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/

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/

Haute Cabrière Elevates its Offering with a New Outdoor Area, Deli, Wines, and Reimagined Interior

The view from Haute Cabrière has long served as a potent draw card to visitors to the Franschhoek Valley. Of course, there’s also the estate’s legendary and dangerously quaffable Chardonnay Pinot Noir and, my personal favourite, the Reserve Pinot Noir, which delivers more dark, juicy complexity and near-unspeakable sexiness than Sharon Stone in an Armani business suit. But with little more than some stretched-out tarpaulins providing shade to the terraced outdoor seating area, Haute Cabrière’s ability to accommodate guests al fresco was well and truly at the mercy of the Cape’s weather, which, as we all know, suffers from multiple personality disorder.

Haute Cabriere

This, I’m thankful to say, has all been successfully addressed and in spectacular style with the very recent addition of a grand outdoor conservatory. Here, floor-to-ceiling windows frame Haute Cabrière’s stunning vantage point over the Franschhoek Valley, enabling guests to enjoy the climate-controlled wind and weather immune benefits of eating indoors with the sense of space and connection with nature afforded by al fresco dining. And what views! Perched near the top of the Franschhoek Pass, Haute Cabrière serves guests a visual buffet of ruggedly handsome mountains, rolling hills, and summer-rich vineyards.

Haute Cabriere

Canapés in the winery

The grand evolution of Haute Cabrière isn’t only marked by the addition of an enormous, sheltered outdoor seating area. The tasting room and restaurant’s interior has also received a whole lot of love over the course of the past almost-year. Now, it presents as far sleeker, sexier, and more comfortable and stylish with several intimate seating areas and nooks for wine-tasting parties. A deli and bakery have also been added, introducing the allure of bubbly-soaked breakfasts and brunches to Haute Cabrière’s already seductive offering.

Haute Cabriere

It was here that we kicked off the celebrations with a selection of wine-paired canapés fresh from the new deli and bakery. Smiling servers wafted about with great trays of homemade bacon and brioche cheese “toasties”, smoked salmon bagels, and sweet and sour lamb kidney vol-au-vent with poached quail eggs. These delectable bites were paired with the Pierre Jourdan Brut (classic Chardonnay Pinot Noir bubbly), Pierre Jourdan Belle Rose (100% Pinot Noir bubbly), and Pierre Jourdan Ratafia fortified dessert wine, respectively.

Haute Cabriere

Lunch on the new outdoor terrace

While Haute Cabrière may have received quite the flattering makeover, its menu remains ever rooted in France with the odd flirtation with South African cuisine. That’s not to say that it goes without evolution, but the philosophies and approach to fine dining remain the same – a product of Chef Nic van Wyk’s passions, talents, and imagination. I say this with the utmost confidence because every time I have eaten at Haute Cabrière I have left with a grin on my face and this occasion was no different.

For starters, I found my cheesy, happy place in a bowl of ricotta and garden spinach dumplings topped with fresh asparagus and broad beans, and served swimming in creamy celeriac foam. The wine pairing was the recently introduced Haute Collection Chardonnay 2017, a single vineyard wine created from a block of Chardonnay planted on the Franschhoek property in 1983 by proprietor Achim von Arnim. Only 2138 bottles were produced.

Brief side note

With dad von Arnim yielding the reins to his winemaker son Takuan, the estate’s repertoire of wines is slowly expanding and evolving to include more interpretations of the two principle varietals: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The Haute Collection Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and amphora Chardonnay, as well as the demi-sec Pierre Jourdan Belle Nectar, are examples of this evolution.

Haute Cabriere

Back to lunch

The main event was charcoal-grilled venison, served in thick slices of pink and perfectly tender deliciousness, in a lake of port and truffle sauce. Also on the plate was a not-overly-sweet pear tartlet, a gorgeous contrast to the savoury venison. For this course, we were treated to the sublime, earthy, and red cherry rich Haute Collection Pinot Noir 2017, another single vineyard wine – of which only 1011 bottles were made – created from a block of Pinot Noir planted in 1992 and 1993 on the slopes of the Middagkrans Mountain in Franschhoek.

Haute Cabriere

Dessert was a medley of treats fresh from the bakery, all conveniently sized so as to be easily plucked off the plate and popped in the mouth: Paris-Brest (choux pastry filled with praline flavoured cream), warm almond cake, and digestive biscuits with green figs. The wine for the final course was the new Pierre Jourdan Belle Nectar, a salmon pink demi-sec Méthode Cap Classique with a sweeter palette and aromas of rose petals, strawberries, and Turkish Delights.

Haute Cabriere

So, when are you going?

Haute Cabrière’s recent renovations and reimagining bring a much-needed transformation to this award-winning and vastly popular wine estate; one that has rendered its gorgeous terrace invulnerable to the wind and rain, which means that its panoramic Franschhoek Valley views can be enjoyed all year round. In addition to the greatly elevated aesthetics and comfort of Haute Cabrière, you can expect a few new wines by Takuan von Arnim, freshly baked treats, and the same absolutely delicious food by Chef Nic van Wyk. Haute Cabrière has most assuredly received its second wind and it’s absolutely worth a second look!

Haute Cabrière is open Monday to Saturday, 08:00 to 20:00 and Sunday, 08:00 to 16:00. For bookings and enquiries, please call +27 (0) 21 876 8500 or go to www.cabriere.co.za.

Lambrechts Road, Franschhoek Pass, Franschhoek

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/

A Walk Through the Fynbos at Bosman Family Vineyards, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley

Bosman Family Vineyards is a family owned and family run winemaking enterprise with a winery (and one of the most influential vine nurseries in Africa) in Wellington and in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. In the latter location, a portion of the estate’s grapes are grown in the cool breezes that blow in off the Atlantic Ocean, allowing winemaker Natasha Williams to craft a range of wines – Bosman Upper Hemel en Aarde Sauvignon Blanc 2018, Chardonnay 2018, and Pinot Noir 2018 – that are true ambassadors of their varietals.

But before I whittle on about the wine, the food, and the views, let’s talk about Uncle Frank…

Bosman Family Vineyards, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley

Frank Woodvine is a veteran of nature. He knows each of the Cape’s thousands of endemic plant species, not only by their colloquial names, but also their Latin designations in the scientific lexicon. Furthermore, while setting a roaring pace through the pristine fynbos that flourishes on the Bosman Family Vineyard’s farm in the Hemel-En-Aarde Valley, just outside Hermanus, this sprightly 88-year-old man fires off these complex Latin names with great liquid ease and just a touch of reverence.

He will also tell you the stories behind the names, the possible medicinal applications of the plants, and his experiences trying to rehabilitate the indigenous vegetation here. Yes, Frank Woodvine is a unique soul – a walking, talking, leather-bound and sun-kissed tome of knowledge on all things relating to Cape botany and it was a privilege to be taken on a guided walking tour of the fynbos-clad “backyard” at Bosman Hermanus.

Bosman Family Vineyards, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley

Unparalleled in uniqueness and diversity

For example, did you know that the fynbos floral kingdom encompasses 6,000 endemic plant species – found here and nowhere else on Earth? The entire continent of Europe doesn’t have a single endemic plant species to its name! “You’ll find more, often several more species of plants in a few square metres than you will on a few hours’ walk in England,” said Frank after riffling through a patch of Fynbos to show us the diversity of plants within that patch.

Bosman Family Vineyards, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley

So…what does Frank Woodvine have to do with Bosman Family Vineyards, asides from enjoying a few glasses of their superb Pinot Noir with his lunch? (Yeah, sorry, I may have been watching.) Well, while Frank may humbly refer to himself as the “garden boy”, he is in fact a conservationist and the spearhead behind the estate’s conservation efforts on their Hemel-en-Aarde farm; efforts to which they are extremely dedicated.

Bosman Family Vineyards, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley

Bosman Family Vineyards walking and hiking trails

“Uncle Frank” is also the architect of Bosman Hermanus’ numerous hiking trails, and essentially plots and lays these trails around the farm, through the fynbos and Renosterveld, and up and over its rolling koppies. This is the Cape at its most pristine and the trails here afford visitors a sweeping journey through the incredibly unique, diverse, and beautiful flora, in addition to breathtaking 360º views of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, all the way across Walker Bay to Gansbaai in the south and Hangklip in the west. And if you’re lucky, you might spot some of the resident animals on the farm: rhebok, porcupine, mongoose, baboon, and even caracal and Cape leopard (extremely rare). Birds to watch out for include South Africa’s national bird, the blue crane, and the noisy, butter-coloured bokmakerie.

For a light sweat, you can walk up the koppie just behind “The Frame House”, a wood and canvas structure housing the wine tasting room and picnic service belonging to Bosman Family Vineyards. For a bit more of a challenge and a revitalising few hours in gorgeous nature, you can tackle the 9 km Koppie & Wetlands trail. For no sweat at all, you can meander around the fynbos gardens embracing the tasting centre and admire the spectacular surrounding views. All of the farm’s trails are marked with numbers, which correspond to numbered information on a hiking guide guests are given (Costs: R50 per person | R25 for kids under 12). Oh, and be sure to order your food and wine paired tastings beforehand!

In other words: a visit to Bosman Hermanus is highly recommended, especially if you are enthusiastic about nature, being outdoors, and even working up a little sweat before sitting down to a wine tasting and a nibble at a cheese/charcuterie/vegetarian platter.

Bosman Family Vineyards, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley

Bosman Family Vineyards in the Hemel-En-Aarde Valley

Naturally, we didn’t travel the hour-and-a-half to Bosman Hermanus just to burn calories on the farm’s walking trails and so after our guided walk, we sat down to a fynbos inspired lunch paired with some of the estate’s new wine releases, my absolute favourites of which were the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley Chardonnay 2018 and Pinot Noir 2018. In a heroic effort to replace those poor, lost calories, we mowed our way through a delicious lunch of sweet potato and lentil soup, pecorino flatbread, mixed green salad, roast vegetables, and a stunning chicken Wellington dish.

Bosman Family Vineyards, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley
Bosman Family Vineyards, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley
Bosman Family Vineyards, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley

Visitors to the estate can choose from a simpler, satisfying menu of cheeses, cured meats, winter soup, a snack selection, and ciabatta with Buffalo mozzarella and slow-roasted tomato.

Come and find Frank

Within the tranquillity of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, perched on a sweeping landscape and beneath the shade of an enormous pine tree, lies the heart of the Bosman Hermanus farm. Potting about in the garden or on some fynbos-clad slope somewhere – always busy, always busy – you’ll find Uncle Frank hard at work and, at 88 years old, showing up our generations for our comparatively flaccid work ethic. Come and find Frank; and stay for a wander and some wine while you’re at it.

Bosman Family Vineyards, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley

Bosman Hermanus is open for visits on Tuesday to Saturday, 09:00 to 17:00 | Sundays, 10:00 to 16:00 | Public holidays, 10:00 to 15:00. For bookings and enquiries, please email taste@bosmanhermanus.com or call +27 (0) 63 083 5571

www.bosmanhermanus.com

De Bos Farm, Karwyderskraal Road, Upper Hemel-en-Aarde, Hermanus

This article was originally written for Southern Vines magazine, the largest leisure and lifestyle magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa.

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

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

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

Riverine-rabbit-Endangered-Wildlife-Trust-min

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

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

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

Eco-conscious fine dining

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

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

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

Meet Ash, culinary boss babe

Riverine Rabbit Ash Heeger

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

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

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

Meet Mandy, manager and sommelier extraordinaire

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

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

Riverine Rabbit Restaurant

Spring has sprung!

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

Riverine Rabbit chefs table

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

The opening act

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

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

Riverine Rabbit sobu noodles
Sobu noodles

The main event

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

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

Riverine Rabbit duck dish

Sweet finale

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

An epic experience with an important message

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

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

Riverine Rabbit

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

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

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