REVIEW: Here we go round the Mulderbosch

dsc_0008.jpg Three couples, four kids under nine. An impromptu summer Saturday reservation for an easy family pizza lunch at Mulderbosch. You know the sort. We’re wearing T-shirts, shorts, suntan cream and an easygoing mood. We’re after their winery tasting area with comfy couches and large umbrellas. The intention: relax, have a few drinks with our kids enjoying the outdoors without annoying others.

First snag on making a reservation: ‘We’ll seat you inside in the lounge. Most of the outdoor area is reserved for a group.’ It happens. But access to jungle gyms, lawns, outdoor couches and boule courts is possible only once your kids go through a door, around the corner and well, out of sight. So an hour and a half after arrival there’s a puzzling reply to our request to take over an empty outdoor table (it’s obvious nobody has pitched). Staff only then call to check the reservation. Most eateries would do that fifteen minutes past the reserved time.

dsc_0004.jpg Second snag: We want to spend our money here and tip for service too. Yet going to the drinks counter seems the only way to guarantee cold beers for our group soon. Australia’s Coopers Pale Ale in assorted styles is brilliant (R30 each). Ideally we’d always like glasses to pour a bottle of Sauvignon into too. We persevere because there are things to like here: wines served with pizzas are at cellar-door prices. Mulderbosch Steen op Hout Chenin 2011 (R59) and Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (R75) are refreshingly good. dsc_0003.jpg But it turns into a bit of a joke later when our bottle of rather delicious Fable Jackal Bird white blend (R175) arrives open with some of its liquid missing. Was it grabbed from the tasting area by mistake?

Third snag: Choosing to be a simpler tasting-room pizzeria instead of stand-alone restaurant is fine but please get it right. The wood-fired oven at Mulderbosch Vineyards churns out tasty thin-based pizzas. You’ll find enough to like in the six different toppings, all priced at R75. There is Portabellini with truffle oil, or a topping of Prosciutto, rocket and Pecorino shavings (things look up when the cloying balsamic drizzle is left off the second order, as requested). dsc_0007.jpg Although we’re traditionalists, the Asian chicken, peppers, sprouts and coriander leaf combo is good enough to warrant a repeat order. Even the biltong, peppadew and avo topping has fans.

But there is a downhill slide with kids’ pizza (R40) orders. ‘We’d like a margherita with bacon.’ None available. ‘Okay then, we’ll have salami.’ Out of salami. Third try after a kitchen consult: ‘Um, do you have ham?’ Yes. Finally relief for hungry kids. There’s a lot of passing traffic, people dropping in for cheese and charcuterie platters or tapas snacks all afternoon (there’s also easy access to a shopping centre with supermarkets about eight kilometres away). So probably the best reply of the day comes hours later. Passing the pizza counter, I’m delighted that the bacon supply seems to have been replenished. ‘Oh no, that’s not bacon. It’s pancetta,’ I’m hastily corrected. And there’s no connection between their flavours or the animals they’re made of that might warrant offering pancetta to customers on pizzas, I suppose?

Often when a place delivers hit-and-miss service it’s because a team is caught unawares by crowds and rushed off their feet. Interacting with good-natured staff who stumble over ingredient names but genuinely try to oblige, you quickly realise the issue is a lack of training and an absence of management. Mulderbosch Vineyards was purchased by Terroir Capital in the USA and the tasting room area modernised at great expense a few years ago. It’s a very pleasant space to spend a few hours. But you can’t help thinking that their wines deserve a little better.

MULDERBOSCH VINEYARDS, Polkedraai Road, Stellenbosch. Tel 021 881 8140,