Eden on the Lagoon – Knysna and the Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa

Two years ago, the worst wildfire disaster in South African history befell the Garden Route, so named for its lush and ecologically diverse vegetation, lagoons, and lakes. A combination of drought, powerful winds, and abundant fuel in the form of hardwood forests and indigenous scrub lead to the stoking of a “mega-fire” that killed seven people, consumed more than a thousand homes, and razed hectare upon hectare of verdant coastal landscape to the ground.

Two years on, driving into the picturesque emerald town of Knysna, sitting pretty on its glittering throne of turquoise lagoon, it’s difficult to fathom the tragedy that occurred here. The vegetation has rallied, the people have rebuilt, and, as ever, this neck of the woods remains an utterly gorgeous holiday paradise for visitors from all over the country and world. And for two indulgent days, we would be calling it our home.

Nice, ne?

Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa

www.turbinehotel.co.za, +27 (0)44 302 5746

Our home away from home for our stay was the Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa, a fabulously quirky five-star hotel located on Knysna’s Thesen Island, a multi-award winning marina development in the scenic Knysna estuary. The hotel – one of Knysna’s most unusual – used to be a wood-fired turbine that powered the town, as well as neighbouring Sedgefield and Plettenberg Bay. Today, of course, its massive industrial machinery has been retired, artfully strewn about the hotel, and given a colourful coat of paint. What is an indelible part of the establishment’s history is now also, through décor, an indelible part of its present and future.

Turbine Hotel Knysna

A little too early for check-in, we dropped our bags off in the lobby, scuttled off to a miniature quay a stone’s throw away, and boarded a motorised pontoon barge for Featherbed Nature Reserve with a stop en route to admire the Knysna Headlands or “Heads” as they have become affectionately termed. The steep sandstone cliff faces, which serve as the gateway to the Knysna Lagoon, protect the estuary from the unbridled fury of the thundering Indian Ocean beyond, transforming it into a watery wonderland for boating and kayaking. It’s also created a favourable environment for the endangered Knysna seahorse to thrive in, as well as a plethora of beautiful birdlife, from African spoonbills, grey herons, and black oystercatchers to pied kingfishers, little egrets, and that most iconic of our country’s birds: the African fish eagle.

Featherbed Nature Reserve

www.knysnafeatherbed.com, +27 (0)44 382-1693

Featherbed Nature Reserve has long served as one of Knysna’s top attractions, offering visitors nature trails, hiking, birdwatching, unparalleled views of the area, and a decent lunch. Tragically, the nature reserve succumbed to the 2017 fire, losing a staggering 98% of its vegetation. But, in a heroic real-life demonstration of the phoenix rising from the ashes, the team at Featherbed Nature Reserve used the opportunity to weed out all of the alien vegetation and replant only indigenous trees and plants. Today, the reserve is carpeted with new growth of indigenous fynbos and coastal forest, and the towering trees they thought would never recover, came back from the dead.

The new, wholly reimagined offering (opened since December 2018) is elevated several storeys above its predecessor. The new restaurant, which boasts a bar, wedding venue, and conference facilities, is a gorgeous affair; riddled with botanical and nautical-inspired décor and masterfully crafted indigenous wood tables by a local artist.

The reserve also offers affordable tour packages, such as the Eco Tour, which includes a return ferry trip on the Knysna Lagoon; a 4 x 4 drive up the headland onto the reserve, stopping at spectacular viewpoints and to hear the specialist guide talk about the history, fauna, and flora; an optional guided 2,2 km walk through coastal forest and fynbos into ancient sea caves; and concludes with an outdoor buffet lunch of such epic proportions, you’d do well to starve yourself beforehand. All of this for only R700 per person, and they also have South African resident rates for winter, which never hurt anyone’s wallet.

A visit to Featherbed Nature Reserve is a pilgrimage that all visitors to Knysna should make, or so I thought as we putted back to Thesen Island on the still waters of the lagoon.

Turbine Hotel Knysna

Settling in and spa treatment

Back at Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa, we finally checked in to our rooms, many of which had balconies overlooking the spectacularly beautiful surrounding canals and waterborne suburbia. Each of the establishment’s 26 rooms has a unique name and theme (mine was the botanical room) and, of course, the hotel’s history is honoured with industrial elements like painted pipework and wall-mounted panels containing gauges and buttons. Yes, you are welcome to fiddle with them.

Turbine Hotel Knysna

After settling in, which included a hot chocolate, a quick nap in soft white sheets, and a restorative shower, I luxuriated under the sure, strong hands of my lovely masseuse at the Turbine Spa – is there any better way to dissolve the tensions of travel than with a spa treatment? A laid-back supper at the hotel’s Gastro Pub (with cocktails) doesn’t hurt, either.

Turbine Hotel Knysna
Turbine Hotel Knysna

Breakfast and bicycle ride

Breakfast is served in the hotel’s Island Café, which also serves a decent lunch and dinner. And after accosting the continental breakfast buffet, we grabbed a bicycle from the Turbine Hotel’s very own adventure centre, the Turbine Water Club – offers lagoon cruises, ferries to Featherbed Nature Reserve, kayaking, bicycle hire, and more – and struck out on two wheels to explore the estuary all the way up to the headlands. I don’t think I’ve ever sat down to a more deserved lunch and glass of rosé!

Dinner that night was taken at the Island Café – an exceptional, fall-off-the-bone lamb shank with vegetables and potato purée, which I washed down with a glass of Hartenberg Estate’s Alchemy Rhone Style Red 2017. One thing I greatly enjoyed about the Turbine Hotel is the fact that, in spite of its boutique status and compact lunch and dinner menus, it maintains a generous wine list, featuring beautiful picks from wine routes all over the Cape.

Turbine Hotel Knysna

Ancient Knysna Forest Walk

On our final morning, after another plunder of the hotel’s breakfast buffet table, we struck out for the Knysna Forest, the largest in South Africa, and went on a 9 km hike in the deep, cool shade of 900-year-old yellowwood trees. The tap-tap-tapping of woodpeckers, the liquid melody of orioles, and the harsh barking of Knysna loeries were the soundtrack to our adventure; that and the burbling of the streams that cut their way through the ancient thick tangle of vegetation and towering trees. One could scarcely imagine a more tranquil and deeply restorative place on Earth, and if you ever find yourself on the Garden Route, I urge you to visit the Knysna Forests and relinquish yourself to its verdant embrace.

Luxury base with a personality

Birdwatching, outdoor adventure, charming shops, a thrumming restaurant scene, and raw nature… Knysna is a unique and heart-achingly beautiful town that leaves a lasting impression. The Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa, a luxury accommodation with a personality (and with convenient connections to all of this action) is a highly recommended place from which to soak it all up.

Turbine Hotel Knysna

www.turbinehotel.co.za

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/2019/08/20/eden-on-the-lagoon-knysna-and-the-turbine-boutique-hotel-spa/

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Gabrielskloof Restaurant Celebrates 10 Years of Cape Country Cuisine

Happy birthday to you, I’m going to eat all your food, wash it down with your wine too, happy birthday Gabriëlskloof!

Just so that you can all appreciate how obnoxiously spoiled I am as a “person of media”, I attended the 10-year anniversary of the restaurant at Gabriëlskloof wine estate (Botrivier, Western Cape, South Africa) and left with a belly full of their food, a head full of their wine, and a gift of their freshly-baked goodies in my hand. Disgusting, isn’t it?

Nevertheless, I have an important job here…and it’s to pay homage to a country-style restaurant that has endured 10 long years in an industry in which country-style restaurants very quickly go out of style. Add to this the fact that Gabriëlskloof wine estate is situated in the middle of nowhere – according to Capetonians who think that anything more than five minutes away is in the middle of nowhere – and you can appreciate just how important this milestone is.

An important milestone, yes… but certainly no miracle: the restaurant at Gabriëlskloof delivers a hedonistic trifecta of delicious food, wine, and spectacular winelands views of vineyard carpeted valleys. And on Friday 16th August, a clutch of media folk and I travelled from Cape Town to celebrate this esteemed restaurant’s birthday by eating all their food, drinking all their wine, and leaving with a present in our hands.

Happy birthday to me, I mean, you Gabriëlskloof Restaurant!

Robust South African country-style fare

GK Butternut and barley risotto LR

Gabriëlskloof Estate is located just under 100 km from Cape Town, outside Bot River on the Swartrivier Road off the N2 highway. In other words, it’s firmly in the sticks and one heck of an excuse to go on a mini-road trip. The restaurant itself serves robust, seasonal South African fare, plus there’s a wine tasting room with a courtyard and a fluffy little poodle to pet between sips of wine.

Food is prepared with great love by the owners of the Gabriëlskloof Restaurant, Frans and Mariaan Groenewald, who are passionate about using local produce from neighbouring farms and villages. The menu changes with the regularity of the weather in Cape Town and the result is a torrential downpouring of delicious, hearty dishes that don’t require you to make a pit stop at McDonalds on the way home, as is often the case at wine estate restaurants that charge R200 for a sliver of beef and a cough of foam.

Birthday Celebrations

The restaurant at Gabriëlskloof is elegantly appointed, yet maintains an unpretentious, country feel. To the one side, the dining area spills out onto a large veranda-embraced courtyard and to the other, a clipped lawn with vast views of buttery yellow canola fields, vineyards, mountains, and False Bay beyond. It’s quite something to behold.

And as my eyes were adjusting to the sheer majesty of it all, I was handed a flute of the estate’s crisp Madame Lucy Méthode Cap Classique (MCC), named after that poodle I mentioned. For those of you who don’t know, MCC is South Africa’s answer to “champagne” – and, yes, there is actually an answer to champagne. MCC is made following precisely the same methodology. The only difference is provenance. Let’s hope there are no French people reading this.

Gabrielskloof restaurant Wontons

After harassing the servers mincing around with trays of canapés – and a second glass of bubbly, this time of the estate’s gorgeous 2010 100% Pinot Noir MCC – we took our seats to enjoy a grand lunch featuring the food for which Gabriëlskloof restaurant has earned its lip-smacking reputation. This kicked off with a basket of dense, freshly-baked farm bread and Cape Malay spiced Cape salmon wontons with peach sweet chilli sauce (pictured above).

For mains, a literal smorgasbord was laid out before us: duck leg bourguignon, carrot and barley risotto, pulled lamb waterblommetjies (edible aquatic flowering plant) (above), cauliflower and aubergine in coconut, and steamed greens. This proudly South African feast was paired with both the original and the current vintages of Gabriëlskloof’s Landscape Series wines to allow us to appreciate how they have evolved over time. The Landscape Series features two whites and three reds: Magdelena Sauvignon Blanc, Elodie Sauvignon Blanc / Sémillon blend (both named after the owner’s sisters), Syrah on Sandstone, Syrah on Shale, and Cabernet Franc. Yep, I tasted them all and, yep, the conversation on the ride home was several decibels louder than it was on the way to the estate.

Dessert was a creative take on an Irish coffee – coffee creme brûlée with whiskey ice-cream (let’s hope there are no Irish people reading this) paired with a tot of the estate’s Broken Stem Late Harvest wine.

Grown men DO cry

“It’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed,” declares chef patron Frans Groenewald, who launched the venue in 2009 with his wife, Mariaan, and fellow-chef Juan van der Westhuizen. “When we started out, people said if we can’t make onion rings like the local steakhouse, we’re done for!”

Well, look where are you now, dear Frans and Mariaan! Who needs to compete with Cattle Baron, anyway? Gabriëlskloof Restaurant is a beautiful place run by passionate people whose love and dedication to their craft is as evident in the quality of the food as it is in the tears that rolled down their faces during certain “welcome” speeches to media guests.

Throat catching aside (and how endearing that was!), Frans and Mariaan made us feel welcome and even though it was their restaurant’s birthday, they wined, dined, and treated us like we were the ones turning a year older. It compelled me to write the following birthday song, which is pending a patent so don’t get any crafty ideas:

Happy birthday to you, I’m going to eat all your food, wash it down with your wine too, happy birthday Gabriëlskloof!

Here’s to another decade of success – I’ll be watching my inbox for that birthday invitation in 2029!

Gabrielskloof Restaurant stoep HR

Gabrielskloof Restaurant is open Monday to Sunday, 09:00 to 17:00. For bookings and enquiries, please email restaurant@gabrielskloof.co.za or call +27 (0)28 284 9865.

http://www.gabrielskloof.co.za

From Russia with Love

Avant-Garde at Hazendal Wine Estate delivers a harmonious fusion of South African and Russian cuisine

Before Avant-Garde, the only things I knew about Russia was that it’s the progenitor of vodka, the world’s best caviar, and a rather depressing novelist called Dostoevsky. And so, upon arriving at the sprawling Hazendal heritage farm and wine estate on Stellenbosch’s Bottelary Road, our expectations were a blank canvas with plenty of elbow room for impression.

Hazendal-Restaurant-1

Mark Voloshin, the owner of Hazendal, is Russian, which explains the colourful percolation of Russian culture and cuisine into the estate’s offering, from its authentic traditional tea ceremonies to its soon-to-open vodka distillery. That’s right: move aside craft gin. Beneath these charming Russian accents, however, Hazendal is most assuredly South African in heritage with its collection of Cape Dutch homesteads dating back to the late 1700s, right around the time that Catherine the Great was behind the wheel of the Russian empire. And it’s in Hazendal’s beautifully restored and elegantly dressed historic wine cellar that you’ll find the estate’s wine tasting lounge and flagship restaurant, Avant-Garde.

Hazendal-Restaurant-1

Getting to grips with Russian cuisine

Executive Chef Michélle Theron had little experience with Russian cuisine before her appointment at Hazendal Wine Estate. It was under the gentle guidance and encouragement of owner Mark and his family, and the tutelage of an experienced Russian chef that she dived deep and mastered a diverse cuisine that bears the influence of multiple ethnicities and social classes, from Northern Europe to East Asia and from the austerity of the impoverished peasant class to the exorbitant excess of the tsarist regimes.

Executive Chef Michélle Theron
Executive Chef Michélle Theron

Avant-Garde’s menu presents a subsequent fusion of South African and Russian flavours and ingredients, a musical composition that would have impressed even Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Presented with such a smorgasbord of delicious sounding dishes and perhaps a few words we had to run past Google Translate, we sent our waitron back to the kitchen with a single request: “surprise us.” Chef Michélle responded with a magnificent volley of fusion dishes that both entertained and educated our palates.

Hazendal Restaurant

Multi-course dining and wine pairing

We eased into our meal with an amuse-bouche of savoury pastry crowned with fennel-laced cream cheese and a generous dollop of black caviar, which we washed down with a golden flute of the Hazendal Scarlet Sails MCC 2014. Next, was a delectable constellation of starters paired with wines from Hazendal and surrounding farms along Stellenbosch’s Bottelary Road. Lightly smoked snoek and potato pampushki, Russia’s answer to croquettes, were served with Cape Malay curried sweet potato, apricots, and parsley purée and paired with the Hartenberg Riesling 2016; octopus terrine with a bright and lively salad of green melon, dehydrated tomato, salsa verde, chorizo, radish, and saltbush sprigs (pairing: Hazendal Sémillon/Sauvignon Blanc 2017); and asparagus, fennel, poached pear and pickled cucumber salad with Valley blue cheese from Riebeeck Kasteel (pairing: the Christoffel Hazenwinkel Cape blend 2017, a vibrant and fruit-forward, yet velvety Cape blend of Pinotage, Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon.)

Hazendal Restaurant
Lightly smoked fish and potato pampushki, curried sweet potato and apricot, with a parsley sauce

This inundation of delicious and surprising dishes was followed by a Ramen style bowl of mushroom broth packed with bean sprouts, spring onion, tender slices of pork with crispy skin, a perfectly cooked egg, and springbok pelmeni (Russian-style dumplings). Then, we tried the winter-perfect slow-braised lamb on a bed of kasha (a savoury barley porridge) with hazelnuts and mushrooms, which, we were told, is traditional ‘peasant’ food in Russia; and roasted Kei apple-glazed duck breast with an apple and onion tart. I adored the upturned onion halves filled with Chef Michélle’s rich, savoury reduction. These main dishes were paired with the Goede Hoop Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 and Hazendal Chenin Blanc 2017 respectively.

Hazendal Restaurant

Dessert was no less impressive and just as artistically rendered as every dish before. We had the apple sharlotka, a classic Russian apple sponge cake topped with a flavourful apple and thyme ice cream in a milk chocolate encasing; and Anna pavlova with cream cheese custard, green tea sablé cookies, matcha coated milk rocks, strawberries, and cream. And while, by this stage, we were grossly over-filled, we managed to conclude the experience with that classic vodka cocktail: the Moscow Mule. How could we boast about our meal at Avant-Garde without a nip of vodka?

Hazendal Restaurant

Picture perfect setting

My early ignorant impressions of Russian cuisine – potatoes served with potato and a side of potatoes – has been completely obliterated by Chef Michélle and Avant-Garde’s sumptuous menu. Enjoyed in an elegant, classically attractive setting complete with hand-painted mural ceiling and a view of the wine cellar’s impressive stainless-steel tanks, Avant-Garde truly is a picture-perfect venue for long, leisurely lunches framed by Hazendal’s beautifully-crafted wines.

Hazendal Restaurant

Avant-Garde at Hazendal is open Tuesday to Sunday from 11:30 to 15:30. For bookings and enquiries, please email bookings@hazendal.co.za or call +27 (0) 21 205 5620 (bookings essential)

www.hazendal.co.za

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/2019/06/19/avant-garde-at-hazendal-wine-estate-delivers-a-harmonious-fusion-of-south-african-and-russian-cuisine/

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