A return visit yesterday to Delaire Graff Restaurant, on the invitation of its Marketing & PR Manager Tanja Mackay-Davidson, revealed a number of surprises, the three year old restaurant having re-opened from a month-long break ten days ago.

The first prominent new addition is a large portrait of Laurence Graff, the owner of Delaire Graff Estate, by artist Lionel Smit, who has a number of portraits in the main Delaire Graff Restaurant, and in its Boutique Hotel.   It is hung in the impressive entrance hall, and one cannot miss it as one makes one’s way to the restaurant. Delaire Graff Estate is committed to art, and has an impressive collection of artwork by artists which include Anton Smit, Deborah Bell, William Kentridge, Dylan Lewis, and many more.

When stepping into the restaurant entrance one notices the new content in the glass display case, being a collection of herbs and vegetables (kale, celery, spring onion, broad beans, red peppers, mint, and more), which are displayed in such a way that they look like they are in a hothouse, with a pair of garden gloves, little clay pots, and rolls of string.  The display reinforces what its Chef Christiaan Campbell has become known for, being a passionate advocate for healthy eating generally, and for sustainable and ethical sourcing of the organic (where possible) ingredients used in the two restaurants (Indochine is the second restaurant) on the estate. So, for example, Delaire Graff has a Biodynamic greenhouse on the estate, growing its own vegetables. It sources its beef from Greenfields in Natal, and Farmer Angus at Spier supplies beef too, as well as chicken and eggs. Only line-caught fish is served, and therefore there is no kingklip on the menu.  No European fish is sourced, cutting out prawns and scallops, and fish is caught locally, or sourced from Mocambique and Namibia.  Duck is barn-reared, and have not been fed antibiotics or growth hormones. Chef Christiaan is quiet-spoken, enjoying being in the kitchen, which now sports a brand new French-made industrial stove, which helps him in the preparation of the food for a restaurant which has become busier, giving him twice the heat he had from the previous stove, and is easy to clean. He also has a new Josper, one of only two in the country, being an oven fired by charcoal, getting up to a temperature of 300°C, which he uses to prepare fish, meat, sealing off braised lamb neck, and to prepare root vegetables.  I was impressed with his beautiful Gregor Jenkin table, on which the plating is done.

Sommelier Mortimer suggested we try the Delaire Botmaskop, a Bordeaux Blend of 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18 % Cabernet Franc, 8 % Petit Verdot, 7 % Shiraz, 3 % Merlot, and 3 % Malbec, the 2009 vintage having achieved a 4½ star Platter rating for winemaker Morné Vrey.  The wine is named after the mountain peak behind the wine estate, the timber suppliers to the boating industry in the Cape Town harbour scaling the Botmaskop regularly in olden days to check if new ships had arrived at the Cape Town port.

The winter menu is almost brand new, Chef Christiaan only retaining the Linefish, and Mr Graff’s favourite Fish and Chips, being hake for which the batter is made from three types of flour, and served with chips made from Van der Plank potatoes, which are fried four times to make the perfect chip.  The menu cover is made from the same tan leather as is used in the striking seating, which in turn picks up the colour from a William Kentridge painting over the fireplace.  I chose the Golden crab, avocado and Fromage Blanc wafer, served with bitter lemon, pea shoots, and octopus, a fresh crisp and crunchy starter.  Twitter follower Christian Smit commented, on seeing the photograph: “That is looking so fresh and good I can almost hear the crunching. Beautifully plated”.  Other starters are poached oyster, confit duck with duck ham, ceviche of kob, trout, and malt glazed shortrib, costing R85 – R90.  Fresh garden salads range in price from R55 – R80.

The medley of mushrooms, with the clever title of ‘Wild and tame mushrooms’ served with artichoke, a crepe, courgette, and thyme beurre noisette, was a perfect filling winter’s dish as a main course for a still grey day after the very wet Cape weekend.  Tanja insisted that Ray bring a portion of the Fish and Chips too, which we had a bite of each.  It remains the most popular main course on the menu. Other main courses are slow cooked lamb neck, farmed kob, Greenfields sirloin, springbok loin, and pork shoulder, costing from R138 – R185.

The desserts all sounded marvellous, so we asked Chef Christiaan to choose one. Ray brought the Caramelised apple Napoleon, with frangipani, a scoop of malt ice cream which had been rolled in honeycomb, and apple pudding, with rich golden colours, the crispy pastry and crunchy honeycomb adding texture. Desserts cost between R60 – R85, and one can also order hot chocolate pudding, tastes of caramel, and a hot lemon pillow.  With the cappuccino came a plate of friandises, being Turkish delight and pistachio macaroons.

We were well looked after by waitrons Ray and Megan, Tanja explaining that they have a principal and a back-up waiter, forming a team per table, to ensure perfect service, with Manager Werner Wentzel keeping an eye over the smooth operation of the restaurant.

Eating at Delaire Graff Restaurant is more expensive than at many other restaurants, but the restaurant has a magnificent view over the Helshoogte valley and the Simonsberg, a quality interior with impressive artwork, excellent quality food, not only in its creative plating but also in its dedicated commitment to sourcing ethical and sustainable ingredients, and very good and attentive service, all these elements making a meal there an occasion and a special experience.

Disclosure: The media pack contained a bottle of the Delaire Graff Cold Pressed Extra Virgin premium olive oil.  My son works at Indochine.

Delaire Graff Restaurant, Delaire Graff Estate, Helshoogte Pass, Stellenbosch. Tel (021) 885-8160. www.delaire.co.za

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