Bertus Basson at SR Interior doilies Whale CottageI received a personal invitation from Chef Bertus Basson to join him for lunch at his new Bertus Basson at Spice Route restaurant, which opened on the Paarl wine farm 6 weeks ago. He and his charming wife Mareli managed to re-invent the restaurant within five days from taking over the space, modernising it to reflect their promise of ‘A Modern South African Restaurant’, both in terms of its decor and its food offeringBertus Basson at SR Bertus Whale Cottage.

A lot has changed at Spice Route, my last visit having been when Charles Back had taken over the wine estate, previously called Seidelberg, next door to his Fairview.  I didn’t have time to see all the artisan businesses which have opened at Spice Route since Back took over, but they include a Richard Bosman charcuterie outlet, with tastings at R30 (a bit cheeky I thought), a wine tasting centre, and Cape Brewing Co, about which I recently saw a programme on German TV, highlighting how brewmaster Wolfgang Ködel has helped develop the craft beer revolution in our country.  DV Artisan Chocolate, Barn Artist’s Studio, Red Hot Glass, Barley & Biltong, Wilderer Distillery, and La Grapperia are other businesses which also operate on the estate.  Brenda’s Deli is near the entrance.

Bertus Basson at SR Chef Allistaire Lawrence Whale CottageIt was an initial surprise that Bertus Basson was opening at Spice Route, the message being blurred about Bertus’ role in it and what would happen to his Eat Out Top 10 restaurant Overture.  My personal concern was that Bertus was on a Reuben’s-style expansion trail, but cleverly he has chosen a new brand name for the new business, and Chef Bertus is usually at Spice Route for the morning breakfast before heading off to Stellenbosch. Chef Alistaire Lawrence heads up the kitchen and is Bertus’ business partner, formerly from Roots in Johannesburg, and worked with Chef Bertus at Overture for the year prior to opening at Spice Route.

We chose the hottest day of this summer for our lunch date, a privilege to sit down with Chef Bertus for lunch, and toBertus Basson at SR Shop Whale Cottage get to know his bubbly wife Mareli.  Chef Bertus and Mareli showed me around, inside the very spacious kitchen, where I was introduced to Chef Allistaire; the vast inside seating area which has a lounge section too; and an area with Bertus Basson branded products, including a dish cloth with his mother Hetta’s apple pie recipe, denim aprons, sweet chilli sauce, braai spice, milk tart fudge, masala and stewed fruit nougat, chopping boards, pot cloths, shopping bags, and more. A separate table has been set up with cook books signed by Chef Bertus’ chef friends such as Liam Tomlin and George Jardine. It raised the question as to when he would publish a cook book, and Chef Bertus said that they are busy with one.  A side table has special children menus, and a colour-in page on the reverse side.   I was introduced to Restaurant Manager Brenda, who was Assistant Restaurant Manager at Overture.  Many of the previous Spice Route Restaurant staff have been retained, including Theo, who served us, and who served me on my previous visit. Staff wear black pants and grey Bertus Basson branded T-shirts.

Bertus Basson at SR Buck drawings Whale CottageTwo aspects of the decor impressed me in particular.  The colour blue chosen to paint the walls, very similar to the Nourse Blue which we have used in our guest houses, and covered with different sized white doilies, looking like floating clouds from a distance. Then the African theme is advanced with buck horns, represented by pencil drawings, and wall lights.  One wall has been wall-papered with pages out of the Woordeboek vir die Afrikaanse Taal.  Chef Bertus’ pride and joy is their Truth ‘steam punk’ coffee machine, and he raved about the excellent service they receive from Truth.  Tables and chairs from the previous Spice Route restaurant have been retained.

Chef Bertus was bubbling with excitement about his new baby, and said it was the first time that he and MareliBertus Basson at SR Bread Whale Cottage had sat down and had a meal at their new restaurant.  It was a struggle to keep up with all the information he was sharing.  Chef Bertus told me that they serve 120 patrons for lunch on weekend days, and 70 on weekdays.  The previous Sunday they had served a total of 225 patrons for breakfast and lunch.  We sat under the massive oak tree on the terrace outside.  The side plate is a branded wooden board, on which is a white and brown serviette.   Ciabatta with coriander seed was brought to the table, with a delicious smoked snoek paté, and apricot and almond butter.

The menu summarises what Bertus Basson at Spice Route stands for: ‘A modern South African Restaurant’.  Chef Bertus said that he grew up with an Afrikaans food heritage, his mother Hetta’s apple pie and Ouma Jossie’s (Mareli’s gran) baked tongue salad being included in the menu. Increasingly the South African heritage is influencing Overture too, and Tannie Hetta’s apple pie is on that restaurant’s menu too.  Chef Alistaire goes to market early in the morning, to buy his large vegetable supplies, but they are planning a vegetable garden at Spice Route too. Organic vegetable growers still come by to bring their specialist supplies.  Jersey cows have recently been introduced to Spice Route, and chickens, pork, and lamb come from the farm too.  From sister wine estate Fairview they source cheese and yoghurt for both Bertus’ restaurants.

We talked about restaurants, and Chef Bertus said that Johannesburg is far better at ethnic restaurants than Cape Town and the Winelands, mentioning Japanese restaurant Yamato, and Luca’s Pizzeria. Chef Bertus is still part of Ultimate Braai Master, and goes into his 4th season as judge this year, spending close to a month on the road for filming.

The menu is a white sheet of paper, with an interesting illustration on the side, which I did not ask Chef Bertus about. It reflects South African tourism and food, including whales (I saw immediately), a Cape Dutch homestead, protea, mielies, a rugby ball, a vuvuzela, ostriches, a Weber braai (or is it a Green Egg which Chef Bertus likes to cook on), a soccer ball, a minibus taxi, Table Mountain, a zebra, a fish (snoek?), a branch of an oak tree, a disa, a springbok, and a rondavel!  In small print the menu advises that the restaurant is non-smoking, and requests moderation in cellphone usage. All dishes contain garlic and salt, and ingredients are seasonal and fresh, so not all substitutes for food allergies can be accommodated, the menu states.  The menu is small, with four starters, five main courses, and Bertus Basson at SR chicken liver parfait Whale Cottagefour desserts offered.

For the starter I chose chicken liver parfait, thick, rich, and creamy, served with generous slices of toasted Mosbolletjie bread, and an onion and caraway konfyt (R78).  Talking a lot, I was slower in eating, and the heat of the day affected the parfait, becoming softer and more runny.Bertus Basson at SR Salad Whale Cottage The combination of the jam and parfait was unusual and perfect.  Chef Bertus ordered the farm salad, with gem lettuce, crisp pork, anchovy, grissini, and topped with Parmesan (R68).  Mareli’s choice was her gran Ouma Jossie’s baked Bertus Basson at SR Tongue Whale Cottagetongue with slaphakskeentjies (onion salad) and organic beetroot (R78), a beautiful colourful dish.   Another starter is rice flour dusted squid, served with Malay mayonnaise, miso cream, kimchi pickled greens, and radish (R82).

For his main course Chef Bertus ordered roast geelstert with mussels and chorizo, tomato, and fennel (R138), on a mash base.  Chef Bertus is synonymous with pork Bertus Basson at SR Geelstert Whale Cottagebelly, so I ordered their CBC-braised pork belly, with carrots, butternut, beetroot, and popcorn Bertus Basson at SR Pork Belly Whale Cottagecrackling, topped with salsa verde (R142).  Chef Alistaire told me that he uses a mix of Cape Brewing Co Amber Weiss and Lager, made at Spice Route.  Mareli ordered a wholesome Springbok tamatie bredie pie with pickled onions and pumpkin fritters (R138).   One can also order braai-spiced rubbed sirloin with smoked aubergine, leeks, mushroom, bacon, and Dukkah (R162);  and sautéed gnocchi with cauliflower, almonds, capers, and Parmesan sauce (R125).  As sides one can orderBertus Basson at R Springbok tomato bredie pie Whale Cottage a salad (R30), and hand-cut chips with braai sout and shaved Parmesan (R35), of which I had a taste of those ordered by Chef Bertus.

Bertus Basson at SR Lemon Tart Whale CottageThe portions at Bertus Basson at Spice Route are very generous, and we had done well with our lunch, yet ordered dessert, sharing two of the dishes.  I loved the presentation and refreshing taste of the deconstructed lemon tart, with meringues as well as burnt Italian meringue, and vanilla crumble (R72). We ordered Tannie Hetta’s applie pie with custard and vanilla ice cream too (R55).  Delicious sounding is the fried camembert with watermelon preserve, walnuts and peppered honey. Bertus Basson at SR Apple Pie Whale CottageOne can also order chocolate fondant, with honeycomb, and caramel ice cream. Both the desserts cost R72.

Only Spice Route and Fairview wines are offered on the wine list.  Chef Bertus praised the support that they have received from Spice Route owner Charles Back,  providing back-up and making it easy to get things done for their opening.

Bertus Basson at Spice Route is classy yet homely, proudly South African, and offers good value for money with its quality and generous-sized dishes.  Chef Bertus was the epitome of the gracious host, sending me on my way to Franschhoek with a tin of Grapetiser, to cope with the extreme heat of the day, and with a generous goodie bag too.

Disclosure:  Not only was I spoilt with a wonderful lunch, in great company, but Bertus presented a Bertus Basson at Spice Route goodie bag to me on my departure, containing a tea towel with Tannie Hetta’s Apple Tart recipe, a bottle of Spice Route Grenache 2013, Braai Spice by Bertus Basson, Sweet Chilli Sauce, and two bars of delicious Bertus Basson milk tart fudge!

Bertus Basson at SR Branding Board Whale CottageBertus Basson at Spice Route, Spice Route, Agter Paarl.  Tel (021) 863-5222 www.bertusbasson.com Twitter: @BassonBertus @Al_Delicious Monday to Sunday Breakfast (8h30 – 11h00) and Lunch (from 11h30).

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