Tag Archives: Tasting Menu

Rockstar chef team leaves Gåte Restaurant at Quoin Rock wine estate, set to open new doors in Cape Town!

Two weeks ago I heard a whisper about Gåte Restaurant at Quoin Rock Executive Chef Rikku O’Dönnchu and Head Chef Warwick King having left the restaurant that was destined to become South Africa’s number one restaurant in November this year, and was receiving international acclaim in the short time that it has operated since November 2018. Yesterday the news about the departure was confirmed by Quoin Rock as well as by Chef Rikku.

The chef team, operating as the SŸN Group, has announced that it will open a new restaurant in the Cape Town city centre by November.  Continue reading →

New Chef Archie Maclean creative with colour, goes wild at Catharina’s!

imageI 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 →

The Harrow at Little Bedwyn: one Michelin star for 10 years, SA wine supporter!

imageI met Chef Roger Jones and his charming wife Sue at 96 Winery Road earlier this year, when Chef Roger cooked his Tasting Menu, the first meal I had eaten prepared by a one star Michelin star restaurant chef. The Harrow at Little Bedwyn has maintained its one Michelin star for the past ten years, and is a large stockist of South African wines. Continue reading →

Eat Out Top 10 restaurants: how much does a Tasting Menu meal cost, booking lead time?

EatOutIs it true that an Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant nod is a licence to print money? It certainly seems so, especially the nearer the restaurant is to the top of the list, and if the length of time to get a booking is a measure!

Calling today, we checked the prices of the Tasting Menus (three of the Top 10 Restaurants do not offer Tasting Menus), calculated the average cost per course, and checked the first available table dates. Continue reading →

Ryan’s Kitchen opens spicy small-plate space in Franschhoek! (reposted)

Ryan's Kitchen exterior Whale CottageRyan’s Kitchen has re-opened in Franschhoek, in a space double its former size, in Place Vendôme at the entrance to the village.  The restaurant now focuses on ‘small plates’,  even though ‘small’ is a relative term!  Chef Ryan Smith has simplified his dishes, reducing the number of ingredients, and added more spice to those on his new menu, each dish introducing itself through its fragrance before one tastes it.

For the past four years the restaurant operated from what was the breakfast room of Rusthof Guest House higher up the main road, a tiny space that could serve no more than 30 guests at a stretch, and up to 400 plates in an evening. A major blow to the restaurant in July was the sale of the guest house to Mr Analjit Singh, and Continue reading →

Stellenbosch Hills connects the dots at launch of its latest vintages at La Mouette!

StellenboschHills Banner Whale CottageI haven’t been to La Mouette in years, so accepted the invitation from Waterford Communications to attend the launch of the latest vintages of Stellenbosch Hills, and a spoiling 7-course Tasting Menu, a relaxed event ending off a very busy functions week.

We were met outside in the courtyard, and offered  the 2014 vintage of Stellenbosch Hills’ Polkadraai Pinot Noir Sparkling Rosé.  Polkadraai is one of the Stellenbosch Hills ranges, and uses polka dots for its neck wrapper design, in different colours. The design lifts Stellenbosch Hills Polkadraai Pinot Noir Sparkling Rose 2014 Whale Cottagethe image of the brand.  With the sparkling wine we were served the moreish La Mouette feta and truffle and Gruyére croquettes, as well as chicken satay.  Cellarmaster PG Slabbert welcomed us once we had moved into one of the restaurant rooms, sitting at three long tables, and shared that Stellenbosch Hills is a co-operative which has been in existence for 69 years.  A big celebration for the 70th anniversary is planned.  The 8000 tons of grapes harvested come Continue reading →

Eat Out 2014 to reduce in size by more than half!

One wonders why New Media Publishing is changing its Eat Out 2014 magazine, announcing on Monday that it is reducing the size of the restaurant magazine by more than half, in carrying only 500 restaurant write-ups, compared to the listing of 1100 restaurants in Eat Out 2013!

The cost saving in reducing the size of the magazine is evident, advertising sales for the magazine probably being a greater challenge this year, given how tight the economy is. Another reason must be the power of the internet, with fewer restaurant lovers paging through the Eat Out magazine, and more Googling information about restaurants, often finding the websites of Food24 and Eat Out, with the largest listings of restaurants.  Bloggers are a threat to these two sites, as increasingly top restaurant bloggers find their reviews on the first page of Google too.   The blog reviews may have greater credibility than the conglomerate restaurant sites, in being more honest.  The conglomerate restaurant sites have been seen to copy restaurant information directly from the restaurant websites, without writing their own reviews in many instances, thus affecting their credibility as an information source.  The Eat Out website has been criticised for carrying out-of-date information about restaurants.

To try to detract attention away from the drastic reduction in the Eat Out 2014 content, New Media Publishing announced that restaurants must apply to be considered to be included in South Africa’s Top 500 restaurant list!  Closing date for applications is 30 June.  The applications will be evaluated ‘by a panel of 50  of ‘South Africa’s top food/restaurant industry experts (to be announced)’. Restaurants will be evaluated on menu composition, ingredient seasonality, wine, service, and ambiance, plus other (unnamed) factors. In case the message is not clear, the Eat Out announcement emphasises that only the Top 500 selected restaurants ‘that impress our 50-strong editorial panel’ will be included in the restaurant magazine next year.  The form to be completed requests a description of the restaurant, the year in which it opened, its seating capacity, its signature dishes and the average price of the main courses (how does this work for a Tasting Menu?), its policy on BYO wine and the corkage fee, and the credit cards accepted by the restaurant.

It is disconcerting that the criteria for inclusion have not been clearly stated.  Of concern too is that one of the most sensitive issues, being that the chef has to have been at the restaurant for a twelve month period from November 2012 onwards, is not mentioned, and one does not know if any/all restaurants, no matter how recently opened, will be included in the Top 500 Restaurant list.  It is also not clear if the Top 20 shortlist, and the ultimate Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant list, will be derived from the Top 500 list!

Eat Out Top 500 Restaurants: http://www.myjotform.com/EatOut/restaurant Closing date 30 June. Image: Eat Out

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

Franschhoek chefs up their gourmet game, learn Nordic cuisine at world’s No 1 Restaurant Noma!

Franschhoek is upping its gourmet game, with two local chefs having spent some weeks at Noma in Copenhagen, the number one restaurant on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list and bearing a 2-Michelin star rating since 2008, in the past three months. Both Chef Shaun Schoeman from Fyndraai Restaurant at Solms-Delta and Chef Chris Erasmus from Pierneef à La Motte returned inspired and have fine-tuned their menus and cooking to incorporate Nordic cuisine into their local gourmet offering.

The restaurant’s philosophy is on the homepage of its website:

“In an effort to shape our way of cooking, we look to our landscape and delve into our ingredients and culture,
hoping to rediscover our history and shape our future
.”

Chef Chris Erasmus, Pierneef à La Motte

Yesterday I met with Chef Chris Erasmus, a week after his return from Noma, at which he had spent close to a month.  I asked him why he had taken the time to leave his post as Executive Chef, and start from scratch at Noma. Chef Chris said he wanted to study how Chef René Redzepi had taken a restaurant which had been laughed at initially for focusing on Nordic cooking, initially not very exciting and then synonymous with ‘whale blubber and fish eyes’ (like Bobotie would be for South African cuisine, he said), and taking it to the number one restaurant in the world, and having kept it there for three years running.  What Chef Chris does at Pierneef à La Motte, in foraging from nature, and in cooking what one has, is reflected at Noma too. Chef Chris has Daniel Kruger growing a range of unusual herbs, vegetables, and edible flowers for him at La Motte,  with only one of 13 items in the salad farm grown, and the balance foraged,  while Noma is supplied by specialist producers.

Chef Chris was impressed by the systems of the restaurants, each person working for the restaurant knowing what is going on.  A meeting is called by the Restaurant Manager prior to service, in which they discuss any specific dietary requirements of guests, so that the chefs are prepared for this upfront, and not told about them when the guests arrive.  The Restaurant Manager, from Australia, is in the running for a Restaurant Manager of the Year Award in Denmark. Chris said that his knowledge is amazing, having spent so much time with the chefs to get to know the dishes that he can cook them himself. There are 45 kitchen chefs, with another 25 volunteers unpaid and just there to learn more from this leading restaurant.  Only two of the chefs are Danish, the others coming from the USA, Australia, Germany, and Mexico in the main.  The rules are strict, and one is expected to follow them 100%.  A mistake made a second time will lead one to be told to leave. Staff are treated politely, even though Chef René can lose his cool on occasion. No dishes are allowed to be photographed or distributed via Social Media by staff or volunteers.

There are three kitchen sections that the volunteers go through, starting with the Preparation Kitchen, foraging produce, and getting them ready. Chef Chris spent less than a week here.  The second level was the Hot Kitchen, dealing with the restaurant service, and here Chef Chris gave more than expected, already coming to work at 5h00 in the morning (instead of 9h00), and usually getting home to the hostel he was staying at at 2h00 instead of the usual 23h00.  This allowed him to work with the other chefs and learn from them, and to show them how eager he was to learn, so that he could move through the three kitchens.  The third kitchen is the experimental Test Kitchen, which has two scientists and a chef, creating new dishes. Lactic acid fermentation is the foundation of many of the new dishes, a natural process bringing out the Umami in food, eradicating the need to add salt or sugar to food.  There is no salt on the restaurant tables, nor is it added to food.  The maximum sugar content of any dish is 12%. They make their own Miso paste too, taking a few months, ant purée, fermented crickets, and more. Chef Chris shared that he tasted bee larva, having a very rich creamy wax taste.

Chef René greets each guest as they arrive at his restaurant. He works seven days a week, even though the restaurant is closed on Sundays and Mondays. Chef Chris came to work on Mondays, again to learn as much as possible.  Noma has an excellent Head Chef and Sous Chefs, on whom Chef René can rely while he is busy with the guests, and spends time in the Test Kitchen. The chefs serve the guests.  Waiters cannot work at Noma if they have not studied to be a waiter for three years at a local college.  The role of the waiters is to explain the dishes to the guests. Guests are served 16 ‘snacks’ as a start to the Tasting Menu in rapid succession over 12 minutes, literally a mouthful each. This is followed by four courses, the size of our starters, being a vegetable dish, a meat dish, a fish dish, and a dessert, at a cost of about R2250. The restaurant is flexible in what they serve, to allow for dietary requirements. The Test Kitchen’s role is to add new dishes to the menu, and Chef Chris saw five new dishes being developed in the time that he was there. One of the dishes developed while Chef Chris was in the Test Kitchen was ‘Lacto Plum and Forever Beets’, served with lemon verbena and fennel soup, the beetroot being roasted for three hours, and its leathery skin then peeled off, the inside tasting like liquorice.

To learn from each other, especially the visiting chefs, they have Saturday night ‘Projects’ after service, in the early Sunday morning hours, presenting their own dishes, which are evaluated by the fellow chefs and the scientists.  Chef Chris missed the opportunity to present a dish.

Chef Chris has been inspired by his experience at Noma, and changes are already being made to his current menu.  He has added Lacto-fermented Porcini broth to his menu, inspired by Noma, made by adding salt to the mushrooms and vacuum-packing them, until they ferment at ambient room temperature. This creates enzymes which break down the bad bacteria, bringing out the natural savoury flavour.  The summer menu will be much lighter, with far more foraged herbs and flowers, and some unique vegetables grown for him by Daniel.  Artichokes, peas, and broadbeans are at their best right now, and Chef Chris showed me the some of his vegetables and herbs, which had been picked for him at 10h00 yesterday morning.  They are only using Raspberry Vinegar now, instead of vinaigrettes.  He will focus on only using vegetables and herbs from the La Motte garden.

Chef Chris has invited Chef René to visit (he was in Cape Town for what seemed literally a flying visit in February when he addressed the ‘Design Indaba’).  He was inspired by his experience, and it is visible in his big smile, and new passion for his craft. While others may not have had such a good time, he said that ‘you get out what you put in’. He lost 15 kg in the time, just working and sleeping for a short while.  He can’t wait to go back in a winter time, to see how they use all the preserved foods they prepare in the summer months, such as pickled rosebuds, and fermented plums. Having had to start at the bottom at Noma, he has a better understanding of his staff, yet expects ‘150%’ of them, Chef Chris said.  One of his American co-volunteers at Noma started at The Test Kitchen in Cape Town this week.

Chef Chris’ Noma experience, coupled with the fantastic vegetable and herb garden on the farm, are sure to earn Pierneef à La Motte an Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Award in November!

Chef Shaun Schoeman, Fyndraai, Solms-Delta

In June, Chef Shaun Schoeman of Solms-Delta’s Fyndraai Restaurant spent two weeks working in one of the kitchens at Noma.  Chef Shaun’s feedback was that the simplicity of Noma’s menu, which lists items like ‘pike perch and cabbage’‘cooked fava beans and beach herbs’ and ‘the hen and the egg,’ belies its sophisticated appeal, as evidenced by the backlog of keen diners waiting for bookings. Noma is known for its contemporary reinterpretation of Nordic cuisine. This includes a return to the traditional methods of pickling, curing, smoking, and fermenting as well as the integration of many indigenous herbs and plants. Redzepi himself has worked with the world’s best, having spent time at both El Bulli in Spain (when it was the world’s number one restaurant), and the French Laundry in California’s Napa Valley.

“There are many similarities between the kinds of indigenous elements we use here at Fyndraai and what chef Redzepi has become known for in his cuisine,” said Shaun, who felt that he could only benefit from doing a stint at the world-famous Noma. After his acceptance as a stagier, he packed his bags and flew to Copenhagen, where he joined a production kitchen staffed by over 50 chefs from around the world, all there to learn the philosophy and techniques of this influential chef. “Everyone who works at Noma, no matter what their experience, starts in the production kitchen,” explained Shaun, where the standards for preparation and hygiene are exacting and the hours extremely long, with shifts of up to 14 hours. Only after three months will Chef Redzepi consider moving a stagier into the main service kitchen.  Every morning, a group of the production kitchen chefs go out to the nearby seaside to forage for fresh wild herbs and leaves, like nettles, wild rocket, sea coral, and wild garlic. Upon their return, they set to work on their pickings, cutting leaves into uniform sizes, all done on a tray kept over ice. “Temperature is extremely important as the herbs must be kept cold, but never below the temperature of the fridge.”

For a Franschhoek-born and bred native, it was an amazing experience for Shaun. He was overwhelmed by the incredible fresh fish and seafood that came through the production kitchen daily, including live crabs and luscious sea scallops still in their shells. All vegetables were organic and specially grown for the restaurant. A great example of Noma’s high standards was the daily sorting of fresh green peas into varying sizes!  But aside from the differences in product and handling, when it came to the indigenous plants themselves, Shaun found that they were not dramatically different from the plants he relies on at Fyndraai, which are grown in the estate’s Dik Delta Garden. “We have many versions of the same plants, the major difference being that the Scandinavian herbs have more subtlety. South African indigenous herbs are sharper, which means that you really need the knowledge and training to harness their flavour without overpowering dishes.” Shaun returned from Copenhagen infused with energy and appreciation for the wide variety of herbs he has at his discretion, which collectively he refers to as “my baby.” He uses only indigenous herbs grown on site, so management of ingredients is crucial. That said, he feels he has a great deal of flexibility – one of the perks of a kitchen garden – and is always able to find a pleasing substitute if one herb is temporarily depleted.  The ingredient he’s most crazy about is citrus buchu, which he says is the most fantastic herb he’s ever worked with. “It’s got a sexy, citrus flavour that really lifts everything it touches. It works equally well with savoury dishes or desserts, and can be used in anything from infusions to a flavouring in bread rolls.”

He’s also extremely partial to spekboom, a small-leaved succulent also known as ‘elephant bush’, which is very versatile. At Fyndraai, it receives various treatments, from a quick stir-fry to lightly-dressed salad greens, and from pickling to its use as an ingredient in a cold cucumber soup. In its pickled form, it’s one in a range of signature Dik Delta products Shaun has recently started producing and selling on the farm. Some of the others are lemon and wild rosemary chutney, lemon and gemoedsrus (fortified Shiraz) marmalade, and wild herb rubs. Customers love taking these products, which they cannot find elsewhere, home to their own kitchens to experiment with.  “The indigenous herbs play sometimes starring, and more often supporting roles in the food we create at Fyndraai, depending on the nature and flavour of the plants themselves,” Shaun said.  The key is quantity, and knowing how much to add to a dish, and when to add it. Sometimes they are added directly to dishes, at other times infused into sauces, used to create syrups which provide complementary flavours to a dish and even as flavourings in ice cream!  The plants are propagated at Dik Delta, the large ‘kitchen garden’ on the wine estate. The two-hectare veld garden is overseen by a team of trained Solms-Delta residents. It yields crops of dynamic herbs, many of which were on the verge of extinction before the birth of this valuable culinary-bio project.

Today, the garden is the restaurant’s source for everything from wild asparagus to spekboom to makatan, an indigenous melon which Shaun cooks into one of the Dik Delta preserves. The garden is in full spring flower, with sunny yellow patches of honeybush, which flowers will be picked and dried for honeybush tea, and the dark mauve flowers of the Bobbejaantjies (little baboons) or Babiana. While this striking flower is most often used as an ornamental plant, it has a highly nutritious bulb or corm that can be eaten raw or cooked; it tastes a little like a potato and can be used as a vegetable in stews or in salads. Since Fyndraai opened four years ago, cooking with these plants has been an ongoing learning process for Shaun as well as his staff, all of whom were initially kitchen novices. This had many advantages, because they had no preconceived notions or bad habits to break. He is extremely proud of his kitchen crew, who handle the complex menu and its preparations with confidence and expertise.

Pierneef à La Motte, La Motte, R45, Franschhoek.  Tel (021) 876-8000.  www.la-motte.com Twitter: @Pierneeflamotte

Fyndraai, Solms-Delta, Delta Road, off R45, Franschhoek. Tel (021) 874-3937.  www.solms-delta.co.za Twitter: @Solms_Delta

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

World’s best chef inspires passion for food design in Cape Town!

Two-star Michelin noma restaurant in Copenhagen has been named the top in the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards for two years running. Its founder and chef René Redzepi paid a literal flying visit to Cape Town last week, addressing the Design Indaba conference. It appears that he spent little time in Cape Town and did not connect with local chefs. Delegates that were lucky enough to hear his address were impressed with his passion for food design. ‘Design and food go hand in hand’, he said.

Chef René believes that the food should be served by the chefs who created it, making this the focus of noma, and the interior design is of lesser importance, being simple, reflecting the ‘essential simplicity’ and ‘purity’ of the ‘Nordic gourmet cuisine’ which they serve. His 20-course Tasting Menu costs R2000 a head, and one can expect to eat celeriac and unripe sloe berry, white currant and douglas-fir; dried scallops and beech nuts, biodynamic grains and watercress; pickled vegetables and bone marrow; wild duck and beets, beech and malt; and pike perch and cabbages with gooseberry juice.

Chefs are not as important as the farmers who supply the ‘freshly foraged ingredients’, allowing the kitchen team to create original dishes, he said. His stage prop for the talk was a dead duck, and he asked what ‘was the last image flying through its head’. A chef’s challenge is to create food for now, ‘projecting time on a plate‘. His challenge is to create new flavours, a team effort incorporating the food growers, those that cook the food, and those that present it on the plate.

Last year Chef René organised a MAD Food Camp, and the only South African to attend was Cape Town blogger and urban farmer Matt Allison.  He shared his experience with the Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club. Through the Food Camp, noma demonstrated its international leadership in food usage in restaurants, and highlighted to the chefs attending that the more one understands about the history of food and its culture, as well as of the latest food science, the better one will cook.  These views were not only shared with the 250 food lovers selected by Chef René to attend the Food Camp, but with his 25000 Twitter followers too.  Chef René is an active Tweeter, sharing many photographs of his beautifully presented dishes.  He did not Tweet about Cape Town or its restaurants and chefs, only writing about his presentation: “I spoke to a crowd of 3000+ people for the first time today. Thank you South Africans for taking my virginity gently”.

The noma website confirms that this restaurant has left behind foie gras, olive oil, black olives, and sundried tomatoes, focusing instead on the ‘revival of Nordic cuisine’, representing fine produce and the food heritage of the Scandinavian countries, with seasonal and regional foods. So, for example, they have sourced skyr curd and halibut from Iceland; as well as musk ox, berries and water from Greenland.  Not only expensive ingredients are sourced, but also ‘disregarded, modest ingredients such as grains and pulses’, served in unusual form.  Chef René and his team use the base of their culinary heritage to create something brand new.  They experiment with interesting uses of milk and cream, and forage herbs and berries that others wouldn’t bother with, and which are not commercially available.  They salt, smoke, pickle, dry, and grill all their own foods, make their own vinegars, and even an Eaux de Vie, a brandy made from fermented fruit juice.  State-of-the-art kitchen appliances and techniques are used. Instead of cooking with wine, noma uses beers and ales, fruit juices, and fruit vinegars to create freshness and flavour in its dishes. ‘Greens take up more room on the plate than is common at gourmet restaurants’.   Interesting is that noma’s 40-page wine list is classic in predominantly featuring wines from France, Germany and Italy. No South African or New World wines are listed.

Chef René said in an interview that it would be time for him to get out of the restaurant if he could not ‘reboot’, or see things with a new light, or with a breathe of fresh air. He is filled with inspiration, and focused in developing ‘the flavour’. His life ambition is not to make profit, but to keep searching, learning, and teaching.

Ferran Adriá, the owner of the previous top World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards El Bulli, which closed down in July last year, addressed the Design Indaba conference in 2009, at the height of his Modernist Cuisine culinary reign.

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

Restaurant Review: Johan’s at Longridge blends vines and vegetables!

What a refreshing surprise it was to have lunch at Johan’s at Longridge last week, which opened six months ago on the Longridge wine estate owned by Aldo van der Laan, and located off the R44 between Stellenbosch and Somerset West.  While there is no Johan at Johan’s, Restaurant Manager Chris Olivier is a passionate champion for the restaurant and its vegetable garden, sharing his love for his plants as one arrives and walks through the vegetable garden to get to the front door.  One cannot miss that one is on a  wine estate, with the clever decor touches of restaurant co-owner Johan’s daughter Maryke.

We arrived, with Chris standing in the parking area, waiting for us.  He is a bubbling mine of information, and impressed with how knowledgeable he is about vegetable gardening, and it appears that he is driving the gardening.  I liked how the restaurant’s policy of using the freshest produce is visible, as there are no other plants to be seen, and the flowers used to decorate the food come from the vegetable garden as well, e.g. beautiful blue borage and minute yellow rocket flowers.  In the entrance hall is a framed ceramic collection of hearts made by Michelle of Love and Lace, and she has made the restaurant’s ceramic olive oil holders, vases, side plates and small serving bowls, all sporting heart and lace effects.   The dining room is open-plan to the kitchen, and Chef Marissa and her team were waiting to get cooking.   The room is large, but cleverly divided into sections, with a fireplace in a lounge section near the entrance, a bar counter in the middle, a seating section containing ‘love chairs’, being two tub chairs that are connected but facing opposite directions.   Closest to the windows with a beautiful view over the Stellenbosch countryside and even onto Table Mountain on a clear day, is the most amazing 20-seater yellowood top table, at a fireplace too.  The red brocade-covered chairs create splashes of colour, with the white-tableclothed tables.  However, what makes the interior so special is the creativity of bringing the vineyard (which one does not see at all from the restaurant) into the restaurant, Maryke having found inspiration in ‘wingerdstok’ to hang on the wall, and also making designs from the little curly ‘tentacles’ from a vine, which led to their logo, created to look like the silhouette of a figure.  The restaurant has a homely feel, and one cupboard had a collection of historic stone implements found on the farm, a vase of flowers, and candied kumquats, Chris calling it the ‘altar’, which reminded me of Neil Stemmet’s approach to restaurant curation and food sharing.  The tablecloths are excellent quality, and were imported from Belgium.  It was a beautiful winter’s day, so we sat outside, alongside the far larger vegetable garden on the other side of the restaurant.   The restaurant serves as the winetasting area too, clever in blending the two arms of the business.  We sat next to a very boisterous group of American wine tasters, and were happy when they left. 

Longridge was bought from Winecorp by Mr van der Laan about five years ago  He is a Dutch butchery company owner, importing meat to Holland from New Zealand, Australia and the USA.  He met Johan Neppelenbroek in Holland, and told him about his new Stellenbosch farm, and invited the two-star Michelin De Hoefslag restaurant chef to become a partner in the restaurant.  The rest is history, and the restaurant has been named after him.  However, Johan is back in Holland, and the chef is Marissa Chandansing, who is also from Holland, and worked at De Kas and the Amstel Hotel.  Chris worked at Au Jardin at the Vineyard Hotel, Paul Cluver, and it was while he was working at Delaire Graff that he met Mr van der Laan.  He shared a philosophy of staff upliftment, and the use of fresh and natural vegetables with his guest, and this led him to leave his job and help to open Johan’s, and setting up the extensive vegetable garden and sourcing unusual vegetables, and varieties. Some of the vegetables planted include beetroot (red, Chioggia and golden), nine types of beans (including Bizana, edemame, black beans, adzuki beans, purple beans), broad beans, carrots (purple dragon and orange), three types of onions, Turkish winter wheat, flax, three types of peas, three types of chillies, white currant, five types of brassicas, and four types of lettuce.   It is clearly his pride and joy, and it was sweet to see him go the garden to bring the kitchen something they needed.  

Chris said they are not chasing Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant, or World 50 Best Restaurant awards, but want to operate the restaurant in a sustainable and responsible manner.   The restaurant is supporting the Medical Knowledge Institute’s work in the townships, a charity that Archbishop Desmond Tutu is also involved in, and they want to start a ‘Streetsmart’-type donation request from their diners for that charity.  On the Winelist Chef Johan has written his philosophy and a welcome to the guests: “A kitchen surrounded by fertile soil where vegetables, vines, fruits and herbs thrive.  Where daylight shines in from all sides and where the chefs are free to express their creativity daily using the best the season has to offer.  It seems an obvious concept, but I spent thirty years in the hospitality industry and travelled ten thousand kilometers to find a place like this“, he writes.

The menu was printed on good yellow paper, and contains four starter, five main courses and four dessert options.  Two courses cost R195 and 3 courses R 240, served with a glass of wine.  The Tasting Menu of six smaller portions costs R400, paired with a glass of Longridge wine for each course, and is included in the price.  Home-baked bread was brought to the table with aubergine puree, while we decided what to order.   Chris emphasised their flexibility, and one can even order one course only, or request special vegetables from the garden.  A special 2-course winter tasting lunch, with a glass of wine, costs R150.  An amuse bouche of Butternut Bitterballen served on a red pepper coulis was beautifully presented, using fine blue borage flowers. 

The Longridge HPG (handpicked grapes) wines made by winemaker Clinton Le Sueur are extremely well priced at R17/R63 for the White, Red and Rosé.  The MCC cost R29/R145; Chenin Blanc R29/R118; Sauvignon Blanc R25/R112; Chardonnay R33/R135; Cabernet Sauvignon R38/R150; the most wonderful smoky Cabernet Franc that I fell in love with and bought three bottles of R42/R177; Shiraz R45/R181; Merlot R36/R145; and Pinotage R37/R155.  Most red wines on the winelist were 2007 vintages.  The tap water was served with a dash of lime, which spoilt the taste of the fresh farm water for me.  

I chose the two course menu and my son the Tasting Menu, so that I could get a taste of his dishes too.  His Tasting Menu started with a garden salad, served with tiger prawns and tarragon sabayon. This was paired with the Longridge White blend.  It is the best garden salad I have seen, carefully made from the gems from the garden, and to which had been added finely chopped olives, celery, croutons, red pepper and pickled onions.  The Celeriac and apple soup was a novel combination, and was sprinkled with chorizo, absolutely delicious.  It was paired with the Longridge Sauvignon Blanc.  My first course, and the third course on the Tasting menu, was Pork Belly, served with a salad of black beans prepared Asian style, which was paired with Longridge Chardonnay. The Pork belly had wonderful crispy crackling.  My son’s Ravioli contained aubergine and a pinenut filling, and was served with a most beautiful beetroot crisp, adding strong colour to his dish, and to this was paired the Longridge Pinotage.  Both of us had a perfectly prepared medium rare Kudu, served with sauteed mushrooms and Chinese cabbage, to which Chef Marissa had added her special gingerbread sauce (called ‘ontbytkoek’ in Holland).  This course was paired with the Longridge Cabernet Franc. 

With the dessert a 2008 Radford Dale dessert wine was served from a most beautiful and elegantly designed bottle, Johan’s at Longridge being the only restaurant to serve it.  We chose the Chocolate Fondant with vanilla ice cream and rhubarb compote, the fondant opening to thick chocolate inside.   The cappuccino was served with a meringue on the side.

I was the guest of my son for the lunch, and only heard from him in the car that Chris had comped the lunch – he and my son had been colleagues at Delaire Graff.   Johan’s at Longridge is refreshingly different, with its visible focus on its vegetables, the impressive interior decor, the great view, the great talent of Chef Marissa and her team, the excellent service from Chris, and the wonderful Longridge wines, which were a revelation, the Cabernet Franc being the highlight of the wines I tried.  Johan’s at Longridge is another exciting addition to the Stellenbosch Restaurant Route, and an Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant contender for 2012.

Johan’s at Longridge Restaurant and Wine Bar, Longridge Winery, Eikendal Road, off R44 between Stellenbosch and Somerset West.  Tel (021) 855-2004.  www.johansatlongridge.co.za (The website looks professional, with the current menu, a winelist, beautiful photographs, and even a blog).  Closed Wednesdays and Thursdays, and on Sunday evenings.  Open for lunch and dinner Friday, Saturday, Monday, Tuesday, and for Sunday lunch. 

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