Entries tagged with “Deborah Bell”.


Valentine’s Day and ultimately #ZumaExitDay was an auspicious day to have been chosen for the Strauss & Co Preview of its first ever dedicated Contemporary Art Auction, due to take place on Saturday. The Preview was held at the new Cape Town Cruise Liner Terminal in the Cape Town Harbour. (more…)

Last week was a lucky week of spoiling, which included staying over at Leeu Estates outside Franschhoek, the signature local accommodation property in the Leeu Collection. The variety of local artwork, and top name artists, makes Leeu Estates an art gallery within a hotel!  (more…)

imageTourism, Food, and Wine news headlines

*    A diverse number of Capetonians who have influenced the character and culture of Cape Town will be honored by having their names linked to footbridges crossing Nelson Mandela Drive and Rhodes Drive. The City of Cape Town’s Naming Committee list includes poet Ingrid Jonker, Khomani San leader Dawid Kruiper, singer and composer Taliep Petersen, and Father John Oliver.

*.  Ebony gallery is opening an exhibition entitled ‘Modern Masters‘ for First Thursday on 6 August, at 67 (more…)

Cape Town Art Fair Wayne Barker Whale CottageThe Cape Town Art & Design Week opened in the V&A Waterfront last night, consisting of two dominant events: Cape Town Art Fair 2015; and the Guild International Design Fair.

I was annoyed in not receiving any upfront media releases about the Cape Town Art Fair 2015, as I had received in the past two years when Lana was the Wired PR Account Director for Cape Town Art Fair.  Even worse was that the PR poppie who ticked my name off the list could not give me any information about what to expect and where to find it.  Some brochures about the Cape Town Art Fair were lying on the table, but she did not proactively give me anything.  Astrid Stark from Wired PR was found, and she walked me through the start of the exhibition on the upstairs floor.  The venue is not as perfect as the BMW Pavilion in which the Cape Town Art Fair was held last year, or The Lookout venue for 2013, each of them having had a beginning and an end, be it in circular walkways, or a maze.  In The Avenue one has to make one’s way back to where one started, creating blockages when the venue is full.  What was not explained was that more than half of the artworks are in The Marquee near (more…)

Equus Interior Whale Cottage PortfolioI had eagerly awaited the opening of the Cavalli Estate on the R44 between Stellenbosch and Somerset West,  its majestic entrance having been completed about two years ago, and having heard a number of times that Chef Henrico Grobbelaar would be heading up the kitchen in the Equus restaurant.  Its Equus Tasting Room, Gallery, Boutique, and Restaurant opened a month ago, its 54 thoroughbred saddlebred horses, and olive and vine plantation make up the Cavalli Estate.  It must be the largest Winelands tourism offering in terms of size and facilities offered.

Horses dominate everything at Cavalli, the Italian name for the animal, and the racehorse stud was developed while the Equus centre was being built.  The stud is the main reason for the estate’s existence, and one passes the large stable building as one drives to Equus, with fynbos evident in the gardens landscaped by Keith Kirsten, who also did the Delaire Graff gardens.   I had been invited to be shown around by mother and daughter Gundel and Annette Sogor from Gordon’s Bay, who had been to the tasting room before, but had not yet eaten at Equus. Arriving separately, we each shared how unprofessional the welcome at the security entrance as well as at the parking had been, and Lauren Smith, owner’s daughter, architect, and Operations Manager of the estate, made quick work in having the problem addressed and the outsourced security men replaced.

The Equus building is vast, and consists of a massive art gallery, a boutique, (more…)

On Tuesday I attended the Chenin Blanc Association Winter Showcase at Delaire Graff Estate, and was reminded by the association chairman Ken Forrester, a passionate champion for the varietal, that Chenin Blanc’s unique attributes are that it comes in a diversity of styles, and that it is the wine that can be paired with the largest range of foods.

Six months ago I had attended a first such Chenin Blanc Summer Showcase at the One&Only Cape Town, which focused on the full spectrum of Chenin Blanc styles, both light and fruity, and rich and fuller.  The association has classified chenin blanc styles on the basis of residual sugar:

*   fresh and fruity (less than 9g/litre)

*   rich and ripe – unwooded (less than 9g/litre)

*   rich and ripe – wooded (less than 9g/litre)

*   rich and ripe – slightly sweet (9 – 30g/litre)

*   sweet (30+g/litre)

*   sparkling (tank fermented or Cap Classique)

Interesting consumer research was presented at the previous Showcase, highlighting that our country’s largest grape variety is not well known at all by local wine drinkers.  The Chenin Blanc Association is focusing on changing the low level of awareness about the varietal, in hosting bi-annual showcases of Chenin Blancs which are more suitable to drink in summer (light, fresh and fruity), and those that are better suited to winter (rich and fuller).  Another goal the association has is to see more restaurant wine lists feature a Chenin Blanc category with a number of different options, instead of this varietal being lumped into an ‘Other/Blend’ category.  The association is ably managed by Ina Smith.

Ken explained the procedure for selecting the vast total of 26 Chenin Blancs we tasted, from the hundreds that are made in our country.  The 96 association members were invited to submit their wines, meeting the criteria of them being made from 30 year old bush vines or older, and having an alcohol content of 13,5 – 14,5%, which led to 30 entries being received.  Jeff Grier from Villiera and Association Vice-Chairman, and Carel van der Merwe from De Morgenzon whittled the Chenin Blanc portfolio for the Winter Showcase down to 26 wines. Grier led the tasting, which was held in the Delaire Graff restaurant, and he shared short notes about each of the wines, which were tasted in flights, it not being clear exactly what each of the seven flights had in common. I shared a tasting table with Delaire Graff GM Johann Laubser, Ken, and Orielle Berry from Bolander.

Our table particularly liked the De Morgenzon Reserve 2011, Tierhoek 2011 (grapes come from the Piekenierskloof area, also the area from which the Botanica chenin grapes are sourced), and Mullineux White Blend 2012 (with Viognier). Other Chenin Blancs we tasted included AA Badenhorst Secateurs 2012, Simonsig ‘Sur Lie’ 2012, Doran Vineyards Barrel Fermented 2012, Nederburg The Anchorman 2012, Spioenkop ‘1900’ 2011, Beaumont Hope Marguerite 2012, Graham Beck Bowed Head 2011, Sijjn 2011 (made by David Trafford), Joostenberg Fairhead 2010, Oldenburg 2012, Jordan 2012, Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection Barrel Fermented 2012, Delaire Graff 2012, Diemersfontein Carpe Diem 2011, Bellingham The Bernhard Series Old Vine 2011, Spier 21 Gables 2011, Stellenrust ’46’ Barrel Fermented 2010, Cederberg Five Generations 2010, The FMC 2010, Kanu Kia-Ora Noble Late Harvest 2010, and Villiera Inspiration Noble Late Harvest 2010.  What was impressive is that so many of the top winemakers attended the tasting too, including Andrea Mullineux, Razvan Macici of Nederburg, Erika Obermeyer from Graham Beck Wines, David Trafford, Bruwer Raats, and Kathy Jordan.

De Morgenzon uses cement eggs for its Chenin Blanc production, these fermentation and maturation vessels having been developed in France twelve years ago.  Eben Sadie was the first South African wine maker to introduce cement eggs locally, and now they are also used by Boekenhoutskloof and Hamilton Russell.  Ken explained that winemakers follow trends too, and cement eggs are one of them.  Ken spoke about winemaking, and shared that one must make wine that the customer enjoys, even though it is not always the winemaker’s taste.

To get to Indochine, the Asian fusion restaurant at Delaire Graff, we took a short cut through winemaker Morné Vrey’s cellar, and passed Chef Christiaan Campbell’s vegetable garden.  Indochine is in the Delaire Graff Lodge & Spa building, set back from the main restaurant.  The entrance is ‘guarded’ by two Dylan Lewis cheetahs, and there are more on the lawn outside the restaurant.  The Lodge interior is dominated by art of the same contemporary artists whose work is in the main restaurant building, including Lionel Smit, Anton Smit, and Deborah Bell.  The restaurant seats about 40 patrons, and it has a view over Stellenbosch on a clear day.  It has the most impressive work of art by Lionel Smit and Andre Stead on the ceiling, called ‘Flight of the Swallows’.  The colour scheme is blue, reflected in the leather seating and the very classy looking menu and winelist folder.  The chef is Virgil Kahn.

The very efficient waiters brought fritters made from cabbage, fennel and spinach as well as bread crisps  to the table, with a black bean and sweet soy sauce, spicy tomato relish, and cucumber and mint sauce.  Johann Laubser and Delaire Graff winemaker Morné Vrey were also at the table, and I asked Morne how the Showcase would influence his Chenin Blanc wine making.  He said that he had learnt a few things he may try for the next vintage, and it had set a benchmark, but it had also helped him to define what he would not do in his Chenin Blanc making.  Johann shared that Africa’s first Graff diamond store will open in the main Delaire Graff restaurant building in September, and it is being designed by the international interior designer of all Graff stores.

The amuse bouche was an unusually presented kingklip su mai (dim sum) with a gengati gel, and a citrus and fennel emulsion, a simple fresh start to the meal.  The wine stewards and waiters offered the guests a continuous choice of the Chenin Blanc wines we had tasted.  The Thai Duck starter, with pickled radish, bamboo, the most delicious cashew nut brittle, and orange, was the favourite course of many guests.  The main course is one of the signature dishes of the restaurant, being the 7 Thai spice pork belly served with edamame beans, pickled garlic, and red pepper.  An interesting looking and very tasty black rice was served with the pork.  The dessert was a colourful mango parfait served with passion fruit, rose water ginger crumble, and raspberry.

Most of the wine writers and wine makers had not been to Indochine before, and expressed how impressed they were with the restaurant and its good service.  Both the Chenin Blanc Association and Delaire Graff were gracious and generous hosts, and Ken thanked all involved for a fabulous event.

Disclosure:  We received a bottle of Tierhoek Chenin Blanc 2011 with our media pack.  My son is the Manager of Indochine.

Chenin Blanc Association www.chenin.co.za Twitter:  @CheninBlancAsso

Indochine, Delaire Graff Lodge & Spa, Tel (021) 885-8160.  www.delaire.co.za Twitter: @DelaireGraff

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

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

In the past one and a half years that the Delaire Graff Restaurant has been open, I have had two excellent and one negativeexperience, the last one unfortunately having left such an impression on me that I did not return for a year.  Last week I went back, and was blown away (almost literally by the South-Easter too) by how professional and friendly Delaire Graff and its staff are.   The restaurant is not inexpensive, and therefore it is the perfect place at which to celebrate a special event or achievement.   Its setting above the Helshoogte Pass in Stellenbosch gives it a perfect view onto the surrounding vineyards and mountains.

The wine estate must be one of the Winelands’ properties which is supported by one of the largest investments (the owner is Laurence Graff, a Switzerland-based jeweller owning 30 branches of Graff Diamonds around the world, in the news last year when one of its London stores suffered the biggest jewellery heist ever).   Graff bought the estate from John and Erica Platter, spent millions of Rands and years of time to redevelop the property, first building the Delaire Graff Restaurant, winery and winetasting centre, and earlier this year adding the Delaire Graff Lodge with Indochine restaurant.  I have written previously about the monumental artwork spread across the estate, not only in terms of the top artists whose work is displayed, but also the sheer size of many of these.   The artwork displayed is by father and son Anton and Lionel Smit, Dylan Lewis, William Kentridge (the s-shaped leather seating in the restaurant was matched in colour to the Kentridge!), Deborah Bell, Fred Schimmel, Sydney Khumalo, Cecil Skotness and Maurice van Essche.

As I entered the restaurant building I could not miss the new Lionel Smit painting in the reception hall, overshadowing even the massive Christmas tree.  The attention paid to decorating the Delaire Graff building for Christmas cannot be overlooked, with massive Christmas trees in the restaurant, reception hall and winetasting room, each decorated in a specific colour scheme, putting me into a Christmas spirit I have not experienced in a restaurant so far.   As the external gates were open when I arrived, the gatehouse could not report my arrival, so that there was no one to personally welcome me in the car park, as used to be the case.   Yet there were three staff members in the massive Reception Hall, all beaming in friendliness, but none asked where I was going and if I needed help to find my way to the restaurant.  I did note a new shop selling clothing as well as some display stands selling Graff jewellery off the Reception Hall, which had opened a few days before.  (Both the jewellery salesladies were not available when I wanted to get an idea of prices, and the clothing shop salesladies hazarded a guess at R80000 for a pair of diamond earings).

But once I had reached the restaurant, charming new Maitre’d Nadia Kotze was waiting for me.   She had reserved a table inside because of the wind, but I chose to sit in a sheltered section outside, due to my cellphone being particularly active that lunchtime.   Quickly a table was set up, a jug of ice water brought to the table, with a lovely linen serviette, WMF cutlery, and a Peugeot grinder for the pinkish Himalayan rock salt filled with lots of mineral goodness, with a matching pepper grinder.   Everything is colour matched in the restaurant, the interior designer being David Collins from London, in that the table underlay, the decorations on the Christmas tree, the menu and the winelist cover all are in shades of yellow/gold/orange.  The menu holder is stylish, with blue edging inside.   Music is piped throughout the building, and has a distinctly European feel, including French and Italian songs.

Chelsea came to introduce herself, and offered me a choice of three breads – ryebread, focaccia sprinkled with rocksalt and rosemary, and ciabatta.   Nadia pointed out the barbeque as we stepped outside, with which chef Christiaan Campbell is experimenting, she said, preparing kingklip and chicken on it on alternate days.   Staff look smart in white shirts and black pants, and a black Delaire branded apron.   Everyone coming to the table beamed, and called me “Mrs von Ulmenstein”, showing their professional touch without familiarity. Even Johann Laubser, the Delaire Graff Estate GM, came to greet me.   Nadia has only recently moved across from Zacharay’s at Pezula.  She has previously been a Food & Beverage Manager at the Liz McGrath Collection of hotels, and has done the cruiseliners.   Chef Christiaan has been at the restaurant since it opened, and must be one of the few original restaurant staff still there.   Chef Christiaan laughed when I said this to him, when he came to say hello, and said quietly that he is a loyal chef, a nice answer!   He said that they had been disappointed to receive negative feedback about the restaurant’s service levels, but had taken stock earlier this year, and have addressed the shortcomings in this regard.  The service I received was excellent.

Given that it was the chicken barbeque day, and that I sat close to the barbeque outside, I ordered the Roast chicken, confit leg deep-fried in a batter, and a smoked corn and parsnip mash.   I loved the colour the corn added to the mash, and the smoky barbeque taste of the roast chicken (R155).  Having been ill for the four days prior, my appetite was not yet back to normal, and therefore I took some of the dish home.  Starter options cost between R85 – R105, and include paprika squid, buffalo mozzarella, goat’s cheese fritters, cured beef, ceviche of red fish, and yellow fin tuna.  Main courses start at R110, for Primavera, and peak at R295 for Cape Rock Lobster.  Other main courses include fish and chips, pork belly, seared salmon trout, Waterberg beef, and line fish.   A number of sides can be ordered too.   Nadia was such a good salesperson that she persuaded me to have a refreshing fruit feast for dessert, being apricot panna cotta, with nectarine sorbet, star anise marshmallow, plum soup, with macerated apricots (R55).   Other dessert options cost R65, and include a chocolate sandwich, pistachio nougat, and strawberries.  Gelato costs R25 per scoop.  “Handcrafted cheeses” can be ordered at R95.   Interestingly, the dessert and cheese options each had a wine pairing suggestion on the menu.   I had a lovely frothy cappuccino with my dessert, expensive at R30. 

The winelist contains the Delaire wine collection, including Sauvignon Blancs (R170 – R320), Chardonnay (R210), Rosé (R140), Shiraz (R175), Red Blend (R220), Port (R320) and Semillon Noble Late Harvest (R300).  A small selection of other wine brands is offered per variety.  Champagnes are by Taittinger (R1500), Billecart-Salmon Rose NV (R1650) and Louis Roderer Cristal (R7750). Méthode Cap Classiques range from R245 (Colmant Brut Reserve) to R950 for Graham Beck Cuvee Clive.   Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc costs R170, and an imported Domaine Lafond Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc costs R620.  Pax Verbatim 2007 Shiraz costs R295, Cirrus 2006 R455, and Stark-Conde Three Pines 2007 R 550.    Wines by the glass cost R 40 – R 55, and are predominantly by Delaire, with Bon Courage Brut Reserve costing R55.

The bathrooms at Delaire Graff are the best-smelling, cleanest, and tidiest I have every experienced at any restaurant.   I had not seen the tasting room before, and saw in it not only the attractively labelled Delaire wines, branded shirts, but also the latest Platter and Rossouw’s Restaurants guides.  My eye also caught the attractively packaged Delaire Graff chocolate slabs and mini-chocolate collection packs, which looked like they could make the perfect Christmas presents, even if not inexpensive.   Michael walked me out of the building to the car park, a nice touch I remember from the early days of Delaire Graff Restaurant.

Delaire Graff Restaurant has an interesting counterpoint with the “new” Tokara Restaurant with chef Richard Carstens across the road.  I could not see any dramatic changes to the Delaire Graff Restaurant menu as a result of the “new” competitor, and the service is very much improved.   It will be interesting to see how both restaurants fare on the Eat Out Top 10 restaurant list in 2011.  

POSTSCRIPT 7/8/11:I popped in at Delaire Graff this afternoon, after lunch at the close-by de Huguenot Restaurant.  I was impressed once again with how classy and professional this wine estate is.  It was the perfect afternoon to sit outside.  I had a frothy, almost creamy, cappuccino, and a study in strawberry with it – there were dried and fresh strawberries, strawberry granite, meringue crumbs, vanilla pastry creme, black pepper shortbread, and strawberry ice cream, a refreshing and attractively presented dessert.

Delaire Graff Restaurant, Helshoogte Pass, Stellenbosch. Tel (021) 885-1270.  www.delaire.co.za  (The website contains menus for both Delaire Graff Estate restaurants, and has an Image Gallery).   Mondays – Sundays lunch, Mondays – Saturdays dinner.   Booking is advisable.

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

It is not often that an evening that starts as a disaster ends off on such a high note.  Our evening at the two month old Indochine at Delaire Graff could have gone horribly wrong, but the service recovery from the Duty Manager Sabrina D’Agrossi, chef Jonathan Heath and waiter Nick all combined to rescue the evening, pulling out all the stops to ensure that we were made to feel very special, and to enjoy the outstanding unique and special Asian-fusion menu.

I had booked a table for a Thursday evening two days earlier, and confirmed that I had pronounced the name of the new restaurant correctly, so there was no mistaking at which of the two restaurants on the estate I wanted to book.   We drove through the open gates at the security entrance, passed the Delaire restaurant, looking for the new Hotel, designed by French architect Pierre Bories, but there was no signage yet for the hotel, and the security guard we asked in the parking area had never heard of Indochine, nor had the person he asked via his walkie-talkie!  I then Googled the telephone number on my phone, and had the luck that Sabrina answered the phone.  She gave me the news that the restaurant was closed as they had no bookings!   I told her about my booking, and she told me where to find the hotel, through the gates, ‘guarded’ by the two Dylan Lewis cheetahs.  Nick met us outside, and walked us into the restaurant, showing us the tiny cinema, and we noticed the outstanding artwork inside the generous hotel reception area.  The chef was called and he came to the restaurant from Stellenbosch, to prepare our meal, with such graciousness that you could have sworn that it was a pleasure for him to be called away from home.

The owner Laurence Graff (owner of Graff Diamonds International Ltd, victim of one of the biggest jewellery robberies in London last year) is known as an art collector from the original Delaire restaurant, and he has invested in four further Dylan Lewis cheetahs on the lawn outside the restaurant, each costing R 250000, we were told.  He has also focused on father Anton and son Lionel Smit, with sculptures and paintings by the Smits, especially the latter featuring strongly.

The restaurant is a large open plan one, with the bar at the entrance, and two comfortable chairs if one wants to sit at the fireplace.  The interior design has been done by London-based David Collins, who did the Delaire restaurant and wine centre too.  If the Delaire restaurant leans to the orange side in terms of its decor, Indochine is definitely blue – blue leather chairs (strangely low, indirectly admitted by Sabrina as not intended to have been so low), and small blue leather couches with round dining tables, one could say “cut-up” and small versions of the large orange couches in the Delaire restaurant. The tables have a copper top, the colour a warm decor touch, but with a wooden bar underneath the tables facing one, which means that one can bump one’s knees against it, and one therefore has to put one’s legs on each side of it, an uncomfortable position. There is little art inside the restaurant, and it is understated relative to the sister Delaire restaurant.  The view must be magnificent by day, onto Stellenbosch.  The glassware probably is from Riedel, the cutlery is the most modern chic Italian, and a wooden board on the table holds a lantern with a candle.  The music is reasonably soft Eastern style.   The Hotel building only houses the spa and restaurant, and guests are accommodated in 10 “lodges” outside the hotel, with Cape Dutch style gables (the cost for one night starts at R8000).  Graff has so much faith in his team, that he has supervised the building work via DVD, the staff tell us, and he has yet to see his new hotel and restaurant.

We were presented the blue-cover menu and winelist, and were served a glass of Delaire Sauvignon Blanc (initially the Chardonnay was brought to the table in error) for my guest, and a Red Blend 2006 for myself (the Delaire Shiraz was a 2009, so I declined), expensive I felt at R50 and R60, respectively.  Only the Delaire wines are served by the glass.  Nick told us that they had not intended to serve wines by the glass, but have realised that there is a demand for it, so they will be added to the winelist.   Nick struggled to get away from serving us bottled water, when I asked for fresh Stellenbosch water.   The Delaire wine labels are beautifully designed. The winelist is interesting, in being only two pages (not likely to win the Diner’s Club Winelist Award), and offering a very restricted choice of no more than four/five brands, but in many cases only one or two per varietal.  Only the champagne (Billecart-Salmon Rose, Laurent-Perrier and Louis Roederer Cristal), and six other wines are imported (the Chateau Pichon Lalande 2005 costing R 5500, Hospices De Beaune 2002 R 1950), and Delaire Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Rose’, and the Red Blend are offered.   Vintages are specified on the winelist, but no wine descriptions are provided.

I noticed references to chilli, pepper and curry in the menu, and did not want to order anything that was too hot.   The chef came to the table, and explained the menu to us (what a great touch, given that the menu creation is his “baby”, so who better to describe it?).  I had not heard of Chef Jonathan Heath before, and most of his experience after he started his apprenticeship at the Lord Charles Hotel in Somerset West was at Southern Sun Hotels both domestically and in Africa, his last stop having been the opening of a Southern Sun in Nigeria.   He loves Asian-fusion food, and is therefore in his element.   Mr Graff does too, and that is why such a style of restaurant was selected for the hotel.   It also contrasts the cuisine of the Delaire restaurant, is healthier in that the food is only steamed and poached, and is light.   Chef Jonathan is a big fan of Heston Blumenthal, and is into foams and froths, and molecular gastronomy, he says.  He also sources organic produce where he possibly can.

Sabrina came to the table with a customer feedback form, so that the problems experienced can be addressed by the management, as well as a media pack.  She also brought a gift pack with a bottle of Delaire Shiraz, to express her apology.  She offered me her card, so that I could book directly with her in future.

The menu offers 2 courses for R 225, 3 courses for R290, 4 courses for R385, and 5 courses for R 470.  Like Overture, one may choose the dishes from any of the sections on the menu.   The Chef quickly sent an amuse bouche of duck liver parfait and a home-made paneer cheese, with a strong lingering aftertaste.  Chef Jonathan impressed us by bringing each of the dishes to the table, and explaining the ingredients to us.  My guest’s Tikka Duck Marsala was served with curried lentils, coriander, cumin, spring onion and red pepper, garnished with pea shoots, and had a wonderful cucumber and cumin riatta.  My duck springroll was made from rice paper and was steamed, Chef Jonathan saying that it has close to zero calories, with julienned carrots and beans, and served with pickled cucumber and daikon radish, a bamboo shoot salad and dipping sauces.   Other starters are marinated beef salad, tuna loin, poached tiger prawns, and wild mushroom salad.  This was followed by a wildberry and litchi sorbet.

My guest had the salmon trout, topped with squid and caviar, with tomato and chilli broth poured over it by the Chef at the table.  My four 7-Thai-spice braised pork belly slices also had caviar on them.  We ordered a bowl of Jasmine rice and a butternut salad with the main course (one is allowed one side dish each).   Other mains offered are seared scallops, steamed line fish, duck breast, and Green tea poached Quail Breast.  We did not order dessert, but were served a trio of treats with our cappuccino – pistachio mousse, a chocolate amaretto cycle, and a macadamia nut spear.   Dessert choices are de-molded chai brulee, butternut sponge, citrus baked cheesecake, 5-spice malva pudding, and passion fruit panna cotta.

Chef Jonathan impressed us with his ability to interact with his guests, with his creativity in food preparation and presentation, and the generosity of what was sent out of the kitchen (a 2-course meal had an added amuse bouche, sorbet and sweet treats).   He comes to greet and chats with guests as a matter of course.  One hopes it stays this way.  But none of this would have been possible without the calm and efficient way in which the Duty Manager Sabrina dealt with the problem, and had turned it into a wonderful evening.  The restaurant is one of the finest in Stellenbosch, its addition strengthening our call for Stellenbosch to be given the Gourmet Capital crown, and to develop a Restaurant Route.  Another fan of foams and froths, Richard Carstens, opens across the road at Tokara in October.

Indochine, Delaire Graff Lodges & Spa, Helshoogte Pass, Stellenbosch. Tel (021) 885-8160 (Ask for Sabrina to book). www.delaire.co.za.  On the Stellenbosch Restaurant Route.

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

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