The new words on serious diners lips are ‘Gåte’ and ‘Quoin Rock’, both not having been heard of by most, but already associated with superlative dining, on a wine estate tucked away outside Stellenbosch where no expense had been spared to create eating and drinking experiences to take one’s breath away! This is what we experienced when invited to eat at Chef Rikku O’Donnchü’s Gåte restaurant on Friday evening. I was still pinching myself over the weekend as to whether this was real, or just a dream. I invited my friend Stuart Bailey to share this experience with me.
Quoin Rock Wine estate
When researching the wine estate, I found that it had previously belonged to a Dave King, who owed SARS a huge amount of money, and hence the wine estate was liquidated and auctioned off, initially sold to Wendy Appelbaum, but the involvement of former auctioneer Rael Levitt of Auction Alliance and ghost bidders driving up the price made her withdraw. Then a former Vice President of the Ukraine, Vitaly Gaiduk, bought the estate on the Knorhoek Road near Delheim, outside Stellenbosch, for R85 million five years ago, it is reported. A major development project commenced, the vision being to build a cellar which would also house the Tasting Room, and a Restaurant, cleverly the same space used by day and by night, respectively. They wanted to be environmentally friendly, source all the restaurant ingredients from the estate, and minimise their carbon footprint, hence the Cape Town chefs travel to and from work together.
We were welcomed at the entrance door, dramatic with wood structures on the outside, and a grape vine sculpture and water feature reaching up two storeys in the reception area, by GM Troy Truter, formerly of Bukhara and Haiku. The grapevine sculpture was designed by Charles Haupt. Troy offered us a cucumber and mint martini. I noticed a wood layered wall covering, representing the mountains that the estate looks out on, in the passage.
We were introduced to Rufus Scholtz, whose name I recognised from the preview briefing, as being the Head Waiter, an honour to be looked after by him for the rest of the evening. He showed us his top 100 international wine cellar in the making, the list being compiled from Parker and Spectator ratings. Rufus told us proudly that he stocks the world’s best Rosé, the Château d’Esclans wine being the most expensive Rosé at over €100 a bottle, a Google search told me. In the cellar by chance was Quoin Rock winemaker Jacques Marais.
We walked past the Zen Garden, and it is here that I met Denis Gaiduk, the son of the owner and MD of the wine estate.
Rufus offered to show us around, and we went into the events venue, a huge hall, with glass doors to the side, and a mezzanine level with a Whisky and Cigar Lounge, almost complete, with a magnificent view. Rufus offered us our favourite whiskey, both of us being Jameson fans, and he brought us an 18 year old Reserve on the rocks. Huge metal screens with cutouts have been created, to subdivide sections of the space. Artwork is discreet and selective, with only two sculptures, a male torso near the entrance to the event venue, and a young girl sitting in a circular pond, both by sculptor Adriaan Diedericks. When one faces the building at the pond one sees the reflection of the nature surrounding it, mirror glass having been used, becoming art in itself. Circles are everywhere at Quoin Rock. On our previous visit Aurélie Jullien and I had already seen an overhead metal structure over the terrace, with a pattern, which creates leaf shapes on the tiles of the terrace when the sun shines. Inside the Tasting Room/Restaurant, a counter resembling the shape of a vat made from beautiful solid oak wood attracts attention, it being the only furniture item in the room, other than the wood tables and chairs. Above the counter were ‘deconstructed’ elements of a vat, in part-circles, with metal circles too, a contemporary feel. Single white proteas in individual vases were on the counter.
Denis’ wife is Julia Gaiduk, an engineer and architect by training, having done all the design work, and the interior design too. We met both Julia and Denis when they came to chat at our table. Denis came to chat regularly, to check how we felt about the meal, and the pairings with the champagnes and his Quoin Rock wines. Sustainability is vital at Quoin Rock, and they use borehole water and solar energy for electricity. Rufus told us that they have their own Wagyu cattle, greenhouses to grow vegetables and herbs, guinea fowl, hens, and fruit.
About a month ago I connected with Gåte Head Chef Warwick King, and he invited me to visit the winery and their 40-seater restaurant space still bring constructed. The kitchen had been completed already. Chefs Rikku and Warwick spent one and a half hours briefing us on their sixteen course Tasting Menu. Chef Rikku struck me then already as a refreshingly different chef, welcoming controversy and feedback to his dishes, saying that he expects his diners to both like and hate his dishes. Do read the background to Chef Rikku and the Michelin star and World’s 50 Best restaurants he has worked in internationally.
Gåte restaurant opened on 13 November, ours being the fourth dinner served by the restaurant. All 40 of us were invited guests, which included TV presenter and MasterChef finalist Claire Allen; Chef Jason Whitehead; Deon Meyer, the surfing friend of Chef Rikku, whom Rikku had visited in Cape Town, during which visit he met his future wife Michelle Marais at Van Hunks on Kloof Street whilst eating pizza, something I tease him about; and artist Riaan van Zyl, a friend of Rikku, whose charcoal drawings inspired the scallop dish presented on a black and white ceramic plate. I went to his table to introduce myself, and he seemed unaware that he had been the inspiration of a dish on the menu.
The tables have the Quoin Rock logo, made from European Ashwood by Pierre Cronje, the bespoke furniture company, costing R70ooo for a four-seater table, Stuart Googled. Initially a round tray with a brass Gåte-branded hexadecagon was placed over the logo, only the tail of the ‘R’ visible, until it was moved further back (main photograph). Rufus told us that each panel of the hexadecagon contains the name of one of the 16 courses. Unlike a paper menu, we did not interact with it, the most unusual menu I have ever experienced. The chairs are very comfortable, made by the same company, with the same wood structure, and seating in beige leather. On the table too was a setting per person, with a material napkin rolled up and presented in a copper serviette ring, and water and wine glasses by Schott Zwiesel, an international hand-blown crystal glass brand. What the table lacks in a table cloth, it has in a view, most of us sitting close to a glass door overlooking the wine estate. Cutlery is by Nicholson Russell, and ceramics by Three Potters and a Painter.
Rufus took our water order, and offered to show us the event hall and whisky and cigar lounge, very impressive. It was at this stage, as we were re-entering the restaurant, that we heard the music, loud and not appearing to match this fine-dining environment, but soon the music blended into the buzz of the room, and I was not conscious of it for the rest of the evening.
The wine list has a brown leather cover, is imprinted with the Gåte labyrinth logo, and is separated by Beverage type. It is attached to a slate plate, giving it substance. For our dinner, Rufus brought the appropriate wines to the table, matching the appropriate pairing. He and the waiters wear a brown leather apron with pockets, in which a collection of instruments are stored, including tweezers.
Alongside each table is a tray stand, topped with a tray, made from the same Ashwood. It looks solid and sturdy, and even heavy.
The opening of Gåte just a week ago has caused rumblings as well as delight in the restaurant industry, with chefs with egos claiming that some of their dishes have been copied, Gåte representing a huge threat to the restaurants at the very top end of fine dining, especially since Eat Out this year opened the door to a new number one restaurant, toppling The Test Kitchen off its number one perch of the last six years. Others, diners and restaurant lovers like myself, are delighted with this breath of fresh air, and the caliber of fine-dining at Gåte, with a chef who appears to not follow the rules of the rest of our restaurant industry, not needing approval nor support from the traditional media the other chefs pander to! I was delighted to have the scoop on the Gåte story, a month before its opening, Chef Rikku staying in touch with me, and ultimately being invited to dinner. There is whispering of World’s 50 Best Restaurant and Michelin interest in the restaurant, which will annoy other fine-dining chefs even further, linked to which is that the kitchen has an abundance of enviable equipment to create top dishes, on average one chef per dish for the 16 courses, and one waiter per table, demonstrating a serious commitment to offering the best quality dining and wining, and service, to achieve this.
Rufus impressed, nothing being too much trouble. I asked a lot of questions out of interest, and he thanked me for them, answering where he knew, and turned to the kitchen for answers to others. He remembered serving me at La Colombe, where he worked before, when I last ate there when my son Alex visited from the UK. While he might have been briefed about me, I was impressed that he remembered Stuart’s name from the time that I introduced him, and addressed him as such throughout the dinner, giving the service a further personal touch.
Chef Rikku shared with me the philosophy of his Tasting Menu design: ‘The build up is designed around the palate adapting to salt, sweet, bitter, umami, and sour. We try to emphasise one of those in each dish with the next acting like a cleanser almost from the previous. The labyrinth is symbolic of the journey… As you experienced the other night, at times when you were trying to find your way through the labyrinth, you just couldn’t seem to find the way out. It is also symbolic for not knowing what’s around the corner’!
As a writer, too much rather than too little information is a treat. Whilst Rufus introduced each dish to us, I would have liked to see a written menu, and take one with me. I am very grateful that Chef Rikku sent me a copy of it after the dinner, the ingredients per dish listed below as I received it from him. I would have liked a description of how some of the dishes were made, especially where they involved the highly technical Molecular Gastronomy. Amazing was that Rufus gave me his cell number, in case I needed any additional information, something I have never experienced before!
GÅTE | Tasting Menu
+ Nitro Cleanser
CO2 charged and nitrogen frozen fruit mocktail
Rufus described our first taster, served in a black spoon, as ‘Reverse Spherification’, with a black cherry, a grape, ginger, and a cracker, giving a sweet taste on top. A refreshing start. This he paired with Laurent Perrier Demi Sec Non-Vintage champagne, which he poured into a chilled glass, a first. There was no additional cutlery, we were told to just lift the spoon and eat the dish out of the spoon.
+ Not an Ashtray
Rye cigar, black garlic mousse, smoked tomato ash
Visually this second course blew us away, a black ashtray with a cigar with a gold band, and a slightly bigger black container with burning tomato ash, bringing a strong smoke fragrance to our table. We were told to use the cigar as an eating implement, and that we could eat the ash, below which was a black garlic mousse, with powdered cuttlefish ink, smoked paprika powder, as well as hickory powder, giving umami. The cigar Rufus described as having been made from Viking rye bread, soooo clever. We found the cigar to be tough to bite into, probably due to its compression into the cigar shape, but it was perfect to use to scoop the mousse and edible ash out of the bowl. The smoky taste was delicious, and while it seemed scary initially to eat ash, it was very tasty and also moist.
+ Cured Oysters
Bacon dashi cream, smoked fermented oyster dressing, chive oil, pickled strawberry
For the oyster dish a black metal tweezer in a white quartz base was brought to the table. Rufus poured a glass of the Quoin Rock Demi Sec 2014 MCC, describing it as fruity, with kiwi, fig, and buttery grass notes. He described the dish as containing compressed and pickled green strawberries, fermented oyster purée, smoked bacon dashi cream, with chive oil. The dish arrived in a ceramic container on top of a glass container with billowing smoke created with dry ice, on a bed of sampire sea asparagus. It was a compliment to the kitchen that Stuart ate his first oyster, despite having chucked hundreds in a restaurant job at the beginning of his career. The presentation of this dish was beautiful, even after the smoke had stopped. Rufus told me that they may use live crabs in the glass container in future, creating an extra touch of surprise.
+ The Birth of Liver
Ethical foie gras, banana, coco nibs, miso with caramelized banana bread
Visually this dish was a surprise, an egg presented in a basket of straw, with two slices of what looked like burnt toast. Stuart bit into the bread, and immediately swooned about the toasted caramelised banana bread, not burnt at all, and could think of nothing nicer than to have it with his morning coffee for breakfast. Rufus explained that we were to crack open the egg, and that we would find what looked like egg yolk gel inside, created with a centrifugal process, from ethical duck liver foie gras, rich and creamy, mixed with 82% cocoa nibs. He explained afterwards that the egg had been filled from the bottom. He served this surprise dish with Quoin Rock Black Series MCC 2013, its creaminess matching that of the creaminess of the dish. I loved the creamy inside, being a lover of foie gras, while Stuart preferred the taste of the bread. The cutlery for this dish was a slim black knife.
