s talk about water
One cannot sing the praises of the Westin Cape Town without mentioning its state-of-the-art reverse osmosis system that saves 40 million litres of municipal water a year. This hotel and many other buildings located on Cape Town’s foreshore stand on land that has been reclaimed from the ocean. Consequently, seawater flows through the underlying soil with the voluminous abundance of a river, which requires buildings in the area to actively pump millions of litres of water out of their foundations every day to keep from flooding.
The Westin Cape Town decided instead to pump this water, which has already been partially filtered by the rock through which it has travelled, through a reverse osmosis plant to remove the remaining salt and impurities. The result of this R4 million investment is 400,000 litres of fresh water every day, 180,000 litres of which is used on site (the rest is piped to its sister establishments, the Tsogo Sun Waterfront and Tsogo Sun Cullinan). The Westin’s reverse osmosis plant is a solution to the water shortages that once threatened Cape Town’s viability as a tourist and business destination and will hopefully contribute to our ability to survive drought conditions in the future.
With over a decade of luxury hoteliering under its belt, the Westin Cape Town has been given a multi-million-rand décor and design transformation to update and refresh its offering. It now boasts an interior to rival its sleek and sophisticated exterior, both in aesthetic and function, and with all the modern accoutrements and conveniences even the savviest business or tourist traveller could want and need. We enjoyed 24 hours of beautiful views, beyond comfortable beds, indulgent dining, and peace and tranquillity right here in the heart of the Mother City. And so it was with great reluctance that we bid our accommodations (and bed) a fond farewell.
The next time I travel, I know where I’m staying.
The Westin Cape Town is home to the award-winning Heavenly Spa and the Thirty7 Showkitchen. For bookings and enquiries, please call +27 21 412 9999
This blog was originally written by Thea Beckman for Southern Vines Magazine, the biggest lifestyle and leisure publication in the Western Cape of South Africa: www.southernvines.co.za/2019/06/04/testin-the-westin-dinner-and-overnight-stay-at-an-iconic-luxury-cape-town-hotel/