Bites & Sites: a whirlwind walking tour of the beating heart of Stellenbosch

In 1679, in a land far, far away from Cape Town (by foot), a plump man with a thin moustache and a head of flowing auburn hair that would have been the envy of any self-respecting Duchess decided to call it a day and stepped down off his steed – or ox wagon, it had been a three-day horse ride from Cape Town and the derriere could only take so much. Settling on the banks of a river, the Dutch Commander appraised his surroundings and conceived of the idea of expanding the Cape colony to include a second settlement here because, well, why not? Three and a half centuries ago, the human ego was hob-tied to conquering and owning things (oh, wait, it still is).

And so, on the banks of the Eerste Rivier (the first river), sprawled out under a bosch (bush) for shelter, the Dutch Commander and first Governor of the Cape, Simon Van Der Stel, had the epiphany that conceived one of the Cape’s most ardently loved destinations. He declared the new settlement “Stellenbosch” – a nod toward his own ego and the humble bush that sheltered him on that first night he camped out under the stars.

Or so the legend goes.

These are the delectable historic titbits one learns on a walking tour with Stellenbosch-based tour company, Bites & Sites Food Tours.

Bites & Sites Food Tours

Fast forward to Saturday 24th August 2019…

A group of two Americans from Miami, one from New Jersey, a family of three Belgians, and we two humble South Africans convened at 10:00 at 47 Church Street, Stellenbosch: the home of Bites & Sites Food Tours and Stellenbosch Wine Routes. Here, we met our Bites & Sites tour guide, the crimson apron-clad and crimson-headed Louise Smit, and hit the streets on foot to experience the town’s most alluring, internationally renowned attractions of history, architecture, food, and wine, glorious wine!

Bites & Sites Food Tours depart daily, Monday to Sunday at 10:00 and again at 13:00.

The tours centre on the five oldest streets in Stellenbosch: Dorp, Andringa, Plein, Kerk, and Rhyneveld Street, stopping quite regularly for anecdotes and architecture, and to appraise features of the town’ original build, such as the deep grachts or gutters that line the streets. Additionally – and this is where the offering is so greatly elevated above any other walking tour I’ve experienced – the tour makes frequent stops at various restaurants, cafés, a butcher, and a wine bar for distinctly South African refreshments, thereby giving visitors a holistic and unforgettable impression of the history, heritage, and culture of Stellenbosch and the Cape.

A hop and a skip back in time

Our first stop was the Stellenbosch Museum where Lousie laid out the basic foundations for the town’s history, introducing us to the indigenous Khoisan people, the early Dutch settlers, and the first Governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel. For those of you who get narcolepsy at the mere mention of the word “history”, fear not. The Bites & Sites tour guides keep it light and entertaining without hovering for too long in any one place but at the same time, ready to delve deeper should you have any questions.

The Stellenbosch Museum property is home to four houses built during different time periods, the oldest of which, Schreuderhuis (1709), we toured. From the robust yellowwood furniture, meat hooks made from fire-hardened Protea tree roots, and kitchen ceiling adorned with bushels of drying herbs to the taxidermied cat enjoying a permanent nap on the bed, stepping into Schreuderhuis, which once belonged to the court messenger, is like stepping back in time. The house has also eerily survived the numerous fires that have swept through the town over the centuries.

Bites and Sites Stellenbosch Walking Food Tour

Anecdote: since doctors were so appallingly ignorant in those days, the corpses of dead people would be buried with a string tied to their wrist, connected to a bell above ground. Then, should they wake from their misdiagnosed death (perhaps they were in a coma, fever, or deep sleep), their movement would ring the bell and attract the attention of some poor passer-byer who would probably spend the remainder of his or her life in sore need of therapy. Hence, the origin of the expression “saved by the bell.”

Our third and fourth stops were the impressive Dutch Reformed Church on Kerk Straat (1863) and the University of Stellenbosch’s Faculty of Theology, housed within a handsome, historic building and with lovingly kept gardens shaded by a monstrous 52 metre tall, 200-year-old Norfolk pine tree.

Bites and Sites Stellenbosch Walking Food Tour

Desserts first

With a leisurely hour’s strolling around under our belt, we stopped in at Dora’s Restaurant at 2A Ryneveld Street for refreshments of tea and South African sweet treats. As locals, we found it endearing and strangely pride-inducing to watch foreigners dip a big toe into our culture and, for the first time, taste and enjoy the cuisine we were raised on. Dora’s served up three indigenous teas (rooibos, honeybush, and buchu) and three absolutely delicious sweet treats: milk tart, koe sisters (not to be confused with koeksisters), and malva pudding drizzled with amarula cream. These were accompanied by enthusiastically told tales of how the various spices and recipes that characterise South African cuisine were introduced to the Cape and the country.

Bites and Sites Stellenbosch Walking Food Tour
Bites and Sites Stellenbosch Walking Food Tour

Biltong, droëwors, and wine

Have you really been to South Africa if you’ve omitted biltong and droëwors from your bucket list? (Vegetarians and vegans, you’ll be excused from this one.) And so, after another hour of meandering the historic streets of Stellenbosch and listening to fascinating, romantic, and sometimes ghostly tales of the town, we stopped in at the Eikeboom Butchery, the oldest surviving traditional butchery in Stellenbosch. Here, we picked up snacks for our wine tasting, which was hosted at the Brampton Wine Studio, where we sampled the dry, fruit-driven, and easy-drinking Brampton Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé, and Pinotage.

Bites and Sites Stellenbosch Walking Food Tour

Personally, I would have preferred it if we got to taste wines that better showcased the high calibre the Stellenbosch winelands are capable of. With Americans and Europeans in our tour group, we were competing against Californian and French wines! Nevertheless, the wines were drained and the biltong enjoyed by all.

Optical illusions and spiritual phenomena

With wine coursing through our veins, we resumed our tour of Stellenbosch’s historic streets, stopping in at various arts and crafts shops to indulge in a little retail therapy. We took in the Stellenbosch City Hall and its stunning artwork of late President Nelson Mandela. With the sun bouncing off the screen of my cell phone, taking pictures was more a “mik-en-druk”  (point and push) exercise. So I was quite taken aback when going through my photos later to see two beams of sunlight eerily coursing their way down on either side of Nelson Mandela’s artwork. An optical illusion or a spiritual phenomenon? I’ll let you decide for yourself.

Bites and Sites Stellenbosch Walking Food Tour

Lunch at Oude Werf

For lunch, we stopped in at the Oude Werf, a luxury hotel in the heart of Stellenbosch whose history dates back almost to the town’s very beginnings (1686). The menu, of course, was a collection of classic Cape dishes: bobotie wraps, chicken pie, roasted sweet potato, snoek cakes, and yellow (turmeric) rice. This was served (I was happy to see) with two gorgeous wines from the Stellenbosch winelands: the Waterford Pecan Stream Chenin Blanc 2018 and the Kleine Zalze Pinotage 2018.

Whilst there, our guide Louise took us down a short flight of stairs to show us a slice of the hotel’s exposed, preserved foundations, which, since the Oude Werf used to be a Church, was where the wealthy (and only the wealthy, since they could afford the honour) were buried. It gives a whole new meaning to the expression “stinking rich” doesn’t it?

Bites and Sites Stellenbosch Walking Food Tour

A wonderful, whirlwind experience

Three to four hours of strolling, admiring architecture, and listening to evocative tales of South Africa’s second oldest town, with a bit of wine, biltong, retail therapy, and a traditional South African lunch thrown in…this is what Sites & Bites tours are all about. It’s a whirlwind, multi-sensory immersion in Cape and South African culture that will send you home – whether you’re a local or a foreigner – with colourful memories, beguiling anecdotes, and perhaps even a few new international friends!

For bookings and enquiries, please email info@bitesandsites.co.za, call +27 (0) 76 032 8234, or visit www.bitesandsites.co.za

47 Church (Kerk) Street, Stellenbosch

This blog article was originally written for Southern Vines magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/08/29/bites-sites-a-whirlwind-walking-tour-of-the-beating-heart-of-stellenbosch/

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The Annual Blooming of the Cape Wildflowers

Namaqua daisies Cape wild flowers
Carpet of Namaqualand daisies on abandoned fields, Skilpad, Namaqua National Park, Northern Cape, South Africa. By LBM1948 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Beneath the seemingly infertile soils of the Western and Northern Cape lie the dormant seeds of more than 1,200 different species of wildflowers; waiting for the sun to rally against the winter chill. Towards the end of August and the beginning of September, when the days begin to warm, the seeds split open and send tender shoots skywards to bloom. And so, it is that the arrival of springtime in South Africa becomes marked by a spectacular event that transforms the otherwise drab and semi-arid landscape into an explosive cacophony of colour.

For a few precious weeks, places such as Darling, Clanwilliam, the West Coast National Park, Cedarberg, and, further afield, the Namaqua National Park, Kamieskroon, Port Nolloth, and Springbok become heavily carpeted with purples, oranges, yellows, and reds like thick brush strokes of oil paint. This spellbinding show by nature attracts people in the thousands from all over the country, as well as from abroad. But, for all their beauty and vivacity, the blooms are short-lived and as September passes, the spectacle wanes until the landscape is once again returned to its usual shades of browns, greys, and greens.

Darling Wildflowers Show
Silver Dune Photography

The Darling Wildflower Show 2019

The annual blooming of the wildflowers isn’t only celebrated by the local wildlife, which delights in the unusual abundance of food; several towns in and around the so-called “Cape Flower Route” also put on exciting festivals. And perhaps the best known and loved of these is the Darling Wildflower Show, which is held every year on the third weekend of September. This year, the 102nd instalment, it’s taking place on the 20th to the 22nd September and is set to be an extravagant affair; the perfect complement to a morning or afternoon spent admiring the spectacular wildflowers.

Here, visitors can enjoy attractions, such as craft and gourmet food markets, a beer tent, a mini-wine route, tractor-drawn wagon rides, veteran car and tractor shows, kids’ play park, live entertainment by local artists and musicians, conservation talks, and educational workshops for both adults and children. And, of course, when you’re not delighting in the food, tipple, entertainment, and enlightenment on offer, there is the remarkable Cape floral kingdom to admire.

The main celebrations will be going down at the Darling Golf Club but there will also be shuttles taking visitors on a tour of Darling’s key points of interest, including the Renosterveld Reserve, Darling Museum, Duckitt Nurseries, and Evita se Perron: famous South African comedienne Evita Bezuidenhout’s cabaret theatre and restaurant.

Darling Wildflowers

Wildflower viewing tips

Wildflowers bloom in gardens, fields, and along the roadside throughout the Western and Northern Cape but the best places to see them are those that are undeveloped and unspoiled. The West Coast National Park, Darling (both 1 hour’s drive from Cape Town), Clanwilliam (2 hours, 20 minutes), and the Biedouw Valley in the Cedarberg (3 hours, 20 minutes drive) are rewarding spots to travel to. However, getting the most out of your wildflower viewing requires more than just jumping in your car and driving to your destination.

The wildflowers are coaxed open by the warmth of the sun and so they are best viewed on warm, sunny days between the late morning (±10am) and late afternoon (±4pm). If the weather is poor or it’s too early or too late, the flowers will close to protect themselves from the cold and possible frost, and you won’t get the full visual effect. The wildflowers also angle their heads towards the sun, so it’s best to travel from north to south or from east to west along the flower route so that you keep the sun behind you and, therefore, the flowers open towards you.

Tienie-Versfeld-Wildflower-Reserve

A bucket list must for Capetonians and visitors

The annual blooming of the wildflowers is a truly magnificent show that every South African needs to see at least once in his or her lifetime. With the fun and flamboyant Darling Wildflower Show, and some of the most ostentatious floral displays as little as an hour’s drive from Cape Town, there’s every reason Capetonians and visitors should add this to their travel bucket lists!

For more information on the Darling Wildflower Show:
Telephone: (+27) 72 178 5744 or (+27) 84 916 1111
Email: info@darlingwildflowers.co.za
Website: www.darlingwildflowers.co.za

This article was originally written by Thea Beckman for Southern Vines Magazine: http://www.southernvines.co.za/2017/08/13/annual-blooming-cape-wildflowers-2017/ 

Live Your Pizza Fantasy with 95 at Parks’ REAL Italian Pizza Menu

Let’s talk about pizza crust.

Pizza crust is by far the most forgotten, most neglected part of the pizza. In fact, many people go so far as to discard it entirely, eating the soft cheesy interior and leaving behind sad semi moons of pizza perimeter.

I am guilty of this crime against pizza. Stomach real estate is a precious commodity when you’re facing off against an entire large pizza and so you can’t afford to stuff your belly with bland, bready crust.

The sausage crammed or cheese-filled crust was some pizza houses answer to this global tendency towards crust wastage. At 95 at Parks in Constantia, Cape Town, Milanese Chef-proprietor Giorgio Nava’s answer is to craft pizzas that are – crust to cheesy centre – so absolutely delicious that not even a crumb is left behind on that plate.

How does he do this?

Quality pizza = quality ingredients

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The not-so-secret is the freshness and fine artisanal quality of the ingredients. Forget processed mozzarella cheese, tinned tomato sauce, and mass, factory-produced dough. Within the kitchen at 95 at Parks, pizza is made the Italian way: with fresh, quality ingredients and components, sauces, and stocks that are lovingly and patiently hand-made.

“Our pizzas have been leavened with a mother yeast and beer and then left for 48 hours,” says Chef Giorgio, who has received nothing but praise for the 95 at Parks pizza menu from his Italian friends. “Resting the dough for two days, makes the pizzas much easier to digest and will never leave you feeling bloated.”

Pizza menu of Italian classics

Starting with these flavoursome and crisp foundations, Chef Giorgio layers lashings of rich tomato sauce made from pomodoro san Marzano (plum tomatoes), extra-virgin olive oil, and fior di latte cheese, a traditional semi-soft and creamy Southern Italian mozzarella.

From here, it can go one of six ways:

It can be crowned with a bushel of basil for the simple, yet trusted Pizza Margherita; scattered with olives, grilled broccoli, spinach, and mushrooms for the Pizza Orto (vegetarian); dressed with olives, anchovies, and capers for the Pizza Siciliana; swathed with prosciutto crudo di Parma (Italian dry-cured ham) and rocket for the Pizza Prosciutto Crudo; layered with prosciutto cotto (cooked ham), basil leaves, and Grana Padano cheese for the Pizza Prosciutto Cotto; or prepared with mortadella sausage, basil, and grana Padano for the Pizza con Mortadella.

Nea-poli-tan Mon-tanaa-raaa

95-at-Parks-Italian-Pizza-4

The crowning glory of Chef Giorgio’s small but authentic Italian pizza menu is the Neapolitan Montanara. Say it slowly: Nea-poli-tan Mon-tanaa-raaa. The very words sound edible, right?

This is, essentially, a Margherita pizza but instead of getting baked in the oven as is usually the case, the pizza dough is quickly deep-fried and then layered with that wonderful plum tomato sauce, creamy fior di latte cheese, fresh basil, and Grana Padano shavings. The result is a pizza that is, from crust to cheesy centre, eye-closingly delicious and satisfying.

The crust of Chef Giorgio’s Neapolitan Montanara can be likened to vetkoek: savoury, flavourful, and crisp on the outside, yet soft and steamy on the inside. And if that’s not enough to convince you to polish off the entire thing, you can always drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar on your plate and eat the crust with that!

Pizza for lunch

95-at-Parks-Italian-Pizza-3

Truth be told, our lunch at 95 at Parks was the first time I’d ever heard of the Neapolitan Montanara pizza and yet, it is apparently a culinary creation of legendary proportions. After browsing my way through one with a glass of the Terra Del Capo Sangiovese (when in Italy, right?) I can fully understand why it has achieved this status.

The Neapolitan Montanara is sensational.

But just to make sure that Chef Giorgio Nava’s other pizzas are as authentically Italian and, ergo, delicious as promised, my plus one and I shared a Pizza Orto and Prosciutto Crudo over a bottle of the Muratie Melck’s Blended Red 2015. I’m proud to say that while we didn’t finish everything on the plate, all leftovers were bagged and enjoyed later for dinner. The wine, however, didn’t stand a chance.

95-at-Parks-Muratie-Wine

Tip: if you ask for fresh chilli or garlic with your pizza at 95 at Parks, they will chop it fresh for you in the kitchen and then serve it to you swimming in extra virgin olive oil. Bellissimo!

By the way, 95 at Parks also offers a regular à la carte menu so if your partner is on some boring diet, you can still indulge your pizza fantasy.

Highly recommended

95-at-Parks-Pizza

Since 2017, 95 at Parks has been the Southern Suburb’s go-to authentic Italian eatery and now they are placing a renewed focus on that most famous of Italian dishes: the pizza and in particular the Neapolitan Montanara. So if you love your pizza – and would like, for a change, to enjoy your pizza crust – I can ardently recommend that you pay 95 at Parks a visit.

