In the past one and a half years that the Delaire Graff Restaurant has been open, I have had two excellent and one negativeexperience, the last one unfortunately having left such an impression on me that I did not return for a year. Last week I went back, and was blown away (almost literally by the South-Easter too) by how professional and friendly Delaire Graff and its staff are. The restaurant is not inexpensive, and therefore it is the perfect place at which to celebrate a special event or achievement. Its setting above the Helshoogte Pass in Stellenbosch gives it a perfect view onto the surrounding vineyards and mountains.
The wine estate must be one of the Winelands’ properties which is supported by one of the largest investments (the owner is Laurence Graff, a Switzerland-based jeweller owning 30 branches of Graff Diamonds around the world, in the news last year when one of its London stores suffered the biggest jewellery heist ever). Graff bought the estate from John and Erica Platter, spent millions of Rands and years of time to redevelop the property, first building the Delaire Graff Restaurant, winery and winetasting centre, and earlier this year adding the Delaire Graff Lodge with Indochine restaurant. I have written previously about the monumental artwork spread across the estate, not only in terms of the top artists whose work is displayed, but also the sheer size of many of these. The artwork displayed is by father and son Anton and Lionel Smit, Dylan Lewis, William Kentridge (the s-shaped leather seating in the restaurant was matched in colour to the Kentridge!), Deborah Bell, Fred Schimmel, Sydney Khumalo, Cecil Skotness and Maurice van Essche.
As I entered the restaurant building I could not miss the new Lionel Smit painting in the reception hall, overshadowing even the massive Christmas tree. The attention paid to decorating the Delaire Graff building for Christmas cannot be overlooked, with massive Christmas trees in the restaurant, reception hall and winetasting room, each decorated in a specific colour scheme, putting me into a Christmas spirit I have not experienced in a restaurant so far. As the external gates were open when I arrived, the gatehouse could not report my arrival, so that there was no one to personally welcome me in the car park, as used to be the case. Yet there were three staff members in the massive Reception Hall, all beaming in friendliness, but none asked where I was going and if I needed help to find my way to the restaurant. I did note a new shop selling clothing as well as some display stands selling Graff jewellery off the Reception Hall, which had opened a few days before. (Both the jewellery salesladies were not available when I wanted to get an idea of prices, and the clothing shop salesladies hazarded a guess at R80000 for a pair of diamond earings).
But once I had reached the restaurant, charming new Maitre’d Nadia Kotze was waiting for me. She had reserved a table inside because of the wind, but I chose to sit in a sheltered section outside, due to my cellphone being particularly active that lunchtime. Quickly a table was set up, a jug of ice water brought to the table, with a lovely linen serviette, WMF cutlery, and a Peugeot grinder for the pinkish Himalayan rock salt filled with lots of mineral goodness, with a matching pepper grinder. Everything is colour matched in the restaurant, the interior designer being David Collins from London, in that the table underlay, the decorations on the Christmas tree, the menu and the winelist cover all are in shades of yellow/gold/orange. The menu holder is stylish, with blue edging inside. Music is piped throughout the building, and has a distinctly European feel, including French and Italian songs.
Chelsea came to introduce herself, and offered me a choice of three breads – ryebread, focaccia sprinkled with rocksalt and rosemary, and ciabatta. Nadia pointed out the barbeque as we stepped outside, with which chef Christiaan Campbell is experimenting, she said, preparing kingklip and chicken on it on alternate days. Staff look smart in white shirts and black pants, and a black Delaire branded apron. Everyone coming to the table beamed, and called me “Mrs von Ulmenstein”, showing their professional touch without familiarity. Even Johann Laubser, the Delaire Graff Estate GM, came to greet me. Nadia has only recently moved across from Zacharay’s at Pezula. She has previously been a Food & Beverage Manager at the Liz McGrath Collection of hotels, and has done the cruiseliners. Chef Christiaan has been at the restaurant since it opened, and must be one of the few original restaurant staff still there. Chef Christiaan laughed when I said this to him, when he came to say hello, and said quietly that he is a loyal chef, a nice answer! He said that they had been disappointed to receive negative feedback about the restaurant’s service levels, but had taken stock earlier this year, and have addressed the shortcomings in this regard. The service I received was excellent.
