In November I was privileged to experience the 16-course Tasting Menu of the then newly opened Gåte Restaurant at Quoin Rock wine estate. On Friday my Parisian friend and I returned to Gåte, to experience the lunchtime Food and Wine Experience, pairing the restaurant’s homemade charcuterie and cheese dishes with the excellent wines of Quoin Rock.
Whilst dining at Gåte in November, we were told that they were planning Food and Wine experience lunches, allowing one to get a taste of Gåte restaurant, pairedcwith Quoin Rock wines. Anyone expecting a mini Tasting Menu, at lunchtime, would be let down, as the brief to the kitchen staff was to focus on the homemade charcuterie and cheeses, made by their multi-talented baker Ricky Alleman, in creating dishes to pair with the Quoin Rock wines.
But let me start at the beginning. Our reservation was done by Head Waiter Rufus Scholtz, whom I have bumped into in Camps Bay on two occasions since being looked after him at our dinner in November. Whilst he does not work lunch shifts, he kept in touch with me during the lunch via Whats App, and requested subsequent feedback, most commendable I thought.
For the second time out of three visits we encountered problems with the boomsman, he wanting to know why we wanted access the property. I told him that we were booked for lunch. He told us that they do not do lunch at Gåte, only dinner, and that we should go to Knorhoek further up the road instead! He then wanted to scan my ID after he had already scanned the car registration disc, and wanted a spelling of my name. I am severely allergic to Security booms, and he gave up on me, having to phone someone. The boom magically opened as a result! This was the only negative we experienced during our four hours at Gåte, receiving nothing but professional service and attention during the afternoon.
We parked outside the restaurant, Tasting Room and Cellar building, and were greeted by two members of staff at the entrance. Somehow I asked immediately if GM Troy Truter still works there, and I was told that he is the only person to have left. Our waitron Shawn Frieslaar, with Trish Truter, were waiting for us in the reception area, which is dominated by a Charles Haupt designed double storey vine sculpture water feature, with wooden murals reflecting the Simonsberg mountain which can be seen from the wine estate. We were taken to the space which is a Tasting Room by day and Restaurant at night, and we sat at the same table at which Stuart Bailey and I had sat at our dinner in November.
Lana Maydew is the Quoin Rock Hospitality Manager, and she offered to show us the wedding venue, with lighting designed by Charles Haupt of Bronze Age, which she described as DNA in its look, and looked like pearls to me. Furniture is by Pierre Cronje, and metal room divider screens were designed by Quoin Rock architect and structural engineer Dr Julia Gaiduk (photograph right), and manufactured by Design Element, we were told. Upstairs in this building is a cigar and whisky lounge, with views onto the vineyards. Furniture is a mix of contemporary Weylandts and more classic, from a company in Stellenbosch. I loved seeing the 16-sided bronze side tables, which reflect the Gåte menu holders which accompany one’s Tasting Menu dinner.
The Tasting Room/Restaurant venue has a central counter, of which the design resembles a wine barrel, with wooden elements above it in concentric circles, as if it has been deconstructed, created by Pierre Cronje. On the counter I noticed new containers with succulents, as well as a collection of bronze bowls with gold inside, created by Charles Haupt of Bronze Age. Above a banquette on one side a vine structure has been created, to bring the vineyard into the Quoin Rock Tasting Room and Restaurant, also created by Charles Haupt. Pierre Cronje created all the tables and chairs, with a Quoin Rock logo inlay on the table top.
We were introduced to Bongani Twala, the new Quoin Rock wine ambassador and previously at Holden Manz and at Cavalli, and he handed me a folder with information about each of the Quoin Rock wines which we tasted, the entry level Namysto wines, and the Quoin Rock ones too. For each dish we were served, Bongani gave us a background to the wine pairing. We loved tasting the wines in the beautiful light hand-blown Zwiesel crystal glassware. The Quoin Rock winemaker is Jacques Maree, previously at Rust en Vrede.
Before we were served our first dish, a whisky cocktail was offered, with lime, thyme, and topped with whipped egg white, a first for me, but a refreshing introductory drink on a very hot day. Whilst we were served our first dish by Shawn, a dry ice smoking glass container filled with shells inside, and topped with two oysters each, with pickled compressed green strawberries, bacon, dashi, coriander oil, smoked paprika oil, and topped with foam created with Quoin Rock Black Series MCC Brut 2013, Julia joined our table, to tell us more about her work in redesigning the building architecturally and from a structural engineering perspective. The MCC is a blend of 50 % each of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and has an aging potential of 15 years. It was kept on the lees for 52 months. It spent a further six months maturing in the bottle before it was released. We were offered a black Tweezer with which to eat the oysters.
Julia shared that at the outset they had decided that Quoin Rock should be different to any other wine estate in our country, and she mentioned Delaire Graff and Cavalli by name. In explaining her design of the metal structure above the marble tile terrace, Julia used the analogy of ‘two parallel sausages’, to create both shade as well as vine design shadows onto the terrace, once again bringing the vineyard into the Tasting Room/Restaurant Building. The columns for the structure are 15 meters high. The beams were made by Smithsons, described by Julia as being of a ‘Bentley’ standard, all joining perfectly. The galvanized aluminium vine design laser cutting was done by Tilt. She also told us about the design by Pierre Cronje of the very soft and comfortable dining chairs, with a wooden structure and leather upholstery. These had taken five months to get to an approved design, comfort being the prime consideration. Julia is a young 37 year old, with a doctorate in Science, a qualification in both architecture and structural engineering. When she arrived on the wine estate from the Ukraine, being married to the owner’s son Denis Gaiduk and MD of the wine estate, she was expecting her second child, and had no intention to get involved in any of the design work. She told us that she respects South African architectural design and practice, and architect Stefan Antoni is her ‘idol’, she said. She managed to compress the time to do the project designs and the construction by half, to two years, it being typical to do construction projects fast in the Ukraine. She was delighted that her parents-in-law approved her designs, being perfectionists.
We were also told that Quoin Rock has bought neighbouring Knorhoek, Quoin Rock having once been part of the larger Knorhoek estate, but in 1998 it was sold off to the infamous Dave King, first called Glenhurst but then renamed Quoin Rock, after the Quoin Point near Cape Agulhas, where King also had a vineyard called Boskloof, located in Elim. Julia explained that a ‘quoin’ or ‘coin’ in French is the last bridging piece, crown, or cornerstone of an arch structure. The name had been given to the dangerous rock ridge near Cape Agulhas by French sailors, we were told. Knorhoek has a Cape Dutch building on it, so any changes would be strictly controlled. The initial plan is to leave the building as it is, and to possibly add more accommodation, so that the Gåte Restaurant guests do not have to drive back after their Tasting Menu dinners. An existing restaurant at Knorhoek will eventually be overseen by Gåte Executive Chef Rikku O’Donnchü, there being plans to create a Deli there, much like the Tokara model. Quoin Rock already has a Manor House, offering accommodation, and located at the highest point of the property, with 360 degree views.
Whilst chatting to Julia, Denis came to greet us, accompanied by the Commercial Manager Dave Hutton, whom I had not met before, handling all Sales and Marketing. He was previously at Rustenburg. He told us that Quoin Rock is 200 ha in size, of which 39 ha is planted with vines. There is potential to plant another 100 ha. In Elim their farm is 3000 ha big, of which 11 ha is planted to vines, and 800 ha is allocated to game.
After Denis, Dave, and Julia excused themselves, our meal continued. The second course was a Caesar Salad, with gem lettuce, capers, anchovies, Parmesan crisps, cured egg yolk, and olive oil caviar pearls. It was served in a copper pan, on top of a flat rock. A Caesar dressing of anchovy, mayonnaise, and Parmesan cheese was added to the dish. Cutlery by Nicholson Russell was brought to the table course by course. The dish was paired with Namysto Sauvignon Blanc (95%) Semillon (5%, wooded) Blend 2017, and I loved its fresh tropical taste as well as exquisite label design, a necklace with a Ukrainian design but that a South African would describe as African too. The entry level brand name means necklace in Ukrainian. This wine received 95 points in the International Wine Challenge. The components of the wine were kept separate, with regular batonage, andblended after 6 months maturation. It has an aging potential of ten years. I liked this wine so much that I bought some of it (R120 per bottle), together with the MCC (R350 per bottle) which we had tasted with our oyster dish.
Course 3 was Proscuitto served with pickled pear, mustard frill, Parmesan shavings, fresh basil, and offered with an aged Modena balsamic vinegar, paired with the Quoin Rock Chardonnay 2017, the favorite of my friend. Bongani explained that it has a fresher style, being wooded in second and third fill barrels for nine months. Interesting is that it is a blend of Chardonnay harvested at both the Stellenbosch (giving tropicality) and Elim (giving minerality) properties. This wine recently garnered a 4 1/2 star Platter rating. Its aging potential is 10 years.
As a duck lover, one of my favorite dishes was the duck ham, with mint powder, mint gel, anchovy crackers, anchovy purée, feta cheese, and peeled grapes. The mint and duck combination was unique, and refreshing. The dish was paired with the Namysto Red Blend 2015, of Shiraz (60%), Cabernet Sauvignon (29%), Merlot (6%), and Cabernet Franc (5%). The wine was barrel fermented for 20 months, 30% in new barrels, and 70% in second and third fill barrels, for 20 months. Its aging potential is 15 years.
Course 5 was a dish of Coppa Ham, Ash goat’s cheese, pickled plum jelly, fermented plum, purple cauliflower florets, quail eggs, and ash created with smoked duck ham fat. This was paired with Quoin Rock Red Blend 2015, a Bordeaux Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (66%), Cabernet Franc (19%), and Merlot (15%). Bongani told us that it was matured for 20 months, with 55% in first fill barrels, and 45% in second and third fill barrels. Its aging potential is 15 years.
Course 6 was German salami with fennel seeds, beetroot, heirloom tomatoes, radish, daikon, fennel, baked cauliflower, volcanic salt, mozzarella, and balsamic spherification. This dish was paired with the Quoin Rock Shiraz 2015, which can be aged for a further 10 – 15 years, Bongani recommended. This wine was recognised with 4 1/2 stars by Platter. New French barrels were used for 56% of the maturation, and 44% of the wine was matured in second and third fill barrels.
Course 7 was dessert, a pineapple macaron, with passion fruit crème, mango gel, mango and raspberry flakes, accompanied by a Quoin Rock Black Series MCC Brut Sorbet. We were brought soup-size spoons for this dish, and I asked Shawn for a smaller spoon, to savor each delicious bite. The dessert was paired with Quoin Rock Vine Dried 2017, a 100% Sauvignon Blanc dessert wine. The wine was matured for five to six months in very old barrels, Bongani told us. It can be aged for 15 years. Alcohol level of 11,62%, residual sugar 137,5 gram/litre.
Our 8th course was a catch-up of a Beetroot Balloon dish which Stuart and I had missed out on our Tasting Menu dinner, a surprise last dish which is served to guests. Chef Rikku and a colleague ceremoniously brought the helium-filled balloons to our table, and we were told to bite into them and eat them. Mine tasted of candy floss, and it was funny hearing my friend speaking in a high-pitched voice as a result of the helium. My voice stayed the same, it sounded to me. The description of how it was made was provided by Chef Rikku, ingredients being sugar, corn flour, purified water, elastic, and a sugar stabilizer.
At this point Chef Rikku joined our table, telling my friend how much he loves our country, and the fact that it is unexplored culinary-wise is what has attracted him to live and cook here… other than his South African wife Michelle. We spoke about the recent pop-up he did with Magnum ice creams in Johannesburg, the brand pay-off line of ‘Taking pleasure seriously’ reflecting the ethos of Chef Rikku and his Gåte restaurant. I gifted Chef Rikku a copy of my ‘SwitchBitch: My journey of transformation in walking the Camino, Sole to Soul’ Book, having included my review of Gåte restaurant in the second book I have written. A detailed resume of Chef Rikku’s illustrious cheffing career in Michelin star/World’s 50 Best restaurants appears in my Gåte review (link above). Chef Rikku told us that Michelin inspectors unofficially came to eat at Gåte two weeks ago, and would have awarded it two Michelin stars, and even three had they used table cloths, had Michelin offered a Restaurant Guide in our country.
As I wrote above, the Quoin Rock Lunch Food and Wine pairing experience is not a condensed version of the Gåte Tasting Menu. By the end of February Chef Rikku and his team will introduce a new Dinner menu, possibly with fewer courses, and may offer a reduced version of the Dinner menu for the lunch food and wine pairings. The current focus at the Quoin Rock Food and Wine pairings is to showcase the little-known Quoin Rock wines, using charcuterie and cheeses created in-house. What we liked about the lunch, over and above its creative pairings with charcuterie and cheese ingredients, the colourful presentation of the dishes, as well as the pairings with the Quoin Rock wines, was that it was light yet filling, and refreshing for hot summer days, all the dishes served cold.
POSTSCRIPT 4/2: I love the honesty and character of Chef Rikku. This was his response to some comments this Blogpost received:
Honestly… I don’t.
Reason is we spent months making the meat right etc. and what is a restaurant without a critic?
I wish I cared enough. Your comments mean the world to me, because you look beyond the now. I’m done with being judged by people who know less than me.
Not that she does.
But I’ll give you something for nothing…
If you’ve ever obsessed, ever doubted your self, FOOD is the industry that will attract you.
Outside of that. They’ll copy and they’ll sting.
But just remember who you are stinging.
20 years I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing, one comment, is only gonna make me push harder.
I love my customers, more than anything…
They gave me life and meaning, and I will always answer them directly.
Gåte Restaurant, Quoin Rock Winery, Knorhoek Road, Stellenbosch. Tel (021) 888-4740. www.quoinrock.co.za Instagram: @quoinrockwines @gate_restaurant @chef_rikku
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein