Bistro13 Logo Whale CottageChef Nic van Wyk needs no introduction, having been the judge for two seasons of Kokkedoor, and having made a name for himself as a sauce man of note whilst he was at Terroir with Michael Broughton, and more recently having served honest food at Diemersdal Farm Eatery.  Now he has opened bistro 13 at Stellenbosch Vineyards, in the same building as the new tasting room for the wine estate, also known as Welmoed.

Chef Nic’s partner Roxy Laker has been excellent at documenting theBistro 13 Stellenbosch Vineyards tasting desk Whale Cottage journey of the transformation from a construction site into the restaurant, showing us on Facebook how Chef Nic and she were hands-on in erecting shelving and adding the decor. Yesterday a new journey commenced, it being the official opening day.  I was inquisitive to see the new restaurant and tasting room, and a chat between Roxy and I on Facebook led to an invitation from Stellenbosch Vineyards’ Business Development Manager Guy Kedian to visit yesterday, whilst I was in Stellenbosch anyway.

Guy told me the history of Stellenbosch Vineyards, which originally had this name, was changed to The Company of Wine People, and in 2012 changed back to Stellenbosch Vineyards.  For the first time the Bistro 13 Guy Kedian Whale Cottagecompany has a customer ‘face’ for its wine brands Credo, Stellenbosch Vineyards, Versus, The Flagship, Four Secrets, Infusions, and Arniston Bay, via the brand new tasting room with a tasteful, warm, and welcoming interior.   The interior design was done by Domaine du Cap.  Guy was closely involved with the project, having identified the need for a tasting room and a restaurant, the wine estate having an ideal location on Baden Powell Drive, which carries a great deal of traffic and is only 22 minutes from the Cape Town city centre. Guy and I got to know each other when he ran The Tasting Room at Maison in Franschhoek, and is a friendly knowledgeable person who is passionate about wine.  Welmoed was the first proclaimed wine producing farm in Stellenbosch, records dating back to 1690 being visible in the tasting room. Bistro 13 Tasting Room lounge Whale Cottage Kobus Steyn is the Tasting Room Manager, previously at Rickety Bridge.  Guy and Kobus have tried to address every irritation they have experienced at other tasting rooms, such as receiving one bill for coffee and wines in a tasting room, and for having something to eat after 17h00, or between 15h00 – 18h00.  A double lane road in both directions is being built on Baden Powell Drive, and a new entrance to the wine farm is being created by the road construction company.

Bistro 13 Interior plus serving hatch Whale CottageInside the restaurant there is seating for 60 guests, and another 40 can be seated outside on the deck, under shady trees, which never allowed the sunlight to get into one’s eyes.  The outside seating faces a dam, for which Guy has plans to entertain older children on canoes, with the younger ones making use of a jungle gym and a slide to come.  The outside tables were laid with white table cloths, Fortis cutlery, white material serviettes, and small containers of coarse salt and pepper.  Inside a shelf behind the reception desk has a wood plant box with herbs, a unique decor touch. The kitchen is visible to patrons sitting inside the restaurant, a blue grey colour attracting attention to the pass.

Our sweet waitress Elaine, wearing a grey bistro 13 branded apron,  brought out a plate of flatbreads and rolls, with butter.  Chef Nic came to sit down at our table regularly.  Chef Nic will do another season of Kokkedoor in April 2015, but will not be involved in Koekedoor, which will be filmed from 25 October, a new set of judges having been appointed, and a new venue found for it in Bistro 13 Chef Nic van Wyk Whale CottageTulbagh.  Chef Nic left Diemersdal Farm Eatery late last year, and has left the restaurant in the hands of his Sous Chef Martin.   In his new kitchen Chef Nic is working with Chef Jean van Zyl, who was previously at Delaire Graff and Rust en Vrede, while Chef Jean’s partner Cecile van Rooyen (also from Rust en Vrede) helps Roxy run front of house.  Chef Nic spoke about Kokkedoor, and said that it will always remain part of his life, but will reduce in importance over time.  Chef Nic has space for a vegetable and herb garden to be planted alongside the restaurant.

The menu is presented on strips of half A4 pages, and its first page explains the lucky number 13 in Nic’s life, the most important being that each child in his family was allowed to choose the restaurant at which they wanted to celebrate their 13th birthday.  This stimulated Chef’s Nic’s vision for food in his future.  ‘Honest food‘ is served, made by a passionate team. The pass is open to diners, and they are invited to experience the buzz of the kitchen.  An interesting aspect of the number 13 at bistro 13 is the decision to add a service charge of 13% to the bill automatically. They write in their introduction: ‘Should you feel we do not live up to this, please chat to our manager who will adjust your bill and happily receive your comments, which are invaluable to us‘.   The team knows that this will become a talking point, bistro 13 being the first restaurant to levy such a charge automatically.

Bistro 13 Tongue gratin Whale CottageChef Nic explained the beef tongue gratin starter to us, both Guy and I having ordered the dish: thin slices of tongue are poached, baby leeks are prepared in herb butter, and a delicious sauce made with whipped cream and egg yolk, which had a lovely lemon tang (R60).  Other starters are steak tartare served with quail egg, tomato concasse and fine herbs, a definite order for a next visit; lamb rib; spring vegetable broth with ham hock; curried crispy calamari; chicken croquette served with corn veloute; and artichoke, courgette, aubergine, and peas served with minted yoghurt and flatbread, in a price band of R60 – R70.

For the main course I chose the pan-fried and smoked hake, the latter having a pronounced salty taste due to being rubbed inBistro 13 Hake Whale Cottage salt before it is smoked, which was served with crushed peas and a colourful and tasty herb butter sauce (R110).  Guy had the Mushroom Risotto, served with Bistro 13 Mushroom Risotto Whale Cottagecep sauce, truffle oil, and gruyere, and I was allowed to taste a forkful of his dish (R90).   Other main courses are beef steak (R130); crumbed pork fillet (R90); confit chicken (R90); slow braised lamb shoulder (R120); and Provencal prawns (R110).

Desserts cost between R40 – R60, and Guy suggested the chocolate cake with caramel praline, which went down well with a perfectly made dry cappuccino.  One can also order a crème caramel, guava and quince gratin, tipsy tart, macerated spring fruit with meringueBistro 13 Chocolate tart and caramel brittle Whale Cottage and yoghurt mousse, and cheese with preserve pairing.  A little menu caters for children.  The winelist is not yet available, as the liquor licence of the restaurant has not yet been finalised.  Guy has compiled the winelist, and only a small markup has been added to the Stellenbosch Vineyards’ wines.

Despite a hectic 24 hours prior to arriving at bistro 13, it was the most relaxing tranquil afternoon sitting outside, hearing the doves, enjoying the food and company, and not really wanting to drive back to Cape Town. One could have sworn that bistro 13 has been open for some time already, and it is only the garden that reflects the newness of the tasting room and of bistro 13.   The prices are reasonable, the service charge will become a good feedback mechanism and talking point, and the service is friendly and welcoming.  A lovely touch was the regular visits to our table by Chef Nic.

bistro 13, Stellenbosch Vineyards, R310 Baden Powell Drive, Stellenbosch.  Tel (021)  881-3044  www.bistro13.co.za   Twitter: @bistro_13  Tuesday – Sunday Breakfast 8h00 – 10h30 and Lunch 12h00 – 15h00. Tapas platters in the Tasting Room 15h00 -18h00.  Dinner Wednesdays  – Saturdays from 18h30.

Stellenbosch Vineyards Tasting Room, R310 Baden Powell Drive, Stellenbosch.  Tel (021) 881-8062.               www.stellenboschvineyards.co.za  Twitter: @Welmod @Credo @ArnistonBay  10h00 – 18h00

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com  Tel (021) 433-2100  Twitter:@WhaleCottage  Facebook:  click here