Restaurant Review: Spice Route has spicy interior, food and wines!

Spice Route is the new name of the wine estate previously called Seidelberg, and also is the name of the brand new restaurant on the wine estate, which now belongs to Charles Back of neighbouring Fairview, which he bought from Roland Seidel last year, and re-opened the renovated estate in October.

The first impression is not a good one as one drives to the restaurant and tasting room, as the Cabernet Sauvignon vines have had to be removed due a red ant infection, and new planting will only take place in winter, I was told by the tasting room staff, my first stop at Spice Route.  The staff had no knowledge of the history of the wine range, which was first made for Mr Back by maverick winemaker Eben Sadie.  The tasting room has been renovated, painted white now, with new furniture, and has been brought out onto the terrace and the lawn too, with a lovely view, even onto Table Mountain.  The Spice Route wines were produced in 1997 for the first time.  It was explained that the exceptional Spice Route wine brand, being one of four Fairview brands, was not receiving the attention it deserves, and therefore Mr Back bought the neighbouring farm.  All Spice Route wines are made by winemaker Charl du Plessis on the Swartland farm, the Malabar having its own cellar. The Spice Route wine range consists of Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Mourvédre, Pinotage, Shiraz, Chakalaka, Flagship Syrah, and Malabar.  One pays R25 to taste six of the nine Spice Route wines, and can also order an excellent value-for-money Spice Route wine and food pairing at R90, with a taste of all nine wines and three dishes off the restaurant menu: paté, kingklip, and pork belly.

The restaurant too has been extensively renovated, under the guidance of architect Johan Malherbe of Malherbe Rust, and the interior decor has been designed by René de Waal of Experience Makers.  René chose a white interior for the walls, chairs, and tables, and added decor elements from the Middle East and Zanzibar to emphasise the spice link to the restaurant name, through tiles on the floor, lamps, massive jars of spices on the restaurant counter, the chairs, the place mats, works of art on the walls, and wall cornices.  The spice theme also manifests in the cinnamon coloured aprons of the waitron staff.  The menu/winelist cover is brown leather, and each page is Spice Route branded.  Each table (without tablecloth) has a bottle of Fairview olive oil, and a set of Goldcrest coarse salt and black pepper grinders.  Quality material serviettes, Fortis Hotelware cutlery, and good glassware is on the table, including a small Greek style water glass.  There was no music at all, an element which could have enhanced the theme. Outside the furniture is wooden and looks like it was there before, not tying in with the inside decor.  Surprising is that the cloakrooms have not been renovated yet, having been painted in a ghastly pink/red, with wall tiles missing, and having the cheapest toilet roll holders.

Staff are mainly from the previous Seidelberg restaurant, but the Manager Lize Rossouw (studied at the Institute for Culinary Arts and the International Hotel School, and moved across from Fairview) and the Chef Phillip Pretorius (previously at Fairview’s The Goat Shed and Sevruga) are new.  Theo, the waiter who looked after me, worked at Meerendal with David Higgs, at Grande Roche, and at Seidelberg.

Exciting changes are planned, and in future visitors will be encouraged to follow the route at Spice Route, with a micro-brewery planned with Jack Black, and a new chocolate factory to be set up by DV chocolates (from Hermanus) in the manor house in the next two months. The DV chocolates have already been incorporated into the menu.  A grappa distillery is also being considered, and picnics on the lawn outside the manor house are also planned.   An organic vegetable garden is being developed, to supply both the Fairview and Spice Route restaurants, and the School House guest house near the Agter Paarl Road is planned to open as a farm stall, selling its vegetables, chocolates, beer, wine, and more.  The Red Hot Glass glass blowing studio is still there, and appears unchanged.  Wedding bookings are starting to roll in, Lize said.

The menu is not extensive, but interesting, and each menu item has a Spice Route wine recommendation (without the vintage or price indicated). The menu items are not all Mediterranean or Middle Eastern, but contain spices which leave a spicy after-taste. I chose a prawn and paw paw salad (R65) as a starter, which came with  a generous portion of prawns, citrus segments, pineapple, cherry tomatoes, roasted peanuts, green beans, and paw paw, and was served with a lemongrass, coconut, soy, ginger, and peanut oil dressing, a refreshing start to the lunch.  A treat was that Chef Phillip brought the salad to the table, so that we could have a brief chat. The suggested pairing was the Chenin Blanc, but I enjoyed it with a taste of the Shiraz.  Very special too was the duck liver parfait served with an unusual pear and ginger chutney (R56), a lovely marriage, and even more unusual was the presentation of the parfait, being coated in the orange-coloured chakalaka and sesame seeds, making me nervous about it initially, but being absolutely delicious, rich and creamy.  The parfait pairing recommendation was the Mouvèdre, but I had it with a taste of the Flagship Syrah.

Other starters are a ceviche of cured linefish, a spicy duck breast, pork belly with a Madagascar DV chocolate lentil salad, and a Panzanella Bread salad with marinated buffalo mozzarella, ranging in price from R48 to R62.  Six main courses start at R89 for handmade potato gnocchi to R218 for a Roast rib-eye steak on the bone, for two persons to share.  One can also order linefish with tandoori paste; Chalmar beef fillet; venison loin served with a DV chocolate, black currant and chilli jus; and an Indian butter chicken served with espresso foam.  Five desserts cost between R42 – R58, and include a delicious apple tart tatin served with home-made vanilla pod ice cream and an unusual carrot and ginger puree, which I enjoyed with a perfectly made cappuccino, the coffee coming from Beans for Africa in Paarl; DV dark chocolate and fresh chilli Crème Brûlée; white chocolate and rose water mousse served with goat’s chevin; coconut and banana bread; and beetroot panna cotta.

Selfishly I liked that Spice Route has not yet been discovered by the tourists as is the case at Fairview, and does not feel touristy, the service being personalised and efficient. All the plans for the wine estate are likely to fill up the restaurant in future.  I was sceptical about going to Spice Route for lunch, given its past offering, but was impressed with all aspects of it, except for the cloakrooms of course! I will be back to try more of Chef Phillip’s spicy menu and to taste more of the Spice Route wines!

Spice Route restaurant, Spice Route wine estate, Paarl.  Tel (021) 863-5222. www.spiceroute.co.za. Sunday – Thursday 11h00 – 18h00, Friday – Saturday 11h00 – 21h00.

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

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