Just because he felt like it, Rufus spoilt us with a Bacon and Banana Bourbon, a Woodford Reserve which I had not heard of previously, topped with thyme. It was a Sour and Sweet drink made with the bourbon, as well as cigar-smoked bacon and banana, compressed, and the resultant liquid added to the bourbon with a slice of lemon. Wow!
+ The Black Pearl
Scallop, cauliflower vanilla purée, gorgonzola, caviar, lime, white chocolate (photograph by Gåte)
I loved this dish the most, because I fell in love with the look of it on the black and white plate when we saw it during our briefing. It presented scallop two ways, seared as well as Tartare. It was served with a caviar emulsion, white chocolate, blue cheese, topped with a black squid ink tuile, and chive oil. With it Rufus served Quoin Rock Namysto Sauvignon Blanc 2017, with the most exquisite bead necklace label, which Denis explained later had similar African as well as Ukrainian symbolism. It contains 5% Semillon, giving it a taste of ripe lime, asparagus, and green pepper, and it had a slight bubble, unusual in a Sauvignon Blanc. The scallop melted in our mouth, but the squid ink was quite salty, Stuart warning me to try to not dip the scallop into it.
Molecular noodles, wagyu, pickled quail egg, radish, sea veg, wagyu broth, coriander
Rufus brought a hot rock to the table, and we were invited to ‘braai’ a slice of free-range Wagyu beef from their farm on it, before adding it to the Ramen broth, which contained a quail egg, sampire, pickled sea vegetables, and to create our own noodles for the dish, which we created with coriander-infused Wagyu fat contained in a syringe piping. This was a really cool participative course, although the slice of Wagyu beef could have been half the size, given that we had to eat it in one mouthful. Quoin Rock Bordeaux Blend 2017 was served with this course, a blend of 85% Sauvignon Blanc and 15% Semillon.
+ From Russia with Love
Caviar macaron, smoked potato mousse, vodka jelly, gold and silver leaf
We were served Quoin Rock sparkling wine for this course again, two seafood black macarons arriving on what looked like a cloth, with a vodka and caviar centre with potato mousse, around which was a gel ribbon made with Finlandia vodka, topped with 24 carat gold leaf! It arrived with a pipette filled with lemon juice, which we could squeeze onto the macaron if we wanted to.
Jellied tomatoes, mozzarella whey dome, basil oil, tomato essence, smoked tomato crisps
Rufus paired this take on a Caprese salad with more of the Quoin Rock Namysto Sauvignon Blanc 2017. He explained that Chef Rikku loves water buffalo mozzarella, and that this dish contained the cheese with heritage tomatoes. It was served as a solid dome, which Rufus cracked open at the table. Some of the cherry tomatoes were filled with the mozzarella too, and it was served with balsamic and olive oil caviar. It presented very well when opened up.
Three ages of Parmesan, three textures of cauliflower
This triple cauliflower and triple cheese dish was the heaviest and most filling, at a stage when we started worrying about how we would be able to eat eight more courses, only being halfway with our meal. Rufus poured a Quoin Rock Chardonnay Wooded 2017 for this pairing. He said that the kitchen had created this dish in honour of Chef Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana, the number one World’s 50 Best Restaurant this year, based in Modena in Italy. The Parmesan was presented as a 25 year old foam, a 15 year old cracker, and a 5 year old rich velouté. Cauliflower was prepared charred, pink pickled, confit, and puréed. The cutlery for this dish was placed on the table on a slate stand. The bowl for this dish was somewhat on the large side, the cutlery falling into the dish after we had eaten the course.
In checking on us, Denis told us that their Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grapes come from cool-climate Elim, these wines having minerality. He also told us that their Blanc de Blanc 2009 spent four years on the lees, wanting to create a Champagne-style MCC. At the Stellenbosch farm they create red wines, their terroir being top level, and comparable to that of the Napa Valley in California, he said.
Black cod, lime leaf, coconut, coriander, chili
Chef Rikku has spent time surfing in Polynesia, and this dish was created in honour of his time there, served in half a coconut. It contained black cod ceviche, with ginger root, lime leaf, dashi, lime oil, and a lime segment. It too arrived at the table smoking, created with dry ice. It was a surprise that it was a cold dish. It was the most beautifully presented dish of all, with the coconut half, and surrounded with pink mini roses and rosemary. The chili had a bit of a bite in the aftertaste, but it was not too strong, chili not being a favorite of mine.
+ Wild Peacock
Poached and seared peacock, pickled grape, mint, feta, sticky black rice
When Aurélie and I went for the briefing a month ago, I had qualms about eating peacock, it being the most spiritual bird, and represents Spirituality. Given my personal journey, I did not have the heart to eat it, and Stuart felt the same. It was served with pickled grapes, a grape glaze, kombucha purée, and charred double milk feta cheese, fermented mint leaves, and sticky black ginger rice. Cutlery for this course was a fork and a steak knife. Quoin Rock Shiraz 2016 was paired with this course, giving clove and nutmeg, and this was the only of the wines we tasted that I did not like, Shiraz usually being one of my favorites.
Nitrogen frozen Fruit flavor yoghurt sphere, sherbet
Designed as a palate cleanser, this dish was created by ‘reverse spherification’, Rufus said, being mango with lassi, an Indian yoghurt-style dairy food. It had a crackle, giving it a sweet taste. It was my least favorite course, in presentation and taste.
+ Curry & Candifloss
Red curry ice cream, white chocolate, smoked meringue, candy floss, forms of mango
What a surprise to be served a red curry ice cream for dessert, which contained smoked lemon meringue shards, olive oil caviar, ginger, and was served with candy floss! Wow! Rufus served the dessert with Quoin Rock Vine Dried Sauvignon Blanc 2017 sweet wine, a beautiful taste and unusual bottle to match.
+ Gert du Fromage
Gold leaf coated goats cheese, plum jelly, fresh plum, Parmesan Ice-cream, crispy
capers, goats cheese powder, sesame crostini
This final (we thought…) dish was introduced by Chef Rikku himself, a beautiful cheese course presented on a glass box in which a bunch of grapes and thyme bunches were displayed, adding to the colour and impact of what was on top of it on the glass lid, being goat cheese powder, Parmesan ice cream, sour plum jelly, fresh slices of plum, pickled mustard seed, crispy beetroot sourdough Melba toast, and a ball of goat milk cheese in gold leaf. We did not think we could eat it, being so full already, but we did…
+ Beet Balloon
Edible balloon made with beetroot juice —–
This dish name was on the list which Chef Rikku had sent me, but we were not served it, hardly a problem given how much we had eaten in all the courses prior to it!
As we were about to depart, we were surprised by an unannounced last course …. a surprise. Priceless.
Eating at Gåte is an overwhelming experience, in terms of the variety and dimensions of tastes, visually astounding, the participative nature of the dining, the superb service, and the interest shown in our feedback on the dishes as well as on the wines. I have never experienced such a dining experience, not only in our country, but also in The World’s 50 Best and Michelin star restaurants I have eaten at in New York, London, and France. Bravo Chef Rikku and your Gåte team, and to Denis and Julia for what you have created at Quoin Rock.
It is advisable to starve for a few days before eating at Gåte. Gåte serves the 16 course Tasting Menu on Tuesday to Saturday evenings and at lunch on Sundays, at R1250. The wines paired with the Tasting Menu cost an additional R650. One should allow about four hours of dining. During the day a five-course Pairing Lunch with Quoin Rock wines will be available from 1 December, offering some of the Tasting Menu courses.
Disclosure: Whilst we were chatting to Rufus during the evening, I told him that I loved the black and white ceramic plate which was used for the scallop course in one of the photographs which we had received from Chef Rikku after our briefing last month, and that I wanted to buy one, asking him for the name of the ceramic supplier from which it was sourced in Stellenbosch. As we left Rufus presented me with one, a very special gift, and memory of such an amazing experience.
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