FOODSTUFF: 96 Winery Rd 15-year birthday

pork_belly_srips_photo.jpg The gastric juices are on the move again after two months of project-managing our building renovations. What relief to be thinking food and wine again!

I got stuck in over lunch to commemorate 15 years trading as 96 Winery Road restaurant near Somerset West with its sociable restaurant partners Allan Forrester and Natasha Wray are hands-on the wine, service and kitchen. Fellow collaborators Ken Forrester and vintner Martin Meinert add valuable - and highly entertaining - input.

This eatery typifies what is great about the Cape Winelands: a buzzy environment (with winter fire), a solid menu based on quality ingredients and expert cooking, and food and wine service that is informed yet never overbearing. It’s why you’ll find tables of winemakers eating (and circulating interesting wines to mates) on most weekdays, and often see winery owner Ken Forrester dining too.

The assembled birthday group ate tasting portions of 15 tried-and-tested menu favourites. Personal memory lane highlights include - from the starter menu, crispy pork belly strips with chilli jam (miss them at your peril), West coast mussels in a light curried cream, and a crisp Caesar salad with the perfect ratio of lemon-to-anchovy dressing.

A delectable fishy plate of signatures chilli, miso-and-mirin-coated Norwegian salmon, mild spice-dusted battered calamari and open prawn and fennel leaf ravioli with a piquant bite was heavenly – the restaurant should serve this as a trio partnered with a glass of The FMC 2009 flagship vineyard Chenin Blanc.

The steaks are legendary but for a blast from the past, we dipped into Ken’s favourite, the classic Gatriles duck and cherry pie, and the rich flamed-at-table ‘Hollandse’ creamy pepper fillet. Rich but good with Martin Meinert Printer’s Ink Pinotage 2007.

Must-have desserts include a Crème Brûlée and a bittersweet tart called ‘Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate’. The wine list is comprehensive and wines by the glass are a great way to go. This is one place you should never feel shy to ask to sip something new. duck_cherry_pie_photo.jpg

There are plenty of fashionable restaurants where you’ll struggle to secure a table. I highly recommend a visit to 96 Winery Road instead. And did you know? The 96 refers to the year the restaurant was opened and not the street address.

HOT TIP: During May 2011 96 Winery Road is offering a free main course (ID required) to anybody celebrating a birthday in May. Applicable at lunch or dinner.

96 WINERY ROAD, Zandberg farm, Winery Road, Firgrove near Somerset West. Tel 021 842 2010. Winery Road Open Mon to Sat for lunch and dinner. Sun lunch.