Leeu Estates opened its doors in Franschhoek on Monday, after a three-year program of consolidating three properties, planting vines, developing a vegetable garden, and transforming a 19th century Manor House into a 17-bedroom boutique hotel.
Six years ago owner Mr Analjit Singh (on the right, with his PR consultant Nicolette Waterford and a sculpture by Beezy Bailey) fell in love with Franschhoek, when he attended the World Cup soccer, and drove out to Franschhoek for breakfast. It was love at first sight! What was intended as a private residence in the beautiful valley has become the new Leeu Estates, the consolidation of three farms having resulted in the world-class hospitality and wine-making destination.
It was the first time that we had the opportunity to meet Mr Singh, albeit briefly. Mr Singh spoke about his favorite excerpt out of ‘Winnie the Pooh‘, who replied as follows when asked which his favorite day is: ‘Today is my favorite day‘. He welcomed the couple from whom he had bought the farm, when it was still Klein Dassenberg. Mr Singh acknowledged the contribution of the late Jack Clark, who had looked at various properties for Mr Singh, for a private residence. The 17th property was what is now the Manor House! Mr Singh also spoke about his partnership with Chris and Andrea Mullineux of Mullineux Wines, having created Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines, one of our country’s leading wine labels. He spoke about serendipity, it being like a ‘fable‘ driving to Franschhoek for breakfast, and falling in love with the village. He described his acquisition as a ‘blessing‘, being particularly taken by the friendliness of the locals he has met. It was more than co-incidence that the breakfast then was at Grande Provence, feeling ‘such gripping energy‘ in Franschhoek, and now alongside his property! He also spoke about his Personal (in place of Corporate) Social Responsibility towards his staff and the community of Franschhoek.
Leeu Collection MD Hector de Galard welcomed the media guests, saying that it was a special day for the company. He is an experienced hotelier with a passion for detail. He has opened seven luxury resorts around the world. Mr Singh had been captivated by the beauty and landscape of the property when he had first seen it. He shared proudly that they employ 350 staff across all their business interests in Franschhoek. He announced that the Von Ortloff and Dieu Donne properties were still being completed, and will open later this year. Canapés of Madras-cured salmon, mushroom velouté, and asparagus tempura were served.
We were divided into three groups, for a walk-about of the vast property, and I was lucky to be allocated to Matthew’s group. Matthew Smith is the recently promoted regional manager of the Leeu Collection, overseeing all the hospitality interests locally. He spent seven years at Ellerman House previously. Matthew told us that they had used three architects, a challenge in making them all see eye to eye. Graham Goosen designed the Manor House transformation. A Spanish architect created the brand new Spa and Gym building and the Wine Studio. The gables of the Manor House carry the date of 2012, despite the age of the house, it being a law that gable changes must carry the year of the change.
We were told that they have created a house wine range called BAS, the nickname of Mr Singh, and a sparkling wine in the range was served as a welcome drink. Vines surround the Manor House, and are planted elsewhere on the vast property.
The Boutique Hotel was refurbished by Beverley Boswell, who has done the interior design for the other Leeu Collection properties, being Leeu House as well as Tuk Tuk Microbrewery, located on Franschhoek’s main road. Each bedroom at Leeu Estates has specially curated artwork, and many have a terrace and a fireplace, with lovely views. Headboards have been made with horsehair, mirrors have stingray skin and bone, and many paintings are from England. All furniture was specially made for Leeu Estates. All lights are controlled by one switch, and all plugs are easy to get to. Carpets are made from sisal and wool. She showed us what would have been Mr Singh’s bedroom. Each of the 17 bedrooms is uniquely decorated. In the Lounge we were shown the most unusual artwork by Frenchman Daniel Firman called ‘Tim’ (left). We were told that there are about 200 works of art inside and outside at Leeu Estate, including works by Irma Stern, Deborah Bell, and Tretchikoff. We loved the work by Guy du Toit, the Yoga Bunnies at the entrance to the Spa, and the Boxing Bunnies at the Gym.
Other facilities offered are Leeu Spa, with treatments based on Asian traditions. Spa products used in treatments are ila, a blend of organic ingredients harvested from the Amazon rain forest and the Himalayas. I loved the tables made by Pierre Cronje from sections of yellowwood trees from the Knysna Forest, with a square bronze inlay. In walking through the Spa and Gym, we were offered green tea and lavender biscuits.
A Gym contains latest generation fitness machines, and will be available for use by non-hotel guests too. The Reading Room is a library available for use by hotel guests. Indaba is a meeting and conference room facility, as well as event venue, which opens towards the end of the month.
Unique is the Bokkie Garden, an expression of love and very close to Mr Singh’s heart, which is unique with its herd of small buck and planted with grasses and hedges that bokkies love to eat. Marigolds have been planted here too, for use in the Marigold Indian restaurant, planned to open in Franschhoek in November. The ‘Reflective Resonance’ sculpture by Angus Taylor in the Bokkie Garden is a powerful piece of art in bronze and Belfast granite. The Lion sculptures are signature, and were created by Joop Kunneke.
The Wine Studio is a tasting room for the range of Mullineux wines, opening today. To it is attached a cellar. A cellar is being built on the Roundstone farm which was bought in the Swartland, and all Mullineux and Kloof Street wines will be made there from 2018. At Leeu Estate a new Franschhoek wine brand will be made, no name being available yet, and to be launched next year. It will not include Chenin Blanc or Syrah cultivars in its range. Blog reader Lizzie Groenewald introduced herself as The Wine Studio Manager.
The cuisine at Leeu Estates is created under the direction of Executive Chef Oliver Cattermole, meals being offered in The Dining Room as well as The Garden Terrace. Wines from the hotel’s cellar will be served. The Wine Studio offers guests handcrafted premium wines from the award-winning Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines.
For our lunch tables were decorated with flowers, including roses and orchids, with an interesting addition of berries and cactus plants. Salt crystals and ground pepper were offered in small ceramic bowls.
Our lunch was served in The Dining Room, and we were seated at one of two long tables. Staff wear black tunic tops, black pants, and black and beige aprons, the beige matching the colour of the table cloths and napkins on the tables. Our lunch was under the control of the Operations Manager Shubhendu Vyas and Culinary Manager Martell Smith.
Chef Oliver talked us through the menu. He had sourced the crockery from various suppliers in France. The cutlery was shiny new Degrenne. Breads offered were sourdough, smoked garlic sourdough, and a gluten-free bread. The Starter was roasted Estate Tomato, served with Tabbouleh, and a spiced tomato fondue, paired with Kloof Street Chenin Blanc 2015, an entry level Mullineux wine.
The Intermediate dish was a beautifully plated braised heirloom carrot, black garlic, and smoked miso. This was paired with Mullineux Old Vines White 2014.
The main course was spiced kingklip, now on the SASSI green list, served with aubergine and an unusual green olive salsa. This dish was served with a Mullineux Syrah 2015.
Pastry Chef Jac Kolver is very talented, and designed a dessert of slow-roasted apple terrine, puff pastry, salted caramel, and apple sauce, paired with Mullineux Straw Wine 2015.
The final cherry on top of the visit to Leeu Estates was the Petits Fours, being miso and goats milk cheese, macarons, azelia wafer, and walnut toffees, served with tea and coffee.
Martell showed me the wine and spirits cellar below the restaurant, still being stocked up, with unusual curved shelving made from beautiful wood. Martell was extremely service-orientated, and assisted me in finding a charger for my phone, after all the photographs we had already taken and Tweeted depleted the phone battery. She organized a cappuccino and the petits fours for me to photograph, as well as a golf cart back to my car, when I had to leave.
The design and transformation of Leeu Estates was directed by Spanish architect Tomeu Esteva, and local architects Graham Goosen and Johan Malherbe. Franschesca Watson was the landscape designer. Attention to detail is the mantra of Leeu Estates, applied to every aspect, from cuisine, décor, and to service, with nothing being too much trouble.
Mr Singh said about his newest hotel: ‘I am extremely pleased to see this dream of mine turning into a reality. At last guests from all over the globe can now enjoy the Leeu touch and have unforgettable experiences in a superb setting. This place is close to my heart and I am truly happy to share the beauty it offers with others‘.
The Leeu Collection hospitality portfolio comprises three five-star boutique properties: Leeu Estates, with 17 bedrooms; Leeu House, a 12-bedroom hotel; and Le Quartier Français, a 21-room hotel with The Tasting Room restaurant. It also owns the Tuk Tuk Microbrewery, developed in collaboration with The Cape Brewing Company; and will open Marigold Indian restaurant later this year. Earlier this year Leeu Collection acquired Linthwaite House in the Lake District in the UK.
Disclosure: We received a bottle of Mullineux Mourvèdre, an apron, a jar of quince jelly, a pen, and an ila Dreamtime Eau de Parfum.
Leeu Estate, Leeu Collection, Franschhoek. Tel (021) 492-2222. www.leeucollection.com Twitter: @LeeuCollection
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.whalecottage.com/blog Tel 082 55 11 323 Twitter: @WhaleCottage Facebook: click here Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein