by artfuldiner on May 17, 2023

in Artful Diner Review, Breaking News, Opinion, Review, Romantic, Wining and Dining

Prior to embarking on our cruise from Cape Town to Lisbon, we spent five full days in South Africa visiting wineries and restaurants in Franschhoek and Cape Town. This was our second trip to Cape Town and, once again, the Giltedge Travel Group did a simply superb job, not only of arranging our itinerary and our guide, but also of securing tables-with-a-view in all the restaurants in which we dined.

SamsonThe highlight of our visit, however, was Samson, our driver and guide for the duration. He came highly recommended by our travel agent, and her praise was, indeed, well-deserved. He was extremely knowledgeable with regard to the history, culture, food, wine, vegetation, and people of South Africa. He was always timely and had excellent ideas of what to do each day; and, also, what to do if something on our itinerary changed unexpectedly. He was positive, personable, had a delightful sense of humor, and is now someone we would call a dear friend (pictured… By the way, there’s water in that glass!).

Noted below are the restaurants & wineries we visited in the order in which they were experienced.

 PROTĖGĖ, 18 Huguenot Street, Franschhoek, South Africa, Tucked away in Le Quartier ProtegeFrancais, a charmingly rustic little hostelry in the heart of the wine country, and our home for two nights, Protégé, which describes itself as “an informal eatery featuring stylish casual fare,” seemed like the perfect place to unwind and chill out after our 14-hour flight.

The setting is informal – patrons may dine alfresco (as we did) or watch the chefs at work in a central open kitchen. The food, however, is anything but. Calling it “stylish casual fare” is, indeed, an understatement. And that is not meant to be a knock, as the Asian, French, and Italian nuanced cuisine dished out in trendy small plates is perfectly prepared, beautifully presented… and more than just a little innovative. However, gastronomic esoterica such as BBQ Pork Roti, Gochujang (red chili paste) and Salmon Miso Aubergine, Ssamjang (Korean spicy dipping sauce) is unlikely to appeal to the meat and potatoes crowd.

The menu is also prix fixe – X number of courses for X number of Rand (the national currency of South Africa) – no matter what you order, you still pay full price. Which means copping out with a light snack or burger & fries à la carte simply is not part of the equation. Actually, though, this was not such a bad deal as our four courses cost a total of R795, which translated to $43.50 per person (plus beverages, tax & tip).

 STARK-CONDĖ WINES, Oude Nektar Farm, Jonkershoek Valley, Stellenbosch, South Africa, The boutique Stark-Conde Wines 2winery is nestled in the picturesque Jonkershoek Valley, just three kilometers outside the town of Stellenbosch. The setting is incredibly beautiful (see photo) and includes a small Balinese tasting room situated on its own little island surrounded by vineyards and mountain peaks… Hence the name of the winery’s restaurant, the Postcard Café. Interestingly enough, the Café, which was intended to attract more people to the winery, has more than accomplished its mission, and has also become a dining destination in its own right.

Winemaker and co-owner Jose Condé handcrafted his first-ever Cabernet Sauvignon vintage in 1998, which subsequently received a five-star rating from South African wine writer John Platter. Evidently, he was destined to become a winemaker rather than a graphic designer.

Steep alterations in vineyard elevation combined with abundant winter rainfall in Jonkershoek (3 times more rain than nearby Stellenbosch) ensure a more than suitable terrain for growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Syrah, and Pinotage.

Stark-Condé Field Blend is the only estate white wine produced; and it is an elegant balance of Roussanne, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, and Verdelho.

Mr. Condé firmly believes in traditional winemaking… handpicking, careful hand selection of the grapes, manual punch-downs, open-tank fermentation, basket pressing, and patient maturation for 22 months in French oak barrels. With only 6,000 cases produced annually, wines are not sold commercially; word of mouth is the winery’s sole method of advertising.

