REVIEW: Delicious highlights of 20 hours in Stellenbosch

dsc_0001.jpg I recently spent about 20 hours in Stellenbosch celebrating a significant anniversary. Our experiences were so enjoyable it seemed a pity not to share the recommendations. The options were simple. A long lunch or dinner, with an overnight stay to eliminate any worries about a long drive back to Cape Town. This had to be a make-it-count meal, with only two options qualifying in that department. As an adult dining experience in a great Winelands environment, you can’t beat Overture at Hidden Valley or Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine. We chose Jardine, deciding that valley views made lunch a better option than dinner.

dsc_0003.jpg Chef George Jardine was in the kitchen, and we were delighted to accept his offer of sending out a surprise menu instead of the usual three-course lunch. It was modelled on the six courses usually served to diners at night. We eat anything but mentioned we were particularly keen on the fish dishes listed on the lunch menu. It was a smart move as our meal included delicate trout, farmed fish and skate in creative forms. Without going into great detail, let’s just say these six courses were a brilliant reminder of why Jardine is one of the cleverest, most intuitive chefs in South Africa. His talent is in combinations of gentler ingredients including the likes of cauliflower and celeriac. He smokes food and adds surprise tiny elements – say a cube of pickled aubergine - for flavour hits. The hot-smoked trout was deceptively simple but surprised with orange reductions and dried bits, alongside the vinegar tartness of pickled aubergine and a menthol kick from flower pollen. How many chefs would think up and manage to pull off that sort of stuff?

The standout dish on the day was the grilled farmed Kabeljou with a smear of herb crust, bits of raw curly kale, on a cauliflower puree, pulled together with the saltiness of capers fried with sage and beurre noisette. Equally impressive, pulling back the kitchen paper “lid” over a round glass bowl to reveal a tasty cream-laced medley of smoked mushrooms with confit garlic and sherry, topped with a “crust” of cauliflower espuma and Parmesan. A perfect slice of brioche on the side. dsc_0020.jpg It’s worth leaving the wine pairings to assistant manager William, who made some superb matches with new and older Jordan wines. For instance, the Jordan barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc 2008 showed delicious oiliness against the rich Kabeljou dish.

Our accommodation was chosen because of its central location near Dorp and Church Streets, so we could explore a few drinking holes at night, and have the option of walking access to breakfast along the wide oak-lined streets of Stellenbosch. Time was in short supply but we managed a quick cappuccino and hot dish at fabulous De Oude Bank Bakkerij the next morning. Baker Fritz Schoon apparently trained at Il de Pain, and the aroma of his artisan loaves and pastries lure passing traffic inside.

dsc_0022.jpg This small venue shouts creativity and integrity, from the distressed wood dining tables and novel wood and metal chairs to the novel crockery, wide knives and forks. Pricing is very reasonable (most breakfast options are R40-ish) and there are assorted breads, pastei de nata and chocolate sticks to take home. Young families and couples breakfast with a view of the baking action. There is an emphasis on holistic artisan suppliers, from the Spier eggs in the vibrant yellow scramble topping delicious sourdough toast to the smoked bacon.

JORDAN RESTAURANT WITH GEORGE JARDINE, Jordan Winery, Stellenbosch. Tel 021 881 3612. Lunch: two courses at R275 or three courses at R320.A six-course menu is usually served at night (R450 per head. Optional wine pairing at R270).
DE OUDE BANK BAKKERIJ, 7 Church Street, Stellenbosch. Tel 021 883 2187