Priced from R100 to R140, 95 at Parks’ pizzas are available for dinner, Mondays to Saturdays (18:00 to 22:00), and for lunch on Thursdays and Fridays (12:00 to 15:00). For bookings and enquiries, call +27 (0) 21 761 0247 or email parks@95keerom.com.

This blog article was originally written for Southern Vines magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/06/18/live-your-pizza-fantasy-with-95-at-parks-real-italian-pizza-menu/

Holden Manz Wine Estate Delivers a Food and Wine Experience that is Pure and Unpretentious Luxury

We pulled up to Holden Manz Wine Estate in Franschhoek on a day that was the epitome of winter; although in her fine dress of vineyards and voluptuous mountain borders, this idyllic winelands town always manages to look beautifully dramatic on even the drizzliest of days. Situated in the southernmost corner of the Franschhoek Valley, sandwiched between the Franschhoek River and Stony Brook, the 22-hectare estate of Holden Manz boasts a unique terroir that is the progenitor of a range of truly exquisite red wines, including a ‘top 6 in the world’ Cabernet Franc and ‘top 10’ Merlot.

On the two occasions we have sampled Holden Manz wines before – the Franschhoek Summer Wine and Franschhoek Winter Wine festivals at which we had the Chenin Blanc and the Proprietor’s Blend, respectively – we were compelled by their depth of fruit, aromatic complexity, and pure elegance. And so it was with much anticipation that we swooned into the estate’s rustic tasting room to explore the full range before sitting down to a three-course lunch at Holden Manz’ restaurant, the Franschhoek Kitchen.

Holden Manz wine tasting

Holden Manz red wine Franschhoek

Our wine tasting was hosted by the dashing and charismatic Ruben, Holden Manz’ wine ambassador, who walked us through the estate’s very fine repertoire of award-winning wines, beginning with the lush and creamy Provence-style rosé, the gorgeous Chenin Blanc, and, the final white wine, the barrel-fermented Chardonnay 2018. Then, we embarked upon Holden Manz’ rich, elegant, and smooth reds, the grapes of which are grown in the topmost 16 hectares of the estate. To be quite honest, I would be hard-pressed to decide upon a favourite but under duress I suppose I would opt for the Holden Manz Syrah…and the Cabernet Sauvignon…and while we’re at it, the Reserve Merlot. Oh and their Visionaire, Cabernet Franc,and Big G Bordeaux-styleblend.

Do you see where I’m going with this? My absolute compliments to Holden Manz’ experienced and artful winemaker, Thierry Haberer.

Lunch at Franschhoek Kitchen

Holden Manz Franschhoek Kitchen
Franschhoek trout ceviche with yuzu mayo and horseradish crème

A rather gluttonous volume of wine later, we headed upstairs from the tasting room and cellars for a much-needed lunch at Franschhoek Kitchen, which has been rated one of the leading restaurants in a valley already lauded for its culinary calibre. In this classically beautiful, yet rustic setting with stunning views over rain bejewelled vineyards, we tucked into a feast crafted from fresh ingredients strictly sourced from the Franschhoek Valley.

For starters, we shared the gorgeous and velvety vichyssoise soup, served warm and paired with the Holden Manz Chenin Blanc, and the Franschhoek trout ceviche with yuzu mayo, horseradish crème, and a glass of the deliciously indulgent Reserve Chardonnay.

Holden Manz Franschhoek Kitchen sea bass
Sea bass with laksa (Malaysian curry) sauce and toasted coconut chips

For mains, we shared (again, because variety is the spice of life) the pork belly with pomme purée, peach gel, shitake mushrooms, vine tomato, and shitake jus with a glass of Holden Manz Reserve Merlot, and the sea bass, which came swimming in a rich, creamy laksa (Malaysian curry) sauce with toasted coconut chips. The wine pairing for this dish was the exquisite Holden Manz Syrah Reserve. For a sweet ending, we chose the triple chocolate mousse, apple tart, and a nip of Holden Manz Good Sport Cape Vintage 2014, by which stage we had slumped into a miasma of hedonistic pleasure.

Holden Manz Franschhoek Kitchen dessert
Triple chocolate mousse

Five-star accommodation

A visit to Holden Manz Wine Estate need not conclude with a meal. With the Holden Manz Country House being a stone’s throw from the tasting room and restaurant, guests – satiated with good food and wine – can collapse into the lap of luxury. This five-star guesthouse offers five spacious and lavishly appointed suites, all with breathtaking views of the upper Franschhoek Valley and the mountains beyond, as well as a pool, afternoon tea with homemade delicacies, sandwiches, cakes, and preserves, and generous breakfasts, featuring fruits from the estate’s orchards and eggs from their vineyard chickens.

Holden Manz Country Manor Franschhoek

Top culinary and wine experience

Holden Manz Estate owners Gerard Holden and Migo Manz, together with winemaker Thierry Haberer and every member of their staff, have created a wine and food experience that is every ounce as luxurious as it is unpretentious. There are few airs and graces here to dress up the offering because – no surprises here – absolutely none are necessary. Our first few encounters with the brand at Franschhoek’s seasonal wine festivals already had us impressed but our visit to Holden Manz took our impressions to stratospheric heights. Wine estate, fine dining country restaurant, wedding venue, wine tasting cellar, and luxurious five-star accommodations, Holden Manz has it all!

www.HoldenManz.com, +27 (0) 21 876 2738

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

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

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

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

incognito bar

Anytime good time

incognito-bar-4 alphen hotel

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

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

incognito-bar-4 alphen hotel

Wine, cocktails, and tapas

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

incognito-bar-4 alphen hotel

incognito bar

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

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

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

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

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

incognito-bar-4 alphen hotel

incognito-bar-4 alphen hotel

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

Yet another seamless offering from the Alphen

incognito-bar-4 alphen hotel

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

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

www.incognitobar.co.za

Alphen Boutique Hotel, Alphen Drive, Constantia

This article was originally written for Southern Vines Magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/07/09/alphen-boutique-hotels-incognito-bar/

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

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

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

Welcome drinks

Graham-Beck-Brut

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

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

Firefish Restaurant Cape Town-2

Three-course lunch with Kove Collection Wine

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

Firefish Cape Town-Tuna-Tartare
Tuna Tartare

Kove-Collection-White-Blend

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

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

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

Firefish Restaurant Cape Town-Panna-Cotta

One in a million

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

Firefish Restaurant Cape Town-1

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

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

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

Where to See the Snow in the Western Cape This Winter

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

Matroosberg nature reserve in winter
Snow capped peaks in the Matroosberg Nature Reserve. Credit: http://www.Matroosberg.com

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).

Where: Erfdeel Farm, Matroosberg, Breede River, Western Cape
Contact: +27 (0) 23 312 2282, info@matroosberg.com
Web: www.matroosberg.com

Cederberg Wilderness Area

Cederberg mountain pass
View from the top of a Cederberg mountain pass

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.

Where: Citrusdal, Western Cape
Contact Cape Nature: +27 (0) 21 483 0190, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za
Web: www.capenature.co.za

Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve

Credit: Cape Nature

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).

Where: Grabouw, Western Cape
Contact Cape Nature: +27 (0) 21 483 0190, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za
Web: www.capenature.co.za

The Boland Mountains, Kogelberg Nature Reserve

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!

Where: Kogelberg Nature Reserve, Western Cape
Contact Cape Nature: +27 (0) 28 271 5138, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za
Web: www.capenature.co.za

Hex River Mountains

Hex River Mountains in winter
The Mostertshoek Twins, Hex River Mountains. Credit: http://www.Fynbospress.co.za

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.

Contact: +27 (0) 23 356 2041, hvtourism@telkomsa.net
Web: www.hexrivervalley.co.za

Langeberg Range, Robertson and Worcester

Langeberg Mountain Range in winter
Credit: Oudtshoorn Tourism (Facebook)

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.

Robertson Wine Valley
Contact: +27 (0) 23 626 3167, admin@robertsonwinevalley.com
Web: www.robertsonwinevalley.com

Worcester Tourism
Contact: +27 (0) 23 342 6244 or +27 (0) 76 200 8742, info@worcestertourism.com

Swartberg Nature Reserve (Gamkaskloof – Die Hel)

Swartberg Nature Reserve
Credit: Safari Now

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.

Where: Swartberg Nature Reserve, Western Cape
Contact Cape Nature: +27 (0) 28 271 5138, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za
Web: www.capenature.co.za

This article was originally written by Thea Beckman for Southern Vines Magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/05/14/where-to-see-the-snow-in-the-western-cape-this-winter/