REVIEW: Bistro 13’s winter menus, and sporting connections

dsc_0010.jpg There’s no cricket paraphernalia or framed Protea shirts on Bistro 13’s smoke-grey walls. The countryside restaurant interior is uncluttered: lithe wooden tables on cement floors, a few floating shelves; light streaming in large aluminium windows. Diners watch busy chefs through a kitchen hatch.

Proteas cricketer Faf du Plessis owns Bistro 13 with chef Nic van Wyk. Word is that Van Wyk’s brother is a sports agent, and the Indian Premier Leaguer was looking to invest in a project. The restaurant opened on Welmoed Estate in September 2014. Du Plessis enjoys cooking in his spare time, but his sports commitments prevent any hands-on input.

My weekday lunch with a winemaker friend from a nearby cellar started with very good breads, all baked inhouse.
Pointing out industry faces at two other tables, the winemaker happily selected off the small menu, but declared no interest in sport. We sipped Credo Chenin Blanc, modestly marked up from the adjacent Stellenbosch Vineyards tasting room. You’ll find more innovative Cape labels on the wine list too.

dsc_0007.jpg The calamari and potato crisps with red pepper, tomato and squid ink sauce, came recommended. Instead we enjoyed three perky smoked salmon croquettes, alongside lemony crème fraiche, rocket, delicately pickled fennel slivers and pomegranate pips. A light and fresh start.

Ordinarily I find springrolls to be crunch with no inner substance, but Bistro 13’s fine lamb shoulder filling caused a rethink. The clincher was dipping in mild curry cream, with a dab of sweet plum chutney. Sauces are good here.

A main course of vegetarian risotto was a weak point. On face value all homely and autumnal, pumpkin pieces and crispy sage leaves in burnt butter over al dente risotto. But after a few forkfuls, squash and melted gruyere cheese heaviness.

For those unfamiliar, Van Wyk trained at La Colombe, partnered Michael Broughton at Terroir, and worked at Barnyard Brasserie previously. He only serves sustainably caught linefish – I’ve known him to delete fish from the menu when a supplier couldn’t source it.

We were in luck with sustainable yellowtail. Easily overcooked, this panfried piece was moist, floating on a beurre blanc sauce that cleverly balanced its harissa spice. I loved the fried-to-crispy chickpeas and roasted cauliflower, aubergine baba ganoush blobs adding grunt.

The restaurant was emptying by the time dessert arrived, service still efficiently friendly. A shared warm chocolate pudding oozed sweetly like a fondant, but for me lacked bittersweet intensity. Accompanying peanut butter caramel was rich in a wintry custardy way, dotted with shards of peanut brittle.

Bistro 13 serves tasty bistro food that’s interesting and skilled but not ridiculously fussy. It’s why families and business people return. A fireplace kept things cosy inside, but I’ve eaten on the sunny deck during lazy Sundays when young kids from surrounding tables mucked in on an impromptu soccer scramble on the lawns. I wouldn’t rule out a mini cricket match.

Starters: R65 to R70. Mains: R120 to R150. Desserts: R40 to R65.

Feed Me Experience Any two starters, two mains and one dessert, in half portions. Winter special of R225 per person, valid until 31 August 2015. Lunch or dinner excluding Sundays.

BISTRO 13, Stellenbosch. Welmoed Estate, Baden Powell Drive, Stellenbosch. Lunch Tuesday to Sunday; dinner Wednesday to Saturday. 021-881-3044, Bistro 13

A version of this review appeared in The Sunday Times on 14 June 2015.