Hidden in the suburb of Paradyskloof (meaning “valley of paradise”) outside Stellenbosch, opposite the Stellenbosch Golf Course and on the road to the Vriesenhof wine estate, is Majeka House, a 5-star Boutique Hotel, with a top class French-style restaurant, a cuisine paradise, blessed with a creative young chef Anri Diener.
Co-owner Karine Dequeker is French, having studied at the Lausanne Hotel School, and worked at the Grand Roche Hotel, Lanzerac Hotel and Table Bay Hotel as Banqueting Manager, and it is her heritage that comes to the fore in the French-style menu of the Restaurant at Majeka House. Her husband Lloyd van der Merwe comes from the corporate hotel route, having worked at Protea Hotels and Holiday Inn, and at SETA, the hotel industry training body, before he became a training consultant. Majeka House previously was the private home of Karine’s father, and she and her husband set about a redesign of the property, spread over three erfs, to make it an 18-bedroom Hotel, opening 18 months ago. The property is spacious, and the bedrooms, swimming pool, parking area and restaurant all are generously sized. One would not know about the restaurant if one drove past the Hotel, as it is not separately branded nor visible. The Majeka name comes from the first two letters of the names of three of the owners of the property.
The invitation to review the Restaurant at Majeka House came from the Van der Merwes, who read this blog regularly, and from my son, who is one of the managers of the Hotel. I accepted the invitation, with their understanding that the review would be written objectively and critically, as always.
An interesting introduction to the Majeka House restaurant is the arrival of an amuse bouche in one’s bedroom at 18h00, whether one eats at the restaurant that night or not. I received a salmon roll and a butter pan-fried prawn on greens, a lovely way to make one look forward to dinner.
The Majeka House restaurant can seat about 30 diners, and leads to the bar and library. It has a large fireplace, with two interesting paintings by Vicky Sander on each side of it. The dominant wall has trendy wallpaper in gold and black, the curtains are silk-style in a golden/cream colour, the chairs are suede-style, with Persian carpets scattered on the wooden floor. Chandeliers add the French touch. The staff uniforms are Africa-inspired, in blue and cream, perhaps a contradiction to the French feel. The dark wood tables have a cloth over the centre, set with fine glasses and cutlery. What was unusual was the homely touch of a massive serviette in a serviette ring, lying at an angle across the diner’s eating area, as opposed to the left, or on the side plate, as is the norm. The fresh rose from the garden and a flower-inspired candle holder rounded off the table decor. Most of the crockery used is from Wonkiware, which adds a design touch to the dishes presented, the chef being minimalist as far as garnishing goes.
Music-wise a piano can be seen, but luckily there is no pianist tickling the keys (the Mount Nelson Cape Colony’s pianist does not stop playing, and it became irritating eventually). I found the French-style rock music too loud and too heavy, and was delighted when Hotel Costes was eventually played.
The Tasting Menu’s four courses are listed from 1 – 4 in French, reinforcing the French style of the restaurant. One has a choice of two dishes per course, and it costs R250, or R400 with a wine paired with each course. The lovely waitress Phelisa brought an unusual glass plate with what looked like a tablet – a small round white ‘something’ with the word WOW on it. She poured warm water over it, and it rose and expanded immediately, to become a cloth with which one can wipe one’s hands before starting to eat. I had never seen this before, and it was a nice unusual touch. Warm bread was served with butter.
The menu is not branded, and the items are printed on a patterned sheet of cream paper presented on a brown leather menu holder (as are the winelist and the a la carte menu), in quite small type, making it difficult to read, especially the wine that is paired with each dish, as it is in an even smaller type size.
I started with Chicken liver parfait, very creamy and soft, served with melba toast on a port jelly, its sweetness an interesting contrast to the parfait. The alternative was a Potato veloute, with fennel and smoked salmon fritters. I chose to drink a glass of Tamboerskloof Syrah 2006 with the first three courses, although I could have had a different wine with each course. The second course was a beautifully presented Mushroom risotto served on butternut puree, with a crisp parmesan wheel. The mushrooms were minute and delicate, the risotto perfect, and the food colours on the plate necessitated minimal garnishing. The alternative option was Pan-fried quail with a crayfish and saffron sauce with fresh gooseberries, a most interesting sounding combination.
The Beef fillet was a touch too close to the rare side, rather than the medium rare that I had ordered for the third course, served on celeriac puree, with oven roasted shallots and port jus. This made it difficult to cut the steak slices with the non-serrated knife provided. The alternative choice was a Buttered Kabeljou, served with a mussel and oyster mushroom ragout and Parisienne gnocchi. The highlight of the menu was the Millefeuille of chocolate mousse, served with a rectangular-shaped flat coffee meringue and citrus fruit, absolutely yummy and a chocoholic’s dream. The alternative Pear crumble with vanilla creme never stood a chance as a dessert choice. As if the four courses and the amuse bouche were not enough of a delight already, a plate with a homemade marshmallow, coffee meringue and truffle was presented with the perfectly made cappuccino.
The a la carte menu offers five options per course. Starters start at R50 (Tomato tarte tatin), and include Pan-fried scallops (R65), Tempura prawn salad (R65) and De-boned quail (R90). Main course prices peak at R180 for Seared Springbok loin, but Beef fillet (R140), Lamb cutlets (R150), Spinach ravioli (R95), and Poached linefish served with a lobster broth (R100) are also offered. For dessert Creme Brulee, Hibiscus granite and a trio of sorbets cost around R50, and a soft-centered mini chocolate cake and a cheese selection cost R80.
Chef Anri is a protege of Etienne Bonthuys of ex-Tokara, having worked for him for more than five years. She helped open the Delaire restaurant in chef Christian Campbell’s kitchen, and felt that Majeka House offered her an exciting challenge, in making the switch. She has the most exciting prospect of working at the Michelin 3-star restaurant L’Esperance in Saint-Pere-sous-Vezelay in Burgundy for two months. The Van der Merwes have developed an exchange programme with the restaurant, having welcomed its Senior Sous Chef at Majeka House earlier this year.
The winelist presents a good selection of wines predominantly from the Stellenbosch region, and one imported champagne (Pol Roger Brut at R760). Each wine is described briefly and commendably vintages are provided. Wines-by-the-glass are between 2 – 5 years old, and very reasonably priced (R26 for Dalla Cia Chardonnay, R20 for Villiera Chenin Blanc, R24 for Dalla Cia Sauvignon Blanc, R18 for Land’s End Rose, R30 for Villiera Tradition sparkling wine, R28 for Marklew Merlot, R39 for Dalla Cia Cabernet Sauvignon, R43 for Rainbow’s End Cabernet Franc, R31 for Bilton Pinotage, R34 for Tamboerskloof Shiraz, and R38 for Warwick 3 Cape Ladies blend).
The Restaurant at Majeka House is a treat, especially if one decides to spend a night of paradise in Paradyskloof at Majeka House too, and not drive back to Cape Town. The chocolate mousse is an absolute must! Not being very well-known yet, Majeka House could do well to embrace Social Media Marketing, in starting a Blog, tweeting more regularly, building the profile of Chef Anri, and perhaps consider an independent name for its restaurant.
The Restaurant at Majeka House, 26 – 32 Houtkapper Street, Paradyskloof, Stellenbosch. Tel (021) 880- 1512. www.majekahouse.co.za (Both the a la carte and the Tasting menu are listed. The Image Gallery does not have a page dedicated to the restaurant, and has few food photographs) Twitter @Majeka_House. Monday – Sunday. On the Stellenbosch Restaurant Route.
POSTSCRIPT 22/11: Following the advice in our review, Majeka House has announced that its restaurant will be called Makaron Restaurant from now onward.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com