I love seeing how restaurants can reinvent themselves, and often a new chef can be the catalyst. Chef Archie Maclean has been at Catharina’s for about four months, and has gone back to the history and origin of Steenberg wine estate and its first owner Catharina Ras for inspiration for his creative new menu. Continue reading →
Yesterday was only the second day of Open Door being open on Constantia Uitsig, but it felt as if it had always been there, with everything running smoothly. Open Door is the third restaurant of co-owners Neil Grant and Barry Engelbrecht, alongside Burrata and Bocca, and serves country fare.
Previously the home to The River Café on the wine estate, with a tasting room on the side which has moved across the driveway, the space of Open Door is large, being able to seat 250 patrons at full capacity, in different sections. One enters around the corner, and no longer at the former tasting room entrance. The main restaurant room is spacious, with a gas fireplace to come at the one end, and an open kitchen on the other end, with the bar close to the kitchen section, opposite of which is Neil’s precious wine collection, looking smaller than that of Burrata, but is not, Continue reading →
Stellenbosch Hills is the first wine estate to have introduced the ‘Biltong & Droëwors Adventure’ pairing of its wines with biltong and dry wors in its tasting room, and therefore launched a ‘Biltong Maker of the Year’ challenge to wine and biltong lovers four years ago, an annual event. This year the competition pairs this South African speciality with the Stellenbosch Hills Shiraz 2007. The art of wine blending is as specialised as drying and spicing meat, says the winery’s media release.
A group of food and wine writers was invited by Stellenbosch Hills to attend a function to announce the 2012 competition. At the premises of master spice suppliers, and first-time sponsors of the competition, Freddy Hirsch in Maitland, the group was shown the art of biltong-making. I had a busy morning, and therefore could not attend this part of the proceedings, but joined the group for the lunch, for which Stellenbosch Hills’ PR consultant Nicolette Waterford had chosen Magica Roma in Pinelands, due to its close proximity to Maitland.
Stellenbosch Hills is on the road that connects the N2 to Stellenbosch, near Spier, and represents 14 farms on the Polkadraai Pad. It was previously a co-operative. We drank a Polkadraai Red (70% Pinotage and 30% Merlot, costs R30) and White (70% Chenin Blanc and 30 % Sauvignon Blanc, at R26) blend with the Antipasto platters of grilled vegetables with grilled baby calamari, chilli and garlic; mixed Italian cold meats; a mixed salad; and a Caprese salad; served with garlic and herb focaccia. I loved the polka dots on the neck labels, a design quirk to emphasise the brand name, and to create the feel of the lively dance it is named after. The name had been registered by Nicolette’s dad Gabriel Kriel, a farmer on this route, which he donated to the winery. His Chev ‘bakkie’ is illustrated on the back label. The Polkadraai range also has Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot/Shiraz 3 litre boxes (R75 – R80), and a Pinot Noir Rosé sparkling wine (R46).
Magica Roma has been operating from its premises for years, and little seems to have changed about its decor and menu. The Italian owners Ezio and Franco came to check personally that all was in order for every course. Cellarmaster and winemaker PG Slabbert introduced each of the sets of Stellenbosch Hills’ wines before each course, and said that the 1707 Reserve range was named in honour of the year in which Governor Simon van der Stel first granted farms in this area. The 1707 White Reserve 2009 (R60) is a blend of 70% Chardonnay, 20% Semillon, and 10% Viognier, while the Red Reserve 2008 is a 50% Shiraz, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot and 11% Petit Verdit blend (R82). Served as a selection of main courses was a pasta and tomato sauce, the line fish of the day, escallops of veal paillard, and Tagliata Fiorentina.
The dessert, a delicious if small portion of tiramisu, was paired with the unique Stellenbosch Hills Muscat de Hambourg 2010 (related to the Hanepoot), the only winery to make this Jerepigo-style fortified sweet wine (R38). The grapes are grown on the farm of Nicolette’s brother Philip Kriel. Stellenbosch Hills also sells a Cultivar Collection, with Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Pinotage, Merlot, Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon, all excellent value at prices ranging from R28 – R47.
Entrants to the Stellenbosch Hills ‘Biltong Maker of the Year’ challenge must pay an entry fee of R150, which offers them a bottle of Stellenbosch Hills Shiraz 2007; a Freddy Hirsch spice pack with a biltong recipe book, a DVD on game deboning and meat processing, and a detailed ‘Hunters Workshop’ booklet for making biltong, in selecting the most suitable meat, how to spice and marinade the meat, how to hang and dry it, and how to store it; and delivery. Entries of a 500 gram sample of the biltong of any meat-cut must be returned to the winery by 31 August. The entries will be judged on the pairing of the biltong with the Shiraz, and the winners will be announced in September, with prizes to the value of R60000 up for grabs.
Disclosure: We received a Biltong King biltong maker, a pack of Freddy Hirsch spices, and a bottle of Stellenbosch Hills Shiraz 2007.
Stellenbosch Hills, Tel (021) 881-3828. www.stellenbosch-hills.co.za Twitter:@STBHills
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage
I cannot remember when last I had been to the Cellars-Hohenhort Hotel, it was so long ago, for a dinner at their Cape Malay restaurant, which was previously located in the manor house, where The Greenhouse is now. I found The Greenhouse to be an oasis of freshness and modernity relative to the very dated and old-fashioned Cellars-Hohenhort Hotel, a total contradiction.
The Greenhouse has been operating in the current building for a year or so, having previously been in the space now called The Conservatory restaurant. It appears that the venue change sparked the creativity of Executive Chef Peter Tempelhoff, having moved there two years ago. It was seeing photographs of his work on Twitter earlier this year, Chef Peter being awarded Relais & Chateaux Grand Chef status (one of only two in South Africa), and the restaurant winning number one Eat Out Top 10 restaurant in November that led me to book a table for my birthday dinner last week, with very high expectations. Disappointing therefore was that booking a table was a problem, as the restaurant phone appeared to be ringing non-stop post 20 November, and so the hotel switchboard person asked me to wait longer or to call back, with arrogance. When I asked for GM Tony Romer-Lee, to see if he could assist with the booking, my booking was quickly made. I only gave my first name and cell number, yet Tony had worked out who the booking was for, and wrote an e-mail a few days ahead of the booking, apologising for his absence from the hotel on the evening of our booking. Despite this confirmation e-mail by Tony, an assistant called on the day of our dinner, to confirm the booking. I was surprised to receive the call, and was called by my surname, not pronounced correctly, and with the wrong title, so I invited her to call me Chris, which she clearly found difficult to do. She spoke a very high-level formal English, saying ‘we shall see you tonight’, and once again I felt a degree of arrogance in her exchange with me. I was therefore very nervous about the actual dinner, given these two annoying interactions.
It is difficult to find the hotel, and we came from the Hout Bay side, knowing we had to turn off somewhere on the road leading to Kirstenbosch. The hotel does not offer to send directions. None of its literature contains an address. It is hard to see the signage when it gets dark, and there are a number of turns to take to find it. The boom was closed and the very old security guard took his time to come to the car, seeming surprised about our arrival, and asking what we wanted! He let us in immediately when we said we had come for dinner, but had no name list to check, and we did not have to complete any form, so one wonders why there is security. We were not told by him where The Greenhouse is located, and we had to check the signage on the building. There was no staff in the parking area to guide one, surprisingly not alerted by the security guard. Inside the building a faux fire warmed up two staff who showed us the way to The Greenhouse. It was going to the bathroom later that alerted me to the contrast in modernity of the restaurant relative to the very old-fashioned English-style drapes and furnishings of the Hohenhort Manor House, forming part of the 53-room five star Relais & Chateaux The Cellars-Hohenhort hotel. Previously part of Klaasenbosch Farm, awarded to Hendrik Ten Damme by Simon van der Stel in 1693, the farm house was transformed by its owner Arnold Spilhaus into a manor house after buying the farm in 1906. Liz McGrath bought The Cellars in 1991, and turned the country guest house into the Relais & Chateaux hotel twenty years ago. Two years later she bought The Hohenhort Hotel, and united the two properties. Although one does not see it at night, the property is endowed with different gardens, the Herb Garden benefiting the kitchens. Four varieties of table grapes are also grown.
The restaurant space is relatively small, only seating about 45, and divided into two with mirrored pillars. As one enters the restaurant there is a lounge section, but we did not see anyone use it at all, feeling like a wasted space. An interesting decor touch is many ceramic rabbits on the windowsills, with the odd watering can, and small trees in pot plants, no doubt to create the greenhouse look, but the rabbits do not quite fit the theme. Walls are painted in a light grey inside the restaurant, with green fern wallpaper in the lounge, which pattern is replicated on the back of the comfortable grey upholstered chairs. The table has no salt or pepper, but there was a vase with a beautiful orange rose and greenery. The Greenhouse clearly is in part an addition to the manor house, with a glass roof, which does not add value for dining at night, and must be a nightmare to keep clean. It also adds heat to the restaurant during the day, and I had to ask for a window to be opened. The design of the addition has become the logo for the restaurant. A lamp stands at each table, a little American touch. A thick tablecloth is covered with a white one, and the table is laid with Eetrite cutlery. Tables are very close together, meaning that the restaurant has a cosy atmosphere, but one can overhear everyone else’s conversations in one’s section. The Relais & Chateaux affiliation dominates the restaurant, in that the staff name badges have the logo and they wear a pin too, the home-made butter has the logo, as do coasters and the menus.
Waiter Lwazi (who was quick to correct the spelling of his name which he saw in my notes!) brought us a complimentary glass of Constantia Brut 2009, a nice touch. I found him difficult to understand, and he had to repeat what he said a number of times. He tried to explain the three menus to us, contained in a cover with the Relais & Chateaux logo and the following introduction: “A beautiful plate of food is eaten with the eyes first”. I chose the 7-course Chef’s Tasting Menu at R575 (with R275 for ‘complimenting’ wines), and my son the 4-course Summer Menu at R450. One can also order a 6-course Sustainable Seafood Tasting Menu at R495 (with an additional R230 for ‘complimenting’ wines). I did not see the rule, but it must have been in the menu, that one may not order two different menus at one table, but the rule was waived on the understanding that my son would have to wait for his courses. The staff wear a tie with ducks, The Cellars-Hohenhort tie design, which they wear with black pants and a grey waistcoat, creating a smart impression. Lwazi was efficient in taking our order, but became relaxed during the evening, stretching in front of me to lay cutlery on two occasions towards the end of the meal, even though there was more than enough space to do so from the other side. I asked for a jug of water for the table, but this was removed after the first glassful was poured. Empty glasses at other tables were not replenished or removed. A delight was the Maitre’d Joshua Crowe, who shared interesting information about working at Reuben’s Franschhoek and at Beluga with me. He is a young gentleman with a bright future, exuding professionalism. He came to check on our table regularly, and seemed very at home in the restaurant, having only worked there for two months. Canapés were brought to the table, consisting of sesame seed crusted prawn toast served with goat’s cheese lollipops on a stick, presented in a glass dish with wheatgrass, the most colourful dish of the evening, as well as chicken and mushroom ballantine, pear chutney, truffle mayonnaise, and an Asian dipping sauce. A selection of breads (cheese rolls, lavosh, baguette, wheat, rye, and crostini) was served in a wooden bowl, with a nasturtium dip and edible soil in a terracotta flower pot, with carrots, pea shoots and mange tout, a further reinforcement of the greenhouse theme, and there it ended.
The Chef’s Tasting Menu started with pan-fried duck foie gras, melt in the mouth deliciousness, and the stand-out course for me, served with raspberry gel, onion marmalade, crispy Asian mushrooms and puy lentils. My son was spoilt with an amuse bouche of crayfish custard and warm celeriac mousse and chives, which was served in an egg shell, a creative presentation, while I had the first course. The second course was Madagascan prawn roulade, served on a beautiful glass plate with cling peach, fermented black bean dressing (too salty for my taste), rice paper tuile, and ponzu snow, a Chef Richard Carstens-like study in liquid nitrogen! I was not keen on the fynbos smoked ostrich tartar for the third course, and was allowed to choose a dish from the other two menus. The oven-roasted rare duck breast, and duck cherry jelly canneloni, was served with cherries poached in Pinot Noir, mash, savoy cabbage, and bergamot-lime jus (salty too). The fourth course was petit poussin served with langoustine, a bacon crisp, sautéed gem lettuce, Vin de Constance gel, enoki mushrooms, and mint pea pureé. The free-range Karoo lamb dish had the Sweet Breads excluded for me, and was served with wild mushroom agnolottio, brown beech mushrooms, pea shoots, broad beans, parmesan velouté, and a (salty) lamb juice.
By far the cleverest dish, and perhaps too clever for some, was the inverted Brûlée, served in the base of a glass filled with strawberry granité, Earl Grey espuma, with salt and green tea on the rim of the glass. One was not told to turn the glass around for the vanilla brûlée. As if this was not enough to chew on already, the seventh course was a ‘camembert’ shaped cheese cake, served on a wooden board with roast pineapple ice cream, pine nut biscotti melba, parmesan, maple crumble, lemon marmalade, and extra virgin olive oil. A final end to the evening was a cutely presented collection of friandise, including truffles, macaroons, and home-made nougat.
Chef Peter came to the table, a nice touch, and told us that he has a Canadian mother and an Afrikaans father, and he speaks with a Canadian accent. He is a gentle and more reserved person. He studied at the Institute of Culinary Arts in Cape Town, and started his career at the Grande Roche Hotel. He has also worked at Quo Vadis and Automat in London, and at Michelin-starred Hambleton Hall and Zafferano. It was at Grande Provence that he earned his first Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Award, leaving for the McGrath Collection a month after winning the accolade. Chef Peter is proud of the garden on the property from which he can source his seasonal requirements, mainly being rhubarb and herbs. He sources his duck and Karoo lamb from Wild Peacock. He only has a staff of six, with trainees being a welcome addition, he said. He told us that he likes to travel overseas, to find food inspiration there. He also is responsible for Sand at The Plettenberg, and for the two restaurants at The Marine Hotel, and admitted that he has not paid as much attention to them as they deserve, focusing on getting The Greenhouse into the top league, work which clearly has paid off. Chef Peter is justifiably proud of his two achievements, both career highlights for him. One cannot help but feel that Chef Peter and The Greenhouse was short-changed by Eat Out, in winning Top Restaurant, but not Top Chef (the honour went to Luke Dale-Roberts of The Test Kitchen) and not Top Service (the honour went to The Roundhouse). More coverage of the Eat Out awards, in TASTE magazine as a start, also a New Media Publishing magazine, has gone to Chef Luke than to The Greenhouse. The Eat Out awards signal that The Greenhouse may be the best restaurant in the country, but does not have the best chef nor the best service, a contradiction, and the first time that the Top Restaurant has not also received recognition for Service and its Chef. Interesting is that Chef Luke came to dine at the restaurant a week after the Eat Out Awards, probably highlighting the competition between the two chefs.
I had ordered a glass of Groot Constantia Shiraz 2009 (R75), and it appeared fine on tasting it, but I had to return it when I tasted it after it had been poured. I chose The Yardstick instead, the only other red wine by the glass, a limited choice I felt. The Pinot Noir is a joint venture between Chef Peter and ex-Klein Constantia winemaker Adam Mason, we were told, and is a four-star Platter 2010 vintage, at R55 per glass.
I left with a feeling of contradiction about The Greenhouse, a relatively modern space within a terribly old and old-fashioned hotel, that does nothing for the restaurant, that has arrogant hotel staff taking calls and the bookings (this is due to change, Joshua told me, in that he and another restaurant staff member will be the only one staff taking The Greenhouse bookings), that has a waiter who is near-arrogant too and not well-trained, that has typing errors in its menu, that has a terribly old-fashioned bathroom, that does not have an exceptional interior design, and that is only open five nights a week. The food was excellent, except for the over-salted sauces, and the playfulness of the canapé and bread collection dishes lived up to the theme of The Greenhouse, but all other dishes could have been served at any other fine-dining restaurant.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
I had read about Bistro Sixteen82 at Steenberg wine estate in Constantia on Twitter, and about its Beef Tataki in particular, one of Chef Brad Ball’s signature dishes. My first visit last week was one of wow – amazement at the wonderful setting, the amazing decor, the friendliness of the staff, the wonderful food, as well as the value for money, a perfect recipe for success. I felt that the “Bistro” name, which Wikipedia defines as “a small bar serving moderately priced simple meals in an unpretentious setting” is completely inappropriate for this wonderful restaurant, the restaurant underselling itself, and thereby overdelivering.
Bistro Sixteen82 opened just less than a year ago, in a new building built on the historic Graham Beck Foundation-owned wine estate, which was given to Catharina, “the widow Ras” as she was known, by Simon van der Stel in exchange for (undefined) “favours”, I was told by the charming Lida van Heerden, the Cellar Door Manager. Catharina must have been quite a lady, having had five husbands, and was the inspiration for the name of Catharina’s, the other Steenberg restaurant. With the historical heritage of Steenberg, the modern building housing the tasting room as well as the Bistro is a surprise, but fits into the environment well, probably because the building is quite a distance away from the historic Steenberg Hotel buildings. There is ample parking, and the building opens onto a well-kept lawn, which seems to melt into the vineyards on the mountain slope above. There is a lovely water feature, making it very tranquil to sit outside.
When one steps into the tasting room, which one has to walk through to get to the restaurant, one notices the dominant chandelier, made from 2700 green and red resin oval shapes, depicting grapes, with pips and all! The light was made by Carole Carr-Harris from Divali Lighting in Hermanus, and weighs a ton, needing a reinforced ceiling to hold the weight. The tasting section is a round island in a generously sized room, from which leads a lounge, at which one can taste wines too, or just enjoy sitting at the fireplace on a wintry day. The architect and interior decorator is Richard Perfect, and he certainly did a perfect job in creating an architecturally unique building inside and out.
The restaurant is a large space, with tables seating 70 patrons close together, especially against the two end walls, which have a fixed seat against the wall. The close proximity of the tables, and the fully booked restaurant, gave it a wonderful buzz and energy. It was nice to see Jenna, the hostess, who has attended one of Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club meetings. Chef Brad was off-duty, but kept an eye on things with his staff as soon as he had read via Twitter that I was at the restaurant, and also provided the exact details of the sauce served with the asparagus starter on Twitter, even though he had the day off! A large structure made from branches is a decorative feature on the ceiling, and bunches of pin-cushion proteas presented in large glass vases give a flash of orange in an otherwise white-dominant restaurant interior, the same protea-filled vases being seen at the entrance to the building, from which can also see the steel vats of the winery. The comfortable chairs have a natural wood look, with what looks like a modern-day ‘riempie’ for the seat, matching the ceiling wood structure. The vats are also visible behind the Raw Bar, and the estate’s white and red wines are cleverly displayed on two of the walls, creating a design feature. A Raw Bar refrigerated display counter contains salamis and hams, capers as well as cheeses, with an Oyster Tank next to it. Staff look smart and professional, with white shirts, a smart slim silver tie, with a tie clip, and black slacks and black aprons.
The tables have white table cloths and impressive serviettes with the name of the restaurant embroidered on them. Cutlery and glassware is of good quality. The menu and winelist is made from black leather, and is a simple insert. The number of choices of dishes and wines is reasonable, yet very varied, making it easy to choose. The reasonable cost of the dishes impressed, Front of House Manager Jürgen Welp telling me that from the outset Chef Brad Ball wanted the Bistro to stand for value for money, both in terms of its food as well as the wines (the mark-up is no more than 25 % for the Steenberg wines, unlike some of its Constantia neighbours charging threefold for their estate wines, even if the tasting room is only a few steps away). With a corkage fee of R40, it would be more expensive for a customer to do a BYO with corkage added, compared to ordering from the winelist.
Chef Brad Ball was previously at River Cafe, Olympia Café and Pastis, while Jürgen had worked at Buitenverwachting for seven years. Both set up Bistro Sixteen82 a year ago.
Our waitress Natalie brought the bread basket to the table, consisting of a bread stick, slices of focaccia and ciabatta, with a small platter of olives and sundried tomatoes, and olive oil and balsamic vinegar served in tiny milk jugs. The Summer menu is divided into four sections, labeled as “Stimulate” for the starters, including smoked pork paté, pea and pancetta risotto and snails, costing R46 each, and mussels, slightly more expensive; “Rejuvenate” contains two dishes : Beetroot tarte tine served with smoked trout mousse (R68) and the house salad (R45/R64). “Inspire” contains the main courses, ranging from R78 for Broccoli feuillette (gorgonzola fondue) to R 120 for Franschhoek Trout and Steak au Poivre. Other mains include a pork belly ragout, line fish, a charcuterie selection and sticky pork belly. The “Indulge” selection contained five desserts, costing between R44 – R50, all interesting sounding, and a cheese platter at R48.
I ordered the Asparagus starter (R50), served with a truffle mousseline with parmesan, and decorated with tiny snippets of tomato, a lovely melody in green, yellow and red. The sauce was delicious, and overshadowed the steamed crispy asparagus, it was so special. My son had the Beef Tataki, which is seared beef fillet and then thinly sliced in carpaccio style, served with soy sauce, ginger, sesame seeds, chilli, sesame oil, radish, spring onions, and lime juice. It is a unique combination of ingredients causing a taste explosion, costing R49 as a starter and R 105 as a main. My (student) son could not finish the main course portion, it was so filling. I ordered the entrecote steak, simply served as two thick slices, with mash (a bit stodgy, I felt, but it was my choice – normally the steak is served with potatoes and peppercorn sauce) and steamed carrots and beans. An excellent small but effective steak knife was provided.
The Raw Bar board shows prices to be R18 for an oyster, and Gravadlax at R44. Other options are Pink Tartar, being Norwegian salmon with chilli and lime, costing R60/R105 as starter/main course, and the Red Tartar, being a tartar of Chalmar beef served with capers and a quail egg (R56/R98). The cappuccino was served with two pieces of home-made Turkish Delight.
We were offered a complimentary glass of the Steenberg Brut, made from 100 % Chardonnay, the first tasting of this bubbly, crisp and dry, and a good marriage with the asparagus. The Steenberg wine range consists of 1682 Chardonnay MCC, Sauvignon Blanc, HMS Rattlesnake Sauvignon Blanc, HMS Sphynx Chardonnay, Merlot, Shiraz, 1682 Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc Reserve, Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon, Nebbiolo, Catharina, Magna Carta, and Klein Steenberg Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé and Bordeaux Blend. The Steenberg wines understandably dominate the winelist, with almost all their wines being available by the glass. The Klein Steenberg Bordeaux Red costs R24 for a 250 ml carafe and R70 for a bottle, and the most expensive is Steenberg Catharina 2007 at R77/R230. It also lists a few other Constantia wine brands, keeping it proudly-Constantia. Billecart Salmon Brut Reserve costs R 585 and the Rosé R750.
I don’t always make a point of visiting the cloakroom, and here I saw the only aspect of the decor that came across as kitsch – the cloakroom and the toilets are covered with a wall paper that is a close-up of a vineyard, making one claustrophobic. It is such a contrast to the good taste of the decor in the rest of the building.
I loved my first visit at Bistro Sixteen82, and will be back again to try some of the other dishes on the Summer menu. I felt it to be excellent value for money, and a happy and relaxed space, with very friendly staff and happy customers who did not seem to want to go home. I am very surprised that Bistro Sixteen82 did not make the Top 20 Eat Out Restaurants shortlist, but should be sure to do so in 2011. The Breakfasts, and the Eggs Benedict in particular, are legendary at Bistro Sixteen82 too.
POSTSCRIPT 22/2: A visit to my accountant in Constantia was a good opportunity to make a return visit to Bistro Sixteen82. I had an early lunch, and was served by Manager Jürgen, and was offered a glass of Steenberg Brut – I accepted a half glass. I tried two new starters on Chef Brad Ball’s menu, and absolutely loved the presentation as well as the taste of the Duck liver parfait and duck prosciutto, creating a beautiful dark/light effect underneath the mousse, and served with a small wine-poached pear. Then I had the Capellini and truffle créme, topped with chopped tomato and a poached egg, a more simple but filling and tasty dish, beautifully paired with the Steenberg Semillon.
Bistro Sixteen82, Steenberg wine estate, Constantia. Tel (021) 713-2211. www.steenberg-vineyards.co.za Twitter :@Bistro1682. Mondays – Sundays, Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, 9h00 – 20h00.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
I have not been to Buitenverwachting for so many years, that I cannot remember when last I had been there. The wine estate has become over-shadowed by its neighbours in the Constantia valley, and seems to have become hidden as a Cape Town restaurant destination in the past few years. By appointing Sandy Bailey as a PR consultant, this is about to change, and resulted in her extending an invitation to food and wine bloggers and to journalists (including the lovely Jos Baker, Angela Lloyd, John and Lynne Ford, Cathy Marston, Maggie Mostert and Hennie Coetzee) to join her and delightful soft-spoken winemaker Brad Paton and his wife Wendy to enjoy the newly launched Sunday lunch buffet last week.
Buitenverwachting was originally part of the Constantia wine farm, belonging to Simon van der Stel. In 1773 it was sold to Cornelus Brink, who named it Nova Constantia, writes WINE magazine. In 1794 Arend Brink bought the farm and called it Buitenverwachting (beyond expectation). Buitenverwachting is now owned by German citizen Richard MÃ¼ller, whose son Lars Maack has been running the estate locally for the past few years, and personally handles the international marketing of the wines, especially focused on Germany. The drive to the wine estate makes one feel that one is leaving the busy city and escaping to the countryside, a beautiful tree-lined lane taking one to the estate, and then one has to drive slowly past vineyards and lawns with grazing sheep, to get to the restaurant.
The chef is Austrian Edgar Osojnik, who came to Buitenverwachting from Grande Roche. A six-month stint at Bosman’s culminated in a farewell party for Osojnik, and it was at this party that he met his future wife, and he decided to stay in South Africa. In 2003 Osojnik was recognised as the Top Chef of the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards for Buitenverwachting. Chef Edgar offers a fine dining menu for dinners, and a lighter Courtyard menu for lunches. He is also offering a special Asparagus menu, which costs R260 for three courses, including a glass of wine, until the end of November.
On Sundays the buffet lunch is set up inside the restaurant, and was a most generous selection of starters, mains and desserts, with a cheese plate to follow, at R240 (half price for children under 12 years). I do not recall seeing so many starter dishes for a buffet before, most unique and special, and not just a variation of salads which one experiences so often. The presentation of the starters and desserts attracted attention. For example, the sushi looked like little gift parcels, as Osojnik created square sushi slices with colourful ingredients such as avocado, rice, and salmon, with a black “tie”.
The starters included Vitello Tonnato, Vegetable-goats feta tian with rucola, Cauliflower-broccoli Royale with Dukkah Chicken Breast, Prawn espuma, smoked Norwegian salmon buttermilk terrine, Bobotie in a ramekin, Duck liver parfait set on caramelized apple, smoked fish, roasted asparagus with Parma-style ham, tomato-mozzarella, Melon with smoked Kudu, Potato salad, Roast Beef filled with French salad, and Caesar salad with white anchovies. Mains are a traditional buffet, with a selection of leg of lamb, Chalmar rib-eye steak, veal breast, roast pork belly, linefish of the day and chicken curry. Potatoes are served roasted and Dauphinoise, there is basmati rice, a choice of five vegetables, and five sauces are served with the main course. Desserts and cakes included Sacher Torte, SchwarzwÃ¤lder Torte, Gugelhupf, Kardinal Schnitte, Chocolate Mousse, Yoghurt CrÃ¨me Catalan, fruit salad with Marsala Zabaglione, Vanilla Pannacotta with fresh strawberries, as well as a cheese platter.
Brad has been the winemaker at Buitenverwachting for the past six years, and his colleague, cellarmaster Hermann Kirschbaum, has been at the wine estate for the past 18 years. Brad worked at Chamonix in Franschhoek with Gottfried Mocke before studying winemaking at Geisenheim in Germany and worked there too, for a total of nine years, now speaking perfect German. He is grateful for his German language skills, as they receive many German visitors at the estate. One gets the feeling that not only is the wine estate steeped in tradition and history, but its staff are loyal, and that consistency in all respects is the success factor at Buitenverwachting.
Brad told me that the recession is hitting wine farms, and the newer small independent operators appear hardest hit, many not being able to pay for their bottles to get their wines sold. He feels that prices of the newer wine estates are too high. Sales to restaurants have been badly hit, he said, as BYO is seeing a growth due to excessive prices of wines in restaurants. He also felt that Constantia restaurants should be more “Proudly-Constantia”, in stocking brands from the Constantia wine estates. Buitenverwachting has recently appointed Meridian for its distribution.
I was surprised to hear how reasonable the Buitenverwachting wine prices are, with entry level Buiten Blanc costing R45, and the Merifort (a lovely smoky Bordeaux Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot) costing a mere R55. The other stalwart wines in the Buitenverwachting range are Blanc de Noir, Chardonnay, Rhine Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Christine, and Merlot. Brad and his colleagues are making “out of the box” wines too:
* Intensity: 85 % Sauvignon Blanc and 15 % Semillon
* Trinity: Riesling, a Chenin Blanc and Viognier blend
* Rough Diamond: 60 % Petit Verdot and 40 % Malbec
Going back to Buitenverwachting after so many years was a reminder of the talent of Chef Edgar and his restaurant team, as well as of the quality of the estate’s wines. I plan to return to try the Asparagus menu. I am a new convert of the Buitenverwachting Merifort, even though I am a dedicated Shiraz drinker.
Buitenverwachting, Klein Constantia Road, Constantia, www.buitenverwachting.com. Tel (021) 794-3522. Monday – Saturday lunch and dinner, Sunday Buffet lunch. Corkage R55.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage