The invitation I received from new Babylonstoren Food & Beverage Manager Simoné Rossouw did not reveal what a special honour it was to be invited to the third anniversary celebration of the innovative wine estate, with a top restaurant, boutique hotel, wellness spa, wine tasting and shop, and retail outlet.
We met outside the retail area, which has been expanded to add the shop which originally was located opposite Babel restaurant. Owner Karen Roos (with husband Koos Bekker) has created the most amazing transformation of the wine estate, which had commenced behind the scenes three years prior to their opening, with their GM Terry de Waal and his team planning and implementing their future direction. Karen is one of the most stylish South Africans, having won most stylish dress awards when they were still awarded, and having been the editor of Elle Decor.
We were welcomed with three drink options, being home-made ice tea with waterblommetjie, mint and lime; melon and mint cordial with fresh thyme; and strawberry and rose geranium with lavender and lime. Alternatively one could drink the Babylonstoren wines. On the table was the most interesting ‘pick up sticks’ presentation of smoked salmon and Serrano ham bread sticks. The new Spa will be the reason for a future visit, as I never saw it, being distracted with the extensions to the retail building.
The wine tasting section was taken out of the main section of the building, and moved to the Wine Shop next door, where the wines are displayed very simply on glass shelves . Tasting tables are made from former crates. It is here that I bumped into Karen, who was checking on everything, running the function without her husband, who was in Johannesburg on business. Liam and Jan Tomlin were tasting the wines too, and Chef Liam was non-committal about his judging of the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards. The Babylonstoren wine range consists of Chenin Blanc 2013 (R65), Viognier 2012 (R100), Mourvedre Rose 2013 (R75), Babel Red Blend 2012 (R110), Shiraz 2011 (R135), and Chardonnay 2011 (R170). Koos is particularly proud of the terroir of the Simonsberg, and he also sells the wines of the wine estates surrounding the mountain.
On the opposite end a new shop has been added, next door to the bakery, where one can buy home-made products displayed on well-lit shelves, and curated with a style which only Karen Roos can achieve. Here Maranda Engelbrecht, who has been a consultant to Babel restaurant since its inception, was showing guests the new table cloths with designs of Louis XIVth garden prints. Maranda wrote the book ‘Babel‘, which has just been reprinted (now also in German and Mandarin!), with the Babylonstoren wines added. The shop has shelves of melon and mint cordial (R75), celery preserve (R40), roses in vodka (R160), makatoon (a wild watermelon) and ginger preserve (R55), citron marmalade (R40), blood orange marmalade, lemon and rose geranium cordial (R75), orange blossom honey, Seville kumquat marmalade (R40), strawberry preserve (R40), strawberry and mint geranium cordial(R75), strawberry and Shiraz preserve (R40), and beetroot atchar. One can also buy porcini maldon salt, and beetroot and garlic maldon salt (R35 each). Handblown blue glasses, wooden boards, weck jars, books about food and neighbouring towns, soaps, and the beautifully presented and gift wrapped ‘Geisha imprinted Japanese teacup and saucer‘. The Charcuterie section (with biltong and droë wors) and cheese corner are as beautifully curated as before.
We were invited to walk through the vegetable and herb garden to the Glass House (originally called the Tea House), a beautiful building also serving as a hothouse, in which tables with roasted pear white bread, and rounds of Dalewood Camembert, Roquefort, and Boland cheeses had been set up, with biltong, and bowls of mixed nuts. We sat under the oak trees, entertained by an accordionist, catching up with Letitia and Kobus Prinsloo of the ICA Cookery School, of which Simoné is a past student, as well as with Giovanna Sartor, one of our Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club members and food critic. The Prinsloos shared that they have a small house in Italy, at which they spent three months during our winter, and entertained us with stories of small town Italy. Karen welcomed her guests, who had been involved in the building work on the estate, that had stayed there in the past, or had written about it. She shared that they do new things continuously, that the Spa had opened, that they had added to the retail centre, and how being an A1 heritage site has had its challenges for getting approval for planned designs but had all been opportunities to do things differently. The past six months have been spent on staff training, their baker Karen Pretorius having been sent to Milan, their Babel chef Stefan Danz to Amsterdam, and six gardeners to France to the property of Patrice Taravella, who designed the Babylonstoren vegetable, herb, and fruit garden.
We were divided into groups, to walk to our long table in the vegetable garden, right next to the fragrant nasturtiums, with our host Terry, having started working at the estate three years prior to the opening, to manage the building work, the establishment of the garden, and the vine planting. In our group was Porky Hefer of PhD, once an art director at Hunt Lascaris, which was a client of our PR company two doors away when we rented offices in The Moorings in the V&A Waterfront many moons ago. Porky is a highly regarded designer now, serves on the Board of the company managing the World Design Capital 2014 for Cape Town, and he created bird houses and bird watching hanging chairs resembling weaver bird nests at Babylonstoren. He also recently designed the yellow frame for Table Mountain in the V&A Waterfront. My table neighbours were a team from Cape Design NPC, the company managing World Design Capital 2014. Paul Duncan was editor of Condé Nast House & Garden, and now is Head of Homeware at Woolworths, where he may have a hummingbird buzzing about! He is head of the World Design Capital 2014 team of 32 curators for the year long event. We had a laugh about Bruce Palling, embarrassing Eat Out 2013 judge, whose wife Lucinda had shared a house with Paul in Scotland many years ago, and he had nothing flattering to say about either of them. Priscilla Urquhart is the PR and Media Manager for World Design Capital 2014, and we met many years ago when she was a Cape Times reporter and wrote a front page story about my son and his Camps Bay Preparatory School, leading to my first connection with then Western Cape Minister of Education Helen Zille. Priscilla is a member of the Eat Out 500 panel of 50, which influenced which 500 restaurants will appear in the Eat Out 2014 restaurant guide. The highlight was sitting next to Alayne Reesberg, the CEO of Cape Design NPC, who worked for Bill Gates for six years and enjoys the challenge of working with charming but tough Anton Groenewald, Board member and Executive Director of the City of Cape Town’s Tourism, Events, and Marketing Directorate, which is funding her operation. She is gregarious, extremely funny, and comes from Upington, doing a brilliant ‘Capie’ accent! She proudly shared that they are 30 days ahead of their deadline, despite her company having been two years late in having been established, with the help of her hard working staff. She had brought along Alan Knott-Craig jnr, who heads up Project Isizwe, setting up free wi-fi zones in Stellenbosch, and currently in Khayelitsha.
The 120 guests were seated at the endless long table, and the material serviette was classy. Lighting was provided with candles and the full moon! Wine and water were poured continuously by attentive staff. The menu was written on big paper bags, being pizza, a pasta and tomato salad served in a Consol glass jar, and wood fire oven lamb chops with Tabbouleh, Caesar salad, and a red salad (too dark to photograph). As it had become cold and windy, despite blankets having been provided, we went back to the Glass House for coffee and a dessert of berry panna cotta, also served in a glass jar.
It was a superb evening, made special not only by the beauty of our surroundings and the classy design talents of Karen Roos, but especially the connections with past and new friends. I asked Terry about what was lying ahead, as one can imagine that Koos and karen will have long term plans, but Terry was not revealing anything yet, diplomatically saying that they were happy with what they have achieved since they began developing Babylonstoren six years ago.
Babylonstoren, R45, between Klapmuts and Simondium. Tel (021) 863-1804. www.babylonstoren.com Twitter: @Babylonstoren
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage