FOODSTUFF

FOODSTUFF: Carbo offloading: where to find the fat

avellino_high.jpg At 65 on Main I’d cautiously ordered an ‘eggs baconnaise’ breakfast of poached eggs, bacon and Banting mayo on aubergine. Staff went out of their way to be hospitable, but seeing peculiar cauliflower ‘wraps’ or ‘pizzas’, green kale and berry juices and dense, carb-free breads didn’t help.

I can appreciate the weight loss benefits of a low-carb-high-fat diet, but for an artisan bakery fan, recipes from a carb-free cookbook just can’t compete. In truth, my eggs were perfectly poached on crispy bacon, under rich, creamy sauce. But after picking at mounds of under-seasoned, unappetising aubergine, I felt real joy about taking over my son’s uneaten English muffin.

Right, so I’m not following the low-carb-high-fat/Banting diet popularised by Tim Noakes and company. But where do ‘banteurs’ eat out once they tire of repetitive home cooking, and skipping the carbs with their butter-basted restaurant steak or fish?

Top-end restaurants usually accommodate most dietary preferences with advance warning, and Cape Town caters well for banteurs, but restaurants and cafes further afield aren’t specialising in low-carb-high-fat options, or they’re not marketing themselves as well.

Frères Bistro attracts many extra customers via regular menu options labelled ‘LCHF’. They dropped their Banting set menu and staff let diners request dishes instead - some sensitive customers assumed waiters were implying they needed to lose weight.

Four & Twenty Cafe doesn’t focus on banteurs, but high demand from customers struggling to find filling, creative low-carb lunches means they now chop 10kg of mushrooms and 10kg of aubergine daily. Banting regulars drive 120km from Worcester to 65 on Main just to eat.

Does anybody cheat? The Foodbarn’s Franck Dangereux said Banting is big at home, but in his experience diners often make exceptions when they eat out.

They’re careful with the starter, but might eat the potato in the main course,’ he says. ‘Some will even have dessert.’

Get your Cape Town low-carb-high-fat fix:

65 on Main, Green Point. Although regular pasta and bread is offered, this sunny cafe lures a LCHF clientele for cauli mash, wraps and pizzas, alongside veggie juices, carb-free breads and occasional puddings on a weekly menu. 021-439-9559.

Buitenverwachting, Constantia (closed July to mid August): Edgar Osojnik tweaks fine-dining menus for banteurs. Expect August additions. 021-794-5190.

Dear Me, Cape Town. Vanessa Marx accommodates vegans, diabetics and the lactose- to gluten-intolerant at this daytime bistro serving free-range meat, so advance notice for LCHF meals isn’t required. Flourless almond-and-xylitol brownies are popular. 021-422-4920.

De Grendel winery restaurant, Panorama (Closed 30 June to 16 July). Book a three or five-course LCHF tasting menu, or request Banting adjustments to regular dishes. 021-558-6280.

Den Anker, V&A Waterfront. Doekle Vlietman offers one LCHF-friendly starter and two main courses. Alongside these carb-free options he cheekily suggests drinking your carbs in Belgian beers. 021- 419-0249.

Four & Twenty Cafe, Wynberg. Regular patisserie and deli fans share space with banteurs seeking out creative LCHF breakfast items to creative salads and Thai cauli-coconut soup. 021-762-0975.

Frères Bistro, Cape Town. Many dishes have LCHF substitutes at this French-style bistro well known to banteurs. Standard sides include cauliflower and broccoli cheese, or salads. 021-418-1609.

Table 13, Green Point. Weighed buffet plates aside, you’ll always find a Banting breakfast, and lunch option such as grilled chicken supreme with mushroom cream sauce. 021-418-0739.

The Foodbarn, Noordhoek. Carbs are almost always side orders on this French high-fat-and-protein menu. Request LCHF alternatives including salads, vegetables or pastry-free mushroom quiche. 021-789-1390.

The Gardener’s Cottage, Newlands. Ask about Banting options. No-carb seed bagels make breakfast partners, while peri-peri chicken livers are a lunch favourite. 021-689-3158.

Franchised food is in on the act

bullet.jpg Banting on a budget? Forget it. Knead Bakery & Café outlets specialise in artisan loaves. Yet despite charging R55 apiece, they can’t keep up with demand for their 750g low-carb bread (in light or dark versions) where various seeds and husks reduces the carb content to 30g.

Ryan Faull says as bakers they took on the challenge of developing a tasty recipe, and the process and ingredients are pricy.
Expect low-carb rolls and sweet confectionary by August.

You might associate Col’Cacchio franchises with pizza and pasta, but banting-friendly dishes and salads now appear under a ‘low carb high fat’ menu icon (there are no LCHF pizza and pastas) alongside vegetarian, gluten-free and vegan offerings.

Kauai developed an ‘Original Eating’ range that partners Tim Noakes’ Original Eating diet plan. By early July, Kauai outlets will offer two curry dishes with cauliflower ‘rice’. From October, a 10g low-carb wrap, and 15g strawberry yoghurt smoothie will be available nationally.

Vide e Caffé is best known for coffee, so they’re only ‘playing on the banting trend’ by rolling out ‘slightly healthier’ carb-restricted alternatives to their croissants and Portuguese tart staples.

Don’t expect rigid compliance but you’ll soon be able to buy carb-reduced and banting-friendly salads, plus the ‘vide bullet’ of double espresso, milk froth and a dash of coconut oil.

This article appeared in The Times on 28 June 2014.

FOODSTUFF: Seelan for retro Waterfront twists

dsc_0002.jpg Study these two photos. A waiter dressed in a white overall-jacket showing off the signature chopped salad for two. You just know, before it happens, that you’ll be served at the table. Then the bouillabaisse arrives, ladled individually from an old-fashioned soup tureen. At Seelan restaurant that’s the direction in which your meal is headed: retro outfits, old-style service, solid and fairly simple, retro food with flavour, freshness and modern twists.

I dined, by invitation, on a few menu signatures at Seelan restaurant in June. If it seems odd that a 120-seater in prime waterside position at the V&A Waterfront opening in April 2014 can already have signatures, it’s because chef-owner Seelan Sundoo has fine-tuned his style while being employed at other venues. dsc_0006.jpg The Grand, The Reserve Brasserie and Shimmy Beach Club – not places I’m overly familiar with because they’re more about the place than the food – but I definitely recognised a stamp on Seelan’s plates from his time at old-style retro Italian, La Perla. Many of those customers have followed the chef to his new home.

What might you enjoy? The bouillabaisse starter (R95) is a comforting, slightly creamy tomato-rich version – not the heavy garlic-and-saffron kind – that’s plump with prawns, white fish and calamari rings. The tagliata comes in a sliced fish or steak version (R160). I requested kabeljou instead of bland kingklip. It’s served with a pleasant soy, sweet chilli and ginger sauce, then goes fusion with rocket, sundried and regular tomatoes, plus Parmesan-style cheese shavings on top. dsc_0009.jpg The sirloin tagliata version is tasty too – partnering chanterelle mushrooms, cream and truffle oil. But I can’t help feeling both dishes would benefit from a little less sauce and topping elements. Worth eating also is the half rotisserie duck (R165) served with either an Asian BBQ sauce or an orange sauce. The duck was expertly roasted with crispy bits, although I found the orange sauce overly sweet.

dsc_0007.jpg The rest of the menu offers assorted pastas (R80 to R95), various creative salads (R65 to R80), prawn or lamb curries (R135 to R145) and grills including steaks and rotisserie lamb to veal chops. Side dishes cost extra, and there is some scary pricing in the seafood direction, but then crayfish, langoustines and platters will do that.

I fall into that category of Capetonians who ordinarily leave touristy Waterfront restaurants to the foreign guests benefiting from a great exchange rate. But as a local if you do fancy a smart-casual lunch with an enclosed terrace harbour view and don’t mind paying a little extra, you can order a decent wine by the glass (I drank Vondeling Chardonnay), experience attentive service and eat very well at Seelan. Just don’t be surprised to see a dessert trolley being rolled in.

SEELAN, Shop no. 8, Quay 5 (near Sevruga and opposite the pirate boat), V&A Waterfront. Tel 021-421-4906.

*I haven’t tried it but as part of the V&A Waterfront’s winter special Seelan is offering three courses for R180 (Mon to Thurs lunch or dinner). Or a six-course tasting menu for R380, including a wine tasting per course (Mon to Thurs lunch).

FOODSTUFF: Where to fish for freshness

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Is Cape Town’s best fish found in Joburg? Fish wholesalers say this is sometimes true because Capetonians are price-conscious yet Gauteng customers don’t flinch at spending more. Being able to buy from Cape Town and Mozambique also increases their options.

The Cape fishing industry is plagued by stormy winters where boats can’t go out to sea regularly. So during a particularly wet patch I asked locals to share their shopping recommendations. I discovered that sourcing fresh fish in Cape Town is about extra effort, and trust. While it’s convenient to shop at a retailer’s fish counter, their quality and product knowledge is inconsistent, even if a reputable supplier is involved.

Most shoppers for home use support smaller fishmongers, paying extra for freshness, familiarity and the odd cooking tip. Fishmongers that sell pre-frozen fish occasionally, are honest with their customers to ensure repeat business. Some gut whole fish on the spot; others supply fresh vacuum-packed fillets with no comebacks.

Need to know
Aim for a fishmonger with less stock and good foot traffic to guarantee freshness. A wide variety in winter probably means some fish has been pre-frozen. Hake is available all year round, but if you’re buying fresh tuna in winter it’s unlikely to be pole-caught sustainably as per the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative’s recommendations.

The SASSI website offers a list of sustainable orange and green fish. Although legal, few reputable fishmongers sell red fish species. If you value eating sustainably, ask how it’s caught and experiment with less popular green species.

In June, weather permitting, Cape waters should deliver fresh hake, angelfish and monktails. There’s also farmed kabeljou/kob – all SASSI green. From the orange list you could find fresh kingklip, sea-caught kabeljou/kob, Red Roman and Cape salmon.

Try these
Fish4Africa José Moniz and family own this no-frills wholesaler and their own fishing vessel. Their flagship branch moves a lot of fresh and pre-frozen fish at good prices. They prep it and include free lemons. Woodstock, 021-448-5258.

Food Lover’s Market One of the biggest fish selections in the northern suburbs, their display offers detailed SASSI labelling of fresh and pre-frozen fish, but their staff knowledge is erratic. Buy whole or pre-filleted fish. Willowbridge, 021-914-8011.

Ocean Jewels Julie Carter’s selection is small because she sells only fresh and pushes green species. Most fish is pre-filleted, but you can request whole fish from the back fridge. Join her popular email list – a R20 delivery fee extends to the northern suburbs. Woodstock, 083-582-0829.

Ocean’s Edge Michael Mendonca draws on his work experience at large retailers to offer customers personalised service (they pin-bone whole fish) and a small, fresh supply. Open Sunday mornings and weekdays until 7pm. They also sell portions. Sea Point, 021-433-0860.

Southern Cross Seafood Deli More restaurant than fishmonger, Clive Greyvenstein’s deli also sells fish stock and chowder. A Muizenberg fish wholesaler (his former business partner) delivers assorted fish fillets daily. Palmyra, 021-671-5002.

The Little Fisherman A small selection of whole fish is gutted to order. Portions possible too. Newlands. 021-794-5526.

Vredehoek Kwikspar Johnny Telo’s relatives are SASSI-compliant fishermen, so he cuts costs by buying whole fresh fish direct, and having staff vacuum-pack fillets. Join their fish SMS list for affordable hake and occasional tuna (in summer). Imported Norwegian salmon is cheaper too. Vredehoek, 021-461-4455.

This article appeared in The Times on 11 June 2014

FOODSTUFF: Cape Town’s Shimmery beachside dining

dsc_0020.jpg The venue may be around two years old but it was a first for me. A persistent PR company had repeated their invitation to come and sample the winter menu at Shimmy Beach Club. On the house. So when a gap materialised at short notice I called a friend who eats out a fair bit and we met there for lunch.

I liked the ordered chaos of driving in a less frequented part of the harbour past boats under repair and waterfront roadworks, then parking under the looming Port Authority building. In contrast, entering Shimmy’s felt a little surreal, a large L-shaped space enclosed in floor-to-ceiling glass that opens to bring in the outside. Bars and loungers are dotted about, interiors filled with loud decor elements and anonymous art. There’s a deck where it’s easy to imagine beautiful young things hanging out ordering cocktails and finger food. It overlooks oversized cushion seats with beach sand underfoot and a glass-wrapped pool where unusually, adult swimming or aquatic lolling is allowed. The restaurant shares the same view, flanked by Cape Town’s harbour and Atlantic Ocean behind. On an occasional sunny day when you’re trying to ignore a fairly rainy winter, it’s pretty darn appealing.

dsc_003.jpg The menu offerings are as slick as the rest of Shimmy’s, and seem to primarily target business lunchers, attractive partygoers and new monied types happy to share platters while dining out in groups. Chef Adrian Cook (appropriate name, isn’t it?) mentioned he’s trying to move away from the venue’s reputation as a nightspot. The chef has trimmed the menu significantly since he started in September 2013, which is saying something because the sushi section alone fills three pages. For the rest, diners apparently order salads to share or pizzas with the likes of caramelised onion and goats cheese (R105) as toppings.

dsc_005.jpg There are steaks and pastas with modern, non-Italian sauces. But in keeping with its harbourside location the number one Shimmy seller is seafood. You’ll pay accordingly of course. Cook says seafood platters are popular here: it’s R800 for two sharing, and R8000 to feed 20, but then they do include crayfish and langoustines in the fishy mix.

While crustaceans were visible on other lunch tables, we tried more modest menu options. The chef recommended a cured duck breast starter with aioli (R95). A success with multiple slices wrapped into a roll, served with tasty aioli creaminess and a sticky-salty dark sauce. Strawberries and basil leaves freshened it up. Shimmy Ritz (R85) promised a twist on the usual avo-prawn favourite and visually it didn’t disappoint with a deconstructed slate plate showing all the bits. But on tasting, the tempura prawns lacked batter seasoning, and the Marie Rose sauce was thinner in texture and flavour than most versions I’ve tried, or made.

dsc_0011.jpg As a main course the portion was ample: Indian flatbread, rice and poppadum were included alongside tasty atchars, aside from creatively prepared vegetable and potato accompaniments for the table. But I’d prefer a Cape Malay chicken breast and prawn curry (R170) with greater depth of flavour to knit its elements together.

The catch of the day offers great value at R85. Cook serves sustainably sourced fish where possible, a mean feat for a restaurant that serves 600 covers during lunch and dinner in season. Yellowtail easily dries out but my fish fillet was succulent and delicious after grilling, if an odd match with mushy peas. Points go to the waitress who recommended a side sauce of salty Asian Tsumi glaze to give the fish extra zing. Sadly a shared dessert of apple and buttermilk upside down cake (R45) disappointed, but Americano coffees were strong and properly made.

There is certainly a place for Shimmy in Cape Town’s food scene, but the pull here is always going to be about the location. You often don’t feel like thinking about a menu in a spot where the view and quieter daytime vibe encourage relaxation. So I’d be more inclined next time to pop down for a simple pizza with my toddler in tow, to enjoy beach sand, an indoor play area and – in warmer weather – the separate child-friendly infinity pool.

Shimmy Beach Club, South Arm Road, V&A Waterfront. Tel 021-200-7778 or see Shimmy’s

FOODSTUFF: Winelands stayover at Angala

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After confirmation of an April Friday night stay at Angala in Simondium, my next step was to check travellers’ comments on TripAdvisor. I’d been asked to provide honest feedback about our complimentary overnight experience at this relatively new country boutique hotel, and it was encouraging to see both local and overseas guests were impressed by their stays.

A five-star establishment set on the Franschhoek-facing side of the Simonsberg mountain (you drive through Vrede en Lust wine farm to access it), Angala is small and personal hence very un-hotel. From deluxe rooms to the luxury suite we stayed in, the accommodation feels separate and fairly private, with greenery nearby, and views of mountain, valley or both. In short, peaceful without being too remote.

dsc_0029.jpg Before its refurbishment, this venue was the Cathbert Country Inn. The new owners clearly drew on their personal experiences of luxury travel, because the roomy spaces are filled with the sort of touches that cut out having to phone reception first – a microwave above the pod coffee machine in a custom-built oak cabinet in the deluxe bedroom, pool towels in the bathroom cupboard, a basket piled with firewood near the fireplace, a stocked mini-bar at no extra charge. There is underfloor heating and country chic décor that’s luxurious yet not ostentatious. An additional outdoor shower with its floor built around an existing tree trunk – but shielded from prying eyes – moves the spacious en suite bathroom from satisfactory to memorable.

dsc_0037.jpg Dinner was one of the biggest surprises at Angala. Guesthouses or small hotels aren’t known for high food standards, but consulting chef Matthew Gordon has worked some magic on the resident chef. Marlin Clayton is a local from nearby Pniel who started studying IT before switching to an apprenticeship in food. He’s spent time working at local cafes and winery restaurants, and his mastery of classic cooking techniques is evident. His cooking pitched well above expectations during a flavoursome dinner.

dsc_0008.jpg At R275 for three courses, highlights were warm, plump Roma tomatoes on a round, thin pastry tarte tatin disc. Another starter saw duck done three ways: liver parfait, expertly home-smoked breast and a tasty spring roll filled with duck confit, served with fruit chutneys, oils and micro-herbs. A grilled kingklip main dish sounded plain but was tasty and served with flair, alongside perfect beurre blanc sauce, baby vegetables and coriander-and-pistachio couscous. Clayton’s menu repertoire is limited and some desserts in particular, could benefit from subtle tweaks, but generally you can eat very elegantly here and the chef’s passion shows on plates that are layered with flavour.

dsc_0056.jpg What else? There’s an eco pool near the restaurant and deck for uninhibited summer guests. It’s a natural system whereby plants clean the liquid of any impurities, leaving clear water and a green algae layer lining the cement pool. A young Egyptian couple seemed happy spending their time visiting Paarl wine farms and Franschhoek restaurants. Popping down to neighbour Vrede en Lust winery’s new Lust Café for lunch is only a five minute drive (their sourdough loaves baked on the premises are a must-buy). The sort of person opting for a stay at Angala would probably be a well-off urbanite wanting time out to recharge their batteries close to nature. We hiked uphill past the neighbouring property’s vineyards and orchards before breakfast to admire the morning light and surroundings (you could also pack your mountain bike for a short ride). We weren’t disappointed.

ANGALA BOUTIQUE HOTEL & GUEST HOUSE, Simondium. Luxury suite from R3200 per night including breakfast. Tel 021-874-1366 or see Angala

FOODSTUFF: Take a table at Cape Point Vineyards

dsc_0040.jpg With the price of petrol skyrocketing, more than ever there should be a reason to get into a car. I had a good one recently – for a writing commission, I took along a food-loving friend to taste wines at Noordhoek’s new Cape Point Vineyards (CPV) tasting area. It shares a deck with their new restaurant, and we were invited to stick around for lunch.

dsc_0031.jpg Not a bad weekday outing, right? We made a morning of it, tasting wines in Constantia, then taking the scenic route via some of Chapman’s Peak hairpin bends. It’s a spectacular drive, well worth the R36 toll fee. CPV’s new wine-tasting area has round tables inside, with deck couches decorated in simple beige and brown wicker. My guess is they’ve kept it intentionally low-key so as not to interfere with the deck view of the farm dam, Noordhoek beach and the ocean beyond.

dsc_0049.jpg CPV is a long-time favourite for its picnics and family-friendly jungle gyms on dam lawns. But take note – the food deal has recently expanded. Chef Clayton Bell was persuaded to leave Constantia Uitsig to open Cape Point Vineyard’s restaurant on site. Clayton is overseeing the picnics too, of which friends have provided good feedback – at R330 for two people, a basket is sent to picnic tables, packed with creative salads, pate, charcuterie, wraps and something sweet.

dsc_0045.jpg Clayton’s understated style focuses on simple Med classics highlighting flavour, so you’ll find no-frills plating here. A one-page a la carte lunch or dinner menu includes the likes of carpaccio, caprese salad, Parma ham and figs … Puff pastry is a winner, as Clayton’s pastry chef wife supplies a number of great Cape Town kitchens. So I’ll return for the outstanding Bouche de Moules (R85), a retro dish teaming exquisite pastry with black mussels in a creamy sauce, rich with fish stock and saffron. Less exciting was a puff pastry tomato tart (R75) enveloping Fontina cheese with mustard and basil, in my view lacking attention to detail or perhaps the correct variety of ripe tomato. But I’m sure this will be easily ironed out; Clayton mentioned his new kitchen staff are finding their feet.

dsc_0038.jpg Freshly made pasta was always an Uitsig signature, and it’s also the thing to order at CPV restaurant on a chilly day. Mushroom ravioli (R100) was simple and satisfying, if not something your doctor would recommend. Half-moons filled with shrooms and ricotta, doused heavily in cream-and-truffle-oil sauce. We struggled to decide between grilled sirloin with mushroom and truffle sauce served with pomme frites (R140), and the grilled springbok loin (R155). But it would be hard to beat the tender game medallions that arrived, served under a shiny caramelised honey sauce with roasted baby potatoes.

dsc_0051.jpg With cream and butter used so liberally in earlier courses you won’t have much room for dessert, so a shared portion is advised. We didn’t fancy lavender in the panna cotta (R75) but gave it a whirl anyway. What a pleasant surprise to eat spoonfuls of soft white vanilla with only a lavender hint, plus an excellent coffee to boot. Bravo.

Wines to taste: A charming Parisian took us through Cape Point Vineyard wines – she’d studied oenology and decided on a work stop in South Africa to understand local wines. Duncan Savage’s wines usually collect a healthy medal tally in local competitions, and they’re as delicious as ever. Special mention goes to the CPV Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2012 (R155) with its Sauvignon-dominant split with Semillon and 14 months barrel time (a tiny percentage is fermented in clay amphorae). Taste lean, green fruit with soft-textured minerality. It’s good value compared to the flagship Isliedh.

CPV Isliedh 2012 (R235) isn’t cheap, but this already-stylish sipper will improve if you can keep your hands off it. The Semillon portion is bumped up, again with Sauvignon Blanc, but there is less oak and clay amphorae time. I loved this wine, noting yellow plums, apples and creamy oystershell.

CPV Chardonnay 2012 (R155) was a surprise find, making a lovely lunchtime wine. It had a lot of barrel time but handles it well, with white peach and almond nib flavours.

CAPE POINT VINEYARDS AND RESTAURANT, Noordhoek. Wine tasting fee of R5 to R10 per wine, refundable on purchases of R500 per person. Restaurant open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner (excludes Thursday night market). Tel 083-444-7088 or see CPV

FOODSTUFF: Cruising on Radisson Friday sundowners

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Looking for something different to do on a Friday summer evening in Cape Town? Tobabo’s Restaurant & Terrace at the Radisson Blue Hotel Waterfront has teamed up with Tangent Charters and they’re offering affordable sunset cruises. The boat sets off at 5pm on Friday evenings and the deal is that the Radisson Blu provides the snacks and drinks, while boat designers Tangent Charters take you out into the Atlantic in the direction of Clifton beach for a couple of hours.

dsc_0008.jpg Their 39-foot catamaran departs from a private mooring adjacent to the hotel’s terrace, where in good weather conditions are comfy enough to balance a glass of wine or two in moderate swell. I joined some jetsetters on a catamaran cruise this week, and once the engines were switched off and they’d hoisted the sail, a few of us spotted a few dolphins surfing nearby. A few poor victims were struck by seasickness, but I thought it was a pretty cool experience …

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If you have no dinner plans, stick around and enjoy three courses on the Tobago’s Restaurant sea-facing terrace afterwards. They cater for vegetarians and while the menu won’t rock your culinary world with innovation, it’s tasty fare offering fairly good value for a hotel restaurant when packaged with the cruise as a total night out.

RADISSON BLU HOTEL WATERFRONT, Beach Road, Granger Bay. Cruise from 5pm – 7.30pm.
R250pp for the sunset cruise, a glass of Champagne and salty bar snacks.
Or R495pp for a Tobago three-course dinner plus sunset cruise, glass of Champagne and salty bar snacks.

Tel 021 441 3000, contact capetown.reservations@radissonblu.com or see tangent charters

FOODSTUFF: Country charm at new Overgaauw Restaurant’s set lunch

dsc_0028.jpg Are you one of those diners who likes to control every culinary decision, or are you happiest when you can leave the menu to the chef? If you’re in the second category, you’ll really enjoy the eating experience dished up by Camilla and brother Jason Comins at Overgaauw Restaurant in rural Stellenbosch.

You may remember The Table at De Meye, a similar concept run by Camilla and photographer husband Russel Wasserfall in Paarl. Following a similar philosophy, new Overgaauw Restaurant opened in December 2013, and the setting is rustic and serene. Jason has taken on a more hands-on kitchen roll and Russel only helps out with service. An old farm building where vinegar was previously made has tables on the verandah and outside lawns. Three courses of dishes are served and these change often because the growing queue of regulars don’t want to get bored. It’s classic food with a few country twists, at a set price. Cooking demos for small groups are also planned, and in the off season there will be occasional winemaker dinners.

dsc_0004.jpg Our shady outdoor meal on bare oak tables started with home-baked bread and farm butter, the flowers arranged by Camilla. The cooking and kitchen planning is shared between Jason and Camilla. She’s self-taught with experience as a food stylist and product developer, while he trained at Ireland’s Ballymaloe Cookery School and clocked up work experience at a few restaurants. This duo’s greatest culinary preparation was growing up on a self-sufficient family farm in Vryheid in northern KZN. There they baked bread, gathered eggs, made butter, sausages, biltong and pickles and even hunted and fished.

dsc_0010.jpg Wines – listed on a board – are well-priced and all from the Overgaauw cellar. We kicked off with glasses of Sauvignon Blanc (R30 a glass for any white or red), and had pleasant Sheperd’s Cottage Cab Merlot red with the main dishes. After nibbling on too many slices of bread, we were brought a colourful platter of assorted tomatoes (some on the vine grown a few metres from our table) in a herby tumble of bocconcini mozzarella balls with roasted red and yellow peppers in Overgaauw white wine vinegar vinaigrette. To offset the vinegar acid, slivers of smoky Italian-style cured and aged pork loin. We polished it off.

dsc_0014.jpg Main dishes are both bountiful and beautiful. Deboned lamb, marinated in oregano herbs, lemon and olive oil before roasting. Jason’s cold sweet chilli tomato chutney – many of his chutneys and pickles are on sale too – and elegant green beans. Jason’s Irish herby potato salad provided homely flavours, with a deliciously earthy lentil, roasted butternut and chilli (so mild I couldn’t find any bite to be honest) salad freshened by micro herbs.

I like the attention to detail and support for small producers and entrepreneurs at Overgaauw. I was told on which Paarl farm the lamb was grass-fed and reared, and also where the bocconcini and tomatoes were bought from. Unsurprisingly there is no mass-brand cola on offer. Only water or a refreshing carafe of sparkling water with a dash of Wellington producer Wilde at Heart’s Victorian rose geranium cordial, or traditional lemonade. There are a couple of craft beers if you don’t fancy wine.

dsc_0033.jpg The dessert of the day was a slice of dried coconut macaroon cake, its white and yellow patterns defined by the baking separation. A mildly mango ice-cream added a sunny outlook to the afternoon. Children under four can find enough to eat on their parents’ platters, but ours was delighted to be offered his own bowl of chocolate ice-cream (his mom had momentary food envy after trying a spoonful). At Overgaauw there’s no fancy machine producing Americano coffees with crema, but you can finish off a meal with simple filter coffee and a bucolic view. In keeping with the people and place, this is an honest and homespun eating experience.

OVERGAAUW RESTAURANT, Stellenboschkloof Road, Vlottenburg, Stellenbosch. Open for lunch Friday to Sunday. R265 for three courses or R225 for two courses; R130 for children age five to 12. Tel 021 881 3910, overgaauw

FOODSTUFF: Worldly brasserie dishes at V&A’s Mondiall

dsc_0001.jpg There are a lot of reasons why Capetonians avoid the V&A Waterfront. High-priced restaurants that deliver little more than a tourist-trap experience is one of them. I sat at a reputed steakhouse the other day and watched somebody send back two plates of brown beef Carpaccio before a freshly sliced red version finally satisfied.

After taking up an invitation to join a group for lunch at new Mondiall Kitchen & Bar, I know there is hope on the culinary harbour front. Chef Peter Tempelhoff has plenty of experience and accolades behind his name. As Executive Chef of The Collection by Liz McGrath hotels, he’s used to moving from one restaurant to the next and entrusting the hands-on work to a good team. At Mondiall he’s in partnership with Patrick Symington, who put lounge venue Café Dharma and Asoka on the Cape Town map. They both bid separately for this restaurant space, and landed up as partners.

dsc_0006.jpg I once waitressed at The Green Dolphin, where Mondiall now trades. Home for a few months after a backpacking stint in Europe, I was saving for my next working trip to Asia. It was the place to earn good tips from steak-lovers and seafood fans that booked dinner tables to hear live jazz bands in a dark, upmarket clubby sort of space. It’s all very different now. The Table Mountain views through glass window panels are still awesome, but the new Mondiall interior has been livened and lightened by stylish furniture in wood and beige tones against backdrops of exposed brick, antiqued mirrors and trendy vodka bottles. The open pass adds kitchen energy and an upper level uses old wooden shutters and hanging elements cleverly. A designer has spent money here, but hasn’t stripped the place of personality. Tables are made from recycled wood and you get the feeling somebody also spent a long time selecting crockery, serving boards and glasses too.

dsc_0009.jpg Oliver Cattermole is in the kitchen daily, but Peter’s input is visible in the food style and spiffy presentation. Initially planning a classic brasserie, Peter’s concept evolved into incorporating favourite dishes from his travels (he grew up in both Canada and South Africa). Mondial translates in Italian and French as worldwide, hence the eclectic dishes. ‘The menu looks a bit of a Jack of all trades, but it’s how people eat,’ explains Peter, referring to Italian, Asian, French, South African and Mexican dishes. There’s a lot of choice, but also dishes you want to eat. Having a menu indicate dates and places where each dish supposedly originated, also gets a table talking.

dsc_0011.jpg What’s good? This just-opened restaurant is still nailing the last planks of wood down, so the kitchen is also ironing out kinks. But West Coast oysters (R20 each) are served the French way on ice, with finely diced shallot vinegar and a squeeze of lemon. Steak tartare (R87) – circa 1921, Paris – sees finely chopped sirloin already assembled, and is served Asian-style with a red cabbage and sesame oil coleslaw, plus crispy onion bits for crunch. Tender and tasty, Buffalo wings (R68) – circa 1964, Buffalo – are cooked with ‘Memphis dust’, celery slices and a thick blue cheese sauce. A Caesar and Waldorf salad under the ‘soup and salad’ section also caught my eye.

dsc_0012.jpg I’ll be tempted to order the potato and Parmesan gnocchi (R76 or R125) next time – it looks vibrant and delicious on a plate, with its mix of sautéed woodland mushrooms, semi-dried tomatoes, rocket pesto and taleggio. Instead I tried the fish of the day (R135) – grilled yellow-fin tuna on a richly fragrant bowl of ramen noodles, meaty Asian mushrooms and greens, ladled with comforting lightly spiced Chinese master stock. A rookie mistake was opting for the recommended medium-rare tuna as the sliced piece that arrived was overcooked, but another diner at our table requested seared pink tuna – as I would’ve preferred – and got it. You can order a cheeseburger and fries made from locally reared Wagyu beef too, with trimmings and umami sauce for R120. I’ll probably be back to tackle the grilled sirloin Café de Paris (R155) – circa 1932, Geneva – it comes topped with the signature butter and a novel mushroom ragout, plus a side bowl of thin-cut fries.

But let’s skip straight to the high point of my Mondiall meal. Forget the apple tart tatin, Cape Malva or Mondiall chocolate sundae for dessert. If you want to be impressed by a chewy base with sweet intensity and just the right amount of springiness under the nuts, order the maple and pecan pie (R68). It’s partnered with a scoop of milk ice-cream, blueberries and sticky maple-syrup-reduced-with-Bourbon sauce. Like most Mondiall desserts it’s priced on the high side, but here you’re paying for real Vermont maple syrup that is so worth it.

As is often the case, this restaurant is still sorting out a few staff and kitchen kinks – there was some inconsistency of ingredients and they were operating without a permanent gas supply the day we ate – but I’m fairly certain they’ll find their feet. The V&A Waterfront is one of Cape Town’s most popular destinations and there is way too much mediocre eating to be found there. It’s too good an opportunity to waste.

MONDIALL KITCHEN & BAR, Alfred Mall, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town. Open for breakfast, weekend brunch, lunch, tapas and dinner daily. Tel 021 418 3003, Mondiall

FOODSTUFF: Add Vergelegen’s Camphors to your list

dsc_0024.jpg There is a pig-crazy chef cooking at Camphors restaurant in Somerset West. You’ve probably heard of him, or tried his food. PJ Vadas cut his teeth internationally while slogging crazy hours at Gordon Ramsay’s London and New York restaurants, returned briefly to help his parents at the family’s modest Pembreys restaurant in Knysna (there he was one of the first local chefs to use a sous vide water bath), before joining The Roundhouse in Cape Town for a few years.

When it was time for a change, fortuitously the opportunity to open Camphors fine dining restaurant at Vergelegen landed in PJ’s lap. The name refers to the camphor trees, planted in 1700 outside this Somerset West property’s historic homestead. This sort of restaurant rarely makes money, but then one of South Africa’s largest and arguably most beautiful wine estates deserves a show-off dining spot (the casual Stables restaurant on the property brings in the cash). One year in, Camphors has already made the 2013 Eat Out Top 20 restaurant list. Go for lunch with a good friend keen to appreciate the expansive gardens and enormous trees while meandering to your car. dsc_003.jpg

The invitation was for two of us to try out six courses from a settled-in kitchen. The dishes mostly appear on the a la carte menu too, and change with available ingredients. The décor features grey, black or silver, and is quite splashy and sparkly in that way that might make you feel uncomfortable taking a group of unruly friends or young kids. Sommelier Christo Deyzel takes care of the exclusively Vergelegen wine selections, and does a more-than-adequate job of matching their food-friendly bottles to the dishes. I could do without having my chair pulled out every time I return to the table, but that’s a minor quibble.

dsc_0017.jpg Back to the pigs. This is an offal-mad chef who tweets pics of porky heads from his kitchen, so I wasn’t surprised to be served bits and pieces of one as an eye-and-palate-pleasing amuse bouche. Crunchy bits of pig tail in homemade mustard and Vergelegen honey; crispy crackling, a cured then deep-fried piece of pig’s ear. It’s usually what I’d call ‘squeamish’ food, but it wasn’t really, just adventurous nibbles. Also on the plate, a clever fish ‘n chips combining polenta-like ground chickpea ‘chips’ topped with smoked snoek. PJ has started a butchery on the farm where beef from Vergelegen’s free-range Nguni cows is processed for the restaurant, and has some bloody tales to tell. The creamy biltong filling inside a choux paste gougère made me want more.

Eating here you feel like you’re being treated with special food, where as much as possible is grown on the estate: honey, free-range Nguni beef, edible flowers and herbs. If it’s bought in, it’s because somebody else is doing it better: so the pork is from Bonnievale, the buffalo products from Wellington, the excellent breads from a Woodstock artisan baker.

dsc_0020.jpg A lot of dishes arrive with ingredients on a plate, waiters then pouring in sauces or creamy veloutés. There’s a bit much of that for my liking, but it forces diners to notice the various components and I can’t fault the resulting flavours and textures. This chef understands what his ingredients are capable of, and puts on a great show. A standout dish was the duck. The fuchsias and pinks so pretty it felt almost a shame to eat it. Hay-smoked breast served with parsnip puree and shitake shrooms, with fall-off-the-bone salty duck leg ham, a pool of jus, and slivers of baby beets in sweetish pickling brine. Vergelegen Shiraz 2010 was rich yet restrained, a plummy partner.
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Press rewind to an unusual and brilliant early course of torn strips of Buffalo Ridge buffalo-milk mozzarella. Lightly roasted yellow and orange carrots – raw or undercooked things is a trademark of this dish – a slice of two-year-matured buffalo-milk Provolone blowtorched to warm semi-rubberiness, zingy carrot puree topping. A thick swirl of cold buttermilk and carrot poured over, and from nowhere a hit of pickled green coriander seeds. Served with zesty orange peel nuttiness of slightly wooded Vergelegen Chardonnay 2012, this dish was spectacularly smart with its slightly cooked, salty, tangy and pickled combos.

dsc_0037.jpg Probably my most spot-on food and wine match was the simplicity of hake and gnocchi with Vergelegen White G.B.V. 2011. This flagship white of barrel-fermented Semillon with zingy Sauvignon is one of the estate’s most awarded wines, and typically takes years to come around. Seared hake with West Coast mussels (their liquor captured in a creamy velouté) partnered lightly smoked leeks and potato gnocchi, surprise twists in seared Cos lettuce and a dusting of seaweed. Simple, nourishing and classic while making the wine shine.

Classic styling is the common thread underlining all Camphors food. Scoffing at modern dining trends that try to redefine boundaries, PJ says he likes the classics. ‘Food must be delicious and taste like something.’ You can’t fault his philosophy.

At Camphors it’s the details that add value. The miniature saucepan of oxtail pie, served alongside the fiddly every-element-in-its-place grassfed ribeye dish, which speaks of comfort and love. Or the pastry chef poached from The Roundhouse. I didn’t catch her name, but could see why she was. Her buffalo ricotta cake is the sort that makes you smile when it arrives. Meringue straws, fresh and dried strawberries, strawberry ice cream and almond crumble all seemed so cheery. The Nigiro strawberry-vanilla loose tea brewed alongside at the table added just the right finishing touch. Done.

CAMPHORS AT VERGELEGEN, Vergelegen Wine Estate, Lourensford Road, Somerset West. Tel 021 847-1346. Open for lunch Wed to Sun and dinner Fri to Sat. Two-course menu at R275 per person, three-course menu R350, six-course tasting menu R550 – all excluding wine. Six-course tasting menu with wine pairings R750 per person.

How nine courses stack up at The Test Kitchen

the_test_kitchen_private_dining_room_1_high_res.jpg I love great food and lovingly coaxed ingredients but I really believe you have to be in the mood to sit through a tasting menu of more than four courses. Mental preparation and patience is required and if you eat this way too often it can easily feel like hard work. So any venue sporting a stiffly quiet atmosphere, dragging tempo or uncomfortable seats is likely to have fidgety diners losing interest two thirds of the way.

Fortunately those factors don’t apply at The Test Kitchen. So with all the hype created by local restaurant guides and international awards I tried to figure out why that is. You enter the creatively styled industrial venue and are immediately blasted by the noisiness of customers and a kitchen deep into service. The energy is palbable – chefs chopping, searing or plating from multiple ingredient containers at a steady tempo while waiters bump your chairs as they speed past. It’s oddly reassuring. In fact you’re rarely neglected for much of the meal, such is the standard and pace of service. And then there is food that wows.

The nine-course gourmand menu grabs attention with a vibrantly coloured trio of snacks to start. The Billionaire’s shortbread is witty, mimicking its usual sweet caramel version with a melt-in-the-mouth shortbread square with dark chocolate capping a porcini and truffle jelly and duck liver layer. A herb-topped smoked mackerel parfait parcel roll combines creamy-salty smoked fish with citrus zing, while vibrant fuschia dehydrated pickled beetroot resembles nothing you know. Visually freeze-dried instant coffee granules come closest, their redcurrant-ish taste forms a zany combo with lemon jelly on a shiso leaf. It’s an ingenious touch as you can’t nibble without sitting to attention – it seems rude to ignore your food.

the_test_1194.jpg Chef-restaurateur Luke Dale-Roberts’ The Test Kitchen is arguably Cape Town’s most successful high-end dinner venue. The irony is that most of us eat out to have a break from domestic monotony, yet tasting menus mean conforming to a formula of sorts and being told on what to dine. Such is this restaurant’s popularity that in October 2013 the three-course dinner option was dropped, and diners now order only the five-course discovery or nine-course gourmand menus. A vegetarian five-courser is available, and with sufficient advance notice so are nine vegetarian courses. People are consistently buying into and paying dearly for the experience.

The current Test Kitchen menu was introduced in winter 2013 and head chef Ivor Jones (at Luke’s side since La Colombe days) says some standouts have stayed alongside lighter spring dishes introduced. Ivor was running the show the night we dined. The African influences in dish concepts or ingredient input is fairly subtle – local veggies and macadamia nuts, Franschhoek trout and yellowtail, or the air-dried ham effect of ‘pulled biltong’ accompanying the foie gras. Take the inspired Cape-style ‘pickled fish’ dish which combined the most unlikely ingredients – yellowtail ceviche in a lightly curried dressing with, of all things, braaied carrots, pickled carrot ribbons and deep-fried crispy carrot strands. Simple. Understated. An aftertaste of cumin over an earthily sweet brown base, accented by the lean bubbles of Silverthorn The Green Man MCC 2010.

You’ve probably heard about one African element: Luke’s sense of humour playing out in the rough-and-ready roasted pig’s head, his version of a toothy sheep ‘smiley’ shown to diners for shock value. The plated dish that follows combines a meticulous square of ultra-tender pig’s cheek fattiness alongside crispy crackling and deep-fried pork scratchings. Perfect pressed apples, herby melba toast and a gooey-rich creamy pool of blue cheese complete the plate – rich on richness that works. The Paul Cluver Dry Encounter Riesling 2013 served alongside cuts through fantastically. I’m not convinced the pig link with the Township sheep’s head ‘smiley’ translates to the many foreigners filling the reservation book though – my explanation seemed lost on the solo American woman also dining at the pass counter.

the_test_1203.jpg Pete Wells makes a few good points about restaurants serving tasting menus recently in his October 2013 Nibbled to death article in The New York Times.
1. Three- or four-hour menus were a high-end anomaly a few years ago, but now look like the future of fine dining.
2. This is a challenge no chef should saunter into casually. A restaurant whose sole product is an expensive, lengthy, take-it-or-leave-it meal sets a dauntingly high bar for itself. But a few vault right over with a grace and agility that is truly thrilling.
3. If a meal goes on for hours, even radical costume changes from course to course may not be enough. They shouldn’t be repetitive or feel like padding either.
4. The elite who now fill these dining rooms are a particular kind of diner. One reason why these dining rooms can feel less lively.
5. You can’t eat a meal like this with a passing acquaintance since you’ll be together for hours, but you can’t go with somebody you really want to talk to, either, since there’s little time between courses for sustained conversation.

Thinking back on dinner, all those factors are valid but The Test Kitchen delivers a smart take. We didn’t suffer a main-course slump. You know, an inspired series of earlier savoury and fish courses tailed by a skilled but predictable red-meat dish. Instead the ‘slow and fast’ duck, a cleverly amusing edible highlight. Sous vide slow-cooked duck in contrast to the crisply pan-seared ‘fast’ duck flesh, hinting at Sunday roast with base notes of duck liver stuffing and lentils, an earthy dab of burnt onion and thyme puree pulling it together with confidence. Who said food can’t simultaneously delight and make you chuckle?

One of the things that makes great food stand out is the ability to build layers on just the right neutral base elements. Luke’s mastery of Asian condiments has always been his secret weapon, used with other ingredients in the subtlest manner. The way creamy pureed tofu is combined with miso so it doesn’t overwhelm the seafood juices and raw mushrooms in his scallop dish. A smear of ‘New York cheesecake’ that uses mirin alongside Franschhoek trout so the cream tastes not unlike horseradish mayonnaise, exploding on the palate with a bite of lemon jelly.

the_test_1208.jpg Wells’ elite diners are certainly filling The Test Kitchen’s tables though. Within elbow reach were an animated couple from New Jersey, a good 25 years older than most. Dropped off by their five-star hotel and full of compliments, the husband confided that their meals at Per Se, Robuchon and Ducasse hadn’t come close to this gourmand menu experience in Cape Town. I’m sure the exchange rate helped. Overheard too was a Melbourne diner telling Chef Jones that service this good was rare in Australia.

I was a media guest of the restaurant this time. We ate at the pass, and will happily request those counter seats for two again when paying with our own credit card. They’re fun, brightly lit and close enough to the chef plating the amuse to ask questions. This zoomed-in view of kitchen action is not the spot if you covet a romantic dinner or prefer to avoid the grittiness of staff wiping their hands on food-caked aprons and grimy cloths. And don’t expect to snag a table anytime soon if you’re bringing friends along. The Test Kitchen is taking bookings two to three months in advance.

THE TEST KITCHEN, The Old Biscuit Mill, 375 Albert Road, Woodstock. Tel 021 447-2337, test kitchen. The five-course discovery menu costs R520 per person or R765 including wine pairings. The nine-course gourmand menu costs R650 per person or R1000 including wine.

The Conservatory’s tasty Winter Special 2013

dsc_0008.jpg I have a friend who does a mental juggle about whether the sweet offerings will pass muster, before she decides on the savoury part of ordering at a restaurant. Well The Conservatory’s winter special menu dessert at Cellars-Hohenort in Constantia would have no problem “qualifying”. The sticky apple tart tatin is just right for one, a whole Golden Delicious apple encased in its round flaky pastry case, gooey-thick salted caramel sauce giving it an edge. It’s served with a scoop of homemade vanilla-pod ice cream.

The ‘Cellars winter special’ includes two courses at R155 per person, or three at R190. There are cheaper Cape Town winter menus to be found, but I like this one because it’s not a static three-courser dragging over a couple of months, so it doesn’t feel like the chefs are cutting corners, and diners experience a gracious hotel setting with glimpses of the magnificent garden through the windows. An extra amuse bouche arrives too – mine was a comforting creamy soup with high notes from bits of pickled scallop and shimeji mushrooms. The Jerusalem artichokes are grown in the vegetable garden.

dsc_0002.jpg There about six starter and main course options on the current Conservatory menu - limited yet sufficiently varied - which means chefs can tweak the menu for new produce. I loved the beetroot salad, served carpaccio-style with flavour accents in blocks of peartizer jelly, a clever pecan-waldorf salad, and crumbed deep-fried balls of moist smoked chevre cheese. My main course was tasty beef sirloin, seared and tender from sous-vide slow cooking. A bone marrow reduction added salty-savoury tang, working well with locally-foraged pine ring mushrooms, and a plainer pearl barley risotto. Interestingly chef Chad Blows created the dish, a variation of the creation that recently won him the Chaine des Rotisseurs Young Chef National champion 2013 title.

dsc_0006.jpg Other starters include the likes of duck liver parfait with toasted brioche and baby leaf salad, while main courses extend to seared springbok rump with celeriac puree, red cabbage and boulangerere potato. There is a vegetarian option in wild mushroom and mascarpone risotto too.

The menu is available at lunch and dinner, until 31 August 2013. Quote ‘Cellars winter special’ when making a reservation.

THE CONSERVATORY, Cellars-Hohenort, Constantia. Tel 021 794 2137. Lunch or dinner: two courses at R155 or three courses at R190. (Including a wine carafe at R195 or R255).

FOODSTUFF: Edible trainspotting: Simonstown, Kalk Bay return

dsc_0036.jpg Sunny windless autumn Sunday.
R30 adult Metrorail ticket for a hop on/off Cape Town - Simonstown return by train.
Window views of Muizenberg swell bursting with bobbing surfers, families playing in tidal pools, and people walking the wave-lapped cliff path to Kalk Bay… Too tempting to ignore. After approximately 45 minutes of being lulled by conductor whistles and doors opening then closing, we disembarked at St James beach and continued on foot. Smart move with the cars entering Kalk Bay all idling or stuck in first gear.

dsc_0006.jpg We made it just in time for a lunch booking at old favourite Live Bait, situated underneath Harbour House. It’s always been more about the panoramic harbour and wave-crashing sea vistas from the glass “walls” than about outstanding seafood or stellar service at Harbour House’s smaller, casual little sister.

dsc_0027.jpg So I’ve learnt to keep orders as simple as possible, and then soak up the seaside vibe here because sauces or vegetable components of a dish tend to be fussy or fit badly (Case in point: today’s calamari batter contained yellow turmeric powder?) The requested children’s grilled hake with chips looked particularly impressive (R55), if somewhat green in tone for a young child, thanks to a handful of red onion-topped leaves, plus a herby mayo? Thankfully the adult elements of the table were happy to snack on the side salad, while the offending green gloop was hastily replaced by tomato sauce.

I’ve forgotten how great Buitenverwachting Buiten Blanc 2012 (R125) is with fishy dishes. This uncomplicated white blend hits all the right notes. Grilled cob was a delight, fresh and cooked perfectly, unlike the shoestring chips cooked in oil that hadn’t been heated sufficiently, leaving some undercooked and most just soggily warm. Apparently operating a basic deep-fat fryer is an art. dsc_0057.jpg

A point on trains: there are only two platforms for stations on the False Bay end, so train timetables are fairly easy to figure out. But they only run approximately every hour on Sundays, so take note of times to avoid a long wait. We continued to the end of the line to Simon’s Town along wave-splashed tracks.

Before the return Cape Town leg, just enough time for a 20 minute walk into town, a decent coffee and some teatime treats from The Sweetest Thing Patisserie. A lemon custard tartlet in a biscuit shell topped with raspberries, and warm scones with jam and cream. What more could anybody want from one day out?

LIVE BAIT Harbour, Kalk Bay. Tel 021 78 5755

THE SWEETEST THING PATISSERIE 82 St George’s Street, Simon’s Town. Tel 021 786 4200
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FOODSTUFF: apples and pears

dsc_0003-001.jpg What do you think of Perry Packham, Dino Delicious, Danny Smith and Topsy Red?

These cute little critters will soon be included in bags of apples and pears in supermarkets such as Checkers, Shoprite and independent stores. Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing is targeting kids with a campaign called Growing Potential. They’re rightly thinking that more kids will eat fruit because they’ll ask their parents to buy packs of apples and pears, in the hopes of getting their hands on Perry, Dino, Danny and Topsy.

The concept was launched with a series of creative, colourful and tasty apple and pear-inspired dishes at The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Francais in Franschhoek.

It’s good to see that Chef Margot Janse, mother to Thomas, takes her own advice when encouraging parents to make food exciting if they want their children to eat healthily. “Make it look like a party,” she says.

FOODSTUFF: Clever cupcakes and nibbles at The Palms Market

dsc_0005.jpg I can’t remember when cupcakes became trendy again, but isn’t this ‘Happy Birthday’ gift box a clever twist? It would make a fabulous gift for that friend who already has everything who’d appreciate something unusual. Stefanie Antonier (below right) of Tres Chic Catering Tres Chic adds a stylish European touch with her miniature birthday cupcakes in assorted flavours, sold at R75 per box. She also sells cupcakes individually, and this private chef, baker and caterer will happily pipe a different message in cake… dsc_0006.jpg

I found those cupcakes at The Palms Market in Woodstock last Saturday. This weekend gourmet space comes with plenty of free covered parking and you don’t need to arm-wrestle crowds to a stall. Isabella Niehaus is behind the market and the focus is on prepared foods to eat on the spot rather than on gourmet raw materials. dsc_0007.jpg But a few breads, cakes and savouries can be taken away. The outdoor fountain area is a good spot to chat with friends and to let littlies run around.

Other highlights: grilled Elgin free-range chicken wing skewers are ultra tender and tasty, with Darling Slow beer. Savoury nibbles are limited aside from boerie rolls, muffins and samosas. The friendly Plattelandse couple selling tempting curried mince and venison jaffles were apologetic that their bread was already plastered in margarine, but lost me as a customer. I’m a butter or nothing purist.
I preferred plainer biscuit-like round Liege waffle from The Wicked Waffles to the rectangular Brussels version with cream and (too watered down) Belgian chocolate sauce. The pickled fish we took home didn’t quite have the vinegar sweetness ratio right. But it’s those quirks that make this a gourmet market run by real people, not an impersonal supermarket. dsc_0003.jpg

THE PALMS MARKET, 145 Sir Lowry Road, Woodstock Palms Mkt. Open every second Sat during winter, open every Sat from Nov 2012.

FOODSTUFF: Cape Town steak fan? Try Café Dijon

dsc_0005.jpg There used to be a corner of recreated Paris in Stellenbosch, serving lovingly prepared steaks, pretty tomato tarts, French onion soup and comforting marrow bones on griddled garlic toast. The good news is that you’ll now find that spot in Green Point.

Café Dijon opened about five years ago when owners Johan ‘Dup’ and Sarah du Plessis tried to recreate the bistro décor and dishes they loved from their French trips. The hands on owners have closed shop in Stellenbosch and moved their business to Cape Town, with hopes of attracting a buzzy city crowd that doesn’t lessen when the students move out. dsc_0003.jpg Their lovely long dark wood and marble-topped bar has made the journey, but there is a lighter, airier feel to the rest of the space. Wine bottles form light fittings and a wall showing surnames of favourite customers is a fun touch.

I joined a group invited this week over lunch. We were encouraged to order any of their a la carte menu staples, and left impressed. The prices are reasonable, and the menu is full of classics I like, including homemade Toulouse pork-shoulder sausages (very tasty, if less spicy than French versions I’ve tried). They offer a series of steaks (from 200g fillet, 380g sirloin and distinctive liverish-tasting 350g New York Hanger steak - all at R115).

dsc_0003.jpg Dup went to great lengths to source West coast Angus beef that conformed to his high standards.
My personal recommendation is to have their speciality Dijon cut (200g at R95). This thick ribeye is tender and marbled with fatty knots, served simply with a tomato onion salad and the most beautiful handcut chips (slightly uneven, skin still on the tips) I’ve eaten in a while. Sauces (R10) include Bearnaise, caper butter, green pepper or mushroom.

Most starters and salads are around R55 to R65. Some dishes and desserts we tried were tasty in a comforting way without being exceptional, but then the team is settling into a new kitchen and that has its quirks. The steak and handcut chips will have me back for more regardless.

CAFÉ DIJON, 15 Napier Street, Green Point, Tel 021 418 3910 Dijon. Open for lunch Tues to Sun and dinner Tues to Sat.

FOODSTUFF: Zany macaroon finish at Makaron

dsc_0016.jpg A lunch invitation to experience chef Tanja Kruger’s menu at Makaron this week wasn’t to be missed. Kruger will be competing as part of South Africa’s 2012 Culinary Olympics team, and her skills lean very definitely in a finer dining direction (I realised I’d tried her food once at another venue that never really got off the ground). Kruger seems a good fit for the glammed up, seriously swanky tones and decadent designer pieces of Makaron restaurant at Majeka House luxury guesthouse, set between Stellenbosch and Paradyskloof.

dsc_0009.jpg We only had a taster, but the meal introduced some noteworthy homemade items. These include pink beetroot-infused salt flakes, a black savoury gougère choux pastry ball filled with avocado mousse, and chicken cooked to tender-moist perfection in nasturtium leaves and flowers. Fresh from a stint at Alain Passard’s L’Arpege in Paris, Kruger is on a bit of an edible flower kick. I’d describe the free-range chicken dish as a study in gentleness – lemon veloute, a nasturtium flower beignet, and barley and pea risotto. Elegant Dalla Cia Chardonnay 2011 (predominantly unwooded plus a barrel-fermented dash) kept to the understated theme.

dsc_0014.jpg Eating at Makaron is detail-heavy in surroundings, service and on plates – and some of it takes you by surprise. The coconut pudding served with pineapple sorbet started off with unappealing desiccated coconut dryness, then spooned up a lovely moist crème caramel base below. I don’t often have capacity to eat petit fours after dessert, but lime macaroons here are worth trying. Co-owner Karine Dequeker-Van der Merwe says they regularly try Paris’ finest macaroons and find the fillings too sweet, so Kruger’s macaroons sandwiched by meringue with a limey gel centre seem particularly clever.

Nice to see spunky Swedish sommelier Josephine Gutentoft (showing off the nasturtium chicken base). She’s left Grande Roche to manage Makaron, and will soon be piling the new walk-under-doorway of the glass cellar with interesting labels.

MAKARON, Majeka House luxury guesthouse, Stellenbosch, Tel 021 880 1549 Makaron. A la carte lunch and dinner daily. Menus start at three courses for R295.

FOODSTUFF: Olé to empanadas

como_platter.jpg I was sent a late morning delivery of hot empanadas this week. Well worth talking about, Como Foods call it their Bacon and egg, a moist hard-boiled egg, smoky pork mixture with a few bits and pieces. Perfect at that time of day.

Ever since I experienced these crescent-shaped filled savoury pastries as street snacks in Beunos Aires in Argentina, I’ve been hooked. One of my best memories was being hosted overnight at a wine farm in Mendoza where somebody’s granny left 12 homemade empanadas in my country cottage. Despite being treated to a typically late, lengthy Spanish dinner followed by partying in a nightclub, I ate four empanadas on the spot. They were that good.

Como Foods is a South African initiative that recreates the pastries coveted in Argentina (Como in Spanish means ‘I eat’). Handmade, they use only fresh and free-range ingredients with no preservatives. The company flash-freezes them so you can remove a box of empanadas from the freezer and bake them easily yourself, if guests come over.

como_foods.jpg In terms of taste, the pastry is light yet firm, the fillings are well flavoured and moist. There is a diverse range to suit different situations and preferences, and they taste homemade, which is obviously a plus. Nine fillings range from bacon and egg to leek and chicken or braised beef. For vegetarians, three options include butternut and blue cheese. Or spice it up with chicken and chorizo, or spicy beef.

The price: As always, you’ll pay a premium for gourmet products. Select up to two Como empanada fillings in a frozen box of 12 at R150, or a maximum of four different fillings in a box of 24 priced at R300. The price includes free delivery in Cape Town and vicinity. Limited period special: order online and receive four free empanadas on your first order.

COMO FOODS EMPANADAS, Cape Town. Order at empanadas
Deliveries: generally allow two days notice for Southern Suburbs, expect twice weekly deliveries in Cape Town CBD and Atlantic Seaboard, and once every two weeks for locations in the Northern Suburbs and Winelands.

FOODSTUFF: Terroir lunch kicks off winter specials 2012

dsc_0004.jpg While it’s always great to find a little-known gem before everybody else does, for me the real value in winter menus is to eat great food for less at sought-after restaurant tables. Spots where you can’t easily get a table during high season, where chefs have worked hard to build a reputation.

So I was delighted to be invited to sample items from the winter menu at Terroir restaurant at Kleine Zalze estate last week. It’s one of my favourite restaurants for a combination of Michael Broughton’s classically styled food, good service and a casually friendly vibe. On a sunny winter’s day it’s one of the best Winelands venues for an outdoor table with tranquil views. And indoors in chillier weather it immediately ticks the box for having a fireplace. Add red wine and delicious food and it’s a no-brainer.

The Terroir Winter Special includes a choice of three starters, three mains, two desserts and a cheese board. Specials are indicated on the chalkboard menu with stars. A plus: the starter options are really creative so you never feel like the specials are substandard to the a la carte options. Rather a more affordable take on a la carte dishes, but offering the flavours and standards Terroir is known for. dsc_0003.jpg

Highlights of our meal: The Gorgonzola soufflé with poached pear and salted walnuts sounds delicious and would be worth returning to try. But I was delighted I experienced the oxtail raviolo on celeriac and caramelised onions. Poured around it, a Terroir take on Dutch pea and ham soup - warm, comforting pea soup freshened with petit pois and home-cured bacon bits. Lovely with Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection Chenin Blanc 2011 too.

Less exciting but nevertheless satisfying, a pastry-wrapped square of Norwegian salmon with a Thai curry lentil base could have had more spicy zing. But it worked as a whole, partnered with Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection Chardonnay 2011.
Tempura squid was an outright winner – baby squid in a light tempura batter, livened with a ginger caramel and the Japanese creamy citrus flavours of yuzu mayo and homemade tomato jam.

In main courses, a rich beef fillet rolled in mushroom dust had a surprise braised beef rib under the spinach. Butternut puree, Parmesan cream, elegant roast potatoes, mushrooms and a rich jus completed the dish elegantly, and it worked magically with Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection Shiraz 2009. Other winter special special options were a fish dish on truffled leeks with cep butter and panfried gnocchi, or a creative mushroom risotto with asparagus.

Nicely wintry as a dessert, a heavier orange and almond savarin cake topped with banana slices and caramel soaked in lime, vanilla and rum. In contrast, creamy white chocolate ice cream, cherry coulis and crushed pistachios. Cheesecake and apple tart are other desserts that might be served. dsc_0007.jpg

The menu changes according to seasonal ingredients.

Terroir at Kleine Zalze restaurant, Stellenbosch. Terroir Tel 021 880 8167. Well behaved children. Spend: Two courses at R175; three courses at R198. One glass of Kleine Zalze wine is included. Lunch and dinner on Mon to Sat, May until 30 September.

I’ve also tried and enjoyed winter menu specials at these venues in previous years:

The Foodbarn in Noordhoek. Foodbarn. Tel 021 789 1390. Extremely family-friendly. Spend: R175pp for three courses including wine pairings (currently it’s Steenberg) with each course. Four and five-course options also available. Lunch and dinner on Mon to Sat.

The Roundhouse, Stans Holt, Camps Bay. Roundhouse Tel 021 4384347. Lunch spend: R220pp for three courses; R400pp incl wine pairings. Lunch Wed to Sunday.

FOODSTUFF: Packing a peanut punch

dsc_0002.jpg We’re a peanut butter household. I like crunchy, my husband prefers smooth, and our toddler doesn’t seem to mind either provided he gets “nut butter” in some form.

I’ve never enjoyed the dry texture or mild taste of Black Cat although I’ve heard it’s the healthier option for those keen on less sugar or fat. But after recently trying samples, I was impressed by a new product Oh Mega peanut butter.

A company called Crede Oils sent the smooth and crunchy versions. So far the Oh Mega crunchy has been outselling smooth by almost two to one. Impressions? It’s not as sweet as other peanut butters, and the paste tends to separate, but that’s easily rectified if you stir it before spreading. The crunchy butter contains large, uneven bits of nuts, which I liked.

According to Crede Oils, Oh Mega was a response to most available peanut butters in South Africa being “healthy but bland in taste, or quite unhealthy and loaded with sugar, salt and hydrogenated fats”. Oh Mega peanut butter contains no hydrogenated fats.

Other plus points: Peanuts contain about 25% protein and are rich in nutrients including folate, magnesium, fiber, vitamin e and B3. This peanut butter is manufactured from flaxseed oil, rich in omega 3. It’s sweetened naturally with honey, which has anti-bacterial properties.

The oil separation is partly countered by the addition of pasteurized egg white powder, a natural source of protein commonly used in commercial baked products. Do remember that as flax oil cannot be heated, Oh Mega peanut butter should not be used in baking.

Oh Mega peanut butter is available from health shops and at Spar, retailing for around R30. I’ll certainly search it out.

OH MEGA PEANUT BUTTER Tel 021 854 8862, Oh Mega

FOODSTUFF: Dim sum with good and clean and fresh appeal

dsc_0010.jpg I love my laundry. I love my wine. You wouldn’t think the two would overlap, but former hotel GM Clayton Howard and his business partner found a link. And in their opening month a roaring wine trade is being supplemented by a growing band of laundry customers. The concept is simple. By day they operate a small laundry for individual and businesses (washers and dryers below, a person ironing in the compact orange space above). On offer is quality coffee, non-alcoholic beverages and snacks. By night the old brick building hosts intimate private functions where wine and a variety of talented chefs are part of the deal. Fourteen seats keep it intimate. Wine sales happen in between.

dsc_0009.jpg The legendary New York French Laundry restaurant started in a similar way, so the natural question is whether a full-blown Cape restaurant is on the cards. It’s not. Howard and partner are focusing on wine orders. They’ve already moved 15000 bottles so something is working. They’ll never sell more than one white and one red wine from their 15 wine partners (these may change over time).

The appeal? I love my wine takes a small commission, and wines are sold at cellar door prices, enabling lesser known “hand-sell” labels to become known, and occasionally unsold export orders find their way to local audiences. This explains why we arrived for an unplanned late lunch (45 minutes in and out) and left with a few bottles of Cape Weaver Chenin Blanc 2010. I’ve never seen this export label made by Eric Saayman, and really enjoyed the oily mouthfeel and rich baked quince character of old Swartland bushvines. It was served alongside our dim sum basket, and seemed like a steal at R28 per bottle. dsc_0004.jpg

On to the food. I love my laundry is not licenced, so glasses of wine are served on the house, and options change often. The small daytime menu consists of breakfast scrambled egg and bacon, and all-day baskets of dim sum made by Beluga’s dim sum chef. Coffees, non-alcoholic beverages and a few other snacks are the only other options. Our dim sum choices were eight pieces of steamed pork, chicken or pepper wontons. For R40 the price included a “free” glass of wine. Sharing one portion of pork and one chicken between two made a light meal, but the pork in particular was spicily delicious enough to make us want to return. The wontons are steamed on spinach leaves instead of the usual paper, with bottled Asian sauces as condiments.

Tip: Look out for laundry parties. On Wed 25 April I love my laundry is hosting a tasting of cupcakes from I like my pie, alongside Nitida sparkling Shiraz MCC. Women are welcome at no charge. 5.30pm – 6.30pm.

I LOVE MY LAUNDRY, 59 Buitengracht Heritage Square , Cape Town. I love my laundry, Tel 084 660 0777. Open daily from 7am – 7pm. Check about evening functions and themed wine tastings.

FOODSTUFF: Wholesome, fun family eating at Eight

dsc_0080.jpg I’ve often assumed that weekend crowds make Spier in Stellenbosch a bit of a tourist trap, but I’ve had to rethink that after having a superb wining and dining experience at Eight. Invited to try out the offerings recently, three adults and a trio of energetic under fives had a very enjoyable day out. Cheetahs, owls and birds of prey aside, the food experience at Eight lives up to its sustainably sourced, creative reputation. And the spacious grounds provide plenty of spots to slip away and relax so it never feels crowded.

The most recent edible development is Eight to Go, a deli area selling picnic-style items, drinks and coffees. But I’m a big fan of consultant chef Judy Badenhorst so eating in the restaurant appealed instead. Starters on the Eight chalkboard menu focus on creative salads in the R70 price range (most are substantial as a meal) with crunchy veggies grown at Spier’s adjacent farm – sprouted quinoa and veg, a tasty local trout and poached free-range egg version… dsc_0057.jpg Most main courses are under R100, and include the signature chicken and mushroom pie – like the eggs, beef and lamb at Spier, the chicken is pasture-reared and free-range. Sirloin is served with a thick strip of fat, delicious with handcut chips. Ethical and sustainable sourcing seems to be a theme at Eight. Stylish recycled wine and water glasses are handmade in Botswana (our waiter said none were available in SA where they’d prefer to source everything).

Interestingly, the vegetarian option won hands down as our favourite main course, showing a typical Badenhorst touch. The fluffily light courgette soufflé topped with goat’s cheese, was surrounded by a rich and deliciously cream-based tomato sauce. Yum. The wine list features Spier labels and scores points for having no mark ups on cellar door prices (I never understand why winery restaurants feel entitled to do that), and we sipped happily on Spier 21 Gables Chenin and Pinotage. Two portions of dessert split three ways - poached nectarines with salted caramel and homemade toffee ice-cream - hit the sweet spot. dsc_0060.jpg

Young children are taken care of on the menu and in the play area – the latter includes miniature tables and chairs, and a designer playground that allows kids to get muddy while their parents tuck in nearby. Savoury kids items are priced around R40 to R45, from a sticky cheeseburger to delicious battered fish and chips with homemade tartar sauce. dsc_0061.jpg A dish of sesame chicken strips with carrot sticks served in a watering can was an instant hit with a picky two-year-old. The “tooty fruity” fresh fruit dessert skewers afterwards appealed too with meringue-spiked homemade ice-cream.

In summary: Eight offers delicious seasonal food that is locally grown on the farm, or sourced. A casual vibe under the trees provides an unstructured setting to suit families or groups of adult friends. Every reason to go back really.

The stylish new Spier wine tasting centre is worth a look, with a non-refundable tasting fee even for customers who buy wine. Local art on the walls provides visual entertainment while you sip.

EIGHT, Spier wine estate, Stellenbosch, Tel 021 809 1188 Eight. Open from Tues to Sun. Children’s menu.

FOODSTUFF: In Franschhoek? Try Pierneef and Maison

dsc_0010.jpg Here are two ideas if you’re in Franschhoek over the next few weeks. Be sure to book ahead.

Pierneef à la Motte restaurant at La Motte wine farm seemed a good, slightly luxe option to take our visitors. The grounds are immaculately kept and the glassed in outdoor section of the restaurant makes you feel part of the garden without being affected by sweltering or chilly weather. The food is cheffy with an eclectic mix of flavours that draw on early Cape recipes, chef Chris Erasmus’s Karoo heritage and plenty of modern influences. It’s visually appealing and the amount of diners clamouring for a table suggests that the formula works. Yet our group of seven felt some of the menu’s braver combinations worked better than others.

A success: starter (R59) of blackened calamari tubes, chilli sausage and sugar-cured venison loin slivers over assorted salad leaves with crunchy cashews. Ingredients that wouldn’t ordinarily partner each other in a salad, with excitingly different yet not too aggressive flavouring. The menu mentioned a sweet and sour peppadew dressing, and on the plate tasted mildly curried. Slices of Shiraz bread formed Melba toast. dsc_0015.jpg Porcini roast venison loin (R155), on the other hand, was eye-catching on the plate. The warthog was tasty, the spearmint and sumac potato dumplings offered unusual flavours, yet two diners found the dish overpowered by an overly sweet tomato-laced ‘watermelon and amber braai sauce’.

Desserts were dramatic to look at and satisfying. Pierneef’s textures of chocolate deserves special mention. It’s chocolate in various guises, from a thin chocolate top layer that has to be cracked with the spoon, to playful rubbery strips, a surprise baked fondant and retro peppermint crisp ice cream.

Parents can relax in the knowledge that despite the venue’s smart décor and finishes, babies and toddlers won’t upset other guests here. Service in this department deserves special mention as staff go to incredible lengths to make little people comfortable. It starts with designer highchairs and five-star baby changing rooms in the restaurant bathroom, and finishes with a basket of towels on hand for kids –few can resist playing in the outdoor water feature – and even wet clothes being tumble-dried on occasion! dsc_0021.jpg

The new Maison wine tasting centre and ‘The Kitchen’ eating venue is very close to La Motte so we popped in to have a look after lunch. ‘The Kitchen’ only opened a month ago. We liked the restored historic home that is Maison so much we stayed for a late-afternoon drink on the lawns. Homemade lemonade – nicely tart – and Darling Brew ales were carried out.

On the wine side, owner furniture retailer Chris Weylandt has employed a winemaker to make a Shiraz and three white wines in rented cellar space. dsc_0018.jpg They are available for tasting in the character-filled interior with modern painted white floors and an interior bearing the shabby chic décor hallmarks of a Weylandts store. Oversized comfy couches, casual wooden benches under old oaks and terribly clever chandeliers made of unlabelled wine bottles impressed. But the star of the show is an oversized hanging chair - a delightful spot for two or three mates to lie back and take in views of tranquil vineyards. A quick squiz through the tapas and regular menu revealed lots of creative dishes to entice. Prices look good too. We’ll be back to try it out.

PIERNEEF à LA MOTTE, La Motte wine estate, R45 Franschhoek. Tel 021 876 8800, Pierneef Lunchtime venue.
MAISON, R45 Franschhoek. Tel 021 876 2116, Maison Lunch and tapas venue.

FOODSTUFF: Valrhona chocolate opens Liam Tomlin Food

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Chocolate was the lure and pastry skill was the excuse when around 80 of the Cape’s chefs gathered to watch Valrhona’s local ambassador Vanessa Quellac get technical over chocolate dessert.

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Quellac demonstrated - and offered tastes to willing participants - of a cocoa almond streussel with Valrhona Nyangbo (from cacao beans in Ghana) with 68% cremeux, served with pink grapefruit and a Rooibos-infused ice-cream. To garnish, tempered Valrhona Ivoire chocolate shards containing rooibos tea, and Valrhona Nyangbo 68% chocolate shards.

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It was the first event held at Liam Tomlin Food. This is a Franschhoek first with dedicated cooking stations, a state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen, a high-end kitchen and homeware shop and a tasting area for Leopard’s Leap wines.

Enough said.

FOODSTUFF: Fresh eating in Elgin

dsc_0028.jpg I never understand it when country restaurants overcomplicate their offerings. Enthusiastic customers have made the decision to drive out of the city, admiring lovely orchards and vineyard scenery. And then somebody tries to impress with bought-in ingredients cooked fancily with dots, froths and foams. When I’m in the country I want simple food that shouts freshness, and gives me a taste of where I am and who is cooking it. It doesn’t have to be perfect; each dish should merely offer personality.

At Fresh restaurant at Paul Cluver wine farm in Elgin, you’ll find exactly that. Joan Lancefield’s daytime restaurant operates on modest principles. Two years ago she moved from Joburg to open a coffee shop. She started cooking for the love of it and isn’t professionally trained. Her foodie sister, experienced country caterer Elizabeth Wood, readily shares ideas and techniques, and Joan spends holidays working in restaurant kitchens overseas. Her secret weapon is daily access to a plethora of herbs, vegetables and fruit that big name city chefs would fight each other to get their hands on. It’s the experimental vegetable and fruit garden started by Dr Cluver at the encouragement of Andreas Vistad, TV host of New Scandinavian Cooking. dsc_0023.jpg

As an avid gardener, Joan was delighted to take over the running of the Paul Cluver herb and vegetable garden, and she’s responsible for planting many of the interesting items I observed during a walk last weekend. Five types of lettuce, spinach, beans and basil. At least 20 types of tomatoes, some of them heirloom varieties in green, yellow or with zebra stripes. Five different mint species including the Asian mint Vietnamese use in springrolls, and chocmint. Tree tomatoes, regal bushes of prehistoric-looking artichokes, and around 30 different types of citrus including an incredible octopus-like ladyfinger lemon. Joan leaves the tending of the pomegranites, figs, quinces and other fruit trees to the accomplished teams employed on this large fruit and wine farm.

dsc_0032.jpg It’s all of this that forms the basics of Fresh restaurant. Seasonal stuff picked that day. Elgin chickens. Everything else comes from a supplier in Villiersdorp. Eating from the blackboard menu in November means starting with steamed artichokes, leaves plucked and dipped into a delicately creamy lemon butter. A robust chunky tomato and fresh herb soup, alive with pungent sunburst flavour. In fig season, from December onwards, you’ll be able to have grilled black figs, stuffed with Gorgonzola and wrapped in Parma-style ham…

More substantial lunch fare in the R50 to R100 range: homemade pies, salads with unusual flavourings – a Mandalay chicken salad uses perky Asian elements in the marinade, and the leaves are from the garden. A juicy gourmet burger with a smear of pesto, bacon and strong cheddar, topped with onion marmalade. A delightful Thai green chicken curry pungent with a homemade paste, and bobbing with green beans, mange tout and mini squash. The menu is small, the cutlery antique.

dsc_0032.jpg You’ll drink freshly squeezed orange, Elgin cider in the bottle, or Paul Cluver wines without much of a mark-up. Perky Sauvignon Blanc (R75), Pinot Noir (R160) or a deliciously fruity find not usually sold, their unlabelled Cab Franc (R75).

Desserts are priced at around R30, much like the starters. There were two on Saturday. A stiff dark chocolate mousse with cream, and a lemon meringue with a difference. It was an imperfect meringue disc, topped with whipped cream and homemade lemon curd, served with slightly crystallised lemon ice-cream. A new ice-cream recipe that flopped, it added to the charm. The curd was sour-sweet and fabulous.

FRESH, Paul Cluver Wines, Elgin. Tel 071 563 6020,Fresh. Open Tues to Sat for breakfast and lunch.

Richard Carstens’ new summer menu at Tokara

dsc_0007.jpg Tokara restaurant celebrated one year of operation with chef Richard Carstens in charge of the kitchen, on Fri 28th October. They launch their new summer menu next week.

Impressions? Savoury ice-creams may be one of Carstens’ signature items but I’ll never be a fan. I simply can’t appreciate a frozen savoury ingredient partnered with sugar, despite trying plenty of variations. So sweet meringue of baked Alaska over succulent, beautiful rainbow trout with citrus salsa and cucumber, with ginger, soya and mirin, had impressive elements in part. But a scoop of smoked salmon ice cream was one step too sweet, and killed the beautiful bottle-aged leanness of Tokara Sauvignon Blanc 2010.

But wow, the cold turnip and mushroom vegetarian course is a different story…
A tumble of subtle tastes and textures in assorted mushrooms under crunchy crumbles (somebody suggested the shrooms had been marinated in Tokara Chardonnay), amazingly zingy turnip contrasting fresh pear, with garlic creme, macadamias and goat’s milk cheese. Bits of pea “sponge” took the plate into a cheffy realm, while Tokara Chardonnay dressing added richness in just the right amount. A truly outstanding dish. dsc_0005.jpg

But then Richard’s wife Tracy is a vegetarian with gourmet tastes. He’s had plenty of practice perfecting this side of a menu. It’s a talent he should highlight more.

TOKARA RESTAURANT Helshoogte Pass, Stellenbosch. Tel 021 885 2550, Tokara.

FOODSTUFF: Three chefs, an endangered fish and a wild peacock

dsc_0013.jpg Four years ago I asked a waiter at a reputable V&A Waterfront fish restaurant if the catch of the day was orange or green. He was stumped by the question. Had not a clue that I was referring to SASSI’s list of sustainable fish species. It’s a different story these days, with most SA seafood restaurants - and many consumers - asking pertinent questions about the sourcing and status of things that have fins.

A small dinner held at Wild Peacock Food Emporium in Stellenbosch earlier this week launched a new seafood product – Oceanwise sustainable farmed Kabeljou - that Wild Peacock is supplying. In the future consumers will be seeing a lot more farmed sustainable Kabeljou, the fish otherwise known as Dusky Kob. It’s being produced at massive premises adjacent to the East London coastline under the Oceanwise label. In terms of carbon footprint to get it to the Cape, not ideal. But the guys from Espadon Marine chose their East London site for being the most energy-efficient in utilising sea water for their fish-breeding factory at optimum temperatures and water quality parameters, in order to breed sufficient volumes of quality fish for the dinner table. They recycle 10% of water used and treat what is recycled back into the sea so that marine damage is minimised. dsc_0005.jpg

Wild-caught stock has spawned farm-reared fish that is available at Wild Peacock in a variety of sizes. The down side is the fish sells at around R150 per kilogram currently, placing it out of reach of many consumers, and only suitable for high-end restaurants able to pass on the cost via menu mark ups. The company’s investment in premises large enough to harvest 600 tons of fish per year is part of that price - it takes 12 to 15 months to feed and grow a 15kg fish, aside from the science and technology required. dsc_0005.jpg Wild Kob should be 40cm by law. Most Oceanwise fish are bred to over 40cm, and have a full traceability system to prove they have been land-farmed. With oceans increasingly being stripped of fish through controversial line-caught methods, long-term we have few alternatives but to pay accordingly if we want our children to know the taste of fish.

What does farmed Kob taste like? Thanks to the collective skills of The Roundhouse’s chef Eric Bullpitt and Vanessa Marx of Dear Me restaurant, very flavoursome indeed. dsc_0015.jpg And no different to the ocean version most of us are used to. Farmed Kabeljou ceviche hit the spot with lime juice zing, with avo, broad beans and baby fennel bulb. dsc_0018.jpg The cooked Kob was plump and succulent, with Eric’s signature plating and froth, with sea lettuce, pickled mussels and a tasty beurre noissette emulsion. Pastry chef Vanessa Quellac has recently been hired as the Valrhona chocolate ambassador in South Africa, a very tasty job indeed. Wild Peacock has the agency for this uber-quality French couverture chocolate, so it was appropriate to conclude a cosy dinner with glasses of Valrhona Ivoire chocolate layered with mousse berry cremeux and almond streusel. I’m not usually a white chocolate fan, but this evening ended on a richly sweet note.

More info about this fish at FOOD EMPORIUM Wild Peacock Tel 021 887 7585.

FOODSTUFF: Stellenbosch hideaway for Sunday feasts or midweek treat

dsc_0008.jpg It’s great to know about off-the-beaten-track eating spots, particularly when they are accessed from roads you’ve driven multiple times but never knew to deviate from. Towerbosch Earth Kitchen restaurant at Knorhoek wine estate in Stellenbosch is that sort of place. I’m really glad to have made a new discovery, visiting recently after hearing positive reports.

Towerbosch is accessed at the end of a scenic winding drive by car, then on foot along a path to expansive lawns, jungle gyms and an impressive backdrop of trees. It’s here that families eat and drink at bare white tables under leafy trees. The indoor space is cluttered with brick a brac, antiques and modern furniture. Design consultant Neil Stemmet’s fantastical chandeliers are constructed from vintage trinkets. On Sundays a water feature becomes an impromptu kiddies’ swimming space and there is a lazy, happy mood.

Towerbosch is known for its Sunday asado, a set lunch that successfully combines Argentina’s speciality with some South African recipe favourites. Thanks to the classic training of chefs Westley Müller and Carmen van der Merwe, the menu moves beyond boerekos, but retains a nostalgic sense of eating granny’s food. towerbosch_lunch_jumbo_1.jpg The asado set menus combine a few plated items and plenty of shared platters. Think homemade bread, farm butter and preserves, followed by Argentinean-style empanadas. Starters typically include smoorsnoek rice, before moving on to meat in a big way. Slow-roasted beef or lamb or pork cooked to perfection, plus fat, 250g-slabs of aged Chalmar beef sirloin finished on the braai. Roasted veggies and traditional South African accompaniments, plus contemporary salads with say, beetroot and feta. Malva puddings, apple bakes or sweets along those lines finish the meal, plus a hot beverage.

On weekdays it’s really quiet, hence the menu at Towerbosch is a la carte. Bread, butter and preserves again introduce the meal, and the small menu focuses on flavourful dishes reliant on a few quality ingredients. Venison Carpaccio with red-wine-poached pears, Gorgonzola and rocket. dsc_0001.jpg Crispy lamb empanadas with a side salad, or beetroot salad with crumbed goats cheese. Heartier options such as grilled fish with a butter and burnt garlic sauce partner a sliced potato bake. A comforting free-range chicken pie, roasted and baked with an oval lid of sour cream puff pastry. A ‘plaasbord’ designed for two is a lighter option, with a selection of charcuterie – home-cured when available – local cheeses, homemade pickles and farm bread. Knorhoek and Two Cubs wines by the glass and bottle are very affordably priced.

TOWERBOSCH EARTH KITCHEN, Knorhoek wine estate, Stellenbosch. Tel 021 865 2958, Towerbosch. Reservations essential as sometimes closed for weddings. A la carte lunches from Wed to Fri. Sunday asado set lunch at R165pp for adults, R75pp for children under 16, R55pp for children under 12. Tel 021 865 2958, http://www.knorhoek.co.za/towerbosch.php

FOODSTUFF: Why honest chocolate is good for you

shop-chocolate-hand-tempering.jpg So I popped downtown this week to find Honest Chocolate in Wale Street. Open for just over a month, the store is sandwiched nicely between Bree and Loop, adjacent to Liam Mooney. It’s a modest operation and as the name implies, has honest intentions. Importantly, the chocolate tastes damn fine in the way an artisanal product should. This is why I paid R42 for a slab.

Impressions? What you see is what you get. Owners Michael and Anthony make, temper and dip their chocolates by hand, and employ a small team to help. Their product is organic, and so is their small operation. They recently bought an old-fashioned cash register… next investment is air-conditioners because summer temperatures aren’t very chocolate-friendly.

The chocolate is of a really high standard, yet it’s also “healthier” than most commercial brands. I’m inherently suspicious of products made for their health benefits because flavour and quality are the most important criteria to sway me. Michael reckons people buy their chocolates because they like the taste, a good thing. This company is not shy to punt the healthful attractions of their product on the packaging but as Michael points out chocolate is never going to be as healthy as spinach.

The chocolate beans aren’t roasted so the raw state retains more anti-oxidants and minerals. It’s organic, can be eaten by vegans, the lactose-intolerant and – in small quantities – by diabetics. Natural plant fructose - agave liquid - replaces sugar. Vanilla bean is also used. There are no dairy products – organic, cold-pressed coconut oil replaces cream or stodgy commercial fillers in the tasty truffles also produced. dsc_0002.jpg

Eyecatching packaging in eco-friendly paper on the four slabs were commissions by local illustrators. The open slab tempting me from my desk is 72% chocolate spiked with cracked coffee beans on the surface (I’m a fan of 70% usually but my man finds the super-bitter taste too intense). I like Marsi’s blue wrapper design of a furry Nagappie (bushbaby) on a leafy branch holding a little cup of espresso…

The four slab types all use 72% chocolate as a standard. The other three have the addition of Karoo salt – the Dessert salt bar - cocoa bean nibs, and Peru maca root respectively. Maca root from Peru is said to be an energy-enhancing superfood with potential libido-enhancing benefits - believe it if you will.

Organic chocolate spread (R48) and truffles (R10 to R12) in original chocolate, honey, mint and coffee flavours are also available. I was given an original truffle to take away. It’s pretty good, but I remain a sucker for slabs.

HONEST CHOCOLATE 66 Wale Street, Cape Town CBD. Open weekdays from 9am to 5pm, Sat 10am to 2pm. Tel 021 423 8762 Honest choc

FOODSTUFF: Elgin overnight at Old Mac Daddy

exterior_2.jpg What joy to wake to a view of apple orchards cloaked in mist in the beautiful Elgin Valley. We were invited for an overnight stay in a vintage trailer free of our little guy meant sleeping in. My man is excited because it’s his birthday. And I’ve waited 403 days for the luxury of having an entire night off – thanks for babysitting granny!

We’re camping. Kindof. A year ago the Daddy Group cleared some pines on a hillside and set up a stylish trailer park. At Old Mac Daddy – think ‘had a farm, hee hi hee hi ho’ - vintage Airstream trailers were adapted to each hilly site, with a permanent wooden bathroom, lounge and deck attached. It’s peaceful in that country way where the wind whistles through the trees, birds tweet and tractors whine in the distance. This is a luxury trailor park with respect for country values, hence rooms have no iPods or TVs and phones only work in the barn designed to emulate an apple shed where meals are served. The apple shed picks up wifi and guests are given a complimentary 20MB daily – how I posted this blog… 188-.jpg

Like the original Grand Daddy hotel in Long Street with trailers on the roof, each Elgin trailor interior was decorated by a local artist. Our neighbouring trailor had yellow-and-black bumblebees, while a couple we chatted to at dinner stayed in a pink-and-mirrored Mills & Boons romance novel theme. Our caravan was deep green with exotic foliage and flowers painstakingly painted on to the walls, ceiling and even light fittings.

French Post-Impressionist Henri Rousseau’s ‘The Dream’ inspired the design, and it seemed to suit the woodsy theme when you looked out the rectangular windows. My man thought it was pretty cool to wake up to find a naked woman lying on the couch – even if it was a stuffed pillow! 193-.jpg

Each trailor unit sleeps 2 adults inside, and the bedroom is comfy in a squashed camping sort of way. Towels, biodegradable soaps and shampoos, coffee facilities and a retro fifties Smeg bar fridge with a mini-bar are provided. Clever contemporary furniture and surfaces are used – the shower wall is coated corrugated iron, for instance. And a custom-made L-shaped couch becomes two single beds, if two children come along. On that note, campcots can be supplied for babies and breakfast is included. The apple shed offers a casual restaurant with a pizza oven for mealtimes. We’ll definitely be back for a return visit.

R675 per two-adult trailor suite per weeknight, R975 per two-adult suite on Fri or Sat. R175 per child over two. From 10 December R750 per two-adult trailor suite per weeknight, R1200 per two-adult suite on Fri or Sat.

OLD MAC DADDY, Valley Road, Elgin. Old Mac Daddy

FOODSTUFF: Sauvignon and Sunday sushi supper in

I enjoy cooking when in the mood, especially when having friends over. But grocery shopping for everyday meals has to be one of life’s less pleasant pastimes. Thank heavens we’ve finally found a lovely Zimbabwean nanny, so she’ll she’ll take over cooking up junior meal components to a large degree.

Fresh fish is hard to find in shopping centres, but on a warm spring evening it’s what we felt like eating. Our Sunday night supper solution was sushi and salmon to go from Pick n Pay V&A. I support local ingredients but the local tuna looked scarily grey and worth steering clear of. The perky Norwegian salmon sushi was affordable, tasty and worth buying however.

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Partnered with a zesty tropical fruit salad burst of Simonsig Sunbird Sauvignon Blanc 2010, this made a brilliant early Sunday supper. We paid R73 for six salmon nigiri (the shaped rice with fish on top), plus 12 salmon and avo rolls, comfortably feeding two. The nigiri was cut to order by the two guys behind the counter (it’s adjacent to where they sell cigarettes and airtime). Wasabe, pickled ginger and Kikkoman soya sauce sachets are included.

The Simonsig Sunbird Sauvignon Blanc retails at around R55. The grapes were sourced from this Stellenbosch farm, plus Darling and Elgin. All good Sauvignon areas, so no surprise there. Unwooded Chardonnay or bubbly is often my preferred sushi partner because it offers more oomph, but the time in bottle gave this wine the palate weight required. Simple, satisfying.

new baking recipes with silicone extras

cupcake_baked_and_delicious-2.jpg Been meaning to post about a clever new idea for aspiring bakers.
I baked these cupcakes using the silicone cupcake holders, cake and icing recipe from issue 1 of Baked & Delicious (usually sells at R69.95 per issue. Issue 1 was available at R29.95 special launch price). This British “magazine” concept launched in South Africa in late July 2011 and they sent me issue 1 to try out.

Included in every magazine issue is a free silicone bakeware or cake decorating item, to use in one of their featured recipes. If you subscribe to the magazine, a new item arrives with the latest issue by post every two weeks.

Issue 1 and 2 - including silicone extras - are also available now in local newsagents and selected supermarkets. The second issue includes a silicone spatula and brush (special price of R49.95).

My experience? Six colourful cupcake cases were easy to use, and didn’t wobble when placed on a flat baking tray. Thanks to clear recipes with photos for each step, the cake mixture was easy to make and produced golden sponge cake that was light yet very tasty. The icing recipe worked fine too. cupcake_baked_and_delicious.jpg

I placed paper cupcake cases inside the silicone holders - iced cupcakes look odd if you don’t - but the advantage of using silicone products is that you can bake without greasing the surface and the mixture won’t stick to the sides.

An observation: there are only a few recipes in each magazine issue and not all are aimed at novice cooks - the choux paste recipe in issue one is one I will likely avoid! I had to wait for the six cupcakes to bake, and then reused the cases to pop in the second batch. As the recipe makes 12, it would be nice to be able to buy more silicone cases…

The Baked & Delicious collection is on sale in CNA stores & selected Spar, Pick ‘n Pay, Checkers Hyper and Dis-Chem. Find out more at Baked & Delicious

FOODSTUFF: position on food bloggers versus journos?

You’ve probably seen the foodie furore over this week’s Mail & Guardian article gone to the blogs.I know many of the personalities mentioned and enjoyed the article and comments immensely - and that’s not because I was mentioned!

For the record, I have a journalism degree which taught me about research, ethics, checking sources and finding news. It’s probably that training responsible for my spending far too much time researching a commissioned article than it’s worth. I have a speciality in food and wine writing, and generally get feedback from editors that they value my ideas and proposals, and enjoy the fact that my copy requires relatively little editing.

But… I’m also a food blogger. Unlike most bloggers, I post food-or-wine-related things that impress me, when I find the time and inclination. In other words when my paid writing has a gap and other responsibilities finish. There isn’t a lot of time left after being a wife, mother, property owner and occasionally spending time exercising or hanging out with friends. It’s my choice to kick back from technology at some point.

There are some excellent bloggers doing a brilliant job without payment, but not all rely on blogging to make a living (there are exceptions). I admire their daily dedication, but I also love paging through a glossy or hearing/reading the news on paper. There is no denying that we find content and context on the internet, even if we sometimes have to sift through the gossip.

But I’ve been at the closing end of too many regular gigs in South African magazines to know that print media is struggling through declined advertising, and it’s affecting the livelihood of many hard-working journalists. Fulltime staff are commissioning less copy because their budgets have been slashed. Blogs are partly responsible. Unless you’re in sport, business or politics, it’s practically impossible to make a decent living out of freelance journalism if you’re avoiding PR and advertorial - the standard payment has been R2 per word since 2000, when I returned from working in magazines overseas. If you’re lucky that pays a phonebill or two.

For me it’s well beyond worrying about a free media lunch or two, and who you’re going to have to sit next to. Print and internet bosses are all trying to figure out how to connect with social media and be relevant. Similarly, in the areas I write primarily about - restaurants and wineries - I’m hearing this winter that it’s even harder to stay afloat, fill tables or encourage splurge wine sales. Meanwhile more strikes from those with jobs. Anybody have any solutions?

FOODSTUFF: afternoon scones at Winchester Mansions

dsc_0006.jpg I should label this: inexpensive Cape Town things that are good for your soul and wallet too. Those experiences are rare in a city where many of us are struggling with rising costs so I’m sharing my recent discovery.

If you’re looking for a feel-good spot for afternoon tea with a sea-facing promenade views, the Harveys bar area at Winchester Mansions on Sea Point’s Beach Road is hard to beat.

The plus points: sunny views of Sea Point promenade from outdoor terrace tables, or in chillier weather, through glass doors from barstools or lounge couches. Freshly baked scones that you sniff before you see, served with butter, jam, cream and grated cheddar. It’s a steal at R24 for a two-scone portion. Lavazza coffee or teas are offered as hot beverages.

The downside: this popular four-star hotel lounge doesn’t have a lot of seating and you can’t reserve a table. dsc_0002.jpg We’ve taken a toddler successfully, but this is where adults unwind so it’s not an ideal option if a noisy, energetic brood is in tow.

SAVOURY TIP: If you stick around long enough, the Harvey’s white or red carafe tastes just fine for a late afternoon sundowner, priced at R28. Partner it with the pizza of Alsace, Flammkuchen, a topping of bacon, onion and seasoned sour cream on an ultra-thin rectangular base. Ideal for two to snack on if you don’t fancy the complimentary bar nuts.

Sometimes it’s really good to be in Cape Town.

WINCHESTER MANSIONS, 221 Beach Road, Sea Point. Tel 021 434 2351, Winchester. Scones served daily.

FOODSTUFF: Wine rocks at The Test Kitchen

dsc_0009.jpg Inspired… but culinary stamina required. That was my impression after attending a brilliant eight-course lunch - plus extra dishes - at The Test Kitchen today, with Eben and Adi adding their bit. Paying diners are sampling their way through similar courses this evening.

June 15th marks the launch of six weeks of a Cape first ‘The Fantastic Eben, Adi and Luke show’ menu. The collective creative efforts of Swartland rock star winemakers Eben Sadie, Adi Badenhorst, and chef Luke Dale Roberts, this kicks off The Test Kitchen’s plan to showcase new menus alongside cutting edge wines and microbreweries. dsc_0005.jpg

Some standout matches I enjoyed:

Tomato and miso cream cheese mousse, which sounds simpler than the perfect red dehydrated and miniature Roma tomato combo with puff pastry shards and dots of aubergine mousse that we ate. It was all about harmony, sweet and acidity notes with the Shiraz/Grenache/Mourvedre blend of Sadie’s Sequillo Cellars Red. dsc_0009.jpg

Lovely Japanese-leaning complex combination of salty/sour/bitter flavours in yellowtail sashimi, soft yuzu dashi jelly, chickpeas, edemame, green tea and soy milk yuba. Sadie Family Palladius white 2008, a blend of numerous Swartland varieties taken from “the oldest vineyards I could find in the Swartland” according to Sadie. Neither wine nor dish overshadowed the other which is saying something. dsc_0013.jpg

The AA Badenhorst ‘Accepted white’ 2009, a blend of 10 different Paardeberg vineyards and 10 different varietals. From Luke: salmon tataki, halva, yuzu dressing, foie gras butter, Korean tartare. Simple salty and sweet elements bravely combined. As Adi summed it up best: “When you have food as complex as this, there are so many more meeting points.”

If these dishes entice, a menu of 11 to 13 courses including Eben and Adi’s wines (most pricy and some quite rare) costs R850 per person. Available for dinner only over the next six weeks.

THE TEST KITCHEN, Shop 104a, The Old Biscuit Mill, 375 Albert Road, Woodstock. Tel 021 447 2337, Test Kitchen Open for lunch and dinner Tues to Sat.

FOODSTUFF: Buffalo bull, brains and The Roundhouse’s chef Eric

The tasting menu began with Buffalo brain lollipop, continued with buffalo tartar and roasted bone marrow mixed by hand with quail egg yolk, and later featured buffalo tongue and cheek… Certainly not an average Cape Town dinner out. But then an invitation to a chef’s table at The Roundhouse means culinary experimentation is to be expected. Chef Eric Bullpitt (formerly at Jardine) recently joined the kitchen team, and menu collaborations combine the culinary ideas of both Eric and fellow chef PJ Vadas. Vadas – San Pellegrino’s South African Young Chef of the Year Cooking Cup candidate for the 2011 competition in Italy - has moved into an exec chef/GM role. And it’s Eric you’ll find creating and testing at The Roundhouse on a daily basis.

dsc_0003.jpg This special chef’s table showcased the efforts of Wellington buffalo farmer Wayne Rademayer of Buffalo Ridge mozzarella. Wayne had a buffalo going begging. And good chefs love the challenge of fiddling with bits and pieces - they’re anorakish like that.

Wayne and PJ joined the dinner table. Would you believe that Wayne started his buffalo cheese production by flying over 21 cows and 3 bulls on Qantas flights originating in Victoria, Australia!

Of 12 courses served, nine featured buffalo in some shape or form. We tried white, waxy buffalo butter mixed with Maldon salt, delicious. Cows also produced milk for cheese and yoghurt, while bull meat provided the rest. Buffalo brain was an oval poached, crumbed and fried, served with Belgian beer (If the thought of brains makes you squirm, the texture is creamy/mushy in a rich way so a crunchy contrast is a huge plus). I loved a buffalo tartar and roasted bone marrow combo – the raw diced meat was intense ruby red, hand-mixed with quail egg yolk and cooked, diced bone marrow, served on the clean bone. Eric’s “vegetable patch” of pampered miniature veggies featured the creamy mozzarella sold to the public.

Other FlavourCape highlights? The unusual flavour trio of farmed cob served on velvety soft bulltail and creamed cauwliflower, with a beef tea consommé tasting of stock and unusual wormwood leaf, wild rosemary and thyme herbs. Buffalo shortribs with watercress had a beautiful jus sheen with liquorice notes. For fun, buffalo liver in caul fat ‘skilpaadjie’ with potato and a miniature charred ‘roosterbrood’. “Our take on the South African braai,” declared PJ. This meat-and-rugby-fan is curing buffalo biltong.

A soufflé was impressive but my favourite dessert was panna cotta made with thick full-cream buffalo milk yoghurt, hitting the spot for just the right amount of creamy texture to its sweet-sour kumquat marmalade topping. Truly an inspired and inspiring meal. Eric claims to be an introvert who would rather let his food do the talking. With food of this quality and skill, I say let him continue.

THE ROUNDHOUSE, Stans Holt, Kloof Road en route to Camps Bay. Tel 021 438 4347, Roundhouse This meal wasn’t open to the public but The Roundhouse plans to occasionally showcase supplier’s ingredients, in line with their philosophy of supporting small local farmers and artisan producers.

Dinner a la carte: R420pp for four courses with options or R640pp for four courses including sommelier-selected wine pairings.

May to 30 September 2011: Winter special Dinner: R240pp for seven courses or R460pp incl wine. Winter special Lunch: R180pp to select three courses from the dinner menu.

FOODSTUFF: delicious dim sum makes my Monday…


Friends keep urging us to join for dinner at their Chinese local in Sea Point. It’s cheap, good and there’s no wine list so they take their own wine and glasses. For one or other reason we haven’t managed it yet.

Then today I read on Rossouw’s Restaurants Cape Town (Rossouw’s Restaurants) about inexpensive Chinese fare including dim sum at Hesheng. Jackpot, this is the place. But why hadn’t our friends mentioned dim sum specifically? dsc_0011.jpg

Within an hour my husband had returned with two versions of freshly made encased Chinese tasters: plain pork. And - my favourite - pork and spring onion dim sum. We pulled out soy sauce and Chinese rice wine vinegar to dunk them in. Delicious! Takes me back to happy Hong Kong weekend brunch dim sum memories in an instant, minus the long queues. As a first-timer our Xhosa nanny Portia couldn’t negotiate the chopsticks we proffered but declared “that Chinese stuff” rather tasty.

R40 for 12 pieces. Hmm, how to make my Monday!

Nice extra: The owners kindly offered their umbrella so a car dash was possible.

HESHENG 70 Main Road, Sea Point. Tel 021 434 4214 (minimal English spoken so phone conversations are tricky).

FOODSTUFF: chef news

Sad changes affecting two eating spots I like:

Pastry chef Vanessa Quellec has left Caffe Milano in Kloof Street. The standard of pastry remains high for the moment as she’s still training staff at this Italian-style bakery on a consultant basis. Exciting news for Vanessa: she’s off in early July to spend time training at the Willi Wonker Chocolate Factory of modern-day chocolate: Valrhona chocolate’s HQ in the Rhone Valley, plus a pastry stint in Paris. The good news for South Africa is that Vanessa will be returning to Cape Town to continue her sweet legacy.

Chef Pete Goffe-Wood closed his bistro restaurant Wild Woods. We enjoyed plenty of happy meals eating hearty fare at affordable mark-ups. Unfortunately Hout Bay’s location made it too far a trip for Capetonians on a regular basis, and Pete didn’t get enough support from the locals to sustain it over the long run. Pete hopes to open again in a busier location when the time is right.

FOODSTUFF: fave Cape winter specials list 2011


dsc_0014.jpg A friend asked for my annual list of winter specials so I’ve rounded up a few delicious meals from venues with proven track records that I know to be good. As a rule I find better value by opting for smarter restaurant tables – those places you would like to eat at but can’t justify the expense ordinarily.
Please post feedback about your meal experiences or recommend other good winter specials not listed here…

Constantia Uitsig Restaurant, Constantia Uitsig wine farm, Constantia. Tel 021 794 4480 (closed during July). Lunch: two courses at R190 (no wine), three courses at R220 (no wine). Dinner: three courses at R250 (no wine).

HQ, Heritage Square, Cape Town CBD. Tel 021 424 6373. Not specifically a winter special but stylish steakhouses are worth knowing about and HQ’s 2 for 1 Mondays is luring crowds during winter months. On Monday nights pay ‘Two for One’ for HQ’s signature salad, 250g aged Namibian sirloin and chips at dinner. Spend: R155 for two. Wash it down with ‘Two for One’ cocktails (only pay for one cocktail) from the selected menu. Or at lunch on Mon to Sat, order 125g sirloin, salad and chips. Spend: R99pp.

Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine. Jordan wine farm outside Stellenbosch. Tel 021 881 3612. Family-friendly. Spend: a surprise chef’s taster plus three courses of the day at R225pp, including two glasses of quality Jordan white or red wines. See Winter special lunch at Jordan.

La Colombe, Constantia Uitsig wine farm, Constantia. Tel 021 794 2390 (closed during June). Lunch: three courses with a wine carafe at R280pp. Dinner: five-course tasting menu with five wine pairings at R390pp.

La Mouette, Regent Road, Sea Point. Tel 021 433 0856. ‘2 for 1 Winter Special SALE: buy one six-course Tasting Menu and get one free.’ Spend: R240 for two people. Additional wine pairing at R180pp. The June menu features duck liver parfait on toast, white bean soup with a smoked tomato twist, and braised beef shortrib with polenta. dsc_0020.jpg

Planet Restaurant, Mount Nelson Hotel, Cape Town CBD. Tel 021 483 1000. Spend: R220pp for four courses, or R300pp for six courses (meat or complete vegan menu) of their Journey Menu. Feel elegantly cosy surrounded by flickering stars and orbiting planets inside the Nellie’s revamped formal restaurant. Exec chef Rudi Liebenberg’s Journey Menu includes dishes such as salmon trout compilation; rooibos-cured ostrich fillet with lentil salad, labneh and sweet and sour pickled beetroot; creamed celeriac soup with herbed cheese and garlic croutons; roasted kingklip with curried onion sauce, tomato salad and coriander potato croquette; and so on… For the finale, a dessert titled ‘Hey Apple’. Coffee and friandises are included.

Terroir at Kleine Zalze restaurant, Stellenbosch. Tel 021 880 8167. Family-friendly. Spend: two courses at R170pp; three courses at R195pp from the Green Season menu. One glass of Kleine Zalze Cellar Selection wine is included. Lunch or dinner. Starters include Michael Broughton’s delicious gnocchi or squid with tomato jam and rouille. Mains: beef fillet with béarnaise and mushrooms, or wild mushroom risotto with asparagus and porcini foam. Tip: A three-course meal from their regular a la carte menu will set you back over R300, so the winter deal seems sweet.

The Foodbarn in Noordhoek. Tel 021 789 1390. Extremely family-friendly. Spend: three courses at R165pp, four courses at R185pp, five courses at R215pp – each course includes a taster of Steenberg wines. Lunch or dinner excluding Sun. Franck Dangereaux’s sample course: A pork and cinnamon springroll on mash with rocket and garlic jus. Or lemon panna cotta with thyme meringue and berry sauce. See The Foodbarn winter special review

*The Greenhouse at Cellars-Hohenhort, Brommerslvlei Road, Constantia. Tel 021 794 2137. Peter Tempelhoff’s Winter Surprise Special menu paired with Klein Constantia wines. Dinner only (closed during July) Spend: R240pp for five courses (no wines) or R295pp for five courses including wines. Quote ‘Winter Surprise Special’ when making a reservation.

The Roundhouse, Stans Holt, Camps Bay. Tel 021 4384347. Chefs Eric Bulpitt (ex Jardine) and PJ Vadas are collaborating in the kitchen. Lunch spend: R180pp. Order The Express Menu ie any three courses from the Winter Special Dinner menu. Dinner spend: seven courses at R240pp (no wine) or R260pp (wine tasters included) of the Winter Special Menu. Dishes could include Karan beef tartare with oyster mayonnaise, bone marrow and beer gel, or celeriac roasted in goats butter, onion and juniper purée, cider-fermented apple and hazelnut milk. To finish, lemon soufflé with cheesecake icecream.

FOODSTUFF: Winter special lunch at Jordan

dsc_0009.jpg Short of time and looking for one winter special meal out that ticks all the boxes? I highly recommend George Jardine’s daily-changing winter menu - tried it last weekend. I certainly go for the magnificent panoramic view and relaxed vibe, but Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine tops my list for exquisite food that sounds straightforward yet simply and understatedly knocks the senses into submission. The day’s menu could feature barrel-smoked tuna, followed by saucy braised veal frikadelle with roasted Jerusalem artichokes and Stellenbosch Ceps, to homemade ice cream or baked malva-style puddings.

dsc_0009.jpg Meal highlights on the day: 1. Hot-smoked Franschhoek trout with dots of charred aubergine puree, and sago – served as tangy sago vinaigrette and then as crunchy sago chips similar to fried Indonesian prawn crackers. 2. Utterly delicious Valrhona chocolate hot pot with homemade vanilla icecream. A spongy mass with bittersweet French chocolate oozing from the centre.
To drink: Jordan barrel-fermented Chardonnay 2009 – delicious with the trout starter - and Jordan Prospector’s Syrah 2008 with rich braised veal frikadelle. It was even fine to take along our little guy.

See Cape Winter Specials list 20110.

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.
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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.

FOODSTUFF: renovating and moving chaos

Noticed the lack of posts lately? Patience please. dsc_0006.jpg

We’ve been renovating our new house since March. Most chaotic, stressful six weeks we’ve experienced. Relationships are strained, shiny new bathroom items were stolen by a labourer to fund his tik habit, disgruntled painters walked off site, lovely old walls as pliable as paper crumbled on an almost daily basis…

dsc_0041.jpg With all the delays we also had to pack our flat into two completed rooms and move into a temporary rented home. But the end is finally in sight.

Needless to say, eating, drinking wine and writing has not been happening.

Our decent wines were packed into storage by mistake, and our mealtime focus is nutritional survival before we succumb to the exhaustion of the day.

FOODSTUFF: Elim lunch at Black Oystercatcher

dsc_0005.jpg When next travelling the dusty roads to Elim, be sure to squeeze in a lunch stop at Black Oystercatcher. The southern Cape isn’t known for good restaurant eating but this spot is worth a 40-minute dirt drive. No surprise then that it’s a lunch destination for urbanites hanging out in Struisbaai, Arniston and Pearly Beach.

I joined an early January group eating a holiday lunch under the outdoor marquee, and we had a tasty time tucking into homemade hamburgers with potato wedges and onion marmelade, as well as grilled yellowtail with salad. This fish was fresh! Dirkie caught it on a Struisbaai fishing expedition with Springfield’s Abrie Bruwer the previous day. Also impressive, the Asian tones of a chilli and coconut milk-infused prawn and chicken noodle dish served with Indonesian shrimp chips. Expect to pay around R80 to R95 per dish.

Dirkie Human is a genuinely nice, salt of the earth type who takes on the multiple roles of winemaker, owner and restaurateur. His family have farmed in the area for generations but vines were only planted in 1998. Family involvement is still evident - his young daughter did a fine job serving our food.

As a wine ward Elim is relatively new. The term ‘extreme farming’ comes to mind, with conditions include blustery maritime winds. We experienced some of those. How refreshing that quality drinking is a major component of dining here. dsc_0008.jpg

Human’s delicious whites include a chalky Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (R64), or the elegant, partly wooded Sauvignon/Semillon blend called Black Pearl 2007 (R71) with just the right balance of oily mouthfeel to racy acidity. Both are delicious with food. I was amazed to find these bottle-aged whites on a restaurant menu but Human explained that his wines show better with age. He is correct of course – drinking now they are a delight. Delightful prices too, with cellar door and restaurant wines at the same price tag.

Flavour rating: Creatively tasty and freshly prepared.

BLACK OYSTERCATCHER , Black Oystercatcher winery, 7km outside Elim. Tel 028 482-1618, Oystercatcher Open for lunch.

2010 flavourCape high points

It’s been an extremely busy year and my blog has suffered for it, sometimes because I’ve done more eating than I’ve had time to document. One thing is for sure: 2010 has seen less money to splurge, yet flavour has still been paramount.

Some of my high points:

dsc_0019.jpg If you want to eat out in a cosy space without blowing your budget on food or wines, La Boheme in Sea Point delivers the goods time and again. At only R95 for two courses and R115 for three, lunch or dinner is affordable and great to swap and share. Even with those friends who sink too many bottles and then suggest everybody splits the bill. Wines represent very good value for a wine bar. A la carte options are sometimes more interesting than what appears on the set menu board, but it’s a minor drawback. Tel 021 434 8797. La Boheme

Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine is high up the list of Eat Out’s top 10 for 2011, so it’s better to avoid the restaurant during high season if you expect appropriate attention. A stolen lazy lunch for four in the slower season reminded me about why I adore George Jardine’s cooking. Like the man, the food is understated and free of culinary bullshit. Yet it rarely fails to deliver a flavour and textural surprise. Jardine’s cooking base is classic but he incorporates modern country touches. Everything on a plate is a necessary flavour component while the execution shows off his maturity and experience. Tel 021 881 3612 Jardine

dsc_0004.jpg For a simple lunch out incorporating an elegant piece of history, Casa Labia Cafe in Muizenberg is hard to beat. Judy Badenhorst’s cleverly inventive cooking is a delight, and owner Antonia Labia has restored life to her grandfather’s original Italian décor in the building with absolutely magnificent results. Once you’ve had your meal in the café, take a stroll through the adjoining rooms created in the 1930s to replicate those in Venice. This is the sort of place you’ll want to wear a nice dress and take your aunties, a group of girlfriends, or enjoy a surprise romantic lunch with your loved one. Prices are nicely in the café restaurant category. Drawbacks are lack of parking along the beachfront road and a tiny wine list. Tel 021 788 6062. Labia Cafe

I’ve only eaten there a couple of times, and plans to return for an inexpensive lunch with an enthusiastic friend were scuppered twice. Never mind, chef Luke Dale Roberts says he’s swamped with upcountry visitors booking out The Test Kitchen, keen to try the flavour of the month. luke_dale-roberts-_image_by_michael_le_grange.jpg He would appreciate the business more in about March 2011… I like his new industrial Old Biscuit Mill space as it reflects his creativity and new freedom with food. From a counter seat one lunchtime chatting and eating for a magazine article profile, I saw how much fun the kitchen is having. The former La Colombe chef is talented in subtle east-meets-west fusions that incorporate delicate elements such as trout and lime with miso. Dinner is three, five or eight courses. Or a la carte elements of those menus ordered at the kitchen bar counter, which I support – you have to be in the mood for a drawn-out set menu. Tel 021 447 2337 Test Kitchen

I’m off on holiday tomorrow where I plan to stay out of restaurants and sit around braais and friends’ beachside tables instead. But on my return I look forward to trying Vanessa Quellec’s new Italian Caffe Milano and pasticceria, opening this month. I loved her pastries, puddings and cakes at The Roundhouse, so can’t wait to taste her new Italian-themed café and bakery venture with Giorgio Nava. This talented American pastry chef was sent to an old-school Italian baker in Lombardia to aquire extra skills. The Upper Kloof street pasticceria’s counters will emit tempting aromas from Quellec’s modern take on traditional Italian cakes and pastries. She’s promised breads, beautiful fruit tarts, bomboloni cream-filled doughnuts, Italian-style brioche, and specialities such as Margheritine di Stresa biscuits. Tel 021 426 5566.

Feast for the eyes and stomach at Pierneef à La Motte

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It’s the eating venue in the Winelands that has people talking about – and filling tables at - on any day of the week. La Motte wine estate owns an extensive art collection by South African master artist Jacob Hendrik Pierneef, and it inspired their namesake restaurant. Many of Pierneef’s works are depicted on restaurant walls in a dramatic yet tasteful renovation and landscaping exercise.

The resulting fresh contemporary dining space has custom-designed chandeliers as a focal point - dangling porcelain bowl designs were inspired by the eighteenth-century porcelain brought to the Cape by Dutch East India Company ships. Harmonizing ceramic lampshades light the open kitchen area and show off an imported oven with gold knobs – chef Chris Erasmus jokes that it has a similar price tag to a Maserati sports car…

The food reflects similar attention to detail. Erasmus and culinary consultant Hetta van Deventer researched early Cape culinary history in the Cape archives and adapted recipes from European cookbooks popular in the 17th and 18th century. But this isn’t boerekos. Erasmus’ fine dining background produces complex, aesthetically appealing “Cape Winelands cuisine”. dsc_0007.jpg

Worth trying: the hearty king’s bread on a rich, meaty soup topped with a veal knuckle karmenaatjie ball. A meal in itself in chillier weather.
Tasty Cape bokkom salad with thyme-dried tomatoes, dried apricots, quail eggs and wild garlic dressing, a clever play on braaied Cape snoek served with apricot jam and bread.
The fragrant fish curry is summer-friendly with fish and seafood that is pleasantly light in a saffron-and-stock broth yet big on seafood flavour. It’s modelled on an early Cape recipe. dsc_0001.jpg More adventurous eaters would appreciate historical preserved meat influences in lacquered smoked and pickled lamb’s rib (soutribbetjie), with pickled tongue and dried pear dumplings, verjuice-poached pear and crispy lamb’s liver biltong.
Desserts mostly follow a more conventional format, and include the likes of apple tart with melktert ice-cream.

Pricing: At La Motte, Starters average at R50, mains between R90 and R110, desserts average at R65. La Motte wine recommendations accompany every dish.

FlavourTip: A chalkboard of the day also showcases “easier” food more suited to families or lighter daytime eating. Kids make a beeline for the water feature outside the glassed-in dining terrace. dsc_0014.jpg

PIERNEEF À LA MOTTE, R45, Main Road, Franschhoek. Tel 021 876 8800, Pierneef Open for breakfast Sat and Sun, lunch Tues to Sun, dinner Thurs, Fri and Sat.

FOODSTUFF: Is a take-away chicken worth R68?

dsc_0004.jpg I’ve driven past a few times and heard good things from foodie friends. The pricing always scared me off. But yesterday a daytime swim and a sneaked coffee at Jardine Bakery – the deal was we’d only stay if they had the sublime dark chocolate brownie dotted with white chocolate – meant there was no time remaining for a supper shop.

Rotisserie 360 has a hatch across the road from Jardine on Bree. And the rotating chickens look and smell so good… But at R68 per 1.5kg chicken, I expect a lot from a bird. Don’t you? A half chicken sells at R38. Other items available include salads. I hated the coleslaw dished up at every family braai in the 80s, but I noticed some coleslaw here - it’s rather appealing now in a retro kind of way. At home we knocked together couscous and roasted vegetable segments and had a delicious supper.

But was the chicken worth it? Here is what the menu brochure claims: farm-fresh free-range chickens are marinated overnight in a choice of lemon and thyme or chilli, lemon or thyme. We weren’t given a choice but I think we ate the chilli and thyme version.

The rotisserie white meat was moist with flavoursome crispy skin tasting mildly chilli-ish. Fresh thyme formed a pleasant dominant flavour. The chicken was bigger than those sold by Woolworths, but then Woolies butter-basted versions sell for around R45. Admittedly, the Woolies white meat often tastes dried out. Rotisserie 360 chicken tastes homemade and beats Woolworths in flavour. It makes a convenient option if your budget is unlimited. But it isn’t so good that I’d give up ever roasting my own.

FlavourTip: Rotisserie 360 offers a picnic service for around R70 per head, consisting of chicken, homemade mayo, salad, baguettes and brownies. Booking 24 hours in advance recommended.

ROTISSERIE 360, Bree Street, Cape Town. Open Mon to Fri from 8am to 6pm. Tel 084 314 1357, Rotisserie 360

FOODSTUFF: Sophia’s restaurant open at Morgenster

dsc_0002.jpg Italian winery owner Guilio Bertrand was inspired by the actress of his homeland in naming restaurant Sophia’s at Morgenster, which opens in November. I had a sneak preview yesterday and found it to be a relaxing, tranquil lunch option if you’re in the vicinity of Somerset West. White linen tables and wooden beams set the tone inside, with modern white square tables and Italian red chairs offering terrace views of olive groves and vineyards.

Craig Cormack and Bertus Basson of All Things Culinary are behind the edible side of the project. Basson remains hands-on at Overture Restaurant, so Sophia’s is where Cormack’s cooking shines.

The restaurant has an old country feel with modern touches, and Cormack’s food functions along similar lines. Tasty dishes without pretence, using produce including lemons, loquats and herbs raided from the estate’s trees and herb garden. Where Overture is cheffy food, these are honest plates with a master hand directing them. In other words, good to look at, with no foams or tiny portions in evidence. It goes without saying that tasting menus won’t be a standard feature.

I enjoyed a Med dish made for summer, featuring a beautiful terrine: a rectangle of peeled tomato segments with an aubergine samoosa and a Middle Eastern spicy raisin relish on a smear of humus. Why has it taken so long for a chef to concoct this delightful warm aubergine and fried pastry combination? The recommended wine on the menu: Morgenster Italian Collection Caruso 2010, a refreshing, dry Rosé. Slow-braised lamb loin with mash and baby carrots was meltingly tender and delicious, especially with its recommended wine, the classy Morgenster 2006. It’s a wine made for food, but so complete in a glass that you’ll happily sip it solo too. dsc_0006.jpg And I loved Cormack’s modern take on strawberry mousse with light, creamy strawberry ice-cream and seasonal berries.

The menu could also feature Italian pasta or classics such as beef Wellington, sole with a traditional sauce or avo Ritz made with sauce Chouron (tomato bearnaise) and gremolata prawns with a Cormack twist. An uncomplicated local wine list has Morgenster labels dominating. j_0038.jpg

Pricing: Pay R155 for two courses or R220 for three.

FlavourTip: Experience Cormack’s innovative Morgenster wine and salt tasting with selected salted foods in the winery tasting room.

SOPHIA’S AT MORGENSTER, Morgenster Estate, Somerset West. Tel 021 852 1738, Sophia’s at Morgenster

FOODSTUFF: Re-opened Mario’s now serving pizza

Capetonians sighed in disbelief when Mario’s Italian restaurant had a disastrous fire and had to close, two soccer matches into the Fifa World Cup. Their prime location within metres of the Green Point stadium entrance gates was supposed to boost their winter profits during eight matches. dsc_0019.jpg

Italian temperament, dated decor and a sense of little changing used to be what lured repeat customers to one of Cape Town’s oldest restaurants. A characteristic aspect of ristorante Mario’s in Green Point was that walls and ceiling told of affectionate food memories. ‘Patti and Norman were here. 24-2-82,’ said a white diamond on the ceiling. ‘Je taime, Elsa and Johan. 29-4-1978,’ was scribbled on another. ‘Kosher food was never like this!!!’ was exuberantly signed, ‘The Rabi. Connoisseur extraordinaire. 3rd Dec 1975.’

Pina Marzagalli’s late husband Mario opened in Green Point in 1975 when their daughter Maralena was only two days old. Pina came in one day to help out. And thirty-five years later, she can be found in the kitchen on most days. Daughter Maralena has taken over the fresh pasta and desserts; son Marco handles much of the rest. The food includes classics such as ravioli in sage and butter, marrow bones on toast, and slow-roasted oxtail. Dependable, old-style dishes that aren’t always perfect. Regulars don’t seem to mind. Offal is a speciality – favourites include kidneys slow-roasted in their own fat, sweetbreads and brains. Homemade semi-freddo ice-cream with almonds and a generous splash of Amaretto is a signature dessert.

Mario’s service is family-run and functional with no attempt at gloss. Some customers routinely bring their own wines. The restaurant re-opened during the first week of September. What’s new? Only one original scribbled pillar survived the fire, now keeping company with dated maroon patent leather chairs and white tablecloths. Stylish light fittings, a fresh lick of cream paint and a brick pizza oven ring in the changes. It took some persuading to get Pina to agree to offer pizza, but she’s already seen the difference in the bottom line one week after re-opening. dsc_0012.jpg

The pizzas are good. A smear of tomato sauce, the right amount of mozzarella cheese and a scattering of toppings on a thin, crispy base. Pizzas start with garlic and herb-laced foccacia (R28). A Margherita (R45) has fior de latte cheese on request at an additional R10. Traditional toppings include ham-and-mushroom Regina, olive-and anchovies Napoletana or ham-olives-artichokes-and-mushroom Quattro stagioni, ranging between R50 and R72. The Prosciutto pizza we tried (R72) ticked all the boxes with its crispy base, pleasant ratio of tomato sauce to cheese, quality thin Parma ham slices and fresh rocket leaves.

“It’s the home away from home,” Maralena told me a while back when I asked for the secret to Mario’s longevity over the decades. “Young Italian boys return every night for weeks because she’s just like their mothers… if she’s in a bad mood, she takes it out on everyone.”

MARIO’S ITALIAN RESTAURANT 89 Main Road, Green Point. Open Mon to Sat. Tel 021 439 6644.

FOODSTUFF: restaurateurs versus diners

I recently researched restaurateur’s gripes about customers on issues such as BYO policies and customer no-shows for WINE magazine.

I included the views of Pete Goffe-Wood and others.
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It’s created quite a stir from the South African dining public online.
Check it out at (Diners from Hell).

FOODSTUFF: Baking soon: Vanessa Quellec

Cape Town’s foodie options are looking up. Reuben Riffel will be opening a 170-seater Reuben’s at the One&Only in October (he initially said no but Sol made an offer he couldn’t refuse) modelled on the food of his Franschhoek bistro. It doesn’t sound like an easy ride - the demands of breakfast, lunch and dinner means 28 chefs will be employed.

dsc_0027.jpg Another exciting development is that pastry chef Vanessa Quellec will open a bakery with restaurateur Giorgio Nava (of 95 Keerom and Carne) in Kloof Street in November 2010. She’s spent time in Italy recently learning about Italian pastries, gelato and chocolates, and will be reproducing some of her favourites for Capetonian customers.

I’m already salivating. At only 29, Vanessa is one of the most talented pastry chefs I’ve come across. She loves dreaming up creative sweet stuff and has an impressive CV that includes working in pastry in New York at Le Cirque restaurant, picking up tips from Frenchman François Payard at Payard Patisserie, and later spending time at Gordon Ramsay New York.

Vanessa’s all-butter brioche can produce tears of joy in those who eat it. Her prune and Armagnac soufflé will make new converts, and her chocolate skills more than satisfy. I remember a dinner at Vanessa’s previous Cape employer The Roundhouse. Dessert was an unforgettable triumph of bittersweet chocolate creations on one plate, combining 49%, 64% and 72% imported Felchlin chocolate in a chewy chocolate dacquoise square with chocolate and coconut praline and caramel under a glossy tempered dark chocolate square. A chocolate fondant tart in chocolate pastry oozed decadently while perfect ice-cream rounds resembling river pebbles offered intense dark chocolate, and a lighter, unusually pungent pink peppercorn version.

FOODSTUFF: Introducing Daniel Thomas

There’s been a bit of a lull in my blog activity but I’ve had a good reason. A four-day-early baby arrival isn’t something that can be planned, and the ensuing chaos that follows makes it hard to find 30 quality minutes or two free typing hands to get stuck into a keyboard. dsc_0011.jpg

Allow me to digress from restaurants and chefs and to introduce a very special somebody. Daniel Thomas entered the world on Sunday August 8th weighing 3.45kg with a hearty set of lungs. Neither of his parents had changed a nappy before, and were of the opinion that tiny babies were scarily fragile items to handle. We’ve been delighted to learn that nappy-changing isn’t enjoyed by babies either, that little people are fairly robust when their arms are crammed into sleeves, and that certain facial expressions make adult hearts wobble with love. We’re really enjoying the learning curve.

A decision was taken not to find out the sex, but our instincts led us to believe our baby was female. (Parents at birth: “He’s a boy. Oh? But he was meant to be a girl. I know!”) During pregnancy he was commonly referred to as Nugget. The nickname has stuck, frequently shortened to the Nug Bug. For a person whose head is smaller than an adult hand, it seems appropriate. dsc_0070.jpg

Now the food connection…

He was born on a Sunday evening during a long weekend. Twenty lengths at the indoor pool were followed by Sunday brunch at Voila in De Waterkant. Eggs Benedict with a celebratory glass of Graham Beck Rosé in anticipation of the week of his birth. OK, one-third of a glass to keep the disapproving stares at bay…

After a late afternoon movie at V&A Waterfront (note the trend: soon-to-be-parents cramming in multiple leisure activities) we nipped into Pick n Pay to buy ingredients for three weekday dinners: chicken curry, spaghetti Bolognaise and pre-made spinach and ricotta panzarotti (it only needed a tomato sauce to be whipped up). Food was on my mind as we left the supermarket and my waters broke. A hasty hospital trip and by 11pm Daniel was born.

The Nug Bug’s early food preferences? dsc_0030.jpg He has a healthy appetite for breast milk and like his mother, enjoys snacking. So far I’ve eaten mild stews, pizza, Asian dishes livened by chilli, homemade muesli, chocolate, cooked vegetables and plenty of fruit salad without noticeable side effects.

We’ll try not to turn him into a food snob and just let him get on with it. I remember a magazine shoot with a celebrated Stellenbosch chef and his family a few years back, hearing how his toddler had a fascination with bitter black olives and truffle oil over freshly rolled pasta. There is plenty of time for Daniel to develop a gourmet palate if he chooses, preferably on his own account! For the most part he’ll be raised on fresh ingredients, but if Daniel’s curiosity extends to factory-processed McD’s he’ll be welcome to sample the odd Happy Meal too. Kids should be kids and have fun. Provided he’s similarly open-minded about trying spinach, liver and brussels sprouts…

FOODSTUFF: Richard Carstens finds a culinary home at Tokara

I’ve heard whispers, but as of Friday 30 July the news is official: chef Richard Carstens will run the kitchen of Tokara restaurant at the crest of the Helshoogte Pass, when it reopens in October. Current chef Etienne Bonthuis is retreating into Stellenbosch to start his own Dorp Street venture.

Tokara restaurant will be managed by Wilhelm Kühn, co-owner of Jardine Restaurant in Cape Town (the Bree Street restaurant is dispatching a team to provide hands-on operations).

Carstens made his name at Lynton Hall south of Durban, and was excited to set up a signature restaurant called Nova in Cape Town CBD. Unfortunately investors pulled the plug. Earlier in 2010, Carstens was involved in experimental recipe development at Roots at Homini restaurant outside Johannesburg. He’s been consulting to Chez d’Or in Franschhoek’s Huguenot Street on a temporary basis.

At Tokara Carstens promises “not too much molecular focus” as the restaurant will serve “terroir-focused contemporary cuisine” in an a la carte menu where each plate of food offers the diner a sense of the natural environment and location, while mindful of seasonal ingredients. The tasting menu will be for “more playful stuff”.

Although décor in the glass and steel space shouldn’t change dramatically, a new feature will include a bar in the foyer offering drinks with views of vineyards and valley, or of kitchen action alternatively.

The restaurant will serve lunch from Tuesday to Sunday, dinner from Tuesday to Saturday.

FOODSTUFF: Ryan’s Kitchen in Franschhoek

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Franschhoek’s Huguenot Street eating has another option since Ryan’s Kitchen opened at Rusthof Country House. Chef Ryan Smith and Russian wife Svetlana serve lunch and dinner in the small dining space, and summer should see lunches and even tea and scones on the lovely lawns.

A small open kitchen and limited tables means diners are within chatting range of the chef, making the dining experience intimate. Smith boasts an impressive resume of big-name hotel stints. I found the style too contrived when he was responsible for menus at Mange Tout fine dining restaurant at Mont Rochelle Hotel, but at Ryan’s Kitchen his delight in preparing food on a small scale shows on the plate. Dinner starters and desserts I tried were particularly creative, which might explain their price tags (R65 - R75 for most starters; R95 – R115 for mains; R50 to R55 for desserts).

I’ve been told lunch options are a little simpler; my only experience is of dinner. Smith’s innovative style is visual yet playfully tasty – ingredients receive a contemporary make over and nostalgic South African foods are incorporated at times. But don’t make the mistake of expecting traditional country interpretations. Dishes such as ostrich bobotie have a twist – in fact you often see Smith using his blowtorch for finishing touches. dsc_0046.jpg

A frequently-changing menu always has a vegetarian option, and could feature peri-peri duck liver parfait with winter melon jelly, salted caramel and bitter chocolate spray, or seared smoked trout masala with prawn bell pepper and chorizo emulsion. There’s vacuum-poached fish with smoked potato puree, streaky bacon and winter greens, followed by naartjie panna cotta partnered with citrus salad and oatmeal crunchies, or Milo melktert with clove ice-cream and popping chocolate.

And if you don’t fancy the return drive, the restaurant’s location inside Rusthof Country House could provide a lazy excuse to negotiate a room from owner Ruth McCourt.

Tel 021 876 4598, 12 Huguenot Street, Franschhoek. ryans kitchen

More Mzoli’s magic

The atmosphere was such fun, couldn’t resist posting more pics…
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SA diet: Meat, Bafana and Mzoli’s

dsc_0014.jpg June 22nd was an amazingly proudly South African day. With overseas socceroos in tow from Australia, Mzoli’s Place in Gugs was our logical Cape Town destination to watch Bafana Bafana bow out of the World Cup in style. There are plenty of flatscreens around and the volume is always full blast. Our Bafana boys played incredibly passionate soccer, and the vuvuzela-blowing Guguthlethu contingent we joined were behind them with every cheer and roar.

Arriving early to claim a Mzoli’s table is a good idea - our reservation had disappeared. Like many township eating options, Mzoli’s is a butchery and operates on a seemingly chaotic system. Hundreds of people are fed braaied meat in a day so it somehow works. Weekends are generally packed to capacity.

There are a few principles to remember at Mzoli’s: it’s cash only and drinks are ordered at the bar. Meat orders are placed with competent ladies inside in the butchery, after selecting your type and quantity of steak, pork, lamb chops, sausages and chicken. dsc_0018.jpg Specify if you want barbeque marinade (worth having), the required portions of mielie pap, spicy chakalaka of raw green peppers, onion and chilli – essential condiment – and mielie bread (we thought we paid for delicious-looking giant slices but the bread was finished when we collected our order). If you’re there for sport, hold on to your belongings whenever a goal is attempted because people are packed tight and the room reverberates. Bring tissues for the loo and ignore the lack of soap to wash your hands and you’ll manage just fine.

dsc_0028.jpg Series of wood fires burn constantly in the grill area and the enamel bowls line up with numbered tickets of individual raw meat orders. People return periodically to nag the grillers that their table is still waiting, but patience is required – our order went in early yet we still waited about three hours for our braaied food. There were some tricky balancing moments while carrying food to the table through the seething masses pouring in the other way to watch their team. But the lamb chops and sausages in particular were charred to deliciousness.

Despite the electric performance by Bafana Bafana resulting in the win that just wasn’t enough, there was no thought of heading home when the final whistle blew. South Africa may be out of the World Cup but townships know how to party and put smiles on faces. Women hopped up from their benches to tabletops as the deejay started spinning catchy beats. We put on a proud show – and my sporting visitors loved being part of a uniquely African day.
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Mzoli’s Place Near Ekhaya corner store, Gugulethu, Klipfontein Road M10 exit from N2. Tel 021 638 1355.

Feel the Cape Love Magic at Theatre of Dreams

I was invited to attend the opening night of Richard Griffin’s Theatre of Dreams 2010 Love Magic Tour near Canal Walk last week as the season kicked off. What a buzz! From the minute you enter the colourful eZingalethu shanty town - a 2010 addition - surrounding the vintage mirrored velvet show tent, you start feeling the creative magic. inside_tent_b.jpg Exotic creatures with broad shoulders, fairy wings and wigs wander past sipping from oversized champagne glasses as you’re taking in the Boot-Ishoe stall selling numbered gumboots adjacent to the temporary tattoo parlour. A mojito is thrust into your hand near the front of the theatre queue as you’re focusing on a washline of pink and orange hot pants hanging above a veggie garden of plastic pumpkins.

This is a return to dinner and a show on a big scale, with lovely Cape flavour. When the spotlight shines, singers and performers put on a class act. Nostalgic former Madame Zingara Cape Town restaurant food features and the vibe is creatively contagious. Many of Griffin’s original staff are back – kitchen, creative team and flamboyantly confident or camp waiters. Griffin has moved out of the kitchen into the role of creative director. ivor_pietersen_madam_zingara_opening-8.jpg Talented Valentina Love conceptualises the show.

It’s quite an operation considering that 400 guests are served in a sitting, with 120 staff employed per shift. On site theatre of dreams the dress code is described as ‘bohemian and burlesque’, so any guests bringing their bunny ears or feather boa will feel at home. I didn’t expect great food when I saw the attention to detail of theatre décor and tables (a Barbie doll and fake rose centrepiece anyone?). But the four-course menu was of a high standard. Filling too.

We nibbled on a hot and cold antipasti platter for two, followed by a pasta course (our artichoke ravioli with Cinzano cream sauce being undercooked was a minor glitch). Main course options included something vegetarian or springbok shank or signature Madame Zingara chocolate chilli steak or Norwegian salmon. Appropriately, the steak has been halted in early 2000 with its sweet sauce topped with a nest-like deepfried noodle stack. The fish has a similar timewarp flavour with coconut cream and herb oil drizzles, served on pumpkin mash. The evening finishes off with a tasty trio of desserts.

2010 performance highlights include Ukrainians Igor Kostenko and Argem Lyubanevych, whose muscled limbs hold up under a startlingly impressive strap act. ivor_pietersen_madam_zingara_opening-167.jpg Equally awe-inspiring are the Russian roller disco duo of Kristine and Ivan Prokopyuk, who trained in Moscow State Circus. Kristine’s glittery gold and black body is whipped vertically and horizontally as the couple whirl around a tiny circular stage. Fellow countrywoman Polina Volchek contorts her flexible gymnastic body with multiple hula hoops in positions I didn’t think possible. There is local show content too – a vocal high is South African divas Lilian Khumalo, Marguerita Freeks and Dorothy Engelbrecht of The Original Tons of Fun with their cover versions spanning the decades. “You’re just too good to be true…”

eZingalethu shanty town is an appealing side attraction, accessed as you queue for the main Theatre of Dreams tent (funds raised through the Love Magic Tour will facilitate the construction of a medical and community centre in Khayelitsha). Before the show or during toilet breaks, people congregate in the shebeen with its pickled fish label walls, jiving to jazzy tunes of a township band while sipping beer in quarts. You’re lured past Stella’s Place hair salon and a space with Lucky Star pilchard prints. Around the back, car hubcaps lead the way to a chalkboard offering snacks of pap and chakalakka or bunnies in vetkoek.

In short: this is the sort of show where you grab a group of friends and go. It’s grand, it’s fantastical and it’s fun.

The Theatre of Dreams 2010 Love Magic Tour Cape Town season runs from June until October 2010. Shows from Mon to Sat, dinner and show tickets from R300 to R450pp. Cash bar for drinks. Tel 021 001 3366, bookings The show moves to Joburg from October, Durban in 2011.

Heston dines at 12th best La Colombe

If you’ve ever marvelled at Heston Blumenthal trying to recreate the battered fish and chips of his childhood, or travelling to Italy to research ingredients to make the best pizza around on TV show In Search of Perfection you’ll appreciate his tendency - make that obsession – with recreating the flavour of something exactly as he remembers or perceives it to be proper.

Turns out the celebrated chef was in Cape Town this week and dined at La Colombe on Tuesday May 25th. He met chef Luke Dale-Roberts at the chef pow-wows surrounding The San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants of the World awards. Blumenthal’s restaurant The Fat Duck moved down a spot to third place in 2010. La Colombe jumped 26 places to 12th best in the world.

Notably, La Colombe was the only southern Hemisphere restaurant to feature in the top 20, ahead of Australian restaurants Quay (no. 27) and Tetsuya’s (no. 38) in Sydney. I dined at both in Sydney a few years back, telling examples of where Australian cuisine was pegged (at Quay I marveled at micro-herbs and custom-grown leeks for the first time). La Colombe’s achievement is significant, considering that Australia has always powered ahead of South Africa in terms of menu innovation, general caliber or chefs, and fresh ingredient sourcing – I was impressed when Forty One chef Dietmar Sawyere told me Sydney chefs could land a fish on a diner’s plate within six hours of catching it. In South Africa, not a chance then or now.

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Back to Heston Blumenthal. I interviewed him at his London restaurant on September 11th, 2001 for a South African food magazine. That isn’t a day any of us forget. With breakfast hours before, I was famished after being stuck in a narrow L-shaped kitchen observing and tasting egg and bacon ice cream and other exotic desserts during lunch service. Close to three hours with Blumenthal followed as he explained his food philosophy in his office. I left The Fat Duck hungry but fascinated at the mind of a man who pushes himself zealously and truly wants to self-educate and improve.

Some Blumenthal anecdotes from my notes:
One of his defining food moments was going to a Michelin-starred restaurant at age 15 or 16 while on holiday in France with his family “who weren’t foodies”. They may have been lukewarm about the meal but he was “completely blown away” after experiencing his first soufflé where a hole was made with a spoon and sauce was poured inside. Blumenthal decided then that cooking was the career for him.

At age 17 before making his debut in a kitchen, Blumenthal sold photocopiers and learnt how to run a business by working for a corporate debt collector. He experimented in the kitchen during his spare time. Using books, he taught himself kitchen techniques from classical butchery to sauce making.

He met his wife at 19 and made her “the poor guinea pig” of his culinary experiments. He once woke her at 2am and asked her to test three different chocolate tart mixtures. Similar Blumenthal investigations would explore say, crème brulee. Different puddings made with skim milk, UHT milk, full cream and crème fraiche. Or this creamy dessert created with different sugar types, different quantities of egg, or cooked in a Bain Marie or without. As he put it, he had “a completely obsessive drive, a thirst for knowledge”.

In the early days the young couple went to France on holiday annually. They’d work and save for months in England without going out to afford the trip. Once in France they’d blow it all on wine producers, Michelin-starred restaurants and cookbooks.

Many South Africans are unaware that The Fat Duck may never have happened. In 92 or 93, the Blumenthals bought a house in England. Heston was looking for a restaurant venue and his sister, living in South Africa, pointed out that South Africa would be a cheaper option. He seriously considered buying what is today Mont Rochelle Hotel in Franschhoek. But his growing interest in the scientific side of food meant the distance from London and Europe’s food scientists, and the lack of imported products were major drawbacks. Instead Blumenthal found a restaurant site in Bray outside London.

WINTER WARMERS Cape restaurant specials

Concerned about dining out taking its toll on local pockets, KIM MAXWELL discovered that many of the better Cape restaurants are committed to winter specials during World Cup months and beyond. Scroll down for her winter special list - marked with her FLAVOUR faves.

Something similar appeared in Food & Home Entertaining June 2010 issue.

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Terroir winter special

We’ve heard talk about inflated accommodation and air ticket prices during June and July 2010, but will local restaurants be following suit? Winter in the Cape has traditionally been a time where high season prices settle and locals are lured out of homes.

It only takes one bad experience for foreigners to leave South Africa with a bad taste in the mouth, if shortsighted restaurateurs target quick profits. A casual survey of Cape restaurants a while back revealed that many couldn’t or wouldn’t commit to price specifics. A few venues considered introducing winter specials only from August 2010. On the whole Cape restaurateurs were cogniscent of the value of local year-round customers, but many were hesitant to fix prices until their suppliers pinned down ingredient costs.

Winter set menu prices can be profitable if chefs supplement ingredients from their gardens with supplies from regional farmers, and embrace cheaper cuts such as pork belly, offal, shanks and short ribs for slow braises and bistro-style stews. At Cape Town’s Wembley Square, Thomas Sinn of Sinn’s found his summer 2010 specials so successful that he rolled out winter specials duplicating 2009 prices.

Michael Broughton of Terroir in Stellenbosch believes winter specials drew the crowds in 2009. Offering 2010 specials only after the World Cup months might alienate local customers, so Terroir’s green season specials started early. Three sought-after dining destinations at Constantia Uitsig also haven’t neglected locals. Winter 2010 specials are running at La Colombe, Constantia Uitsig and River Café.

So will some restaurants still rip us off? Probably, but they should be in the minority. “We might see some restaurants serving food at high season prices instead of lowering prices for winter,” reckons restaurateur Reuben Riffel. He doesn’t anticipate a huge influx of diners in smaller towns such as Robertson and Franschhoek compared with previous years. Riffel has introduced winter specials aimed at locals at his two venues, alongside the a la carte menu.

Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine in Stellenbosch is also running a daily winter special alongside their usual two and three-course option. “Hearing ‘winter special’ seems to have a big effect because people talk about them,” said Jardine. “People who wouldn’t ordinarily go out often do when specials are on.”

Neighbourhood venues keep prices decent all year round so specials aren’t required. Pete Goffe-Wood of Wild Woods in Hout Bay is in that camp, saying the current Cape trend to offer a small, regularly changing menu allows restaurateurs to source less pricy ingredients and maintain profit margins. He warned against short-term price increases. “The World Cup is only for a month and upsetting your local clientele by trying to make a fast buck is shortsighted,” said Goffe-Wood. “For us it’s about locals, whatever the season. The lasting legacy for me at the World Cup is if people see that food and booze is affordable, we’ll get them back next year. If they think it’s expensive, our opportunity to win them over is lost.”

Winter warmer specials:

Catharina’s at Steenberg, Constantia. Two-course lunch including glass of wine at R135pp, three-course lunch including glass of wine at R175pp. Three-course dinner including glass of wine at R195pp (May to end Sept). Tel 021 713-2222, www.steenberghotel.com

FLAVOUR FAVE! Constantia Uitsig, Constantia. Three-course lunch including wine carafe at R260pp. Three-course dinner including wine carafe at R290pp (May to end Aug, excl Sun). Tel 021 794 4480, www.constantia-uitsig.com

Cuvée at Simonsig, Stellenbosch. ‘Cuvée goes Cabernet’ two-course lunch or dinner including glass of Cab at R160pp, or three-course lunch or dinner including glass of Cab at R190pp (May to end July). Tel 021 888 4932, www.cuveeatsimonsig.co.za

Dornier Bodega, Stellenbosch. Three-course dinner at R220pp, or R250pp including two glasses of wine. Four-course dinner at R275pp, or R325pp including three glasses of wine (May to end July). Tel 021 880 0557, www.dornier.co.za

Hilda’s Kitchen @ Groote Post, Darling: No specials but mains under R100, kids under R50. Tel 022 492 2825, www.grootepost.co.za

iCi, Franschhoek. Spend R85 on Sunday supper and watch a movie free. Wednesday night roast chicken, glass of wine and movie at R120pp. Tel 021 876 2151, www.lequartier.co.za

FLAVOUR FAVE! Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine, Stellenbosch. Three course lunch at R200pp, Jordan wine pairing on starter and main (May to Aug). Tel 021 881 3612, www.jordanwines.com

FLAVOUR FAVE! La Boheme, Sea Point. Standard throughout year: two courses at R90, three courses at R110pp. Low wine mark-ups. Tel 021 434 8797, http://www.labohemebistro.co.za/

FLAVOUR FAVE! La Colombe, Constantia. Three-course lunch including wine carafe at R280pp.
Five-course dinner with wine pairings at R380pp, only from 7pm to 8.30pm (May to early Aug, excl Sun. End Aug to end Sept). Tel 021 794 2390, www.constantia-uitsig.com

maze by Gordon Ramsay, Cape Town. Standard throughout year: Two-course lunch at R150pp, three course at R200pp (June to September). Tel 021 431 5222.

Mon Plaisir, Franschhoek. Two-course lunch or dinner from ‘Bistrots de France’ menu at R170pp (May to Oct, closed Aug). Tel 021 8762393, www.monplaisir.co.za

Nobu, Cape Town. Bento Box at R195pp at dinner in Nobu Bar (June to September). Tel 021 431 5111.

FLAVOUR FAVE! Overture at Hidden Valley, Stellenbosch. Four courses at R200pp (R250 incl wine). May to end July, Tues to Fri lunch. Tel 021 880 2721, www.dineatoverture.co.za

Reuben’s, Franschhoek and Reuben’s at the Robertson, Robertson. Three courses at R150pp (June and July). Tel 021 876 3772, www.reubens.co.za or Tel 023 626 7200, www.therobertsonsmallhotel.com

River Café, Constantia. Three-course lunch or dinner including carafe at R195pp, four-course lunch or dinner including carafe at R225pp. On Mon to Thurs one child per dining adult eats free (end May to Oct). Tel 021 794 3010, www.constantia-uitsig.com

Sinn’s, Wembley Square. Two courses including glass of wine at R109pp, three courses including glass of wine at R135pp (May to Sept). Tel 021 465 0967, www.sinns.co.za

The Foodbarn, Noordhoek. Three-course lunch or dinner at R205pp (May to end July). Tel 021 789 1390, www.thefoodbarn.co.za

FLAVOUR FAVE! Terroir at Kleine Zalze, Stellenbosch. Two-course lunch or dinner at R165pp, three-course lunch or dinner at R195pp (May to end Sept, excl Sun). Tel 021 880-8167, www.kleinezalze.co.za

FLAVOUR FAVE! Wild Woods, Hout Bay. Standard throughout the year: winter starters and desserts around R40, mains R100pp. Low wine mark-up. Tel 021 791 1166, www.wildwoods.co.za

FOODSTUFF: The loss of a culinary legend in Lannice Snyman

dsc_0035.jpg News of Lannice Snyman’s passing early this morning left a lump in my throat. We’d been walking in the Clifton area, glimpsing sunshine snatches over wild seas before the Cape stormy weather set in. So I only checked my phone after hearing a text alert from the third foodie friend. I discovered a poignant message from daughter Tamsin Snyman about her mixed emotions at losing her mother on the occasion of celebrating her first mother’s day with new baby Trinity. Wow.

Craig was already making French toast and crispy bacon and we had no bubbly chilled, so we toasted Lannice’s legacy with eggy forkfuls and strong coffee over breakfast – from what I know about the mischievous sense of humour of one of South Africa’s best-known cooks, this would suffice as an impromptu tasty tribute.

Lannice has meant something to most South Africans involved in the restaurant and cookery world. Over the decades she has authored 13 cookbooks that document South Africa’s changing attitudes to eating. Her work as a cookery consultant, food writer, recipe compiler and food stylist recently branched out to include a condiment product range for Rickety Bridge winery (the colourful pomegranite salad splash and rooibos white balsamic squeeze that Lannice and caterer Tamsin designed for the signature range are particularly good). Lannice’s small publishing company also allowed other foodies and chefs to put their creative stamps on printed pages.

I’ve worked with Lannice on various projects over the years and knew her as somebody principled yet practical. I won’t easily forget a very time-consuming, kilometer-and-kilogram-heavy time - the two or three years I compiled restaurant entries for the Winelands section of Eat Out restaurant guide. Lannice was editing the guide. Later I was on her review team for the V&A Waterfront’s restaurant guide. And seated with a small judging panel, our eyes have strained collectively over an annual weekend assessing entries for Diners Club’s restaurant wine lists awards. I mention all these things only to show how involved she has been in this or that.

In years where I’ve travelled and eaten internationally I’ve voted on the Southern African culinary panel Lannice assembled for San Pellegrino’s The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. So I wasn’t surprised to hear a lovely anecdote. Upbeat after surviving a particularly trying medical period recently, Lannice immediately wanted to hear chef chitchat from the 2010 awards – ordinarily she would have attended the London frivolities when 50 Best results are announced each May.

That was Lannice. Somebody who loved food and the people involved in it, who delighted in gourmet travel experiences, and who very graciously shared her extensive knowledge with foodies and amateur cooks alike. We’ll miss her.

FOODSTUFF Visit Chefs Warehouse for culinary temptation

If you’re in the vicinity of Bree Street and Long Street Baths, look out for a new space called Chefs Warehouse. My friends Liam and Jan Tomlin have channelled their extensive collective restaurant experience into creating a quality Cape culinary centre here. cw-4917-edit.jpg

Liam and Jan propelled Sydney’s Banc Restaurant into Australia’s top three and consistently kept it there, before moving to South Africa. They’ve consulted to restaurants in Ireland and South Africa, and know a thing or two about eating out, quality cooking and cookware. They have a stylish eye for presenting items too, as most of the warehouse cabinets and display cases have been manufactured to Tomlin design specs.

The CBD space boasts imported kitchen gadgets and outfits, Japanese and French knives from Laguiole steak knives to Japanese Kai and Shun cleavers. Baking and cooking equipment ranges from basic cookie shapes to professional equipment, rolling pins and Madeleine moulds. There are selected items from Le Creuset, Eva Solo, KitchenAid, upmarket Scanpan designs and a few brands you probably won’t have seen before in SA. A books for cooks selection is being cultivated slowly, plus there is coffee, condiments, spices, decanters and quality cotton aprons or chefs jackets.

In conjunction with an artisan cabinetmaker and illustrator, Liam has custom-designed kitchen island units with ash countertops and drawers holding stemware, knives and kitchen clutter. It’s a clever idea that’s a play on words around the cheffing prep of ingredients called Mise en Place - everything in its place.

dsc_0001.jpg The cooking demo class space takes up half the warehouse. Artisan bread classes, demos by guest local chefs and occasional big international chef names are part of the 2010 lineup.

Go and have a look around but hold on to your credit card. This space is guaranteed to lure serious cooks, chefs or designers into parting with their earnings on desirable products or educational classes. Check
(classes) for the local and international chef and wine class selection.

Chefs Warehouse, 50 New Church Street, Cape Town. Tel 021 422 0128, chefs warehouse

FOODSTUFF: French toast in a Neoflam pan

dsc_0022.jpg The headline sounds quite dramatic, but actually nothing went up in flames. That line is merely to lure in all kitchen equipment junkies who get hot and sweaty when talk turns to implements… With a few April holidays to manoeuvre around, I never got around to trying out the luminous green Neoflam Ecolon fying pan I was given to test. So when the Merry Muncher decided to make French toast and bacon over the weekend, I handed over the new pan to be put through its paces.

We have a pretty good selection of frying pans in different sizes, thanks to the generosity of friends and a personal preference for quality cookware. My frying choices include a small Bauer pan, an Asian non-stick wok, and a 28cm Le Creuset cast iron pan hauled out when I want to pop the pan contents straight from the stovetop into a hot oven to bake through.

A 28cm GreenPan Oxford hard anodised aluminium pan recently joined this kitchen drawer collection. The non-stick PTFE/PFOA-free surface coating appealed (the eco-friendly bit), alongside a fairly heavy base and a quality stainless steel handle. The pan retails at R600 to R650 and it was money well spent. It feels solid and durable on the stove, fries and cleans like a dream, and no PTFE coating means less carbon dioxide is used in the manufacturing process.

Similar to the GreenPan, the bright green Neoflam frying pan has an Ecolon non-stick coating free of harmful chemicals PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid). PTFE and PFOA are associated with releasing noxious gases at high temperatures hence linked to cancers and dodgy illnesses. Most cheap frying pans sold in supermarkets use pressed induction bases that warp or loosen after repeated use, but Neoflam products use cast aluminium. GreenPan, on the other hand, claims to make its aluminium cookware induction-compatible by forging the induction plates on the utensil.

Flavour test: The marked difference with Neoflam pans are the price. GreenPan is a great choice if you can afford it, but Neoflam’s pan appeals to a price-conscious consumer who doesn’t mind bright colours (each pan size is only available in one colour in SA unfortunately. The luminous green pan doesn’t show true colour saturation in my pics - see tevo to get the full effect!). dsc_0014.jpg

A 24cm Neoflam frying pan retails at R280; a 28cm version at R330.

While I prefer a heavier base, we found the Neoflam sits well on a gas stovetop and crisps bacon evenly without burning. It didn’t require any wiping of residue when the French toast went straight in after the fried bacon. It was also a breeze to clean, which scored points with the Merry Muncher later on washing up duty.

I’d happily recommend the Neoflam Ecolon pan to anybody looking to upgrade their cheap warped Teflon job for healthier results, without a big financial outlay. It’s also a good secondary frying pan option for eggs or crepes if you already have one large pan.

FOODSTUFF Are Cape restaurants better or is it me? Plus Terroir specials

I spent a March long weekend in Joburg where a fair bit of eating happened in the restaurants and cafes of Parkhurst, Parktown North and Craighall Park. Joburg geography leaves me completely confused, so driving is only possible if others steer the wheel, or I have a human GPS directing me left or straight around the inner suburbs’ many traffic circles. Being married to a guy who grew up in Joburg has its advantages at times like this.

While we only scratched the surface of eateries (hence I’m not naming venues), a foodie friend pointed me in the direction of some solid restaurants. After trying two cafes for brunch, and having dinner at two neighbourhood restaurants and one fine dining spot I observed the following: owner-run Joburg café food quality and creativity matches the high calibre experienced in similar Cape venues that offer home bakes and take the trouble to prepare food from scratch. Priced about the same.

I enjoyed the vibe but as a rule the Joburg restaurant dinners weren’t very exciting, whether we were eating Indian or Italian. Menu prices equalled those of Cape Town. A single fine dining experience of a celebrated rural Gauteng restaurant’s six-course dinner tasting menu was downright disappointing. The price tag was better than Cape tasting menus and wine pairings matched well, but the menu lacked innovation, the plates missing a sparkle.

Comparatively, tasting menu lunches or dinners I experienced during the past month in the Cape at Overture and The Greenhouse restaurants were really a step up. I’m not saying this because I live in the Cape. But the proximity of good chefs in Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Constantia and Franschhoek surely plays a role in keeping the competition on their toes. A country supply of excellent ingredients helps too. Anybody who tasted the quality, technically complex fare from restaurant stalls at the recent Taste of Cape Town festival (Taste of CT) will surely agree with me. I was particularly impressed by the savoury dishes from Margot and Neil at Le Quartier Français and Bread & Wine’s joint stall. Savoury or sweet items sampled from Overture, Jardine, Reuben’s, Maze at Gordon Ramsay (their rice pudding was heavenly) and the Cape Colony were all deliciously clever too.

dsc_0010.jpg On that upbeat note, Terroir at Kleine Zalze only offers a tasting menu on request, but they have just launched a Green Season menu that represents great value. I was invited to sample a few dishes from the two or three-course options as they will change over the winter months. I’m happy to report that chef Michael Broughton hasn’t lost his touch, and winter should be a very good time for locals to fill a Terroir table with family or friends.

Michael has always made great fresh pasta, so look out for his gorgonzola gnocchi with roasted walnuts, baked butternut and fried sage, or the equally delicious confit duck agnolotti ravioli served unusually with braised Savoy cabbage and a light hazelnut cream. Main courses might include miso-glazed linefish (a delicious combo with sweet and sour aubergine, confit potato and brown yuzu butter) or a vegetarian option that appeals to eye and palate - a tomato tart with Parmesan foam, basil butter, roasted aubergine and confit garlic.

TERROIR at Kleine Zalze, Stellenbosch. Tel 021 880 8167 terroir Green Season menu runs from April to end September. Two courses at R165pp, three courses at R195pp. Lunch or dinner daily except Sundays.

FOODSTUFF Win tickets to Taste of Cape Town

Overture is one of 19 restaurants offering food at Taste of Cape Town (details at Taste of CT). This upmarket food festival operates from 24 - 28 March at Rhodes High School, Mowbray. Come along to try dishes and interact with chefs from 19 Cape restaurants. Entrance is free to children under 12 - enquire about the Kidz Zone at the show if you’re keen to meander the stalls childfree.

I have five double tickets - each valued at R80 - to give away for use ONLY on Wednesday March 24th from 18h30 to 22h30.
Winning question: What is Overture restaurant serving at Taste of Cape Town 2010?

If you’d like a ticket post your answer in the comment section before Wednesday March 17th (only one post per person). Find the answer on my flavourBlog. Five correct posts will win double tickets.

FOODSTUFF Overture’s Bertus Basson on food joy

It didn’t take much to entice four foodies to sit around a summer lunch table at one of South Africa’s top dining venues. A conversation about regional ingredients was the springboard. Chef and co-owner Bertus Basson put away his whites and took a seat at the appropriately named Hidden Valley wine farm in Stellenbosch. A faultless five-course menu with wines prepared by Basson’s Overture restaurant team proved a worthy diversion to debates about flavours and the triggers that make this chef tick.

crw_5672.jpg The man sporting a mohawk has an enquiring mind. His likes: classic recipes, slow braises, deep-frying, cookbooks and good-value meals. Dislikes: sous vide cooking and dishes that look pretty but are devoid of flavour. If he serves a ‘tongue in cheek’ braised ox tongue and pig cheek, it means the Overture kitchen is having fun. But it will be made from scratch with integrity. To avoid wastage, the offcuts will form the base for stocks, sauces, mousse or terrines.

While his interest in regional ingredients tends towards the obsessive, Basson is no snob. He doesn’t impose a dress code on Overture diners because he wants them to feel comfortable while admiring the fabulous vineyard vista. He won’t turn his nose up at a hamburger in a family franchise when the mood takes him, but goes in search of inspiration and culinary sating at fancy Winelands establishments such as Jardine at Jordan or Rust en Vrede. Different situations bring joy at different times. “People should leave a restaurant feeling happy that they’ve had a great meal. It’s like going for a massage. I sit on George’s [Jardine] restaurant stoep and say ‘feed me’,” he grins. crw_5844.jpg.jpg

Let’s not ignore the meal. After five courses none of us felt weighed down, despite beef entrecote featuring in one of them. The table debated their favourites but the clear winner for this eater was fried chokka rings - East London calamari with slight chewiness enforcing its local status - on a delicate melange of salad leaves, mint and radish slices with Arborio “rice crispies” crunch. Freshly made tagliatelle ribbons with shitake and shimeji mushrooms perfectly browned in butter, fresh thyme and a dash of tangy Pecorino sauce - simplicity itself. And while you wouldn’t think it the season, a hot passion fruit soufflé worked a treat in a teacup, cooled with passion fruit ice-cream. Utterly delicious.

Basson oversees a small yet competent kitchen team at Overture, comfortably feeding 50. Co-owner chef Craig Cormack runs the catering arm, ensuring that each chef has the space to exercise his respective culinary style. Basson says the use of seasonal and extremely regional ingredients (farmers knock at his door with mussels, quails and unusual vegetables) keeps regular locals returning and prices competitive. The restaurant isn’t in the phonebook but has a waiting list in summer.

Lunch or dinner options: any three courses (R255 excl or R310 incl wine pairings), four courses (R305 excl or R390 incl wine) or five courses (R365 excl or R470 incl wine), from a one-page menu. The tasting menu spans eight courses (R460 excl or R765 incl wine) of the chef’s choice. The wine features a small selection aside from Hidden Valley wines. Mark ups on the list are refreshingly within the 100% range.

Overture is one of 19 restaurants offering food at Taste of Cape Town. The dish? An Overburger with truffle mayo, Parmesan fries and onion rings.

OVERTURE, Hidden Valley wine farm, Stellenbosch. Tel 021 880 2721, overture Open for lunch Tues to Sun, dinner Thurs to Fri. Reservations essential.

FOODSTUFF Picnics in Franschhoek

Wineries with restaurants know that serving food is a sure way of doubling cellar door sales. So the latest Winelands trend isn’t surprising: gourmet picnics on scenic lawns or tranquil outdoor spaces with tables and chairs. Kids can run around without bothering anybody so it’s a no-brainer. Over the past few months I’ve tried a lot of gourmet picnics while compiling a guide to the Winelands for Getaway. Some Franschhoek suggestions appeared in WINE, and a few Winelands suggestions should be published in Indwe in March 2010 - picnics and picnic wines being the theme. Please send me feedback about others you’ve tried.

klein_genot_09nov_060.jpg Franschhoek options include Mont Rochelle Hotel and Country Vineyards blankets offer comfy settling alongside the dam or tables in the gardens. Three choices range from the Country Basket (R290 for two), Gourmet Basket (R370 for two) or Deluxe Basket (R450 for two), depending on whether you’re wanting basic country fare, or a gourmet fill of Franschhoek trout, Tiger prawns, shucked oysters and petit fours at the deluxe end. Children under 12 at R85pp. Tel 021 876 2770, Mont Rochelle. At Allée Bleue Wine Estate picnic baskets collected from the picnic gazebo are eaten off white tablecloths under ancient oaks. Baskets filled with terrines, cheese and sandwiches to avocado Ritz serve two (R145pp) and include a vegetarian option. Children at R80pp. Tel 021 874 1021, Allee Bleue.

At Rickety Bridge you can play boules amongst the vines, and then picnic on a small patch of lawn or at tables on the restaurant’s small downstairs deck. It’s a lovely environment but the deck isn’t great as a romantic spot because picnickers are in full view of restaurant guests. This gourmet picnic experience (R135pp) includes delicious sticky wings to prawn-and-cucumber skewers. Tel 021 876 2129, Rickety Bridge. Solms-Delta’s Fyndraai restaurant offers blankets and baskets stocked with farm veggies, tandoori chicken, trout and homemade bread (a bottle of Lekkerwijn Rosé is also included). Find a forested spot along the Dwars River to enjoy the spread. Baskets for two R120pp, children R75pp. Tel 021 874 937, Solms-Delta. At Klein Genot picnic baskets (R128pp) are enjoyed at 20 designated spots on oak-lined Franschhoek River banks with vineyard views. Tel 021 876 2738, Klein Genot.

FOODSTUFF: Portofino owner can charm, but can his food?

A quick posting after a large media lunch at Portofino, hosted by owner Cormac Keane with Jane and John of Cuvées Classiques supplying some delicious Drappier, Lallier and Jacquesson Champagnes.

Like most of my colleagues, I went along because I was curious to see if the owner was as obnoxious as the 2009 emails made him out to be. The story eventually made it into a Dublin newspaper, see Basil Faulty rant for amusing reading.

Mr Keane’s tirade resulted after a customer requested he open the restaurant early - which meant roping in staff earlier too - and then cancelling at the last minute. What escaped most readers was that the customer was actually in the wrong, and the restaurateur had every right to be furious or demand compensation. However Mr Keane’s rude - if wittily put - email response didn’t endear Portofino to some potential customers. And it may be an ongoing theme. See Cormac’s annoying customer list.

So my first question on meeting Mr Keane at Portofino (dressed in a stylish grey suit he acquired when in the Moscow-based employ of Russia’s wealthiest man): “So how has business been since the email fiasco: responses suggested that customers were either decidedly turned off, or intrigued enough to visit?” Mr Keane responded that he’ll know the outcome in about six months time.

My impressions of the man were positive: he has entertaining stories, enjoys South Africa, and has a good Irish sense of humour. I haven’t visited Portofino independently since he took it over - the interior decor and tableware is virtually unchanged from its Showroom days. But I was out of Cape Town for much of December and January. And pretty busy checking out new eating spots in the Winelands ever since, mostly dining out on my own account. Had to add that last bit, in case I’m accused of being one of those journalists who never tips if hosted for a meal! I routinely do that too by the way.

Portofino impressions: A starter of warm creamed mussel and Champagne soup with green apple sorbet offered lovely flavours and the mussel broth was delicious, but I am so over cold sorbets with hot partners, and would’ve preferred something in keeping with the times. Oven-roasted fish with pesto was tasty, lifted by roasted Roma tomatoes. Beef fillet had a berry sauce, but little to excite as a dish, served with diced green veggies and mash (I wasn’t enticed enough to stay for dessert, but a colleague said the signature Lindt nemesis cake with white chocolate and semi-freddo was impressive).

As to whether I’ll be returning to Portofino soon, who knows? Yes, an independent review is the best test of a restaurant. But a hosted media lunch should deliver an experience so exceptional I’d want to keep eating - and return. They know we’re analysing every element. Today’s menu was passable without being exciting. I expect restaurant food to add a dimension beyond what I can do at home myself. Mr Keane let slip that a new chef is starting soon.

FOODSTUFF: Good bistro grub and sea views

I’ve been meaning to mention a recent Hermanus daytime discovery. I can never understand the appeal of going “into town to look around” when away for relaxing time-out with friends. I like to get as many groceries as possible in one shop, and then limit additional trips to the busy centre. I’d rather spend my time cooking, reading or relaxing on lovely beaches and walks. But I was pleasantly surprised during December and January when I found myself near the centre of Hermanus at The Bistro and didn’t mind lingering.

I met owner Tamsin Koen by chance a few months back and she outlined her perfectionist approach to her soon-to-be-opened bistro. Her aim was the best available quality produce and a healthy slant – everything as “pure” as possible so organic or free-range where possible. No preservatives or additives, and food on the menu made the old-fashioned way. It sounded good, but many a novice restaurateur soon downscales once they consider costs and practical limitations.

Well I’m happy to report that at The Bistro these objectives have been achieved. I’ve popped in for tea and cake a couple of times, and happily tucked into homemade baked cheesecake and healthy muffins. The loose leaf tea selection is varied, and served in elegant glass teapots. pure_bistro.jpg

On another occasion I’ve had lunch on the terrace with a gorgeous sea view. The food was enjoyable and the drinks a refreshing change: homemade lemon cordial, Napier beer or delicious Elgin Terre Madre apple cider were options. Edible choices ranged from the quiche du jour, salads, and – our choice - good bread with a tasty charcuterie board selection sourced from Cape Town fleischmeister Steve Jeffrey (see earlier blog entry on his artisanal charcuterie at artisanal charcuterie. We also tried a baguette filled with pesto, tomato and mozzarella cheese produced at Newton Johnson’s dairy in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. My kind of fresh eating.

Nice touches: the food is served on vintage china and old-fashioned prints are fashioned into placemats and aprons. There are interesting décor and homeware trinkets to purchase, as well as delightfully fragrant lotions, soaps and room sprays to acquire. Only down side is you’ll pay almost as much for these as you would for your meal!

The Bistro, Just Pure, Marine Drive, Hermanus. Tel 028 313 0060. Pure

FOODSTUFF Be wowed at Waterkloof

I’ve learnt not to expect much after detouring along the scruffy Sir Lowry’s Pass Village Road to avoid the traffic backlogs from Somerset West roadworks during the past year. But the entrance to Waterkloof winery might change that perception. I realised something was afoot travelling along a 2km vineyard-lined road that steadily inclines. Half way up, Waterkloof’s modern cement, steel and glass tri-level structure is perched dramatically at around 300m above sea level. It houses the working cellar, barrel area, wine tasting lounge and restaurant.

dsc_0001.jpg There is minimalist designer furniture in the circular wine lounge, plus some colourful art. But it’s the dramatic views that draw the eye, thanks to 11m glass sheets stretching the length of the restaurant at Waterkloof from floor to ceiling. In views there’s a choice of Waterkloof vineyards on the Schaapenberg Hill to the left, or Gordon’s Bay towards False Bay straight ahead. Pretty spectacular stuff, and my tourist friends were impressed.

With this sort of sensory preamble, French chef Gregory Czarnecki could serve up fish and chips and diners would be happy. Yet fortunately for the adventurous, his culinary ambitions extend a little higher than that. Czarnecki’s opening summer menu is full of risottos, Asian-inspired dishes and other classics with modern twists. His flatware is a cut above and the food looks pretty but is tasty too.
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Sample starters: R60
A vegetarian option of al dente asparagus risotto served with Parmesan foam and jus – beautifully prepared and tasty - or oyster mushrooms with rocket, given a dramatic touch from a crispy soft-boiled egg of deep-fried noodles. Of four starters ordered, only a shitake and squid tagliatelle dish was disappointing for the blandness of the squid.
Sample main courses: R105 to 145
Roasted duck breast with coriander crust and a confit duck leg pastilla. To simplicity itself: subtle complementary flavour twists of Red Roman with fennel bulb confit on fennel puree with dill oil. Kudu loin sampled was overcooked and dry, served with eggplant caviar, roasted aubergine and jus with masala cream. But this sort of kink should easily be sorted out.
Sample dessert: R55
Clever lemon meringue overtones of the deconstructed lime pie with almond crumble and tequila sorbet, to an eye-catching vanilla panna cotta with rhubarb marmalade and flavour accents in strawberry and basil foam. dsc_0014.jpg

Notable features: It feels like you’re dining in a glass box and views from either the deck or behind glass are so spectacular that lunchtime would be my preferred option here. Wines are available in 750ml bottles. A nice touch is that each dish has a Waterkloof or Circumstance red or white by-the-glass suggestion. If your wallet is willing, the delicious Waterkloof Sauvignon Blanc 2008 is steep at R245, its high tag because the wine is sold out. Circumstance Sauvignon Blanc 2008 doesn’t offer the same tropical intensity-meets-minerality but it’s very drinkable at R108 per bottle, R30 per glass.

Yes, menu prices are firmly in the fine dining category, but a three-courser won’t leave you hungry because this chef avoids “extremes with very little on the plate” because he reckons local customers are “a little scared” by tiny portions. By international standards, the consensus was that the restaurant offered exceptional value compared to what you’d pay for a similar experience overseas.

THE RESTAURANT AT WATERKLOOF, Sir Lowry’s Pass Village Road, Somerset West, Stellenbosch. Tel 021 858 1491, http://www.waterkloofwines.co.za/ Open for lunch daily and for dinner Mon to Sat.

FOODSTUFF Bistro Sixteen82 inspires at Steenberg

The buzz in the Southern suburbs is about new Bistro Sixteen82 at Steenberg. A Friday 13th opening date didn’t appear unlucky at all, because tables were never empty for long when I visited for a Saturday lunch on the second day of business.

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Chef Brad Ball’s reputation has something to do with it. Ball spent time in neighbouring kitchens of Spaanschemat River Café and Pastis in Constantia, and his style hovers between café and bistro.

The Bistro Sixteen82 dining space leads on from Steenberg’s new interactive tasting room with fanciful glass art – coloured decorative glass hanging from the ceiling are supposed to look like grapes, and a tiered champagne flute construction below.

The dining space is easy on the eye in white and cream linen, vinyl and raw wood under a ceiling of driftwood. Wine bottles form part of the glass backdrop. A raised glass and charcoal walled area overlooks the winery in what is termed a Raw Bar (serving charcuterie, sushi and fish gravadlax or other dishes that don’t require cooking). Outside tables overlook a water feature to landscaped pathways beyond. A children’s menu is available but raucous families beware - this is chic country territory.

The bistro serves breakfast, lunch and tapas, and I liked what I saw on plates. The wine list is geared towards Steenberg wine ranges – all served in carafes, with MCC by the glass – plus a smattering of other Constantia wines.

Sample lunch menu: Small with four categories.

‘Stimulate’ – risotto, roasted marrow bones, Norwegian salmon gravadlax and the like, priced around R50.
‘Rejuvenate’ focuses on salads, in half or full portions at around R45 to R75.
‘Experience’ only has one option, a go-the-whole-hog dish called Steenberg Magna Carta of scallops, salmon, foams and oysters.
‘Inspire’ averaging at R70 to R120, from steak and aioli sandwiches to more substantial meaty offerings.
‘Indulge’ includes a few sweet options and a cheese board, at around R50.

TIP: Salad portion sizes are a little mean (the table next to us provided a running commentary about the “poor value”). But in the ‘Inspire’ section the gnocchi with pancetta chunks, broad beans and creamy, cheesy Parmesan Anglaise sauce is so good you’ll want to order a second. Seared slices of grass-fed beef tataki taste delightful, dressed with an Asian drizzle of sesame oil and soy with micro herbs, radish, chilli, ginger and squeezes of fresh lime. You’ll want to ‘Indulge’ in a dark chocolate fondant/hazelnut praline and butter cream layered cake named ‘What’s it called Dave Jones?’ too. It’s quite sublime.

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BISTRO Sixteen82, Steenberg Winery, Constantia. Breakfast, lunch and tapas from 9am until 8pm. Child-friendly menus. Tel 021 713 2211

FOODSTUFF Tokara Deli opens and Helshoogte snub

Tokara’s new DeliCatessen opened on Stellenbosch’s Helshoogte hill at the weekend. It’s an interesting business model when the financial outlay on interior décor and children’s designer play equipment would be unlikely to be offset in a hurry by a restaurant’s humble food and wine takings. I say this because the number of talented designers, artisans or artists involved in the project seemed to outnumber the lunch menu items.

Don’t get me wrong: I like the white and light interior space dotted with Gregor Jenkin’s and Pierre Cronje tables and chairs, with inviting long couches in a lounge or benches on a deck. They’re designed to encourage people to linger over a newspaper or current magazine (also provided). Other big names include furniture-maker Norman Mehl; wooden toybox crates and a bookshelf cleverly reminiscent of jenga blocks by James Mudge, and a Heath Nash olive branch chandelier. And my favourite, a treehouse in the shape of a weaver’s nest suspended from a leafy oak, designed by Porky Hefer of Animal Farm.

The deli concept for adults is a la carte breakfast and cakes, plus a weigh-your-plate selection from the lunch counter similar to the likes of Melissa’s. A burger with handcut chips and homemade tomato sauce was delicious – I’ll be back. A kiddie’s menu should suit under sixes. Operated by Anne-Marie and chef daughter Kara Ferreira (busy in the open kitchen) with freshness and regional ingredients preferred, a plus is that the Ferreira’s extensive vegetable and fruit garden is regularly raided.

Vineyard views are from the deck or the glass floor-to-ceiling enclosed space. But what most impressed are the moderate menu and wine mark-ups. The target market is yummy mummies and families, and if prices stay this way, the Tokara Deli won’t struggle to attract a loyal clientele.

It makes a change from the neighbours, developing a reputation for offering a slick food and wine “experience” at an international price tag. We drove across the road to Delaire Graff Estate in the hope of ordering dessert and coffee. Their shady panoramic deck is an outstanding and inviting place to while away a few hours, and plenty were doing just that. At 3.20pm on a sunny Sunday I’m not surprised to be told - very graciously - that the kitchen isn’t serving food or dessert until 6.30pm. But I believe they’re missing a trick when ordering a glass of wine or a soft drink is acceptable, but enjoying coffee at the restaurant during a splendid afternoon is off limits.

http://www.tokara.co.za/ Tel 021 890 5950

FOODSTUFF George Jardine and Jordan restaurant

Scottish Chef George Jardine has filled me in on his new plans. His Bree Street, Cape Town Jardine Restaurant http://www.jardineonbree.co.za/ is one of my city favourites, and Jardine has been saying for a while that he wants to open a second venue to allow his talented chefs to develop their own style.

The Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine opens in late November 2009, a collaboration between Gary and Kathy Jordan and George Jardine. South African wife Louise will be a new addition in front of house (Jardine says it will be a new challenge for them to work together). The concept is country fare in terms of ingredients but retaining the Jardine clean style on plates. Extra additions are a wood-fired oven and grill, and sourcing from favourite country suppliers.

Diners will be able to appreciate Stellenbosch views from patio tables. It will be family-friendly at lunchtime and the dress code won’t be smart. On Thursdays and Fridays smarter tasting menus will be offered, priced similarly to those of Overture. Sounds like a delicious development.

Tel 021 881 3441 Jordan winery for more info. See flavourCape Dec 20th review at Jardine at Jordan

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FOODSTUFF Gourmet closing shock has SA foodie relevance

I read with alarm news of the closure of Gourmet magazine after 68 years… Read David Carr’s blog on http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/05/media-decoder-few-luxuries-left-inside-conde-nast/

I subscribe to Gourmet’s digital newsletter, and while I often find their recipes and tone too American, I enjoy the quality food writing by contributors on their website, disecting issues around chefs and food on a level where the emerging food culture of South Africa simply can’t compete.

Somebody called Julie commenting on Carr’s article struck a chord:
Gourmet’s shuttering is symptomatic of the larger struggles facing all manner of publications. As magazines and newspapers are forced to compete against a din of free online content (of inferior quality), they are forced to provide more editorial content with less money and fewer people. In the end, the public is the loser, as the number of talented paid writers dwindles. We have fewer people whose full-time job it is to keep an eye on politicians and corporate executives. In the case of Gourmet, we have fewer talented chefs and writers researching, documenting, uncovering and pioneering the trends and issues of what we put into our mouths and bodies three times a day.

I echo Julie’s sentiment in part. I make a living writing about restaurant openings, profiling chefs and tracking food and wine trends. I spend a great deal of time doing that, often partnering with talented photographers to produce fairly impressive layouts on very tight writing and image budgets, for very little remuneration in real terms.

Previously I worked in Asia on premier titles, exposed to people who had premium bank accounts funding their gourmet wine and eating habits and I’m not ashamed to say I revelled in it at times. True foodies don’t spend on meals or ingredients for the sake of snobbery, they’re compelled because they have the ability to appreciate flavour equally in a fine dining restaurant or a simple street market stall.

I ate an unexpected meal at Bokkie Botha’s delightful The Olive Branch restaurant (Tel 082 892 7222) while in Prince Albert recently. There was such enthusiasm and attention to recipes from treasured cookbooks and great mealtime restaurant experiences that it infused the meal and overshadowed the lack of technical skill in places. Although Botha is a self-trained cook who opens his Prince Albert restaurant only periodically, this increases demand. And he has more experience than most, eating in and then touring Michelin-starred restaurant kitchens of France and Europe after the meal. It shows in the dedication and love he offers on these country town plates, using a well-intentioned but amateur crew to assist in creating complex dishes.

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In South Africa it’s been amazing to track food progress since the days of Apartheid when out-of-touch European chefs served tired buffets in local hotels. We don’t have Michelin stars but we have a generation of chefs and amateur cooks who are enthusiastically discovering local produce, the same produce that receives quality thumbs up from visiting overseas chefs.

I’ve contributed to plenty of sinking titles in South Africa in recent times. A few printed publications don’t have the history of Gourmet, but we have an exciting food culture we’re still exploring. In the same way that restaurants are reinventing themselves to cope with adjusted dining budgets, I’m feeling positive that serious foodies publications will go the same route in SA, and survive. Anybody agree?

FOODSTUFF Freedom Hill Country Restaurant opens

Looking for an affordable country lunch without big menu or wine markups? Freedom Hill Country Restaurant recently opened at its namesake winery in rural Paarl. It’s worth a try, a few kms from Drakenstein Prison with Madiba’s statue outside in one direction; Pearl Valley Golf Course (already supplying restaurant regulars) the other way.

I met the friendly trio behind the operation, all Franschhoek restaurant and guesthouse veterans. Chef Adrian Buchanan, Ryan Bredenkamp and Pieter van Straaten are running the new kitchen and front of house between them. They’re offering a small printed menu of modern classics, plus blackboard seasonal specials. Anoraks take note: the menu is shorter than the very affordable winelist. And the talented Francois Naudé is Freedom Hill’s consulting winemaker.

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Aiming at the local market, Buchanan says they are “guaranteeing an affordable dining experience”. With starters priced at R42 – R48, mains R65 to R110 and desserts around R45, they should stick to their word. I sampled a few dishes and while they may not all blow your socks off, there is a good balance of country appeal combined with a little cheffy fidliness.

Sample starters: oxtail-stuffed calamari tubes, beetroot and baby onion tart tatin with herb puree, goats cheese and red onion tart. Mains: saffron prawn risotto, pork belly with jus, signature quail breast and nougat salad with teriyaki vegetables. Desserts: double chocolate mousse with pistachio, pecan nut pie, mascarpone and raspberry tart. Service is a little shaky but should improve.

Noteable features: Patio tables offer views across the Berg River Valley towards the Simonsberg. Child-friendly. Affordable food and low wine mark ups. Freedom Hill wines by the glass, Cape wines by the bottle.

FREEDOM HILL COUNTRY RESTAURANT R301 Wemmershoek Road (between Paarl and Franschhoek), Paarl. Lunch and dinner. http://www.freedomhillrestaurant.co.za/ Tel 021 867 0963

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