Gabrielskloof Restaurant Celebrates 10 Years of Cape Country Cuisine

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

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

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

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

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

Robust South African country-style fare

GK Butternut and barley risotto LR

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

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

Birthday Celebrations

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

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

Gabrielskloof restaurant Wontons

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

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

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

Grown men DO cry

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

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

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

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

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

Gabrielskloof Restaurant stoep HR

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

http://www.gabrielskloof.co.za

Sublime Wine Tasting in Hout Bay Vineyards’ Subterranean Cellars

Hout Bay Vineyards

Since having “flown the coop” after a childhood spent growing up in Hout Bay, I have, amongst other accomplishments, evolved a devastating love of wine. And so, a return to the valley to explore Hout Bay Vineyards’ wines seemed like a bit of an aligning of the cosmos to me; a prophecy fulfilled. More than anything, I was fascinated to see how the valley’s terroir – the same soil I had under my fingernails as a child – expresses itself in wine. As it turns out, Hout Bay is the progenitor of some extraordinary things.

Its wine is pretty decent, too!

Hout Bay Vineyards

Hout Bay Vineyards: a family affair

In September 2003, Peter and Catherine Roeloffze embarked upon a bold adventure that is the Earthly ambition of all wine lovers. They planted vineyards on their property at the top of Grotto Way in Hout Bay. Not even the immense boulders strewn about their slopes or the accidental herbicide dousing and subsequent obliteration of their precious vineyards threw them off their intended course of one day being able to make their own wine. Working in alliance with nearby farms in Hout Bay and Constantia Nek, Peter and Cathy were able to source the grapes they needed to produce Méthode Cap Classique and Sauvignon Blanc while they waited for their replanted vines to flourish.

Hout Bay Vineyards was officially opened in December 2007 and, the following month, the estate’s first harvest of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes were juiced, fermented, and bottled. In 2011, after three years of bottle fermentation, Hout Bay Vineyards popped the cork on the estate’s maiden vintage of Méthode Cap Classique!

Hout Bay Vineyards

Today, the independently owned and family-run estate produces a handsome range of wines that includes (in addition to those previously mentioned) a blush wine (rosé made from the second pressing of MCC grapes), Merlot, Shiraz, and a Rhone-style blend. From the tragedy of having to rip up and replant their vineyards to establishing a respected Hout Bay winery that routinely sells out of its product, Peter and Cathy have created a legacy to be very, very proud of.

First impressions

The boutique family winery perches high atop the rocky, northwest-facing slopes of Bokkemanskloof. With its lofty altitude, apron of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier vineyards, embracing eucalyptus trees, and a nearby pond populated by numerous noisy ducks and geese, the Hout Bay Vineyards feels like an enchanted forest – like what one might discover on the other side of Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia.

Hout Bay Vineyards

First, however, we had to make our way up the driveway, which reared up towards the house at a frightful 45-degree angle. With the car protesting furiously and all clutch control out the window, we parked on a grassy verge and completed the short, calf-busting journey to the winery by foot. At the top, we were greeted by the lovely Catherine Roeloffze, the graceful yet down-to-Earth owner and winemaker of Hout Bay Vineyards.

A winery, not a gallery

The Hout Bay Vineyards is, first and foremost, a winery. Second to that, it is a family home. It is not an art gallery, fancy restaurant, ode to history, manicured garden, or any of the other things that so many Cape wine estates manage to be. There are no elaborate entranceways, sculptures by well-known South African artists, or clipped hedges to flatter your eyeballs as you walk in; only raw nature, stunning views, and delicious wines.

This is a boutique winery that produces an exceptional range of wines. As such, a visit here – which must be arranged beforehand by appointment with Cathy or her husband – offers a privileged peek under the petticoats of a working winery and cellar. We discovered this as we wound our way through a regiment of imposing fermentation vats and snaking pipes (and two very enthusiastic, waggy-bum family dogs) to the dimly lit interior of the wine tasting room.

Hout Bay Vineyards

The wine tasting room and cellar

Hout Bay Vineyards’ tasting room is a simple yet atmospheric affair: a single large table occupies its centre with benches for seating and a vaulted brick ceiling keeps conditions cool. Dusty collections of wine bottles occupy the corners and line the walls. A large window overlooks the basement/wine cellar, where thousands of bottles of wine lie in hibernation, and it was in this gorgeous and moody subterranean heaven that we explored Hout Bay Vineyards’ extensive wine range.

First up was the “Klasiek by Catherine,” a bone dry, zesty, and vibrant MCC with a lovely citrus and fresh brioche nose, made from grapes grown on the property. This was followed by a crisp, acidic Sauvignon Blanc with a grassy nose and fruity palate, made from two vineyard blocks – one located on the opposite side of the valley at about 150 meters altitude and the other higher up at 190 meters on Constantia Nek (still Hout Bay wine of origin area).

We then embarked upon the red wines, starting off with Hout Bay Vineyards Merlot 2016, a lovely pale ruby red wine with fruity cedar notes and a long, languid finish; the gorgeous 2016 Shiraz, an intense dark berry, fruit-forward wine with peppercorn spice and silky tannins; and finally, the 2014 Petrus, a Rhone-style blend of Shiraz, Grenache Noir, Mourvedré, Carignan, and Cinsault made by Cathy’s husband. The 50% Shiraz is sourced from their Constantia Nek farm, while the remaining grapes are bought in from Wellington.

Cathy hosted the tasting from beginning to end, lovingly presenting each wine to us and fielding our relentless questions. Every tasting was delivered from a bottle opened on the spot and at the end, we were welcomed to help ourselves to a glass of our favourite wine while we sat around happily chatting away.

Unable to choose, we purchased and went home with the entire wine range in the boot of our car.

Hout Bay Vineyards

Well worth a visit

People tend to visit Hout Bay for the harbour market, the fish and chips, the beach, and the spectacular views of Chapman’s Peak Drive. Well I say an even better reason to visit than all of the afore-mentioned is the Hout Bay Vineyards, a boutique winery, a family home, and a truly magical slice of heaven. It is also a place I would love to get accidentally locked in overnight, provided I’m left with a source of light and a bottle opener. The wines here are a loving expression of Hout Bay’s quality terroir and the passion that winemakers Cathy and Peter have for wine and for what they do.

Hout Bay Vineyards offers tasting by appointment only. Tastings cost R50 per person with a minimum charge of R300. For bookings and enquiries, please contact Cathy on +27 (0) 83 790 3303 or cathy@4mb.co.za

www.houtbayvineyards.co.za

1 High Meadow Estate, Grotto Road, Hout Bay

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

Let’s talk about pizza crust.

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

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

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

How does he do this?

Quality pizza = quality ingredients

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

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

Pizza menu of Italian classics

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

From here, it can go one of six ways:

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

Nea-poli-tan Mon-tanaa-raaa

95-at-Parks-Italian-Pizza-4

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

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

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

Pizza for lunch

95-at-Parks-Italian-Pizza-3

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

The Neapolitan Montanara is sensational.

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

95-at-Parks-Muratie-Wine

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

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

Highly recommended

95-at-Parks-Pizza

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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Tuna Tartare

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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/

Launching the 2019 Vintage of De Wetshof Limestone Hill Chardonnay

In 2018, a Japanese fraternity of sommeliers named the Limestone Hill Chardonnay from De Wetshof the “Oyster Wine of the Year”. Being a Pacific Ocean-embraced island with a culture and cuisine deeply rooted in seafood, they should know, shouldn’t they? Originating from South Africa’s very own “House of Chardonnay” in the Robertson Wine Valley, the Limestone Hill Chardonnay is no stranger to accolades with bottles of past vintages appearing more decorated than a Christmas tree.

But it wasn’t to celebrate and explore the wines of vintages past that we gathered at SeaBreeze Fish & Shell Restaurant on Bree Street, the carotid artery of Cape Town’s culinary scene. No, it was to celebrate the arrival of the brand new vintage, the 2019, over a lavish three-course seafood lunch!

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South Africa’s “House of Chardonnay”

For three generations, the De Wets have toiled over their hectares in the Robertson Wine Valley, transforming sunshine, terroir, and grape juice into a generous selection of variously styled and site specific Chardonnay wines. So intimately intertwined is the history and present of this estate with this noble Burgundian grape varietal that De Wetshof has earned an international reputation as South Africa’s eminent Chardonnay House. The De Wets live and breathe Chardonnay: it runs in their veins (and probably not just figuratively speaking either).

The Limestone Hill Chardonnay

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The Limestone Hill Chardonnay is one of the estate’s more accessible wines, both in price and in ease of drinkability. It’s widely known, well trusted, reliably delicious, and (be warned) dangerously quaffable. Now, typically, I like my wines wooded and with a few years under their belts, but there’s a whole lot to be said for this youthful, vivacious, unwooded Chardonnay and even more so because, at only a few months old, it is rich and complex yet elegant, with fresh flavours of citrus and ripe fruits underscored by a gentle minerality.

Actually, since I couldn’t possibly better the words of American wine critic Robert M. Parker in describing this wine, I’ll simply quote them here:

“The De Wetshof Estate Limestone Hill Chardonnay offers impeccably pure, refreshing apple, peach and lemon fruit, a lovely leesy richness of texture, and a nutty, chalky, fruit-filled finish of imposing length. Understated and less tropical than some of the better un-oaked Chardonnays, this wine possesses far better balance and sheer drinkability – not to mention more finesse – than 99% of the world’s Chardonnay I have experienced.”

Yeah: what he said.

The De Wetshof Limestone Hill Chardonnay carries quite a hefty reputation and, as we’ve seen, one that extends both east and west of South Africa. But it’s when this accessible wine of great substance is paired with food that it truly sings.

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Three-course seafood lunch ft. Limestone Hill Chardonnay

We sat down to lunch at the SeaBreeze Fish & Shell, which is owned and run by Britons Alex and Ruth Grahame, previously of the Hornblowers seafood restaurant in Gourdon, Scotland. This contemporary take on the traditional seafood restaurant prides itself on “sourcing local, sustainable seafood presented creatively and with a lighter touch.”

For starters, we were treated to a plate of fresh, naked oysters of various provenances (Saldanha Bay and Knysna) and two dressed with lime, horseradish, and Amasi – yoghurt-like fermented milk. Next up was an absolutely delicious and perfectly seared steak of locally landed yellowfin tuna served on a swath of herb pesto and garden peas, with grilled baby fennel and sautéed new potatoes. And finally, a tart wedge of lemon, uh, tart with a rich whipped, vanilla-infused Chantilly cream.

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Every course was delicious: fresh, beautifully balanced, and satisfying without over-extending the belly, as can be the case with multi-course meals. What was truly extraordinary about it all – and to this I take my hat off to the Chef in the crafty design of the menu and skilful execution of flavours – was how every course showcased a different facet of the De Wetshof Limestone Hill’s personality. The Chardonnay’s citrus notes sang with the oysters, reached a fruity crescendo with the tuna, and settled into more saline flintiness and minerality with the sweet lemon tart. In turn, each course was elevated by the wine.

On the whole, it was a wonderfully flirtatious pairing and even a bit dangerous how easily that Chardonnay went down!

A tried, trusted, and true gem

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A good wine and food pairing is the pinnacle of pleasure for yours truly and I was wholly impressed with the 2019 De Wetshof Limestone Hill Chardonnay, not only as a wine to be enjoyed on its own but as a pairing to three remarkably different seafood courses. It’s unsurprising that its one of the top selling unwooded Chardonnays in Cape Town and, according to winemaker Johann De Wet, the 2019 is set to become one of the best vintages too (with fantastic aging potential).

The Limestone Hill Chardonnay is drinking proof that a great wine doesn’t need to cost a small fortune, be accessible only by stepladder, or be older than Kirk Douglas. Oftentimes, true gems are made in the same year and exist at eye level.

DeWetshof Wines: www.dewetshof.comSeabreeze Restaurant is open Monday to Sunday, 12:00 to 21:30. For bookings and enquiries, please call +27 (0) 74 79 39 349 or email hello@seabreezecapetown.co.za

www.seabreezecapetown.co.za

211 – 213 Bree Street, Cape Town

This blog article was originally written for Southern Vines magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/06/18/launching-the-2019-vintage-of-de-wetshof-limestone-hill-chardonnay/