Travel: Stellenbosch

  • Friday 16 February 2007

The Cape Of Good Food. The town of Stellenbosch may not be known for its gastronomy, but get out to its winelands and you’re in for a treat, says Joanne Simon

The Cape Of Good Food. The town of Stellenbosch may not be known for its gastronomy, but get out to its winelands and you’re in for a treat, says Joanne Simon

Franschhoek is often described as the ‘gourmet capital of South Africa’. The town of Stellenbosch, on the other hand, is more famous for its university and oak trees than its cuisine. But ‘town’ is the operative word here. The surrounding winelands are liberally sprinkled with restaurants that make South Africa’s most famous wine region a great destination for foodies.

My best ever food-and-wine experience involved poking through the undergrowth of the Jonkershoek forest near Stellenbosch, sipping grappa from former Meerlust winemaker Giorgio Dalla Cia’s hipflask, as he introduced me to the joys of mushroom hunting.

Breathing in those dank, earthy aromas as we searched for porcini, I suddenly saw Stellenbosch through entirely new eyes: as a place of amazing natural bounty. No wonder Dalla Cia and his oenologist wife Simonetta settled here so happily after leaving Veneto in 1974 – even though, as she recalls, ‘South Africa was very different in those days. We were used to a busy social life in Italy… we were shocked to see that nothing was going on here on a Sunday.’

She decided to open up her own home and hone her culinary skills – from stinco di bue e polenta to ossobuco con risotto – all paired with her husband’s wines, of course. Today she runs La Cucina Dalla Cia, a catering and food-consulting business, and her clients range from Stellekaya Winery to the Ferrari Club, and anyone, for that matter, who wishes to order a beef lasagne or porcini risotto (which I can confirm goes down particularly well with her husband’s own-label Bordeaux blend…).

The Dalla Cia family’s wines, cooking and grappa (plus grappa chocolates and ice cream) are one example of the gourmet life breathed into Stellenbosch over the past three decades. The town itself remains more famous for opening the first in a chain of Dros (no second ‘s’, more’s the pity) student bars than for its fine dining. Fortunately, most wine tourists aren’t here to pound pavements. For good wine, and good food to mop it up, leave town and seek out those wineries with a decent restaurant attached.

The restaurant which most strongly reminds me of my Stellenbosch food-and-wine epiphany is Terroir (or Terroir: Food from the Earth, to use its full name) on Kleine Zalze Wine Estate. At a recent visit, those earthy aromas hit me all over again as I tucked into a main course of grilled duck breast with leek fondue, gnocchi, cep and truffle sauce (the slightly mushroomy notes of the Kleine Zalze Bushvine Chenin Blanc 2005 making it an inspired wine match).

The influence is French country, with chef-owners Michael Broughton and Nic van Wyk drawing on fresh, seasonal and organic local produce. The chalkboard menu changes regularly in keeping with their aim ‘to create terroir-driven food matched with wines from the region’. But it gets busy, so make sure you book.

Your closest dining alternative is Blaauwklippen, which has good, simple bistro food, or drive a little further to wine estate and stud farm Avontuur, where the recently refurbished restaurant offers a 30-minute Test Your Taste Buds food and wine pairing.

Time for lunch

The promisingly-named 96 Winery Road, just off the R44, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. The restaurant collaboration of Ken Forrester and Martin Meinert, of the eponymous wineries, has proved as successful as their wines. Recently appointed chef Craig Backhouse describes his cooking as ‘Cape Country with an earthy sophistication’, which means he fits in perfectly, and the aged steaks and famous duck and cherry pie are here to stay.

It is also the place to taste Meinert’s own wines, notably Synchronicity and Devon Crest, which he makes in the Devon Valley.

Boasting breathtaking views, the Devon Valley Hotel is home to SylvanVale Wines – and to Flavours Restaurant, where chef Markus Schwemberger’s fish and lamb dishes are highly recommended, washed down with an absinthe in the lounge, if choosing from one of South Africa’s largest single malt collections isn’t quite adventurous enough…

A little further down the road is bubbly producer JC le Roux, where ex-pat Brits Jon and Heather Taylor have opened Mana Restaurant in an old gabled homestead just above the cellar. Using seasonal ingredients from their own garden or local organic producers, their style is classical with some unexpected but always carefully considered flavours – such as the salad of seared kudu fillet with palm sugar, lime, chilli, roasted peanut and

mint. The wine list shows a definite bias towards local Devon Valley producers, including Clos Malverne, whose Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot Limited Release 2001 won Gold at this year’s Decanter World Wine Awards.

Most tourists’ winelands itinerary will include a trip down the R310 for the Pan-African dinner experience at Moyo on Spier Estate (its Vintage Selection Shiraz-Mourvèdre-Viognier 2004 also scooped a DWWA Gold). Forget Cape Dutch architecture; here you’ll dine in a Bedouin tent or lantern-lit treehouse, selecting specialities from a buffet representing the whole continent, while traditional musicians, dancers, drummers and face-painters entertain you. A slightly tamer dining option at Spier is the Jonkershuis buffet, a showcase for fruity, spicy Cape Malay cuisine.

North by northwest

Alternatively, heading west along the M12 to Neethlingshof, where Swiss-born chef Reinhard Nänny serves classic fare with a South African accent: ostrich steak with Cape gooseberries? Springbok schnitzel with sautéed wild mushrooms? The homemade chocolate mousse, meanwhile, is famous for converting British visitors to what Mrs Nänny assures me is its ideal food match – Pinotage.

Another Swiss chef (Leo Romer) and springbok (or at least its flash-fried liver) put in an appearance at Saxenburg’s restaurant, The Guinea Fowl. Romer also recommends Pinotage for most of his ‘hunter’s den’ venison specials, despite Saxenburg being better known for Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.

My two favourite winery restaurants to the north are between Stellenbosch and Paarl. The first is on the R304: Joostenberg Deli & Bistro on Klein Joostenberg Farm (Joostenberg’s wines are in fact made on the Paarl side of the nearby N1 highway). This is French country cooking at its best, and Christophe de Hosse over-delivers on quality for price whether you’re breakfasting on his croissants or tucking into a hearty lunch of the best pork products around.

A lighter alternative is offered at Olivello on Marianne Wine Farm (next to Mont Destin), just off the R44 near Klapmuts. Owners Laurille Krug and Lynne Aberdeen call it Cape Comfort food, but their inspiration is clearly Mediterranean, especially on a Sunday when you can return as often as you like to a table buckling under countless antipasti as well as other dishes for just R115 (£9).

Heading back towards Stellenbosch from either restaurant, turn off to Simonsig for oysters and South Africa’s original bottle-fermented bubbly, Kaapse Vonkel. Morgenhof is also worth popping into for afternoon tea, in a formal rose garden shaded by giant oaks.

When it comes to tea though, Hillcrest Berry Orchard in the Banhoek Valley is a must for the berry muffins, fruit pastries or a gluten-free, wheat-free but still decadent Belgian chocolate and almond cake. It’s reached via the Helshoogte Pass, the very crest of which is home to Tokara, which boasts one of the most spectacular views in the winelands. Tokara is also one of the best-looking modern wineries. All stone and glass, you can see the stainless-steel vats in the cellar as you enter the restaurant, and while you eat you can keep an eye on the ultra-modern kitchen – where some feel Etienne Bonthuys needs to be watched, given his penchant for calamari with oxtail in red wine, or mussels with banana and apple. But there is simpler fare on offer too – which Bonthuys describes as modern South African with a heavy French influence.

From there it’s not far to Zorgvliet, where you dine in the restored dining rooms of a 17th-century manor house called Herenhuis 1692. Chef Darius van Rensburg offers modern South African cooking, with a few ‘subtle’ surprises – sweet chilli and oyster sauce-marinated tuna served with a bone marrow and red wine jus, for example.

On a separate part of Zorgvliet farm (formerly an apple orchard) is Le Pommier, a good place after a hard day’s tasting – and after nibbling on Le Pommier Platters, you may find yourself tempted to stay for dinner. The menu focuses on traditional South African cuisine influenced by the French Huguenots – a reminder that this road leads to Franschhoek, a gourmet journey for another time.

Joanne Simon is a former UK-based wine writer and editor of Drinks Business, Now based in South Africa, she writes for Wine and Winelands Living

A First Time Visitor’s Guide To Stellenbosch – The Town

With its white-washed walls, Cape Dutch gables and mighty oak trees, the town of Stellenbosch gives a taste of life in 17th-century SA.

Just half an hour’s drive from Cape Town, and 15 minutes away from the nearest beaches, this vibrant university town is the hub of the country’s wine industry. In every direction, vineyards are set on gently rolling slopes beneath craggily looming mountains, with graceful farmhouses, palm trees and proteas making virtually every corner a landscape artist’s dream.

The main roads are excellent and well signposted, but don’t under-estimate the distances involved (and remember that locals can be a little impatient with tourists taking in the scenery at a leisurely pace…)

Gourmet Stellenbosch

Eat, drink & sleep

96 Winery Road, off R44.

Tel: +27 21 842 2020 www.96wineryroad.co.za

Avontuur Estate and Restaurant, R44.

Tel: +27 21 855 3450

www.avontuurestate.co.za

Flavours Restaurant, Devon Valley Hotel, Devon Valley Road. Tel: +27 21 865 2012 www.devonvalleyhotel.com

Herenhuis1692, Zorgvliet Estate, Banhoek Valley.

Tel: +27 21 885 2580

www.zorgvlietwines.co.za

Le Pommier, Banhoek Valley. Tel: +27 21 885 1269

www.lepommier.co.za

Mana, JC Le Roux, Devon Valley Road. Tel: +27 21 865 2662 www.mana.co.za

Moyo at Spier, Spier Estate, R310. Tel: +27 21 809 1100 www.spier.co.za

Olivello, Marianne Wine Farm, Valley Road, R44.

Tel: +27 21 875 5443

www.olivello.co.za

Terroir, Kleine Zalze Estate, R44. Tel: +27 21 880 8167 www.kleinezalze.com/terroir

EAT & DRINK

Blaauwklippen, R44 south.

Tel: +27 21 880 0133

www.blaauwklippen.com

Guinea Fowl, Saxenburg, M12. Tel: +27 21 906 5232 www.saxenburg.com

Joostenberg Bistro, R304, Muldersvlei.

Tel: +27 21 884 4208

www.joostenberg.co.za

Lord Neethling Restaurant, Neethlingshof, M12.

Tel: +27 21 883 8966

www.lordneethling.co.za

Morgenhof, R44 north.

Tel: +27 21 889 5510

www.morgenhof.com

Tokara Estate, Helshoogte Pass. Tel: +27 21 808 5959 www.tokararestaurant.co.za

Interviews

Interviews with winemakers, winery proprietors and key members of the wine industry

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