On Friday evening I had the pleasure of eating my first meal prepared by a Michelin star restaurant chef. Chef Roger Jones of The Harrow at Little Bedwyn, with a Michelin star earned every year in the past ten years, prepared a six-course meal at 96 Winery Road in Stellenbosch for an unbelievably low cost of R495, inclusive of wine pairings.
Chef Roger is both a restaurant chef and wine consultant, and regularly travels to Australia, New Zealand, and our country. Locally he is hosting a Tri Nations Wine Challenge Dinner at The Vineyard, with New Zealand as the challenger against our country’s wines; as well as a MCC versus England and Wales Sparkling Wine Challenge, also at The Vineyard. He writes for The Caterer, blogs, and is a judge for a number of wine awards.
Chef Roger’s restaurant The Harrow at Little Bedwyn stocks more than 100 South African wines, and he praises wine judge and writer Angela Lloyd for being ‘one of the key facilitators in my affair with these wines‘, he writes.
We sat outside for a welcome drink of Ken Forrester Sparklehorse MCC, and it was a small world that British swallows who live near the New Forest were amongst the patrons, and are regular visitors to Chewton Glen hotel, at which my son works. I was invited by host Ken Forrester to join their table, and was delighted to sit next to him and across from Chef Roger’s wife Sue, who filled in a lot of the information gaps.
Sue did not know that ‘wyn‘ means wine in Afrikaans, and we laughed at how apt the name of the Little Bedwyn village is in containing this word, given how much of their world and business revolves around wine. Sue told me that they moved to the village 17 years ago, buying the building which contained an inn. They decided to live in the building, and accommodate some of their staff and only run a restaurant from it. Sue described Little Bedwyn as a small village with twenty houses and a church.
Seven years after opening The Harrow at Little Bedwyn, they were awarded their first Michelin star. Chef Roger told me how intensive the Michelin evaluation is annually. They never know when the inspectors will arrive, having had a team of up to four visit. Once they reveal who they are after the meal, they enter the kitchen, check on the cleanliness, meeting health and safety guidelines, and go through invoices to check the claimed ingredient sources and freshness, spending at least an hour with the chef and his team. All Michelin inspectors drink alcohol as part of the inspection, so non-drinkers are easily eliminated as inspectors. This real-world feedback about the Michelin inspectors differs to what we saw in the ‘Burnt‘ movie about a Michelin-star restaurant chef . Michelin provides feedback to chefs, found to be very useful to the continuous improvement of restaurants. There are rules to be a member of the Michelin ‘club’, one not being allowed to display the Michelin star in one’s marketing communication, or refer to it as being Michelin-rated. Others writing about a Michelin-star restaurant may refer to its status however. There are 124 Michelin-star restaurants in the UK, and they are well connected to each other.
Chef Roger also told me that The Harrow at Little Bedwyn is one of only two restaurants in the UK (with The Fat Duck) which is used for Riedel events. They have a dedicated Riedel Room at the restaurant. Recently The Harrow at Little Bedwyn was named 48th Best Restaurant in the Sunday Times Top 100 UK Restaurants, described as a ‘foodie paradise in the middle of nowhere with an amazing wine list‘.
Sue shared that they bought too much Australian wine in early days, when that country’s Sauvignon Blanc wines were meant to be drunk within a year. Having overstocked on the wines, Sue and Roger found that the Australian wines in fact got better the older they were. Their cellar now stocks 300 Australian and 100 South African wine brands. They have few UK wines, other than sparkling wines, which are getting better and better, and Nyetimber and Ancre Hill Estate sparkling wines are two that they stock. Six of the ten sparkling wines on their wine list are South African. In a newsletter Chef Roger gave me, he wrote that the UK can buy our country’s quality wines ‘at a prosperous profit to our businesses’. But the on-going investment in our wine industry and the fine wines produced by some stand-out winemakers make it worth buying SA wines too. Chef Roger mentions Eben Sadie, Mullineux, Restless River, Adi Badenhorst, Fable Mountain, Peter Finlayson’s Crystallum, The Foundry, Duncan Savage, Fijndraai, and Ken Forrester.
Chef Roger proudly told me that their pot washer who started with them 16 years ago now is his head chef. I was able to chat to Chef Roger after he had finished his cooking, and Sue, Ken, Roger, and I had a very jolly time until the early morning!
Chef Roger cooked with new Chef Adrian Buchanan, whom I had first met at Freedom Hill between Paarl and Franschhoek. When the restaurant closed down, he moved to Kuwait. He has returned with a healthy beard, which seems to be the new rage amongst local chefs. He is delighted to work at 96 Winery Road, and is keen to start an organic vegetable and herb garden, saying that he loves farming.
We were a group of 40 eating Chef’s Roger menu, but a further 40 guests were booked for their regular menu, for whom dinner had to be prepared too. Chef Natasha Wray, who has been at 96 Winery Road, is doing more administrative work for the restaurant now, to allow her more time with her children. I was able to take the photographs in a small section in front of the kitchen doors, which had better lighting than inside the restaurant.
Course number two was Textures of cauliflower, served with scallops and slices of real truffle, a first for me! The orange plate the dish was plated on was a perfect match. The wine pairing was with Ken Forrester Roussanne 2013.
One of the favorite dishes was the shrimp and langoustine dumpling, the langoustine having a beautiful sweet taste. A similar dish is served at The Harrow at Little Bedwyn. The dish was paired with The FMC 2013. Ken proudly told me that it ranks third on the Vivino wine app.
The Springbok Tartare was unusual in being served with a quail egg, coriander, and green pistachio. The small touch of chili did not overpower the dish. It was paired with Ken Forrester Three Halves, a blend of 50% Mourvèdre, 25% Syrah, and 25% Grenache.
The dessert course was intriguing, called ‘Boiled eggs and soldiers’, and was made with crème anglaise, a mango and passion fruit purée, topped with Italian meringue, and served with a finger biscuit. This dish is on The Harrow at Little Bedwyn menu too. It was paired with Ken Forrester Petit Semi Sweet, a Chenin Blanc with 10% Muscat. A 18 year old intern Darien Prophet of 96 Winery Road made the dessert, and rose to the challenge impressively, Chef Roger said.
Chef Roger said that the 96 Winery Road staff was delighted to be involved. He told me that South African white blends make South Africa world famous, being very suitable for food pairing. He also said that the trend to aromatic wines is good, and reflects the trend to lighter aromatic foods. Ken told me that he left the wine pairings to Chef Roger, not interfering with wine pairings. He is interested to see what chefs will do with his wines, in their choice of dishes. He described Chef Roger as ‘one of the world’s greatest nice guys, and works like a trooper‘. He and Chef Roger first met 16 years ago, when Ken introduced his wines to The Harrow at Little Bedwyn, where they also have a wine shop.
During their visit, Chef Roger and Sue have already eaten at The Tasting Room, Le Petite Ferme, and Greenhouse. They already have bookings for Myoga, La Colombe, and Aubergine.
My first-time Michelin star restaurant chef experience on Friday evening was an unforgettable one, and I look forward to trying The Harrow at Little Bedwyn when next I visit the UK.
Disclosure: I had booked for the dinner, but Allan Forrester would not accept my payment when we left at 2h00.
The Harrow at Little Bedwyn, Little Bedwyn, Nr. Marlborough, Wiltshire, United Kingdom. Tel +44 1672 870871. www.theharrowatlittlebedwyn.com Twitter: @LittleBedwyn
96 Winery Road, Stellenbosch. Tel (021) 842-2020. www.96wineryroad.co.za Twitter: @96WineryRoad
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.whalecottage.com/blog Tel 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@WhaleCottage Facebook: click here