Given that it was the chicken barbeque day, and that I sat close to the barbeque outside, I ordered the Roast chicken, confit leg deep-fried in a batter, and a smoked corn and parsnip mash. I loved the colour the corn added to the mash, and the smoky barbeque taste of the roast chicken (R155). Having been ill for the four days prior, my appetite was not yet back to normal, and therefore I took some of the dish home. Starter options cost between R85 – R105, and include paprika squid, buffalo mozzarella, goat’s cheese fritters, cured beef, ceviche of red fish, and yellow fin tuna. Main courses start at R110, for Primavera, and peak at R295 for Cape Rock Lobster. Other main courses include fish and chips, pork belly, seared salmon trout, Waterberg beef, and line fish. A number of sides can be ordered too. Nadia was such a good salesperson that she persuaded me to have a refreshing fruit feast for dessert, being apricot panna cotta, with nectarine sorbet, star anise marshmallow, plum soup, with macerated apricots (R55). Other dessert options cost R65, and include a chocolate sandwich, pistachio nougat, and strawberries. Gelato costs R25 per scoop. “Handcrafted cheeses” can be ordered at R95. Interestingly, the dessert and cheese options each had a wine pairing suggestion on the menu. I had a lovely frothy cappuccino with my dessert, expensive at R30.
The winelist contains the Delaire wine collection, including Sauvignon Blancs (R170 – R320), Chardonnay (R210), Rosé (R140), Shiraz (R175), Red Blend (R220), Port (R320) and Semillon Noble Late Harvest (R300). A small selection of other wine brands is offered per variety. Champagnes are by Taittinger (R1500), Billecart-Salmon Rose NV (R1650) and Louis Roderer Cristal (R7750). Méthode Cap Classiques range from R245 (Colmant Brut Reserve) to R950 for Graham Beck Cuvee Clive. Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc costs R170, and an imported Domaine Lafond Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc costs R620. Pax Verbatim 2007 Shiraz costs R295, Cirrus 2006 R455, and Stark-Conde Three Pines 2007 R 550. Wines by the glass cost R 40 – R 55, and are predominantly by Delaire, with Bon Courage Brut Reserve costing R55.
The bathrooms at Delaire Graff are the best-smelling, cleanest, and tidiest I have every experienced at any restaurant. I had not seen the tasting room before, and saw in it not only the attractively labelled Delaire wines, branded shirts, but also the latest Platter and Rossouw’s Restaurants guides. My eye also caught the attractively packaged Delaire Graff chocolate slabs and mini-chocolate collection packs, which looked like they could make the perfect Christmas presents, even if not inexpensive. Michael walked me out of the building to the car park, a nice touch I remember from the early days of Delaire Graff Restaurant.
Delaire Graff Restaurant has an interesting counterpoint with the “new” Tokara Restaurant with chef Richard Carstens across the road. I could not see any dramatic changes to the Delaire Graff Restaurant menu as a result of the “new” competitor, and the service is very much improved. It will be interesting to see how both restaurants fare on the Eat Out Top 10 restaurant list in 2011.
POSTSCRIPT 7/8/11:I popped in at Delaire Graff this afternoon, after lunch at the close-by de Huguenot Restaurant. I was impressed once again with how classy and professional this wine estate is. It was the perfect afternoon to sit outside. I had a frothy, almost creamy, cappuccino, and a study in strawberry with it – there were dried and fresh strawberries, strawberry granite, meringue crumbs, vanilla pastry creme, black pepper shortbread, and strawberry ice cream, a refreshing and attractively presented dessert.
Delaire Graff Restaurant, Helshoogte Pass, Stellenbosch. Tel (021) 885-1270. www.delaire.co.za (The website contains menus for both Delaire Graff Estate restaurants, and has an Image Gallery). Mondays – Sundays lunch, Mondays – Saturdays dinner. Booking is advisable.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage