Tony Leon charming beyond expectation at Buitenverwachting book launch lunch!


Despite having attended the Wordsworth launch lunch of Tony Leon’s book ‘The Accidental Ambassador: From Parliament to Patagonia‘ at Myoga about a month ago, I accepted Buitenverwachting PR Consultant Sandy Bailey’s invitation to attend Leon’s talk at her Thursday Club lunch at Buitenverwachting, not having been there for a while. Leon delivered on eloquence in speaking, as he does in writing, and he proudly shared that the lunch was the 22nd launch function for his new ‘best seller’ book, the first 6000 copies almost having sold out, and the book being in reprint already.

I was fortunate to sit at Leon’s table, and his sharp wit was evident from the time he sat down, connecting with Sandy, John, Hettie, Frank and Simone sharing our table.  I joked back, congratulating him on his PR ‘coup’ in getting a Letter to the Editor in the Cape Times due to his over-enthusiastic salesmanship of his book at the Franschhoek Literary Festival.  I noted the change in his talk relative to a month ago, in that the books were left outside in the hallway for the after-lunch sales, and that Leon did not wave the book about while he was speaking.  He did refer to the book in almost every sentence, for which he could be forgiven, as that was the purpose of the lunch.  One of Leon’s memories of Argentina, where he served as our country’s ambassador for three years until late last year, was that there are 300 ‘Boer families‘ living in that country that can speak no Afrikaans and barely any English, being third or fourth generation descendants of South Africans who immigrated to Argentina. He also laughed when he said that are equal (and large) numbers of psychiatrists and plastic surgeons in Buenos Aires, the capital of the country in which the bulk of the Argentinian population lives.  Writing is not a way to make money, Leon warned, the author only receiving 20% of the cost of the book (R220 for his), the balance going to the publisher and the book retailers in equal proportions. Launching the book in Argentina is his next step, and for that he has had a lawyer scan his book, to ensure that he can return to the country, as his book is as undiplomatic towards both his host and home country as he had to be diplomatic whilst being an ambassador. He assured us that he had written it all himself.

Leon uses clever sayings, and has a way with words, describing himself as a man ‘not short of self-confidence’! Leon writes his Business Day column on a Monday, knowing what he has to do, but saying it differently being a challenge.  Former President Mandela’s daughter Zenani has taken over from Leon as the ambassador in Argentinia. Leon finished his term one year early, feeling like a ‘ham in the sandwich‘ in both the Argentinian and South Africa bureaucracy, and having achieved what he had set out to do. Not speaking much Spanish, despite taking lessons, was a disadvantage he admitted, in a country in which little English is spoken.  Leon’s book gives the local taxpayer a behind-the-scenes look at how the R15 million budget per embassy is spent.  Questioned on selling his soul in representing an ANC-led government as a former DA head and Leader of the Opposition, Leon countered that he never felt compromised in his role, and that one can choose in life to be a bystander or an upstander.  It is clear what his choice is.

I asked him about the wines which he served at his ambassadorial dinner parties (the book only reveals that his wife Michal served bobotie and malva pudding, but does not mention the wines served at the dinners at all), and he shared that it was almost impossible to bring in anything from outside, according to an Argentinian protectionist import policy.  But the regular diplomatic duty-free trunk from South Africa had space for wines, the ‘ambassadorial off-sales‘ allowing him to choose Rust en Vrede when he was extravagant, and Vergelegen when the budget was a little more tight.  He knows Sir David Graaff of De Grendel, so his wines also slipped through at times.  He suggested to our local wine industry that our country should become synonymous with one wine variety, as the Argentinians are with Malbec.

We were served a selection of self-baked breads and rolls with a trio of butters ( farm style, lemon butter, and cottage cheese and chives), reminding me of Bosman’s at Grande Roche, where Chef Edgar Ososjnik worked previously. Sadly he was not running the kitchen on Thursday, just having lost his father.  A wonderful surprise was to see Kent Scheermeyer, previously a sommelier at Grande Roche, and at the One&Only Cape Town thereafter. He now is a wine and restaurant consultant in Dubai, Mauritius and locally, including Buitenverwachting, the Twelve Apostles hotel, as well as the Orphanage Cocktail Emporium, for whom he developed their house wines. Kent regularly came to check on the tables, to see that all was perfect. The amuse bouche was a Prawn Mousse, served with an oriental salad and a citrus dressing.  The main course of oxtail braised in Buitenverwachting Meifort, a signature dish of Chef Edgar, was perfect, served with roasted root vegetables and a potato croquette, paired with the Meifort, a Bordeaux-style blend of 57% Cabernet Franc, 21% Petit Verdot, 18% Merlot, and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon.  The dessert of roasted quince slices, a rare treat in restaurants, served with custard and malva pudding, was a good but probably coincidental ‘pairing’ with Leon’s dessert served at his ambassadorial dinner parties.

Buitenverwachting is one of the older wine estates on the Constantia Wine Route, having been established in 1796.  In addition to the lunches, one can order a picnic to enjoy in the gardens under the ancient oak trees. The relatively new cosy Coffee Bloc coffee shop is decorated in autumn colours, and has a reed ceiling.  They serve their own Quaffee coffee roasted on the estate by Warren Machanik in coffee mugs made by Liesel Trautman.  As a deli it also sells a variety of items, most prepared foods made by Chef Edgar and his staff, including chocolate, rusks, wooden boards, wine coolers, spicy hanepoot, green olive tapenade, chili jam, duck live parfait, olive oil, honey, and Quaffee coffee beans.  Breakfast and lunch is served, prepared in the Buitenverwachting kitchen restaurant, lunch offered including fish and chips, hamburger, Edgar’s Caesar salad, rib eye steak, and a selection of tapas.  In the Tasting Room jewellery made by Meagan Maack, wife of the owner Lars, and her partner Collette Martin, is on display for sale.

Buitenverwachting is a friendly welcoming wine estate and restaurant, modern in what it offers yet reflecting the more than 200 year history of the farm on the Constantia Wine Route.

Buitenverwachting, Klein Constantia Road, Cape Town. Tel (021) 794-5190. Twitter: @BeyondBuiten  Tuesdays – Saturday lunch and dinner. In summer open on Mondays too. Closed for a winter break from July – mid August, but its Coffee Bloc stays open in this time.




Chris von Ulmenstein, with assitance from Lorraine Bourgogne, Whale Cottage Portfolio: Twitter: @WhaleCottage

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