Tag Archives: Karen Roos

Babylonstoren 2 opens as The Newt in Somerset in the UK, celebrates local produce, history, and beauty!

 

It was by chance that I heard about The Newt in Somerset opening in the UK last year, a property which Babylonstoren owners Koos Bekker and Karen Roos bought in 2013 as Hadspen House, renaming the renovated estate, and turning it into a property similar to Babylonstoren outside Franschhoek. Continue reading →

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WhaleTales Tourism, Food, and Wine news headlines: 11 September

WhaleTalesTourism, Food, and Wine news headlines

*   In the World Travel Awards 2014 Cape Town was named Leading Destination as well as Leading Cruise Port (ironic as its facilities in the harbour to receive cruise line guests are so poor) in Africa. For Africa The Pepperclub Hotel & Spa was named Leading City Hotel; Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront Leading Conference Hotel; Cape Royale Luxury Hotel & Spa Leading Hotel Residences; Ellerman House Villa One Leading Luxury Villa; and Table Mountain Leading Tourist Attraction. (received via media release from Cape Town Tourism)

*   Top Stellenbosch chefs Tanja Kruger of Makaron at Majeka House, Christiaan Campbell of Delaire Graff, Bertus Basson of Overture, and Michael Broughton of Terroir, as well as Somerset West-based Chef Gregory Czernecki of Waterkloof will be preparing the food for Stellenbosch at Summer Place, a showcase of the best wines, art, and food from the Winelands town, which will be held on 15 October at Summer Place. Entrance costs R500. (received via media release from Random Hat Communications)

*   Ultimate Braai Master ‘Time for Tough‘ 13 series Season 3 starts sizzling on etv this evening, at 20h30.   It is described as the Continue reading →

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Babylonstoren celebrates 3rd anniversary with Long Table in the Garden!

Babylonstoren Long Table early Whale Cottage PortfolioThe invitation I received from new Babylonstoren Food & Beverage Manager Simoné Rossouw did not reveal what a special honour it was to be invited to the third anniversary celebration of the innovative wine estate, with a top restaurant, boutique hotel, wellness spa, wine tasting and shop, and retail outlet.

We met outside the retail area, which has been expanded to add the shop which originally was located opposite Babel restaurant.  Owner Karen Roos (with husband Koos Bekker) has created the most amazing transformation of the wine estate, which had commenced behind the scenes three years prior to their opening, with their GM Terry de Waal and his team planning and implementing their future direction. Karen is one of the most stylish South Africans, having won most stylish dress awards when they were still awarded, and having been the editor of  Elle Decor.

We were welcomed with three drink options, being home-madeBabylonstoren Bread Sticks Whale Cottage Portfolio ice tea with waterblommetjie, mint and lime; melon and mint cordial with fresh thyme; and strawberry and rose geranium with lavender and lime.  Alternatively one could drink the Babylonstoren wines.  On the table was the most interesting ‘pick up sticks’ presentation of smoked salmon and Serrano ham bread sticks.  The new Spa will be the reason for a future visit, as I never saw it, being distracted with the extensions to the retail building. Continue reading →

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Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant 2012 Awards: some predictions!

We have predicted the Eat Out Top restaurants in the past few years, and this year we are presenting three Eat Out Top 10 list options, based on Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly’s potential approaches to selecting the award-winning restaurants, which she had rubber-stamped by now ex-judge UK blogger Bruce Palling!

The judging criteria are clearly specified on the Eat Out website: the restaurant must have operated for 12 full months (this is why The Pot Luck Club had to be dropped off the Top 20 list!), and the same chef must have run the kitchen for the period; the owners and the chef should show an absolute passion for their business;  they should be dedicated to uplifting the industry (an odd criterion, not being clear if this is meant to be staff upliftment, or sharing with chef colleagues?);  chefs should care about sourcing quality produce; and consistency and excellence must shine through every aspect of the business.  The judging score is out of 100, of which 70%  goes to Food, its website says, but the figures don’t add up, in that 15 points go to menu composition and seasonality (defined as ‘choice, cooking techniques, dietary requirements, local ingredients, choice of fish, out-of-season ingredients‘), 15 points go to presentation (defined as ‘visual appeal, fits description, use of plate, garnishes’), and 25 points go to taste (defined as execution of dish, balanced, flavours complimentary, texture’), totalling 55 out of 70.  The missing 15 points are not clarified, but some must be the non-food aspects, as they add up to 100!  In addition, wine is evaluated out of 10 points (defined as ‘choice, other beverages offered, staff knowledge, pairing and value for money‘), Value for money scores out of 5, Service is evaluated out of 20 (defined as ‘reservation, arrival, staff attitude and knowledge, specials, wine matching, dietary requirements, extra mile, billing’), and ambiance is scored out of 10 (defined as ‘comfort level, cleanliness, cutlery, music and bathrooms‘).

To recap, the following Top 19 Restaurants are in the running for the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant list:

Cape Town:  Bistrot Bizerca, The Greenhouse, La Colombe, Planet Restaurant, The Roundhouse, The Test Kitchen

Stellenbosch: Delaire Graff, Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine, Makaron Restaurant, Overture, Rust en Vrede, Terroir, Tokara

Franschhoek:  Babel, Pierneef à La Motte, The Tasting Room

Other: DW Eleven-13, Hartford House, Restaurant Mosaic

We called our first Top 10 Restaurant list the Taste Monitor, doing a count of the number of times a Top 19 Eat Out restaurant has been featured in Taste magazine this year, of which Mrs Donnelly is the Food editor, to show which chefs she is partial to.  It is no surprise that Chef Luke Dale-Roberts wins, having been featured in every issue, and he would be the only restaurant on the Top 10 list on this basis, all other Top 19 restaurant contenders having only been featured once or twice, if at all, in the past year. Advertising for La Motte, Delaire Graff, and Makaron restaurants has appeared in the magazine this year, as well as a promotion for Delaire Graff.

Another criterion would be the Trend to Foraging, Ethical sourcing, and Vegetable and Herb Gardening, and the following restaurants would feature on this list, in no particular order, based on our knowledge and what the restaurant websites claim:  Pierneef à La Motte, Delaire Graff, Overture, Babel, The Tasting Room, The Greenhouse, Planet Restaurant, Makaron, and Hartford House.

To compile the Top 10 Restaurant List, we have had to put ourselves into Mrs Donnelly’s shoes: she will have chosen her favourites and those that she has had links to, having shown her bias in judging restaurants this year and last year.  The hardest part is to decide which of her existing Top 10 favourites will have to fall off the existing Top 10 list to make way for others. No offence is meant by any exclusions, and is purely based on speculation:

*  The Test Kitchen – there is no doubt that The Test Kitchen will be named Top Restaurant and Luke Dale-Roberts as Top Chef, on the basis of the monthly shoot at his restaurant for Taste magazine alone. 74th position on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Speaker at Eat Out Conference. Restaurant booked up to 3 months ahead. Oddly described as serving Tapas by Eat Out, maybe confusing it with The Pot Luck Club?

*   Pierneef à La Motte Chef Chris Erasmus showed that he strives for excellence in spending one month working at Noma, the world’s best restaurant, has the most fabulous vegetable and herb garden filled with unusual vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers, collegially sharing the produce with other restaurants in Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, has excellent wines on its winelist, and proudly focuses on local cuisine. Superb interior, reasonable value.  Culinary Manager Hetta Van Deventer-Terblanche is speaking at the Eat Out Conference, and La Motte has advertised in Taste magazine. Service deficiencies would lose the restaurant some points.

*   Makaron Restaurant Chef Tanja Kruger is a member of the SA Culinary Olympic Team, spent a month working at Michelin-star L’Apèrge restaurant in Paris this year, has a vegetable and herb garden at Majeka House, and sources meat from Farmer Angus at Spier. Mrs Donnelly was a consultant to the restaurant, designing its first menu last year, and named the restaurant the inaugural winner of the Boschendal Style Award 2011, making it a model Eat Out restaurant!  Sommelier Josephine Gutentoft adds to the quality offering. Good ambiance.  Placed advertisement in Taste magazine this year.

*   Babel at BabylonstorenConsultant Maranda Engelbrecht has created a restaurant that is booked out two months in advance, and has created a most unusual food concept of same-colour salads, consisting of fruit, vegetables and herbs, grown in their enormous French-inspired garden. Chef Simone Rossouw worked at a Dutch restaurant for a while earlier this year. Owner Karen Roos has impeccable decor taste, very less-is-more.  First wine vintage launched, and very Proudly Simonsberg wines.  Good value, service strained when busy.

* Tokara Chef Richard Carstens deserved a Top 10 place last year, but was shockingly left off the list, perhaps because there was a fear that he would not last at the restaurant. He has proven Mrs Donnelly very wrong. One of our most creative chefs, and constantly reinventing himself and his team.  Seasonal focus.  Exceptional presentation.  Very professional service, with sommelier service.  Winner of best Winelands Restaurant in Great Wine Capitals Global Network awards second year running.

*   The Greenhouse Chef Peter Tempelhoff is understated and low key, just getting on with what he does best. Own vegetable garden on the hotel estate, knowledgeable about wines, Chef Peter making wines with Adam Mason.  One of only two Relais & Châteaux Grand Chefs in South Africa, awarded to Chef Peter earlier this year. Named Top Eat Out Restaurant last year.  Service can be arrogant. Fun interpretation of restaurant name in dishes. Expensive. Sommelier service. Innovative 7-course Dom Perignon Tasting Menu introduced today.

*   La Colombe – Chef Scot Kirton worked with Chef Luke Dale-Roberts, and has proven that he can do it with his own team too.  Best winelist and sommelier in the country in Diner’s Club Winelist Awards this year.

*   DW Eleven-13 – we know that Bruce Palling flew to Johannesburg to judge the restaurant.

*  Delaire Graff Chef Christiaan Campbell has strong ethical food principles, sources from Farmer Angus, his own vegetable garden, as well as from La Motte, seasonal menus, good plating, exceptional setting with its view on to the Simonsberg, outstanding service, exceptional decor with artworks by top local artists, very expensive.  Placed advertisement and ran promotion in Taste magazine this year.

*   The Tasting Room – Best placed South African restaurant on The World’s 50 Best Restaurant list, even though it slipped badly to 57th position this year, Chef Margot Janse sourcing herbs and vegetables from the La Motte garden, and meats from Farmer Angus at Spier.  Very expensive. Service and wine list is criticised.  New decor by Chef Margot’s brother. Speaker at Eat Out Conference.  Loses points for banning customers.

We have excluded Bistrot Bizerca because of its move to new premises while the 2012 Eat Out edition was being printed; Terroir, Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine, and Rust en Vrede for being under the radar; The Roundhouse, for Chef PJ Vadas leaving during the course of the year, which should have disqualified the restaurant from being on the Top 20 list;  Hartford House and Restaurant Mosaic, for judge Bruce Palling not having visited, as far as we can tell from his Tweets;  Planet Restaurant, for not yet shaking off its hotel connection and what that entails, despite Chef Rudi’s impressive sourcing of produce and their excellent sommelier; and Overture, whose Chef Bertus Basson may have been burning the candle at both ends this year with his Amazink, Die Wors-Rol, The Ultimate Braaimaster, and consulting contracts.

We look forward to the Eat Out DStv Food Network Top 10 Restaurant Awards, to be held at The Westin hotel on Sunday evening.

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

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Babylonstoren the centre of ‘Simonsberg Wine Route’ in its new wine tasting centre!

Even though it shouldn’t have been a surprise, it was a most impressive visit to the new wine tasting center at Babylonstoren, not only offering a tasting of its own four wines, but also offering for sale two wines from each of the wine estates surrounding the Simonsberg, as well as gorgeous produce in its cheesery, bakery, and charcuterie, which opened two months ago.

One enters the tasting centre, housed in the original smithery and stable on the farm, which has been beautifully restored by owner Karen Roos and her GM Terry de Waal, to keep the building as authentic as possible. Flooring which looks weathered and as if it has been there for ever, comes from the old Dietman piano factory in Wellington.  The walls are part raw brick and part plastered and painted.  As Ms Roos has shown on the estate, she is a ‘less is more’ decorator, giving the tasting room a spacious feel, with only a central table displaying the Babylonstoren wines and one other Simonsberg wine, as well as a cheese of the day to taste. A small wooden table with a bench on one side is the only seating in the room, beautifully ‘decorated’ with a box of just picked and washed vegetables, including carrots and purple potatoes. From the central room the cheesery and charcuterie are on the right, behind modern glass doors, and the bakery is to the left.

Koos Bekker, husband of Ms Roos, has a passion for the terroir of the Simonsberg, and came up with the idea of a ‘home’ on his wine estate for the wines produced at the wine estates on the ‘inner circle’ surrounding the mountain.  When Babel restaurant opened on the wine estate over a year ago, it served wines from the neighbouring wine farms when it had not yet made its own wine, a commendable service. A ‘map’ showing the ‘Simonsberg Wine Route’ is painted onto a tile collage on the wall, showing where each of the 27 wine estates, being Vuurberg, Zorgvliet, Thelema, Tokara, Neil Ellis, Rustenburg, Glenelly, Morgenhof, Remhoogte, Quion Rock, Knorhoek, Muratie, Delheim, Uitkyk, Kanonkop, Natte Valleij, Marianne, Mt Vernon, Anura, Glen Carlou, Neil Joubert, Backsberg, Noble Hill, Rupert & Rothschild, Vrede & Lust, Plaisir de Merle, and Babylonstoren, is located.  A shelving unit stores the wines of the other Simonsberg estates, and as they are lying, it is difficult to see the estate names. Each is price marked, and sold at the cellar door price of each wine estate. Because the ‘Simonsberg Wine Route’ is not a formal one, there are no maps, no price list, nor information about any of the wines, including the Babylonstoren ones, a surprise, given the marketing and advertising background of Mr Bekker (Y&R, M-Net/Multichoice/MWeb, Naspers).  None of the four Babylonstoren wines have their 2011 vintage indicated on their bottles, and the staff could not explain this unusual strategy. They called winemaker Charl Coetzee to come over for a chat, and he seemed to think it odd that I was asking questions about this, only mentioning that they were matured in tanks (with the exception of 20% of the Viognier, which was matured in barrel). He was generally cagey about providing information about the Shiraz, Viognier, Mourvèdre Rosé, and Chenin Blanc.  He explained that there is no price list, as the two wines sold per Simonsberg wine estate will change over time, depending on their customers’ interest in them.  He referred to the launch of their flagship Chardonnay and Shiraz in September, and these will have the vintages on them, having been matured in barrels.  He was previously at Clos Malverne and Kaapzicht, and has been at Babylonstoren for about eighteen months. He said that he personally loves Pinotage, but this grape variety is not grown on the estate.  Grapes were on the farm when it was bought by the Bekkers, and the vines are 14 years old. This is the first winemaking on the farm. The wine side is so new to the wine estate that it is not even on their website yet, he said.  In the upstairs section there is a private winetasting and wine storage area, with minimal decor.

Having got stuck on the wine information, Karen ‘Bread’ Pretorius came to my rescue before the winemaker could be found, and she was extremely friendly and informative. She is in charge of the tasting centre, and also doubles up as the baker, having previously worked in the Babel kitchen. The breads baked vary every day, cost R25 each, and include baguettes; a 50% Rye, with Rooibos and raisins; and a tomato relish on a white loaf.  All are baked with Eureka stoneground flour in their wood-fired oven, which looks like it has been there for ever.  Karen is not formally trained in breadmaking, she said honestly, learning through ‘trial and error’, and ‘stealing with my eyes’, describing herself as a passionate breadmaker.  She was the Head Chef at Umami in Stellenbosch previously, and praised Maranda Engelbrecht for what she has learnt at Babel.  The Charcuterie is a large room, and its painting of a duck, bull’s head, and a pig onto the white brick wall, which is visible from the tasting room, reminds one of the bull painted on the Babel restaurant wall. The meats are supplied by Jason Lucas’ Jamon from Prince Albert, who also was the thatcher of the building roof.  They sell pre-packed portions of Black Forest, Parma ham, Pancetta, and Coppa hams, salami, Kalbsleberwurst, and biltong.  The cheeses come from nearby Dalewood predominantly, but also from Kleinrivier and Nuwehoogte.  The cheeses are displayed in fridges, and also in the airconditioned cheese room, which opens into the charcuterie.  Karen told me that they have a close relationship with their suppliers, all having passion for their products in common with Babylonstoren, being chemical-free, MSG-free, and healthier.

Babylonstoren is bound to come up with further surprises in future.  A Loyalty Card is in the pipeline.  A visit to see their extensive vegetable and fruit garden, to eat at Babel restaurant or at the Babel Tea House, to try their wines in the winetasting centre, and shopping at their bakery, charcuterie, and cheesery is highly recommended.  As the tasting centre is only two months old, there were some information deficiencies amongst the staff, which Karen will fix through training.  A coffee machine may be in the pipeline for the tasting centre too, as Babel does not serve coffees only, and the Babel Tea House is a long walk away.

Babylonstoren Tasting Centre, Bakery, Charcuterie, and Cheesery, R45, Franschhoek. Tel (021) 863-3852. www.babylonstoren.com Twitter: @Babylonstoren.  Cellar Tour 12h00 Wednesday – Sunday, must be booked ahead as they only take 12 – 15 persons, R100. 10h00 – 16h00 for tasting centre. R10 per person entry fee to the wine estate.

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

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Garden of Babylonstoren is its heart, reflects passion of owner Koos Bekker!

I have previously written about the new Babel Tea House and also about Babel Restaurant at Babylonstoren.  On each of these visits I did not fully comprehend the wealth of work that has gone into planning, developing and maintaining the extensive 3,5 ha fruit and vegetable garden, with 350 edible fruit and vegetable varieties.

Wishing to spoil my parents, I invited them for a visit to the wine estate, and we were taken around by head gardener Liesel van der Walt, a charming and passionate ambassador for the garden, providing lots of information, and picking edible flowers (Day lilies) and berries for us to eat, and vegetable flowers (carrot and onion) for us to keep.  Liesel was at Kirstenbosch for 20 years, and originally did some contract gardening on the estate before joining Babylonstoren a year ago, managing a team of 15 gardeners.  She showed us the Babylonstoren, a hill after which the estate has been named, and laughingly said that soon they too can have the ‘Hanging Gardens of Babylon’! There are three ponds closest to the shop, and we started the garden tour here. A dam each contains waterblommetjies, tilapia fish, and rainbow trout. Continue reading →

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Babel Restaurant: a fabulous fresh feast!

I went to the Babel restaurant at Babylonstoren just after it opened over a year ago, and was in awe with it, but never wrote about it at that time.  Hearing about the opening of the Babel Tea House, it was a good opportunity to return to Babylonstoren, and I was lucky to obtain a table outside for lunch after visiting the Babel Tea House on Sunday.

Babylonstoren was awarded to ‘vryburgher’ Pieter van der Byl in 1690, and he started planting vineyards on the farm.  The current gardens were inspired by the Company Gardens, which Jan van Riebeeck had developed to supply ships of the Dutch East India Company, and ‘hales back to the mythical garden of Babylon’, its website says.  Patrice Tarravella from France, who owns a property with a garden layout which impressed the owners Karen Roos and Koos Bekker, was contracted to do the garden layout at Babylonstoren. The massive garden contains about 350 fruit and vegetable varieties.

The menu is most unusual – first, in terms of its presentation, written on a tiled white wall with a bull’s head painted on the side.  It is also available in printed form for those patrons sitting outside, and the paper looks recycled, in a beige colour, added as a loose sheet within a cover with a decorative drawing of vegetables. The same drawing is also on the billfold.  Second, the menu has two sections, one more traditional, in offering main course and dessert options, and the other something one has never experienced before, salads forming the base of the meal, to which one can add smoked trout (R45), home-made yoghurt cheese (R25), warm smoked chicken (R35), or cured moist biltong (R40).  The Green salad costs R50, and contains green kohlrabi, green beans, cucumber, fennel, pear, celery, avocado, asparagus, and garden greens, served with a mint geranium and yoghurt dressing.  The Red salad costs R55, and contains beetroot, watermelon, strawberry, radishes, plums, bloody sorrel, tomato berries and garden greens, served with a strawberry, pink peppercorn and rose dressing.  The Yellow salad costs R60, and contains, carrots, granadilla, pineapple, paw paw, apricots, corn, butternut, gooseberry, melon, nectarines and garden greens, with a nasturtium, mustard and verjuice dressing.  The menu introduction states: “At Babylonstoren we have luxury offerings of freshly picked fruit & vegetables, as nature intends, from our gardens.  We would like to inspire you with our menu suggestions. Our gardeners will introduce you to new cultivars and our chefs will offer you new, exciting flavour combinations”.

The more standard menu contains main courses only, the idea being that one orders a salad as a starter, one assumes, and the choices are lightly smoked Franschhoek trout with strawberry and lemon thyme crème fraiche served with a strawberry and Babylonstoren viognier drizzle (R125).  What the menu does not state is that the very large portion of trout is served with bowls of delicious and crispy hand cut chips, tzatziki and carrots, a tamarillo (which is a tree tomato but tastes of peach too), a baked onion topped with herb pesto, cauliflower in the most delicious goat’s cheese white wine cream sauce containing shredded roasted hazelnuts, herb pesto, and two slices of bread, an absolute feast and far too much to eat.   There is also a choice of 300 gram of sirloin (R135) or fillet (R155), served with calamata olive and shiraz butter sauce and olive salt.  Lamb cutlets served with gooseberry, lemon, caper and mint pesto and fresh pear julienne cost R140 for 300 gram. An artichoke tart with tamarillo, caramelised onion, chevin, fresh bloody sorrel and basil costs R85.  For dessert one chooses between a type of taste: Bitter is a white chocolate and bay leaf crème brûleé with warm almond brittle and almond wafer (R50); Sour is an apple, lime, yoghurt, mint and pea popsicle with radish carpaccio (R35); Savoury is a gorgonzola soufflé, served with beetroot infused cream, fresh apple and walnut as well as a Cabernet Sauvignon drizzle (R45); Sweet is a chilled plum soup served with beetroot sorbet and crystallised basil (R40). Wines by the glass are the first Babylonstoren wines, at R20 for Chenin Blanc and Dry Rosé, R33 for Shiraz, and R40 for Viognier.

On Friday and Saturday evenings dinner is served, at R300 per head for a 4-course meal, and the menu is varied for each dinner.  If the restaurant picks up that one has been there for dinner before, they will make sure that the menu is different to the one experienced on the previous visit.  The dinners appear to be excellent value, and Chef Simoné Rossouw printed out three past dinner menus, to give me an idea of what she serves: a ‘petal salad’, and a starter of beetroot carpaccio with goat’s cheese mousse and yellow plum relish, or even a nectarine-poached crayfish tail with cauliflower and vanilla puree, mizuna and crisp leeks.  For the main course a choice of meat (probably a 300 gram steak, or lamb shank), fish (trout with Kei apple hollandaise and eureka lemon) and vegetarian (Gorgonzola soufflé with apple and walnut relish, or grilled parsnip with poached duck egg and gratinated blue cheese) are offered.  For dessert one could expect a nectarine and smoked chilli tart tatin, a plum sorbet, scarlet peach mousse and an almond crisp; or a peach brioche with cardamom and citrus-scented ice cream; or a hazelnut meringue with Port-poached plums, white chocolate yoghurt and fresh berries.  It is the innovative dinner menu that could earn Babel its first Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant listing in 2012.  Chef Simoné sat with me for a short while, being very busy, and explained that they serve ‘honest food’ at Babel, their menus designed around what they can harvest from the garden, and even having to buy in produce on occasion, if the garden produce is not yet ripe.  She sources her meat from Tomi’s abattoir in Hermon, and they have their hens laying eggs, but not enough to meet their demand.  Babel Restaurant is ‘inspired’ by ‘food fundi’ Maranda Engelbrecht, who previously owned Manna Epicure on Kloof Street, says the Babylonstoren website.

I sat outside in the courtyard, these tables being unreserved, and arrived early enough to book one last-minute. A cooling water spray system has been installed, helping to cool one off on the hot Boland days. The Reserved sign was put in a wreath made of woven twigs, no doubt from the farm, and they are sold in the Babylonstoren shop too. The shop stocks an interesting collection of Panama and crocheted hats, fig and brandy paste, spiced plum jam, yellow plum chutney, strawberry and sage jam, scented candles, books (including the book ‘South’ by Karen Roos and Annemarie Meintjies, beautifully ‘wrapped’ with a ribbon), wines from the Simonsberg terroir, toffees, rusks, fresh produce from the Babylonstoren garden (carrots, rhubarb, beetroot and cauliflower), green fig preserve, Boeremeisjes, strawberry and lemon cordial, pickles, and lots more.  Next to the shop is the Library, a quiet space in which one can sit and read or page through the extensive collection of books.   The bathroom is done in cream tiles with a green line, and reminded me of my school facilities, yet the basins are very modern.

The service was slow, with the waiter serving outside struggling to serve all our needs. It was noticeable how many group tables of 6 – 10 guests there were, so the service speed probably was less important to them. The serviette was tiny, compared to the generous size of the serviettes at the Babel Tea House. Impressive was the waiter’s knowledge about the exotic fruit and vegetables served, the preparation thereof, and of the garden.  The visit to Babylonstoren was memorable, in seeing the new Babel Tea House, meeting up with Koos Bekker again, also chatting to the very humble Karen Roos, and enjoying the outstanding food at Babel Restaurant.

Babel Restaurant, Babylonstoren, R45, next to Backsberg on road to Franschhoek. Tel (021) 863-3852. www.babylonstoren.com Twitter: @Babylonstoren Wednesday – Sunday lunch, Friday and Saturday dinner.  R10 entrance fee.

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

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Babel Tea House: a refreshing new stop in the gardens of Babylonstoren

Babylonstoren is the flavour of the year, and is on everyone’s lips.  Just over a year after opening, the hotel has made the Conde Nast Hot 100 list, and Babel Restaurant the Eat Out Top 20 shortlist.  Now the owners Karen Roos and Koos Bekker have opened the Babel Tea House on the impressive property, as a refreshment stop for visitors to their garden.

Designed to emulate a Victorian ‘kweekhuis’, the glass conservatory is positioned under oak trees about 400 meters from Babel Restaurant.  To get there, one must walk through the massive 1,2 km x 700 meter 3,5 ha fruit and vegetable garden, with 350 species, which was designed by Patrice Tarravella, who has a  Relais & Chateaux property about two hours south of Paris, which is well-known for its garden.  The Bekkers contracted Patrice to design their garden in the same style, with a lot of trellising of roses in-between the vegetables, and especially along the pathway.  One needs a hat, and comfortable walking shoes to walk on the part stony and part peach-pip path to the Tea House.  Tables with a collection of colourful chairs are set up under the trees outside the Tea House.  Inside the Tea House one can sense the decor style of Karen Roos – a collection of flowers, including blue lillies, just lying as if they are still to be put in a vase.  Another table has a collection of vegetables on a table, making a decor statement.  A third table has herbs from the garden, with Nigiro glass tea pots and warmers.   One can choose one’s herb from a collection from the garden – e.g. rose geranium, sage, mint, lavender – and have one’s own tea made, at a mere R10 a cup.  Cupcakes were also on display.

When one arrives one receives a brochure with the layout of the grounds, and of the vegetable garden specifically.  I heard that a guide can take one through the garden, but this is not communicated on arrival nor when one is at the Tea House.  Some interesting sounding garden sections include the prickly pear maze, the historical mulberry, ‘mulberry meditation’, the citrus block, the ‘guava avenue’, and many more.

It is very ‘gesellig’ at the Tea House, as a number of visitors came to say hello, including radio man Nico de Kock, the F&B Manager Annelle van Tonder, who brought me a Winner plum as a welcome, and both Karen Roos and Koos Bekker.   Karen Roos is a very private person, and had her own decor magazine ‘Red‘ many years ago, and ended her editorship of Elle Decoration, no doubt to devote more time to her new project.   She has won awards for her stylish dressing, and her impeccable taste shows in her understated decor at Babylonstoren.  Koos Bekker and I have crossed paths three times – as members of the editorial team for Die Matie whilst we were students at the University of Stellenbosch; as a client when I was seconded from Y&R Johannesburg to work with him as a market researcher when he set up M-Net 25 years ago; and as a research consultant to M-Net a few years later. Now he is the CEO of Naspers. Koos’ touch is evident in the Chinese on the signage, with English or Afrikaans, and his company has lost a lot of money there, he told me. He is still very active in China, having returned from a trip to there the day before, he told me. Babylonstoren must be the only South African tourism player that is recognising the potential power of the Chinese market. Admirably he has taken Mandarin lessons, to master this difficult language.  Koos looked like a country gentleman, with a Panama hat, was friendly and relaxed (he is an extreme work-a-holic), and he even brought me a hat to protect my face from the sun.  He has invested an inordinate amount of money in Babylonstoren, one assumes.  Koos told me that they will start producing their first wines next year in their 300 ton cellar, Charl Coetzee, previously of Clos Malverne, being their winemaker.  In the meantime they are selling wines drawn from the terroir surrounding the Simonsberg in their shop and in the restaurant.  I have read elsewhere that a tasting room for these Simonsberg terroir wines is on the cards at Babylonstoren, with a deli selling cheeses too.

The GM Terry de Waal also came to introduce himself, and told me that his background is industrial engineering and not hospitality at all.  He was the project manager when Babylonstoren was first developed, and now takes overall responsibility for the estate.   His industrial engineering skills were useful when the Tea House was designed, working with Patrice, Koos, and Karen to come up with the design of the building. I saw Terry being hands-on, carrying food boxes from the kitchen to clients.

Water is offered for free in branded bottles, and must be from the farm. Cutlery is the most stylish patterned perspex.  The food is served in a branded wooden box.  The paper table cloth is also branded, with a Delft plate, which has become a new symbol for Babylonstoren, remnants of which have been found on the grounds during the renovations.  The table cloth states that it is recycled, going into the compost after use. The concept is very simple – from a blackboard choose for a ‘sandwich’ a bread style (ciabatta, wholewheat, rye, farmstyle white), a cheese (Dalewood Huguenot, Gorgonzola, goat’s cheese, pecorino), and/or a charcuterie item (Black Forest ham, smoked chicken, soft cured biltong, smoked trout).  The cost of both the meat and cheese sandwich is R65, and R55 for either the one or the other.  A fresh garden salad with herbs is served in a separate glass jar, and there are two further jars: one with plum relish with granny smith apple and pineapple sage, and the other with a mixed herb oil. My rye ‘sandwich’ was a roll, and was rather tough, filled with the ham and cheese, and wrapped in branded paper, with the perspex cutlery tied to it with a serviette.  I took my roll home with me, and only had the salad, spontaneously booking for lunch at Babel restaurant.  I am not sure how one would eat the ‘sandwich’ without having a plate, the wooden box in which it was served possibly serving this purpose. Chef Simone Rossouw confirmed that the cakes and cupcakes are made for them by Kelly in Franschhoek, who transforms the produce they have in abundance into cake.  I took a chocolate cupcake (R25) home with me, and it was wrapped in the branded paper, with six cherries giving it a beautiful finishing touch. Slices of cake cost R45, and the selection includes lemon meringue, carrot cake and chocolate cake.  Cappuccino costs R18; red, yellow or green juices cost R20, homemade iced tea R25; homemade ginger beer R16 and lemonade R20; Marriage Freres teas cost R30.

Service is slow, but Babylonstoren is not the place to go to if one is in a hurry, and the service should improve as the Tea House settles in.  Neither the blackboard nor the staff explain clearly how the sandwiches work, and what the prices are.   One needs a hat and comfortable shoes.  I was disappointed that they buy in the cakes, and do not make them on the farm. But the overall delight of walking through the gardens, of getting an opportunity to experience a taste of Babylonstoren without pre-booking Babel Restaurant, and of seeing style personified makes the food disappointment secondary.

Babel Tea House, Babylonstoren. R45 to Franschhoek, next to Backsberg. Tel (021) 863-3852. www.babylonstoren.com Twitter:@Babylonstoren.  Wednesday – Sunday. 10h00 – 16h00. No reservation required.  R10 entrance fee to the estate.

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

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