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/

Falling in Love with Tintswalo at Boulders

“Because there’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it’s sent away.”
~
 Sarah Kay

On 16 February 1870, Cutty Sark, the fastest clipper ship of the time took to the waters on its maiden voyage from London to Shanghai. Considered the pinnacle of design, the merchant ship successfully completed the journey, returning with 590 tonnes of tea in its hull. For the next 52 years of service, the Cutty Sark earned its keep transporting goods between the continents, visiting sixteen different countries and travelling the equivalent of two and a half voyages to the moon and back. Today, at 150 years old, she is the world’s only surviving extreme clipper hip and, having been retired, is open to visitors in Maritime Greenwich in London.

Cutty Sark was, is, a famous ship (named after a short nightdress nogal) but this article isn’t about famous ships…it’s about the theme inspired luxury suites named after famous ships and the glorious Atlantic-facing villa that houses them. This is about our one-night stay at the Tintswalo at Boulders Boutique Villa in Simon’s Town.

Tintswalo at Boulders

An ode to the Cape’s vibrant colour palette

The name “Tintswalo” has deservedly become synonymous with luxury, but it is a brand of luxury that does not attempt to outperform the spectacular natural landscapes in which each of the brand’s six lodges are ensconced. Rather, Tintswalo’s interiors are created and curated to pay homage to its setting with colours and textures that compliment those framed by its generous windows, balconies, and sliding doors. Tintswalo at Boulders is, of course, no different.

Each suite has a unique colour theme and is named after famous ships, such as Bounty, Grosvenor, Water Witch, Drommedaris, and the Mayflower, the lattermost of which is regarded as one of the most important ships in American history because it brought the pilgrims to Massachusetts during the Great Puritan Migration in the 17th Century. All are an affectionate and luxuriously appointed ode to the vibrant colour palette of the villa’s surrounds, from the luscious aquamarine of Boulders Beach’s shallow waters to the rich, royal blue of the impending evening.

Location, location, location

This spectacularly beautiful villa is in Simon’s Town, centre stage to Boulders Beach, which, being home to a world-famous resident colony of endangered African penguins, hardly needs an introduction. Standing on one of the lodge’s large balconies, one can easily see the penguins, previously called Jackass penguins for their donkey braying-like call, carpeting the granite boulders, the beach sand, and even in the turquoise waters. Occasionally, a wanton ocean breeze carries the sounds of their braying up to the villa and its this, the yelping of black-backed gulls, and the gentle sigh of the Atlantic ocean kissing the shore that is the soundtrack to your stay at Tintswalo at Boulders.

Tintswalo at Boulders

A stone’s throw away from the lodge, less than a minute’s drive down the road, is “downtown” Simon’s Town, a historic seaside anchorage nestled into the eastern flank of the Cape’s dramatic peninsula. For more than 350 years, this sheltered harbour, which overlooks False Bay, has served as a major naval base, first to the Dutch settlers, then the British, and now the South African Navy. This explains why there is an enormous battleship and a retired submarine in the harbour. In spite of its small size and relative remoteness, there is a lot to do in Simon’s Town, including kayaking out to the penguin colony, perusing its various art and antique stores, curio shopping at Jubilee Square, and taking a photo with the statue of Just Nuisance, a Great Dane and the only dog to ever be officially admitted to the Royal Navy.

But sitting there on Tintswalo’s balcony with its panoramic ocean views or in my suite, swimming in poofy white duvet, all thoughts of stepping outside this slice of paradise were so far from my mind, it would have taken a high powered telescope to locate them.

Dinner and wine

Tintswalo at Boulders operates on a bed-and-breakfast basis; however, for our stay, we were treated to a four-course feast prepared by Executive Chef Christo Pretorius from none other than the 12 Apostles Hotel & Spa. This was paired with wines from Bouchard Finlayson, a boutique winery in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley dedicated to the making of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc wines.

Tintswalo at Boulders

We embarked upon the evening with a “celebration of summer wines” in the courtyard, featuring Bouchard Finlayson Sauvignon Blanc 2018 and canapés of seared beef teriyaki roll, yellowfin tuna sushi rolls, and the most divine springbok and chakalaka kare pan, a Japanese curry-filled pie. With introductions done and the wine beginning to melt away the social shyness, we headed inside to take our place at a long table glittering with impeccably polished cutlery, crockery, and glassware. Thus, beganneth our meal.

Tintswalo at Boulders
Tintswalo at Boulders

Our first course was Moroccan lamb en croute prepared in the traditional French technique and served with pickled apricot purée, home-made labneh, crispy chickpeas, and cured lemon peel. This was paired with Bouchard Finlayson’s unwooded Sans Barrique Chardonnay 2017. Next up was the Fizantakraal salmon trout tartar, served on a bed of garden pea panna cotta, with pea and mint salad, chive crème fraîche mousse, and trout roe. This was paired with the gorgeous 2017 and, as yet unreleased, 2018 vintage of Bouchard Finlayson’s Missionvale Chardonnay.

Tintswalo at Boulders
Tintswalo at Boulders

The main course was Angus bavette steak with artichoke purée, soy truffle cream, grilled king oyster mushrooms, pickled shitake mushrooms, and a Pinot Noir beef jus I would have gleefully licked off my plate had I not been sitting at a table full of people. The wine for this course was the 2015 and 2018 vintage of the truly exquisite Galpin Peak Pinot Noir. Nirvana found.

Tintswalo at Boulders
Tintswalo at Boulders

Our meal was brought to a sweet close with a medley of desserts: a coffee and caramel chocolate torte crowned with gold leaf, vanilla bean and passion fruit macaron (my personal favourite and not only because it was purple in colour), hazelnut bon bons, and citrus tart. With a fairly impressive number of empty wine bottles lining the table, we let our inner children free by plastering the gold leaf to our teeth and seeing if our table neighbours noticed.

Tintswalo at Boulders

A frame for nature and an unforgettable stay

A stay at Tintswalo at Boulders is really a frame for the appreciation of the surrounding area and its sublime natural beauty. While deeply, deeply luxurious and comfortable, there isn’t a sliver of ostentatious display to distract one from the glorious section of coastline and glittering Atlantic Ocean that unfurls below and before you. For one blissful day and night, we relinquished ourselves to the caring embrace of Tintswalo and steeped ourselves in fine wine and food, courtesy of Bouchard Finlayson and Chef Christo Pretorius. And the morning after, saying goodbye to it all – the views of penguins, our expansive bed, the villa’s tranquil interiors, and murmur of the ocean – was really rather heart-breaking.

But you know what they say: better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.

For bookings and enquiries, please call +27 (0) 21 612 0113 or go to www.tintswalo.com/boulders/villa/

7 Gay Road, Simon’s Town

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/2019/11/22/falling-in-love-with-tintswalo-at-boulders/

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

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

Truth After Dark

sokkie jol through nostalgic local foods

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

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

Truth After Dark

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

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

Truth After Dark

Feeling Snek-ish

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

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

Truth After Dark
Truth After Dark

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

Moer of a hungry

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

Truth After Dark
Truth After Dark

Cocktails

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

Truth After Dark

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

Truth After Dark

Schweet-like-a-lemon

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

Truth After Dark
Truth After Dark

Take a trip down memory lane

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

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

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

www.za.truth.coffee

36 Buitenkant Street, Cape Town City Centre

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

Surfshack, baby, Surfshack!

The newest kid on the Camps Bay strip, and the newest jewel in the Kove Collection tiara is a beachside restaurant called the Surfshack Diner. This brand spanking new contemporary seaside diner is a righteous place for a lengthy afternoon or evening of delicious dinner classics (with a unique twist), drinking cocktails or wine, and enjoying front row seats to one of the best sunset spots in Cape Town.

Island vibe meets trendy LA hotspot

Perched on a prime location on Camps Bay’s golden mile and with views out over Camps Bay beach and the Atlantic Ocean, Surfshack Diner hardly needs to be pretty on the inside (with a view like that, who’s looking in?) and yet it is: most assuredly so. Think: casual island beach café meets trendy Malibu hangout spot. The Surfshack Diner has a rustic island vibe with its bamboo-lined ceilings, rope-wound columns, and, of course, views of beach and palm trees. And yet, it is all executed in an uber stylish way with a generous helping of vivacious buzz. In other words, it’s the kind of venue you would be in absolutely no rush to leave, which is aided in no small part by the gratifying and varied food, wine, and cocktail menus.

Surf Shack Camps Bay

First tide, man

For starters, we ordered a collection of “sharable plates” so that we could all get a feel for the vibe of Surfshack’s cuisine. Our bounty consisted of blistered jalapeno peppers stuffed with goat’s cheese and drizzled with hot honey; rice crispy prawns encased in puffed rice and citrus syrup; seared ahi (yellowfin tuna), avocado, jalapeno slices, truffle citrus aioli, and wasabi flying fish roe perched on crisp tortillas; salt and pepper baby squid with coriander and jalapeno dressing; and, of course, French fries! With a vegetarian in our midst, we also ordered one of the Surfshack’s ingenious creations: crispy, curly corn on the cob (cobs that have been quartered lengthwise to the core to create what looks like ribs) with smoked pepper aioli, pecorino cheese, and lime. Absolutely delicious!

Surfshack-Jalapeno-Peppers
Surfshack-Crispy-Prawns
Surfshack-Yellowfin-Tuna-Tortillas
Surfshack-Calamari

Second tide, man

For mains, I was torn into a million pieces. Should I choose the poor man’s lobster roll with prawns, avocado, lime, and chive aioli? God, that sounds good. Or how about the hot honey fried chicken burger? The baked line fish of sea bass with lemon and citrus aioli also sounds divine. At the end of a lengthy internal battle the scope of Waterloo, and having had a titillating preview of the ahi tuna, I decided on the sesame seared ahi tuna steak with chilli, spring onion, crispy shallots, coriander, and citrus dressing with a side of citrus-based coleslaw (non-creamy).

Surfshack-sesame-seared-ahi-tuna-steak

Two of our party chose pizza, which is made in the attractive wood-fired pizza oven that dominates the far wall of the restaurant. And another two went for the “bucket of shellfish” (langoustines or prawns), which one can order with a flavour (Cajun or lemon and herb), sauce (lemon butter, garlic butter, etc.) and side of their choice. We were happy diners!

Surfshack-PIzza-oven

Kove Collection Wine

The Kove Collection has teamed up with various South African wineries to create a signature range of wines, all of which are featured on Surfshack’s menu, in addition to a handsome selection of wines from around the Cape. It’s lovely to note that for every type of wine (cultivar, red/white blends, and sparkling wine), there is a choice of three different wines by the glass. This gives guests who don’t want to order a bottle, or who prefer different wines with different courses, a more than decent selection. With our meal, we had the Kove Collection Sauvignon Blanc from Waterford’s Pecan Stream range and an unwooded Chardonnay from Glen Carlou.

Kove-Collection-Wine

A reliably awesome time

Restaurants on the Camps Bay strip have a reputation for demanding tourist prices for food that isn’t all that great and service that is so harried and over-worked you could very well take a nap in between ordering drinks and food. I’m very pleased to say that our experience at the Surfshack Diner was a stark opposite. The food was truly excellent and our server Kingston, one of the nicest, most professional waitrons I’ve had the pleasure of being spoiled by in recent memory. So if you’re looking for a place to impress friends, family, and especially visitors to our fair shores (who have been told that Camps Bay is “all the rage”), bring them to the Surfshack, baby, Surfshack!

Surfshack-Diner-Food

P.S. Enjoy having the song “Love Shack” rolling around your head for the rest of the day.

The Surfshack Diner is open Monday to Sunday, 12:00 to 23:00. For bookings and enquiries, please email info@surfshackdiner.co.za or call +27 (0) 21 437 1802.

www.surfshackdiner.co.za

201, The Promenade, Victoria Road, Camps Bay

This blog was originally written for Southern Vines, the largest leisure and lifestyle magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/10/29/surfshack-baby-surfshack/

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

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

Haute Cabriere

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

Haute Cabriere

Canapés in the winery

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

Haute Cabriere

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

Haute Cabriere

Lunch on the new outdoor terrace

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

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

Brief side note

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

Haute Cabriere

Back to lunch

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

Haute Cabriere

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

Haute Cabriere

So, when are you going?

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

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

Lambrechts Road, Franschhoek Pass, Franschhoek

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.

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/