On Friday I was honored to have been invited to lunch with our country’s Chenin Blanc king Ken Forrester, at 96 Winery Road restaurant, which he co-owns with his brother Allan, to celebrate the restaurant’s 20th anniversary today. Being his sole guest made the invitation even more special.
While waiting for Ken to arrive I smelt the most delicious fragrances coming from the kitchen. Ken explained that when he is in the tasting room of his wine estate just up the road on Winery Road, he is stopped by clients and all want to shake his hand and exchange words. Gregarious Ken would never push anyone away, and I saw this in action while we lunched, numerous patrons coming to our table to say hello to him. I observed him sending some of our very fine wines to friends at another table. The first bottle of wine was the Ken Forrester The Gypsy 2012.
Ken told me that Natasha Wray had been their chef since day one, but her husband’s job necessitating travel and having children means that she can no longer give the restaurant long hours, and she is involved administratively now. A few months ago 96 Winery Road appointed Head Chef Adrian Buchanan, described by Ken as a ‘sympathetic chef‘. They took him on without any ‘noise’, and allowed him to get on in connecting with his staff, the management, and his patrons, a triangular relationship which is vital for successful restaurants. Chef Adrian previously ran the restaurant at Freedom Hill winery, whereafter he went to Kuwait, before returning to the Cape and joining 96 Winery Road.
Ken and I tried to think which restaurants we know are still around 20 years later, but we could not think of any immediately. Le Petite Ferme comes to mind as one of few, but has seen management and ownership changes. Ken opened his winery in 1993, having moved down from Johannesburg, He was a restaurateur, having owned Gatriles, first as an investor owning a share in the restaurant at the age of 22, and became its owner at 25. They still have the duck cherry pie dish from Gatriles on the 96 Winery Road menu.
Ken ordered for us, the idea being to order dishes which are new additions to the menu, and to share them. A bread plate with butter and olive (sourced from Fyndraai) and tomato (from their own vegetable garden) tapenade was brought to the table. Allan brought us a platter with their double-baked Three Cheese Soufflé (R75), as well as Panko-crumbed calamari served with rosti (R65); and a separate one with roughly chopped Cape Wagyu beef with a duck egg yolk, Dijon mustard, fresh coriander, pickled shallot, roasted garlic, and Parmesan shavings, served with Melba toast (R85). Ken was the gentleman host, mixing the beef tartare at the table. Other starters are soup (R65), seared beef salad (R80), steamed mussels (R70), crispy pork belly strips (R65), Baba Ganoush and labneh salad (R75), and poached octopus and feta salad (R85).
Ken told me about their Cape Wagyu cattle, which they have started breeding on the 8ha grounds of the restaurant. They started five years ago, and now have 160 animals. They implanted Wagyu embryos into ‘surrogate‘ Angus cows, described by Ken as ‘Airbnb for wombs‘! Each cow has a ‘passport’, detailing which pastures it has fed on, and other relevant details. They do not inject any growth hormones, and the restaurant-goer only eats pure natural old-fashioned beef as a result, Ken explained. They use Tommie’s Butchery from Hermon as ‘the best abottoir’.
Ken ran through the winelist with me, showing how many good value wines they list, not just local but also imported ones, which are listed at the original price, and stay on the list at that price without being made more expensive as the exchange rate weakens. They do not have a fixed margin for the wines on their list. He showed me five to eight year old American and Burgundy wines, for which they still charge the original prices until the vintage is sold out. Ken had brought along a The Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, which he made in Alexander Valley, next to Napa Valley, from grapes which he had grown on a leased property, and which received 94 points from the Wine Enthusiast. He made The Bridge in the Devil Proof Wines cellar of Jesse Katz, and sells the bulk of his wine in the USA. His back label explains the name of his wine, being ‘A partnership and bridge across the continents between Jesse Katz and Ken Forrester’. He has brought some of the 900 bottles of his first vintage to Stellenbosch, charging R1155 in the restaurant for it. Now he has produced 500 cases of The Bridge 2013, which received a 94 rating from Robert Parker. He met Jesse at The Aspen Food and Wine Fair. Ken told me that he is in the USA more often than in Europe, as he sees so many more opportunities in the USA, and so many similarities to our country. The 96 Winery Road winelist is divided into only two sections per variety: ‘Stellenbosch wines‘, and ‘Rest of the World wines‘, the later category even including wines from other local regions! For example, the FMC costs R350 at their cellar door, and R540 on the 96 Winery Road winelist. Ken told me proudly that the FMC has just been included in the Top 100 winelist for the fifth time.
Not ever having ordered steak at 96 Winery Road before, it was a pleasure to try the Cape Wagyu 400 gram T-bone steak (R66 per 100 gram), which Ken sliced. It can also be ordered as prime rib and club steak, at the same price. It was prepared rare, and was tender, the best tender steak I have eaten. Ken had ordered chips, steamed vegetables as well as tempura vegetables, being mushrooms, broccoli, and baby marrow. Other main course options are homemade tagliatelle (R110), pan-roasted line fish (R165), 250g fillet (R165), rump steak, ‘Hollandse’ pepper fillet (R185), 96 Prime Beef Burger (in two sizes at R130 and R195), Gatriles Duck and Cherry Pie (R145), seared venison loin (R165), stuffed giant mushrooms (R115), baby chicken (R140), pan-roasted bacon stuffed pork fillet (R140), lamb (R155), and seared salmon trout (R135).
I could not resist at least looking at the dessert list, and Ken decided that we should share their 96 Winery Road Dessert Platter, consisting of nice bite-sized tastes of five desserts: Crème Brûlée; Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate; cinnamon ice cream; retro pear and ginger pudding; and white chocolate mousse (R75). The individual dessert dishes cost R55 – R70. This was served with a dry cappuccino, as requested.
Congratulations go to Ken and Allan Forrester and their staff, for the 20-year success which they have achieved with a Winelands restaurant institution, their 96 Winery Road! Cheers!
96 Winery Road, 96 Winery Road, Stellenbosch. Tel (021) 842-2020. www.96wineryroad.co.za Twitter: @96WineryRoad Monday – Saturday Lunch and Dinner, Sunday Dinner.
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.whalecottage.com/blog Tel 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@WhaleCottage Facebook: click here Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein