The first time that many food and wine lovers heard of De Meye Wines was at the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards in November, when its restaurant The Table at De Meye was announced as the Best Country-Style Restaurant.
The only thing that one heard at the Awards evening was that the restaurant is owned by a photographer who has done work with Eat Out Editor and Taste Food Editor Abigail Donnelly, and on Russel Wasserfall’s photography website he highly praises the styling talents of Mrs Donnelly for a shoot they did for Taste magazine. The restaurant had only opened two or three months before winning the award. Given the Makaron Eat Out Best Style Award debacle, there were whispers that The Table at De Meye may also have fared well due to Mrs Donnelly’s working relationship with Russel.
I made a booking for a table at The Table at De Meye two weeks ago, and had the initial unpleasant experience of my booking having been accepted and subsequently cancelled, both because I had planned to come on my own (they only serve food in platters for two or more), and because of what we had written about Mrs Donnelly and the Makaron Eat Out Best Style Award on this blog. I suspect that it also had to do with our criticism of the digital magazine Crush!, about which we have written a number of times, and for which Russel has done some amazing photography, which we acknowledged in our Crush blogposts. At his demand, I had to send Russel an e-mail, promising that I would not write a review about my meal (he mentioned that they did not want to get into an Eat Out story about Abigail Donnelly, something I could have written without eating there – ultimately one must wonder what Russel has to hide), and that I would bring a friend, both of which I did. The former directive is contrary to the freedom of speech, and occurred in the same week as the Beluga blogger ban. I decided that I would see how the experience went, and to turn this blogpost into a story about De Meye Wines, with a comment about The Table restaurant, without calling it a Restaurant Review as such, so that I could keep my promise!
De Meye has been in the hands of the Myburgh family for close to 150 years, and is named after the Dutch river and town that the family originates from. About 60% of the 100 hectare farm is planted to vine, according to the Platter wine guide, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Shiraz, Chardonnay, and Chenin Blanc. Philip Myburgh is the owner of the farm now, with his mother Isabelle in the tasting room. The winemaker is Marcus Milner, who has been on the farm for 12 years, having previously worked at Warwick, almost around the corner. I had not noticed the De Meye signage off the R45, opposite Kanonkop, which is the road that leads to Elsenberg and Muldersvlei, and as soon as one turns on to it, one gets a strong country smell from the horses on the first farm on this road. I had never travelled on this road, and drove through the tiny hamlet of Elsenberg, in which the wine college is located.
The Platter evaluator Greg de Bryn wrote about De Meye: “The long-standing team at this quaint assemblage of recycled farm buildings has focused on a distinctive house style for their wines, and change is now more evolutionary. Environmental considerations have always been a priority, and every step of the production process takes note of the carbon footprint it leaves”. The tasting room is in an old barn, and has an interesting collection of furniture, being the touch of The Table at De Meye Chef Camilla Comins, Isabelle told me, looking more like a family lounge. Shelving displays the De Meye wines (the flagship Trutina 2009 blend, Shiraz 2009, Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Merlot 2009, Shiraz Rosé 2011, Unwooded Chardonnay 2011, and Chenin Blanc 2011, as well as their Little River Shiraz 2010 and Cabernet Sauvignon 2010). The cellar door prices range from R42 to R110. For sale too is stewed fruit, marmalade, and relishes, all made by Camilla, and olive oil from Porterville. Some vegetables are grown on the farm, to feed the restaurant.
A friendship between Russel and a Myburgh family member brought Russel and his wife Camilla to the De Meye farm, and the family encouraged the couple to open up a restaurant in a disused barn, with exposed wooden beams, some with barbed wire, opening onto the kitchen. Overture chef Bertus Basson gave his blessing to the new venture. Tables are set inside and outside, with beautiful old English crockery, and the Hepp Exclusiv cutlery matches the style. Fresh flowers are on the table, with coarse salt and an unusual-looking pepper grinder. Material serviettes are provided. Russel is the host while Camilla prepares the delicious food. No menu is presented – the website tells one to check the menu of the weekend ahead, and there is no choice offered. One may indicate that one requires a vegetarian option however. The menu changes week after week. The price is R250 per person, an increase of 11 % since an article was written about the restaurant in the Sunday Times food supplement in December. The De Meye wine prices are not indicated when sitting outside, but are very reasonable – the Shiraz Rosé (R20 per glass) has a beautiful blush colouring, and was a most refreshing ‘antidote’ to the 36°C heat of the day. Russel and Camilla live in Paarl, where she works at Roses Handmade confectionery company in the week, making fudge, nougat, toffees, and Turkish delight for Woolworths. Russel does photography for a Norwegian contract and one local unnamed retainer client (probably Crush!, as its logo is on his photography website), with other projects in-between.
Russel was a most engaging host, informative, explaining each dish and its origin, and leaving my friend and I lots of time to catch-up after a thirty year absence. We did not feel rushed to eat, and Russel checked regularly that the glasses were filled. The starter was a salad of free-range hormone-free chicken livers, with Steve the Magic Man’s organic baby leaves, topped with fried beetroot, the livers having a slightly tangy after-taste from a little chilli. With the starter came lovely bread topped with poppy seed. The butter is made in a historic churner, Russel said. The main course was an oven-roasted Karoo lamb, served with the most beautiful vegetable platter I have ever seen, containing a Moroccan-style carrot salad, hasselback potatoes, and fried cherry tomatoes. One feels sorry to not finish the generous helpings that are served, hoping that Chef Camilla will not be offended if the plates are not returned licked clean! The dessert was a famous ‘Ouefs a la nege’ (sic), (‘oeufs a la neige’ being ‘eggs in snow’), a soft meringue in créme anglaise and served with summer berries, a perfect end to a perfect meal.
We enjoyed a wonderful afternoon, well looked after by Camilla and Russel in terms of food, wine and personal service, and the Eat Out Best Country-Style Restaurant accolade is well deserved. It is a shame that they should have caused such a fuss about the booking and blogging conditions prior to our arrival.
POSTSCRIPT 24/8: I have seen correspondence between Russel and a supplier of communication services, and his interaction is filled with arrogance. He disparagingly refers to this review, yet quotes the positive parts from it! One hopes that Chief Eat Out Judge Abigail Donnelly will see this side of her award-winners too, and consider carefully awarding the Best Country Restaurant to The Table at De Meye again. It appears that Russel has had a paragliding accident, and will only back at the restaurant in September.
POSTSCRIPT 27/7/13: Russel Wasserfall and his wife let go of the restaurant a few months ago, and it is now run by Luke and Jessie Grant, previously of Nook in Stellenbosch.
De Meye Wines, Muldersvlei Road, off R45, Stellenbosch. Tel (021) 884-4131. www.demeye.co.za Mondays – Fridays.
The Table at De Meye, Stellenbosch. Tel 083 252 9588. www.thetablerestaurant.co.za Friday, Saturday and Sunday lunch.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@ WhaleCottage