The Delaire Graff restaurant in the Helshoogte Pass, which opened in June, is another threat to Franschhoek’s status as the Gourmet Capital of South Africa.   The restaurant is likely to be a Top Ten contender in 2010, given that restaurants have to be at least a year old to qualify for nomination.  

Stellenbosch already has three Top Ten restaurants, and Delaire Graff may well be a fourth next year.   This could make Stellenbosch take over the Gourmet Capital crown from Franschhoek, an accolade the beautiful French Huguenot village has claimed for many years.   It currently only has one Top Ten restaurant, i.e. Le Quartier Francais.

Delaire was bought by Lawrence Graff,  Chairman of Graff Diamonds International, in 2003, previous owners having been Erica and John Platter, well-known for their Platter wine guide.   For the past six years the estate has been rebuilt to house the winery, the tasting venue and space-extravagant restaurant.   The entrance from the Helshoogte Pass has been remodelled, and is impressive with its stone-work wall, alongside which is the landscaping work by King of Gardening Keith Kirsten.

From the Helshoogte Pass one can see that the building is well-lit at night, and almost comes across as too “Caesars Palace”!   Fortunately the lighting is not in one’s face, so to speak, on arrival.   The locals may find it too bright and over the top, however. 

The only jarring experience is the poor welcome by the outsourced security guard, who opens the right hand gate, struggles to get the pin to hold the gate into the fitting for it, then takes his time to ask for the surname, and a mobile number.   He accepts all answers given and lets the guests in, but first has to open the left hand gate, a slow and time-wasting exercise.  One wonders how effective the guards (we counted five in the hut as we drove out) will be should there be an illegal attempt to enter the property.

The parking area is graced with statues welcoming one, and a staff member comes towards one in the parking area.   A limp handshake and an inaudible introduction are quickly forgotten when one is greeted by the hostess, who seats one in the restaurant, and places the serviette on one’s lap.   She explains that she is our hostess for the evening, but we do not see her again.   On the way in we are welcomed by the Maitre’d William van der Merwe, previously with The Big Easy.

The low-key menu offers a good range of dishes, with starters ranging from R 88 – R 115, mains around R 155, and desserts between R 65 – R 85.   Delaire wines range from R 110 for a bottle of white to R 280 for a red.

The estate is looking after its carbon footprint, and the generous garden and the bottling of its spring water in glass bottles for its exclusive use at the estate bear testimony to this concern.

The restaurant’s focal point is two orange leather wave-shaped couches which are linked to 16 tables, and they are well-matched to the William Kentridge painting in the restaurant.   The building resembles a distinctive art gallery, with works by Kentridge, Anton Smit, Lionel Smit, Dylan Lewis, Deborah Bell, Fred Schimmel, Frank Benson, Sydney Khumalo, Nicolas Moreton, Durant Sihlali, and Johannes von Stumm.

The skill of the Maitre’d is put to the test, when a request is made for a tasting portion of the crayfish lasagne, the most interesting sounding dish on the menu.  The richness of the dish prevents the customer from ordering the dish on this visit.  William does not flinch, and soon a more than generous tasting portion is served – it is heaven, a definite must for the next visit, prefaced by a two-day fast!   Christian Campbell is the chef, previously at the Cellars-Hohenhort Hotel in Constantia.

The fillet and sirloin steaks arrive perfectly done, the chip and mash portions are very generous, and the sauces are well suited to the steak.   The meal is ended off with a ball of choc chip ice cream and a cappuccino, with which chocolate coated coffee beans are served.

The cost of two main courses, a bowl of vegetables, a glass of Delaire Shiraz, the ice cream and cappuccino was R 448.   On the Stellenbosch Restaurant Route.

Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com