We tasted a number of wines; however, the red wines were particularly noteworthy. Samson had told us in advance that he was especially fond of the Syrah… and I totally agreed. I found the 2018 vintage to be incredibly lush, full-bodied, and quite elegant. I later discovered that the usual assortment of wine writers definitely agreed with Samson’s assessment. Decanter, for instance, bestowed 94 points, and Jancis Robinson called it “absolutely mouth-watering.” I purchased a bottle at the winery, which we presented to Samson as a parting gift.

DELAIRE GRAFF ESTATE, Helshoogte Road, Stellenbosch, South Africa, Following our wine tasting at Stark-Delaire Graff Estate - TerraceCondé, we departed for lunch at the Delaire Graff Estate. Yes, we could have remained at the above-mentioned Postcard Café, but we preferred to dine alfresco; and, once again, Samson was right on the money with his Delaire recommendation. Shaded by ancient oak trees, the restaurant’s broad wooden terrace provided diners with sweeping views of vineyards and olive groves from Simonsberg Peak across the Banghoek Valley…

… And the food was quite good as well. The Salad Niçoise and the Caramel Tart were both excellent. And, while this may come as a surprise to readers, my dining partner and I enjoyed our luncheon sans fruit of the vine. Since we had already sampled several wines at Stark-Condé, planned to sample several more at Great Heart Boutique Wines during a personal afternoon tasting at our hotel, and were also looking forward to enjoying cocktails and wine with the evening’s dinner at La Petite Colombe, it seemed that oenological discretion would undoubtedly prove to be the better part of peristaltic valor.

GREAT HEART WINES – WINE BOUTIQUE, Le Quartier Francais, Huguenot Street, Franschhoek, 7690, South Africa, Great Heart is the staff empowerment project of Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines, known for their multi-award Great Heart Boutique Wineswinning Leeu Passant and Mullineux wineries. Aimed at improving the livelihoods of those who work for the company, as well as their families, the Great Heart wine brand is collectively owned by the winery staff, and a portion of all sales under this label go directly to them.

The winery produces four cuvées from grape varieties best suited to the regions in which they are grown: Swartland Chenin Blanc and Red Blend, and a Stellenbosch Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. We tasted all four varietals…

2020 Swartland Chenin Blanc: This wine is produced from sustainably farmed old vineyard parcels of dry land bush vines grown in decomposed granite soils of the Swartland. It is naturally fermented – 85% in tank,15% in old French oak barrels. The wine is on the citrusy side with hints of flint. It’s very nice on the palate with a refreshing acidity.

Great Heart Red Blend 20192019 Swartland Red Blend: This is a blend of 51% Syrah, 34% Tinta Barocca, and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. It is naturally fermented and aged in older French oak barrels for 18 months. The nose exhibits hints of red fruit, cloves, and black pepper. It is full-bodied on the palate with a touch of spice on the long, lingering finish.

2022 Stellenbosch Chardonnay: This single vintage Chardonnay is planted in the deep, loam-rich soils on the lower slopes of Helderberg Mountain. Natural fermentation takes place in oak barriques (20% new) followed by spontaneous malolactic fermentation and 10 months on the lees. This is a rich and complex wine with a superb minerality, racy acidity, and enticing fruit flavors.

2020 Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon: Indigenous yeast fermentation followed by 3-7 weeks skin contact. Matured for 11 months in 225 & 500L French oak barrels, 10% new. Deep garnet red in color, it is rife with red fruit and silky tannins leading to a gentle, lingering finish.

The wine that rang the most bells for me was clearly the 2019 Swartland Red Blend. And, fortunately, this wine is also available in the U.S. Your best bet is to purchase online through the Saratoga Wine Exchange in New York State. The price is $21.94 per bottle (plus shipping).

LA PETITE COLOMBE, Leeu Estates, Dassenberg Road, Franschhoek, South Africa, Part of the Leeu La Petite Colombe - View from InteriorCollection stable of fine restaurants, La Petite Colombe is nestled in the midst of vineyards and manicured landscapes, offering diners extraordinarily beautiful views of the Franschhoek Valley and Franschhoek Pass… And the cuisine, I can assure you, is every bit as photogenic as the scenery.

The adventure begins with cocktails and “snacks” in the lounge. Following this delightful prelude, we are called to table… And, as I noted above, thanks to the Giltedge Travel Group, it is another in a series of spectacular “tables-with-a-view.”

The menu at dinner is either The Chef’s Experience or The Chef’s Vegetarian Experience, both multi-course tasting menus. My dining partner chose the former; I the latter, so that we could mix ‘n match. The cost was R 1795 per person ($98.75), plus beverages, tax & gratuity. I won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow description of each presentation, but, instead, just mention a few of the highlights.

Both menus began innocently enough with an assortment of Leeu Estate Olives… After that, innovation was definitely the name of the game, including a host of ingredients – many indigenous to South Africa – that will send you scrambling for an epicurean dictionary. The Beef Tartare is a familiar dish; however, in this instance enhanced with chipotle and a zippy smoked aioli. The vegetarian menu substituted beetroot, which added its own unique contributions. And while the vegetarians were treated to Home Churned Butter spread on a bagel, the regular menu – in lieu of the usual salmon – offered Smoked Snoek – a local white-fleshed fish somewhat akin to Australian barracuda.

La Petite Colombe - Karoo LambThe high point for both of us was clearly the Karoo Lamb (pictured), which is considered by many – this writer among them – to be the best lamb in South Africa. Raised in a semi-desert area, the sheep feed mainly on the indigenous flora, which is extremely nutritious and responsible for the lamb’s unique flavor. Here the succulent slices were served with celeriac and kapokbos (wild rosemary). On the vegetarian menu, a delicious Herbed Gnocchi, replaced the lamb, but the accompaniments remained the same.

One of the more intriguing vegetarian dishes was Chawanmushi, a savory rather than sweet Japanese egg custard adorned with soy and dukkah, a Middle Eastern condiment consisting of a mixture of herbs, nuts, and spices. The flavor was, to say the least, highly unusual… but also pleasantly addictive.

La Petite Colombe - Panna CottaDesserts were nearly identical on both menus, the only exception being that the Verbena (plant based minty/tangerine flavor) Panna Cotta (pictured) for vegetarians replaced the standard Vanilla Panna Cotta. Both versions, however, were garnished with gooseberry and tonka (a bean with a nutty vanilla flavor that is illegal in the United States). These were followed by Poached Pear steeped in rooibos (a South African red herbal tea), caressed by dulcey (a velvety smooth white chocolate sauce). An array of chocolates from the Sweets Trolley provided the ever-so-decadent finished touch.

KEN FORRESTER WINES, Scholtzenhof Farm, Winery Road & R44, Raithby, South Africa, As I mentioned in a previous article, South Africa grows more Chenin Ken Foorester Vineyard 2Blanc than the rest of the world combined. And located on the slopes of the scenic Helderberg Mountains, the vineyards of Ken Forrester Wines are considered by locals and wine lovers as the home of Chenin Blanc. The man himself, known affectionately as “Mr. Chenin Blanc,” is reputed to be just as dynamic as the grape he so fervently champions. Unfortunately, he wasn’t around the day of our visit, but our tasting experience proved to provide its own unique rewards.

The white wines began with the 2019 Sparklehorse Cap Classique, a delightful sparkling wine, and moved on through the excellent, previously enjoyed 2022 Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc, concluding with the iconic 2020 FMC (acronym for “Forrester Meinert Chenin”) and 2015 Dirty Little Secret, which, if you’re feeling particularly flush, is available from Union Square Wine & Spirits in New York City for $239.99.

Mr. Forrester’s red wines are not as well known, but first-class in every respect. The Petite range features Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The 2020 Renegade is a Rhône blend reserve, as is his iconic The Gypsy… and both were absolutely first-rate.

 ERNIE ELS WINERY RESTAURANT, Annandale Road, Stellenbosch, South Africa, Following our morning Ernie Els Winery Restaurant - Terracetasting at Ken Forrester’s estate, it was but a short drive to South African golfer Ernie Els Winery Restaurant for lunch. This was another eatery highly recommended by our guide, and we certainly were not disappointed. The building itself was quite impressive: a charming open-plan space that extended out onto a spacious terrace, offering us incredible views of Stellenbosch and the Helderberg Mountains (pictured).

The cuisine was quite hearty, made with a host of fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. My Roasted Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese Feta Salad, for example, came replete with an intriguing cashew nut praline, baby leaf greens, pickled onions, and was finished with a first-rate citrus dressing. My traveling companion was perfectly satisfied with her Roasted Local Vegetable & Pecorino Tagliatelle, and Samson had nothing but praise for Beef Filet. An excellent glass of Chenin Blanc proved the perfect complement to my salad.

ONE & ONLY HOTEL, Dock Road, V& A Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa, After our enjoyable luncheon at Ernie Els, Samson transported us to the One & Only, which was to be our home for three nights while we explored the sights, sounds, and restaurants in the immediate Cape Town area.

One & Only - Vista Bar 2Situated in a prime location next door to the Two Oceans Aquarium, the One & Only is more of a resort than a city hotel. The spacious, beautifully-appointed reception lobby leads to the social heart of the hotel, the Vista Bar and Lounge with its triple-volume glass windows framing spectacular views of Table Mountain (pictured).

And there seems to be no end to the excellent wining/dining possibilities… The aforementioned Vista Bar and Lounge, for example, is open all day, serving cocktails, meals, light snacks, and afternoon tea. Ochre is the hotel’s vibrant breakfast dining room and buffet; while Isola is the establishment’s cool, laid-back poolside restaurant. Then, of course, there is the famous Nobu, serving classical Japanese cuisine with intriguing Peruvian subtitles. You may also want to check out the Wine Studio, which boasts one of the most balanced and diverse wine collections on the continent.

FYN RESTAURANT, 5TH Floor, Speakers Corner, Parliament Street, Cape Town, South Africa, Fyn Fyn Restaurant 1Restaurant – pronounced  “Fain” – made its debut in 2018 on the fifth floor of a 19th-century silk factory and has been making waves on the global gastronomic scene ever since. In 2022, it broke into the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list at number 37… picking up the Best Restaurant in Africa award at the same time. Renowned South African chef and restaurateur Peter Tempelhoff launched the venue, supported by French general manager Jennifer Hugé and head chef Ashley Moss.

At its core, the menu is completely Japanese, utilizing fresh fish, poultry, and meat from the best of Cape Town’s farms and fisheries. The dishes change frequently; however, diners are generally greeted – as we were on the Fyn Reduced Menu (meaning a few less courses than the Experience Menu) – with such intriguing starters as Guinea Fowl Wonton and Ostrich Egg Chawanmushi (savory egg custard).

After that we moved on to such delicacies as Cape Malay King Trout with smoked barley, curry vinaigrette, and yuzu atchar gel; Rooibos Smoked Sashimi with white soy and lemon; and Roast Duck Breast with lacquered onion & hijiki, sancho pepper and lacto blueberries. Dessert was Ethiopian Ice Cream with yuzu (citrus fruit sauce) and blackberries. Wine pairings are available for courses on both menus.

By the way, if you arrive before sunset, the views of Lion’s Head and Table Mountain from the triple-height windows are truly spectacular.

FOODBARN CAFÉ & TAPAS, Noordhoek Farm Village, Village Lane, Cape Town, South Africa, Foodbarn & Tapas - ExteriorFollowing a morning of sightseeing – full descriptions to follow in another article – we paused for lunch at the Foodbarn Café & Tapas in Noodhoek Farm Village. Aptly named, the super casual eatery is set in a renovated barn replete with high thatched ceiling, bare wooden tables, and modern lighting fixtures.

But don’t be fooled by the laidback ambience, as the subtle French-influenced cuisine is beautifully prepared and generously portioned. So much so, in fact, that Fodor’s referred to the Foodbarn as “probably the best restaurant on the Cape Peninsula.” My dining partner & I dined al fresco and enjoyed the Calamari and Mushroom Ravioli, respectively, then shared a Rhubarb Crème Brûlée for dessert. All three were excellent.

I should also add that first-rate, reasonably-priced wine pairings, stellar service, and al fresco dining complete the picture. Definitely a gastronomic high point… By the way, just a stone’s throw away, the Foodbarn Deli serves fabulous breakfasts and lunches, as well as an evening tapas menu.

CHEFS WAREHOUSE, Beau Constantia Wine Farm, 1043 Constantia Main Road, Constantia Neck, Cape Town, South Africa, Located twenty minutes from Cape Town proper, this modern eatery opened its doors in 2016. Chef's WarehouseFrom the outside, the building with its eye-catching cubed glass, appears suspended in space. The interior, which has recently undergone a complete revamp, boasts an expanded open kitchen and spacious outdoor terrace that affords diners exceptional views of the valley below.

Chef Ivor Jones offers a celebration of global flavors with a unique set menu that changes seasonally. Much of the produce utilized in the kitchen is grown locally or on the Beau Constantia farm. This allows for a continuous flow of new ingredients and innovative adaptations to classic dishes, each carefully prepared and creatively, yet simply presented.

Chef's Warehouse - Thai Roast ChickenMain courses include such intriguing possibilities as Char-Grilled Tuna with perilla leaves (mint), Nam Phrik (spicy Thai chilli sauce) & Szechuan-style cashews; Pear Flan accompanied by blue cheese mousse, smoked pecan nut & thyme relish, and aged balsamic; Hakurei Turnip Mille-Feuille garnished with preserved spring flowers, and vadouvan (Indian curry blend of spices) & buttermilk dressing (The Hakurei or “Tokyo” turnip is sometimes referred to as a “salad turnip” due to its crisp raw flavor… Unlike other turnip varieties, hakurei do not need to be cooked); Thai Roast Chicken with BBQ cashew nut purée and roast chicken & tamarind dressing (pictured).

Interestingly enough, while the innovative cuisine was as picturesque as it was delicious, the evening got off to a rather rocky start, as the cocktails we ordered – my Negroni and my dining partner’s Cosmopolitan – were absolutely terrible. Especially the Negroni – traditionally made with equal parts gin, Compari, and sweet vermouth – which was beneath contempt. So bad that I had to send it back. So… over comes someone I supposed to be one of the managers, as he proceeded to give me an argument, telling me that he had mixed the cocktail himself and had certainly included the correct proportions. “Sorry,” said I, but it certainly didn’t taste that way… Off he goes in a huff. A few minutes later another Negroni puts in an appearance, which is spot-on. Needless to say, not the most hospitable way to be welcomed to a highly-touted restaurant. Go figure. Perhaps he should have taken a few lessons from Danny Meyer.

SALSIFY AT THE ROUND HOUSE, Round House Road, Camps Bay, Cape Town, South Africa, The gentle waves of Salsify at the Round Housethe restless Atlantic. The imposing Lion’s Head as a backdrop (pictured)… As gastronomic settings go, it would be difficult to top this one. And, once again, kudos to the Giltedge Travel Group for securing us a window table with the best possible view. The setting is decidedly romantic with an intriguing retro edge thrown in for good measure. Think colorful mid-century leather & velvet meet crisp white linen & bold modern art, as one writer put it, and you begin to get the picture.

The restaurant is a partnership between Luke Dale-Roberts and his head chef Ryan Cole, a culinary coalescence that has succeeded in changing Cape Town’s dining landscape. Mr. Cole, a master of unpretentious subtlety, impresses both eye and palate with every nature-inspired bite that comes out of the kitchen. It begins with a dazzling Smoked Springbok Loin accompanied by porcini & goat cheese mousse and puffed sorghum (ancient grain)… continues on through Slow Cooked Pork BellyFree Range Beef Fillet and concludes with a decadent Hazelnut & Bitter Chocolate Tart companioned by Laphroaig Whisky ice cream.

In addition to the Chef’s Menu and Reduced Menu, Salsify also offers diners the option of a Boutique Wine Pairing or more upscale Gem Series Wine Pairing – both featuring exceptional South African wines – with each course. Go for the Gem Series, trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

 Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well


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