The opening of Sacred Ground Artisan Bakers just over two weeks ago created big excitement in Franschhoek, it being the first artisanal bakery in the village that has been called the Gourmet Capital of South Africa. Sacred Ground is not just a bakery, but also is a deli, a coffee shop, a wine shop, and gourmet sandwichery.

What makes Sacred Ground special is the spacious selection of Deli treats and the very friendly hands-on owners and staff.  Michelle Hewitt from next-door Surrey Homes and Sannette Koopman are partners in the venture and have both been in the shop when I have visited on two occasions, as has Sannette’s husband Heinrich.  Michelle is used to doing home interiors, so it was a natural that she guided the design of Sacred Ground, wooden counters, wood top tables, and wooden chairs with green seating having been used to give the shop an earthy and warm feel. One places one’s order with the super-nice Michelle van Sittert, who is also Sacred Ground’s Tweeter.  Thomas is the head baker, and joined the Sacred Ground team from Zimbali.  He was the Pastry Chef of the Year in 2008.  The staff wear black, with a branded hessian apron.

There is so much to take in when one arrives at Sacred Ground, but the bread selection probably catches one’s attention first, displayed on shelves, and the names and prices are marked.  So, for example, there is olive ciabatta (R22,50), Panini (R7), Sacred Baguette (R10), Ciabatta (R17), French Baguette (R15), Stumpy (R10), Crusty Sourdough (R25), 10% Rye (R25), and Cheesy Baguette (R18).  Cakes and cupcakes are still bought in, but will be baked on the premises in future.  A slice of cake costs R35, and one can choose from Chocolate orange, Cheesecake, Carrot cake, and Red velvet cake.  The cupcake selection comes in different colours, at R15 each. Macaroons cost R8.  There is fudge, biscotti, nougat, panforte made in Betty’s Bay, and slabs of Honest Chocolate.

The shop has a couch seating section for coffees, wines or a beer and a chat, a counter at which one pays and which displays the cake selection, and a large charcuterie fridge.  Fresh food fridges are placed along the walls, alongside the bread selection, and the rest of the space is filled with tables and chairs.  The colourful red and yellow BOS umbrellas attract attention from the main road, and the owners have planted red and yellow plants outside their door to match these colours.

Bread is the foundation of Sacred Ground and the Deli selection, and the food offered on the menu all relate to it.  Surrounding the bread selection is a fine selection of Truckles, Anura, and Dalewood cheeses,  as well as Bocconcini and Fior de Latte. There is a big range of Allée Bleue’s herbs; unbranded unsalted and salted butter; chicken liver paté; duck eggs; Froggit thyme-infused balsamic vinegar; Kloovenberg and Olyfberg olives; Prince Albert and Olyfberg olive oil; Oryx salt and pepper; Bean There coffee;  Dilmah teas; honeys; a selection of craft beers from &Union, including Steph Weiss and Berne; Whalehaven Idiom, as well as Mon Rêve boutique wines, of which the Merlot 2010 has already won a ‘Michael Angelo’ (sic) Double Gold in its first year of launch; and wooden boards, which are also used to bring the food to the tables.  The Charcuterie counter allows one to choose specific cuts of cold meats supplied by a variety of suppliers, including Raith and Gastro Foods, and includes various salamis, black forest ham, coppa ham, parma ham, as well as speciality cheeses, to take home.

The menu is short and sweet, and a blackboard advertises the Daily Specials.  All food is served on paper placed on wooden boards.  Commendable is that Breakfast is served all day.  I ordered The Artisan Egg Mayo (R35) on my first visit, sounding better on the menu than its execution, promising ‘free range egg, mayo and chives on bread of your choice’. The scrambled egg was cold and was drizzled with Froggit balsamic vinegar, which I was not warned about nor wanted.  An alternative ‘Breaking the Fast’ option is ‘Oeufs Bicyclette’, or Eggs on Wheels (R59), ciabatta layered with parma ham, two eggs and mozzarella, topped with hollandaise sauce.  One may choose the bread on which the eggs are served.  One can also order sandwiches throughout the day, with salami or mozzarella (R49), salmon or chicken (R59), or a ‘Sacred Dog’ with a Frankfurter or a Bratwurst (R40).  The Platters look super, a choice of two cold meats and two cheeses costing R 85, and three of each costing R120.

The cappuccino (R14) is made in the flat white style with Bean There beans, but a second order and careful explanation of a dry cappuccino resulted in a perfect cup. The Fair Trade description of the coffee, in its own outlets too, is misleading, as it is not Fairtrade endorsed.  Sacred Ground is licensed, and it is a surprise to see that no Franschhoek wines are stocked.  Hermanus-sourced La Vierge Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Sangiovese style are offered by the glass (R25 – R45) or bottle (R85 – R150) with Whalehaven Idiom (Bordeaux blend) at R280, as well as Paarl-based Mon Rêve wines, at R25 – R45 per glass, and R75 – R250 per bottle for the Merlot.   Pongracz is available by the glass (R45 – R55) or bottle R150 – R180. Pierre Jourdan Cuvee Belle Rose costs R190,  and Krone Borealis Cuvee Brut 2009 is available at R150.

Sacred Ground is a friendly village meeting place, with good service, reasonable prices, a good selection of deli items and excellent breads, as well as cakes and cupcakes, which have been in short supply in the village.  It has added life to The Square, which has not had much traffic since it opened about 18 months ago.

Sacred Ground Artisan Bakers, The Square, Huguenot Street, Franschhoek.  Tel (021) 876-3948.  www.sacredground.co.za Twitter: @SG_Bakery Monday – Sunday 7h00 – 19h00.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage