On Thursday we saluted Ken and Allan Forrester, Natasha Wray, and Martin Meinert, the four original founders of 96 Winery Road on the outskirts of Stellenbosch, who still jointly own the restaurant 21 years later. It was a Media Lunch filled with nostalgia and reminiscing, being served the restaurant’s most popular dishes over the 21 years.
Ken and Allan Forrester said that life for the restaurant started as a breakfast room for an accommodation property down the road from Ken Forrester Wines, which was followed by a restaurant run by the former accommodation owners. The restaurant operation was not successful, and this is when Ken Forrester (right) decided to take over the restaurant and accommodation business, and he sent for his brother Allan, who moved from Johannesburg to run the restaurant. The first Chef was Cathy Romer-Lee, and after a year she had to move on due to the job change to Plettenberg Bay of her former husband Tony. Natasha stepped into Cathy’s shoes, both chefs being Silwood-trained, and about a year ago she reduced her role in the kitchen, with the appointment of Chef Adrian Buchanan (left). Natasha is still involved in administrative duties for the restaurant.
We were welcomed with Ken Forrester Sparklehorse Chenin Blanc Méthode Cap Classique, as well as canapés which reflected further popular dishes: beef tartare, an onion and Camembert tart, and very good and crispy kataifi prawns served with a dipping sauce.
Our dietary requirements had been ascertained, and I was grateful for the special preparation of some dishes to exclude garlic and onion.
We chatted about how few restaurants have operated for such a length of time, and could not remember many with such a history. Blues in Camps Bay and Aubergine were mentioned as two of few that have operated for longer.
Our first dish was a starter of New Style Sashimi, which was made with Mauritian Sea Bass, served with horseradish crème, and wasabi mayonnaise, and topped with sesame seeds.
With this starter Meinert The German Job Riesling 2015 was served, made by Martin Meinert, one of the four founders of 96 Winery Road. Namibian-born Martin previously worked at Vergelegen as winemaker, and now is independent, with a small property with vines in Devon Valley, where he makes 60000 bottles of wine annually. He buys in some grapes. I had heard Martin’s name many times when we did tastings with Ken, but it was my first meeting of Martin. I was fascinated to hear that Martin started his career as a journalist at the former Rand Daily Mail, with Helen Zille as a colleague. He had a passion for wine, and moved down to the Cape to study winemaking in Stellenbosch. The Riesling grapes were bought in from Elgin. He also buys Sauvignon Blanc grapes from the region. Martin met Ken when he visited Ken at his former restaurant Gatrilles in Johannesburg, to sell him his wines.
The second course was a taster of pork belly, served simply with sweet potato and tomato chutney. It was paired with Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc Reserve. We were impressed with the restaurant manager Conrad Brits, who exuded passion for his job, and got to know our names and special requirements quickly. Allan proudly told us that some of the restaurant staff have worked there for 21 years already!
Our third course was a wild mushroom cappuccino, topped with a cheese straw. This was followed by a calamari steak with a taco shell, which was paired with Ken Forrester FMC.
While the first courses had been taster-sized ones, the main course doubled up as both the most popular dish of all, being the duck and cherry pie, which was prepared in four portions for us to share. In addition a show-stopper was a pan with portions of
another signature dish, Hollandse beef fillet, which had been flambeed with brandy, and was served with a heavenly cream and black pepper sauce. With this course steamed variegated beetroot was served, adding a colorful touch to the plate. The main course was served with Meinert Devon Crest red blend. I was told by Allan that a vegetable garden is being prepared for the kitchen.
The dessert platter was a representation of small size popular treats from the 96 Winery Road menu, with Chocolate Chocolate, Crème Brûlée, and Berry ice cream topped with Rocky Road. It was paired with a delicious Meinert Semillon Straw Wine 2014, in a bottle with a modern unusual label. My dry cappuccino was perfectly prepared.
We enjoyed a very relaxed lunch, and I was lucky to sit next to Ken, a raconteur who is informative and entertaining. The food was excellent, if too much.
Disclosure: We received a jar of Crunchy Chili jam and of quince jelly with our media pack.
96 Winery Road Restaurant, Zandberg Farm, Winery Road, off R44, Stellenbosch. Tel (021) 842-2020. www.96wineryroad.co.za Twitter:@96wineryroad Instagram:@96wineryroad Monday – Sunday Lunch, Monday – Saturday Dinner.
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: click here Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein