Celebrating the Arrival of Neethlingshof’s New Wine Vintages / Brood of “Babies”

It doesn’t matter how old you get: tractor rides are a whole lot of fun. The diesel-laced, farm-fresh air in your face, the roar of its three-cylinder engine, and lush summer vineyards so close you could almost reach out and caress their leaves as you fly by at 6 km/h. Ah…tractor rides are fun. And it was in a tractor-drawn trailer that we kicked off our day at Neethlingshof Wine Estate, one of the Cape’s earliest grape-growing and wine-producing farms.

The crowd of media folk had gathered at Neethlingshof to taste the Stellenbosch estate’s new brood of babies: the 2019 white wines and some newly released vintages of red wines. But nothing works up a wine appetite quite like an appreciation of its provenance and so we were hauled high up and deep into Neethlingshof’s vineyard-carpeted hills to survey its kingdom and the various terroirs that give rise to its delicious ranges of wines.

Neethlingshof

Terroir, terroir, terroir

The tractor wheezed to a stop atop a koppie where, at over 200 metres above sea level, we were afforded sweeping views of the estate’s jigsaw puzzle of vineyards, Eucalyptus stands, granite outcroppings, pastures, and Renosterveld reserves, as well as the greater Stellenbosch valley, which expands outwards from False Bay like a natural amphitheatre.

Here, Neethlingshof’s winemaker De Wet Viljoen regaled us with tales of the farm, its terroir, and the estate’s dedication to “giving back” to nature in the form of Renosterveld rehabilitation, erecting owl posts amongst the vineyards, and, rather than having them removed to make space for more vineyards, allowing pockets of nature to thrive in the Eucalyptus stands and granite outcroppings strewn about its grounds.

Of special note is the fact that Neethlingshof’s vineyards sprawls up a series of undulating slopes that vary from 190 to 260 metres above sea level. At this altitude, the vineyards are bathed in the cool maritime breezes that flood the valley from False Bay and so, while many people tend to think of Stellenbosch as a hot climate terroir, it is in fact far more complicated than that, particularly when you take into account the varying altitudes each vineyard block resides at, their particular aspect (angle towards the onshore breezes and sun), and soil types, of which the farm has two.

This complexity shows up in each sip of Neethlingshof’s wines, as well as in the diversity of wines produced by winemaker De Wet and assistant winemaker Jacobus van Zyl.

Neethlingshof

Wine cellar tasting

Back on the ranch, we made our way through the wynproesentrum into the vast cellars for a private wine tasting hosted by winemaker De Wet. A long, luscious table with all the usual tasting paraphernalia had been set for us and we wasted little time tucking in to the first three of Neethlingshof’s new vintage wines: the white wines.

First up was the crisp, fresh, and vibrant Neethlingshof Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2019, with a rich tropical fruit nose balanced nicely with herbaceous, almost green peppery aromas. Next up was the Short Story Collection Jackal’s Dance 2019, a clear, fresh, and crisp single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc with distinctive minerality and flirtatious notes of ripe figs and gooseberries. The final white wine was the Short Story Collection The Six Flowers 2019, a Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay-driven blend of six white wine varietals, including Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Weisser Riesling, and Gewürztraminer.

The wine delivered a beautifully perfumed, floral yet spicy nose (thanks to new French oak) with each of the six varietals being individually vinified before blended to achieve this delicious and devilishly moreish wooded white.

The Short Story Collection

The Short Story Collection is Neethlingshof’s signature wine range that consists of five different wines, two of which I have already covered. What is so wonderful about these wines is that each bottle tells a beguiling anecdote about the estate’s rich history.

The Jackal’s Dance, for example, originates from farmer Willem Barend Lubbe who, in 1692, made the honest mistake of confusing a pack of jackals for the wolves of his homeland. He then named the farm De Wolvendans (the wolf’s dance), which was only changed in the late 1820’s when Johannes Henoch Neethling bought the property. The Jackal’s Dance unfurls this early history – and honest taxonomical error by Mr Lubbe. It also draws attention to the fact that, to this day, Neethlingshof farm is home to a population of shy Cape foxes.

The Six Flowers is a tribute to the young widow Maria Magdalena Marais, who took over the building of Neethlingshof’s manor house after the death of her husband in 1813. She rather creatively crafted six flowers (five representing her children and one for herself), which she then had cast into the manor house’s gables. Today, the story behind those six flowers has been expanded to represent the estate’s environmental consciousness and its restoration of the area’s indigenous Renosterveld vegetation.

The red course

Back to the wine tasting, our second wave of tastings was the estate’s most recently released reds, starting with the astoundingly delicious and intoxicatingly fragrant Neethlingshof Estate Merlot 2017, which served up rich, red cherry fruits laced with hints of coffee and nougat. Then the Neethlingshof Short Story Collection The Caracal 2017, a dark and intense Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet France, and Malbec that offered up a distinctive cherry tobacco nose, big body, and firm, supple tannins. Finally, we tasted the delightful and delicious Short Story Collection The Owl Post Pinotage 2018, in which I instantly identified coffee-chocolate notes and plums without even having to read the tasting notes first (that’s how distinctive they were).

Neethlingshof

(Vegan) lunch at the manor house

Neethlingshof’s rather substantial innings is reflected in the Stellenbosch estate’s glorious clutch of thatched Cape Dutch buildings and towering oak trees that have become home to the farm’s rather effective mode of pest control: spotted eagle owls. Now, sitting down to a vegan lunch in a 200-year-old manor house may seem like a bit of a study in contradiction but Brendan Stein, Executive Chef at the Restaurant at Neethlingshof, is clearly not afraid of innovation and adaptation.

Neethlingshof
Yuzu compressed watermelon, tomato consommé, cucumber and lemongrass gel, pickled radish, crisp shallot, and shiso

To showcase the season’s incredible flavours and satisfaction achievable without having to turn to animal products, Chef Brendan put together a truly delicious four-course vegan meal for our group. This began with an amuse-bouche of tofu and black bean chilli crumbed fritter with teriyaki and miso; followed by a starter of yuzu compressed watermelon, tomato consommé, cucumber and lemongrass gel, pickled radish, crisp shallot, and shiso; absolutely gorgeous mains of chermoula roast cauliflower, quinoa and dukkha, carrot purée, crispy kale, and herb oil; and finally poached nectarine, spiced syrup, peach sorbet, and almond chips. Each course was paired with a wine from Neethlingshof estate: respectively, the Ode to Nature Riesling 2018, Estate unwooded Chardonnay 2019, Estate Shiraz 2016, and the noble late harvest Short Story Collection Maria 2019.

Neethlingshof chermoula roast cauliflower, quinoa and dukkha, carrot purée, crispy kale, and herb oil
Chermoula roast cauliflower, quinoa and dukkha, carrot purée, crispy kale, and herb oil
Neethlingshof
Poached nectarine, spiced syrup, peach sorbet and almond chips

Almost persuaded to turn vegan…almost

It was quite literally one of the guilt-freest multi-course dining experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting down to. Composed of fresh, colourful ingredients, every dish was a fragrant and flavourful expression of summer, enhanced greatly by the wines. And rather than rolling out the door like a distended blueberry, as I often do after such events, I hopped and skipped out the door feeling like I’d earned a slice of cheese cake.

“Vegan” may have been a dirty word to many of the people seated in the restaurant that day but after our four-course vegan meal by Chef Brendon (who is unapologetically carnivorous but doesn’t shy away from a challenge), we all walked away just a little persuaded by the merits of such a diet.

Neethlingshof

Seek out the stories of Neethlingshof

I greatly encourage you to go to Neethlingshof Estate, not only for the food, the views, the farm-fresh air, and the wine itself, but also to discover the stories behind the wines – particularly those in The Short Story range. While you’re at it, bath your teeth in the Neethlingshof Malbec, an elixir of the Gods if there ever were one.

Neethlingshof Wine Estate is open 09:00 to 17:00 Monday to Friday and 10:00 to 16:30 Saturday and Sunday. For bookings and enquiries, please email info@neethlingshof.co.za or call +27 (0) 21 883 8988.

www.neethlingshof.co.za

This blog was originally written for Southern Vines, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/11/08/celebrating-the-arrival-of-neethlingshofs-new-wine-vintages-brood-of-babies/

It’s Truth. After Dark Smullekker Nostalgic Local Cuisine at Cape Town’s Sexiest Café

Typically, when writing about some restaurant dining experience, I have to scratch my head over a unique angle of attack so that it doesn’t read as just another food or wine blog. I like to bequeath a personality and identity upon all of my children, no matter how many my brain gives birth to. Truth. After Dark has completely relieved me of that responsibility because their new concept is so unique – and so uniquely South African – that I scarcely need to plunder my intellectual coffers to come up with anything clever. I simply have to write about the experience. It’s brilliant. Let’s go…

Truth After Dark

sokkie jol through nostalgic local foods

Less than a month after smashing England in the World Cup Rugby, the country is still cruising along at 37,000 feet on the psychedelic euphoria. To perpetuate the patriotism that victory achieved, Truth Coffee has cooked up an ingenious concept that celebrates our South African-ness and how our country’s diversity has defined our cuisine, especially here in the Cape, which is a melting pot in so many more ways than one. The new Sowf Effrekin menu – offered “After Dark” (18:00) – is a veritable sokkie sokkie jol through all the foods that are uniquely South African and, to South Africans themselves, dizzyingly nostalgic.

“We brainstormed some cool – or rather kif – ideas and kept one-upping each other until we hit on a concept to serve up re-imagined, sophisticated versions of the typical Sowf Effrekin comfort food we all grew up with,” says David Donde, founder of Truth Coffee Roastery.

Truth After Dark

Think: Stoney Ginger Beer, Durban bunny chows, Steri Stumpie flavoured milk, oxtail bredie, Bovril beef spread, prawn samosas, and Black Cat peanut butter.

Now take these idiosyncratic South African treats, dishes, and beverages and run them through the mind of a mad culinary scientist or, as Truth Coffee likes to say: “deliberately get it wrong in the most delicious way” and you’ve got the brand new Sowf Effrekin “Gastro-Kaap” menu. Prepare to be surprised.

Truth After Dark

Feeling Snek-ish

First of all, I would like to commend whoever wrote the Sowf Effrekin menu and its descriptions. Sorry Truth Coffee, but they should immediately quit their job as a restaurant employee and launch a glittering career as a comedy writer. I don’t think I’ve ever picked up a menu that has made for such good, entertaining reading. Also, for non-South Africans, it provides fairly essential descriptions of all the colloquialisms, ingredients, and dishes mentioned so that you too can participate in the joy of it all.

For starters, we ordered the Bovril-y on toast and a bietjie biltong: a South African braai snack done a little differently. The plate featured ostrich carpaccio, mushroom biltong, and a buttery brioche with a meaty glaze on top, a pretty accurate visual representation of Bovril on bread, especially since I like mine layered on thick enough to measure with a ruler. In centimetres. We also had the prawn samosa, a dish described in the menu as: “pastry, prawn, and prawn bisque. What is the question?”

Truth After Dark
Truth After Dark

One must remember that these are South African favourites that have been interpreted and reimagined so don’t just expect an haute cuisine version of the original thing. Expect the unexpected.

Moer of a hungry

For mains, we ordered the Durban-inspired, slow-cooked lamb bunny chow and the oxtail bredie, two legendary and proudly South African comfort foods that are infinitely more effective than wine in perking you up after a particularly onerous day; this, coming from a wine lover. Again, these dishes had been “deliberately gotten wrong in the most delicious way” with the bunny chow resembling a rugby ball and being a baked bread filled with tender lamb curry. For the oxtail bredie, they “channelled their inner Ouma”, and the result was oxtail, deboned and stuffed with a chicken and mushroom concoction, and served South African style with a red wine sauce, vegetables, a maize dumpling, and a dusting of spiced crispy rice. We South Africans do love our Spice for Rice.

Truth After Dark
Truth After Dark

Cocktails

I need to create a new section for the cocktails on Truth’s Sowf Effrekin menu because they absolutely deserve it. Served in their original vessels (just with a cheekily revised label), the cocktails are delicious and so gut-bustingly fun and funny. There’s the Fat Cat, a creamy peanut butter, golden syrup, and banana smoothie-type cocktail laced with Amarula liqueur and Floating Dutchman rum, served in an actual Black Cat peanut butter jar. I would happily chug the stuff as a breakfast smoothie before hitting the office, with interesting consequences, I’m sure.

Truth After Dark

Then there’s the Stoner cocktail, served in an original Stoney Ginger Beer bottle, and composed of Blitsem Witblitz, ginger and hemp soda, and saffron, of all things. And the Melktert Pina Colada, a concoction of Mhoba rum, Takamaka coconut rum, condensed milk, pineapple, and cinnamon served in an actual condensed milk blikkie. I mean, who needs dessert after all that?

Truth After Dark

Schweet-like-a-lemon

We do because we’re piglets. And so we ordered the Malva pudding, which was delicious: swimming in custard, topped with a crispy toffee-like latticework thingy, and served with Amarula ice cream. Happy place.

Truth After Dark
Truth After Dark

Take a trip down memory lane

With Truth Café having been voted the ‘Best Coffee Shop in the World’ for two years running by The Daily Telegraph, founder David Donde and his team felt inspired to do for the local food scene what they’ve done for coffee by expanding their culinary offering to include dinner. And not just any dinner experience…but one that is humorously and proudly Sowf Effrekin.

I could wax lyrical about all the other absolutely delightful Gastro-Kaap dishes on the menu but I encourage you to discover each comedic and tasty gem for yourself. The menu is as much a delight to read, as it is to experience and there simply is nowhere else in Cape Town that shows off nostalgic local cuisine in as unconventionally romantic an environment as Truth. After Dark.

Truth. After Dark experience kicks off from 18:00 until midnight, Monday to Saturday. For bookings and enquiries, please email info@truth.coffee or call +27 (0) 21 2000 440.

www.za.truth.coffee

36 Buitenkant Street, Cape Town City Centre

This blog was originally written for Southern Vines, the largest leisure and lifestyle magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/11/25/truth-after-dark/

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

Wander Woman Thea is for sale (but in a totally legal and classy way)

If you like what you see and fancy a talented, witty, and ridiculously verbose writer for your website project, blog, or marketing materials, don’t hesitate to get in touch at thea@wanderwomanthea.com.

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

Blockhouse Kitchen serves “try-not-to-lick-your-plate” delicious food

If you’ve had your ear tuned in to the Cape Town foodie / culinary airwaves, you’ll likely have heard about the recent opening of Blockhouse Kitchen at the arrestingly beautiful Constantia Uitsig Wine Estate. It has generated quite a bit of noise. Situated in the oldest wine-producing region in South Africa and, in fact, the Southern Hemisphere, Blockhouse Kitchen is headed by Executive Chef Brad Ball, who returns to the estate after 12 years at the helm of the previous restaurant, River Café (and who completed a five-year stint at nearby Steenberg Farm’s Bistro Sixteen82). Curious to see whether the restaurant is worthy of the hype, we paid it a visit on a blustery winter’s evening.

The look, the feel

Blockhouse-Kitchen-Constantia-Uitsig-696x522

The weather actually couldn’t have been better suited to our purposes. On a cold evening, there’s nothing quite as inviting as a rustic, country-style restaurant in an historical building older than the Titanic and whose various dining rooms are warmed by raging fires. The main area of this 250-seater restaurant exudes a country-chic, contemporary feel while the two smaller ancillary rooms are simpler, barer, and more rustic in appeal. Ceramic pitchers and bowls of fresh produce like lemons, pears, mushrooms, and chilli peppers function as farm-style “décor” and enormous tapestries with textured prints adorn the walls.

The kitchen is separated from the main dining room by countertops and a glass wall (so you can watch the magic in action) and a combination of the tantalising aromas wafting from its stovetops and the wine cellar, which is visible through a floor-to-ceiling glass wall, heightens the anticipation of the food and wine experience to come!

Blockhouse-Kitchen-1 Constantia Uitsig

Food, glorious food (and wine)

Blockhouse Kitchen offers an all-day dining experience that is both healthy and eco-conscious. Here, nose-to-tail and root-to-leaf philosophies are applied to every dish, which not only constitutes a more sustainable approach to dining but also means that dishes are generous in portion and pricing. The menu is varied, packed with local and seasonal ingredients and dishes, and is guaranteed to please both foodies and those with more conventional palates.

For starters, we shared two small plates, one off the menu and one off the specials board: the crunchy, deep-fried squid fritto miso with courgette, fresh lemon, and garlic, and a divine harissa-spiced aioli; and the earthy, wild mushroom ragu with pistachio pesto and polenta porridge. These, we paired with a glass of the Uitsig Chardonnay Reserve 2016, an elegant, well-structured and balanced wooded Chardonnay with earthy and citrus aromas of lime and orange.

Squid-fritto-miso-blockhouse
Squid Fritto Miso
Wild-mushroom-ragu-blockhouseWild Mushroom Ragu

On a side note, while the restaurant does maintain an impressive and varied selection of local and international wines, I most ardently recommend that you pair your food with Constantia Uitsig’s spectacular repertoire of wines. “When in Rome”, as they say!

For mains, I had the slow-braised lamb shoulder, which was so tender and soft I didn’t know whether to eat it or use it as a pillow to sleep on. This was smothered in a rich, red wine jus, whole baby carrots, winter caponata (a Sicilian eggplant dish), and Parmesan polenta. My plus one chose the winter Bolognese casarecce: twisted tubes of homemade pasta served in a rich, savoury Bolognese sauce made from slow-cooked, grass-fed beef and dusted generously with Parmesan cheese.

Braised-Lamb-shoulder-blockhouse
Braised Lamb Shoulder

For this course, I chose a glass of the Constantia Uitsig Red Horizon, the only red wine the estate makes, and a delicious, light, and elegant blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. The wine had a lively nose of bright, red cherries with lingering tobacco and ripe plum notes and lovely soft tannins, which paired beautifully with the lamb.

Bellies happily filled, we opted to forego dessert in favour of a glass of the Constantia Uitsig Muscat D’Alexandrie, a rich and soft dessert wine bursting with ripe peach and flower fragrances. The Constantia valley is historically and internationally acclaimed for its Muscat or Muskadel (to use the South African term) or Moscato (if you prefer Italian) – are you keeping up here? So, naturally, Uitsig’s expression of this sweet wine could quite aptly be compared to the ambrosia of the Gods.

Blockhouse-Kitchen-Dessert-Wine

Blockhouse Kitchen confirms the rumours

The rumours abound were that Blockhouse Kitchen serves a mighty good supper and that the food is unpretentious but absolutely delicious. I can confirm that these rumours are indeed true. Chef Brad Ball and his team create environmentally conscious dishes that are take-home-in-a-doggy-box tasty; swat-your-partner’s-hand-for-trying-to-sneak-a-bite flavoursome; and have-to-make-a-concerted-effort-not-to-lick-your-plate delicious. So, if you count yourself as someone who loves a good “foodie” spoil but isn’t comfortable with the expense and measly portion sizes of other fine dining establishments, Blockhouse Kitchen is a must-visit restaurant to add to your culinary bucket list!

Blockhouse Kitchen is open for breakfast and lunch from Monday to Sunday, 09:00 – 11:30 | 12:00 to 22:00 and dinner from Tuesday to Saturday. For bookings and enquiries, please email info@bhkitchen.co.za or call +27 (0) 21 794 3010. 

www.blockhousekitchen.co.za

Constantia Uitsig Wine Estate, Spaanschemat River Road, Fir Grove, Constantia

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/2019/07/01/blockhouse-kitchen-serves-try-not-to-lick-your-plate-delicious-food/

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/