My husband and I have just returned from a fabulous trip to South Africa and Zimbabwe. We had the opportunity to start our trip in Cape Town and then explore the beautiful Stellenbosch and Franschoek wine regions. Before we arrived in Cape Town we stayed over night in London, thinking it would help us get on the same time zone. Our dinner that night in London was at a restaurant called Chez Bruce. This restaurant has been around for twelve or so years and Chef Bruce Poole has achieved a Michelin Star for Chez Bruce.
The restaurant had white table cloths and was dimly lit to set the mood for a great dining experience. Our waitress was very friendly and could tell (maybe from our American accents) that we were not locals. Some of the highlights were for starters the Mussels with warm brandade (puree of salt cod) with chorizo chips and piquillo peppers. This dish was prepared perfectly with a warm creamy feel, just what you need in the winter in London. Another big hit was the cheese board which you could choose from a variety of European cheeses. Everything was delicious and we are definitely coming back the next time we visit.
The next day we had time for lunch before we had to head to the airport for our flight to Cape Town. I chose Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, one of London’s top chefs. Dinner was located in the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park and had a warm upscale casual feel to the space. The kitchen was in the front with a large viewing window. What makes Dinner such a unique experience is the food is prepared from centuries old cookbooks and the sources of origin are listed on the back of the menu. As for the food, we found some dishes a little spotty but, others like the Roast Pork Collar with spelt and ham hock much more appealing. The best dish by far was dessert – Tispy Cake – which tasted like warm egg bread cooked in a small staub pot and served with roasted pineapple. This was outstanding!
After a quick twelve hour overnight flight (hah) we arrived in Cape Town to take in the beauty of Table Mountain and all its surroundings. We stayed at the Westin Cape Town and booked an executive suite with our starwood points. I highly recommend the upgrade due to the top executive floor where you can have wine and appetizers in the evening as well as breakfast in the morning. The breakfast spread here is one of the best I have ever seen at a Westin. After catching up on a little sleep we ventured out to our dinner at Bizerca Bistro.
Bizerca Bistro is now located in Heritage Square which has a charming outside brick patio area with a fountain. Chef Laurent Deslandes and his wife Cyrillia operate Bizerca Bistro and we had read some great reviews. My husband and I were ready to try the cuisine and wine of this country. Our server was a sweet girl who was studying to be an actress and wanted us to have a great “first time” experience in Cape Town. She told us to try samples of the local wines with each dish and so we did. I started with some local Oysters that were creamy and delicious especially paired with a sparkling wine. My husband chose the Pate & Rillette that was hand made and paired nicely with a local shiraz (syrah).
Our next dish was freshly sauteed Asparagus with roasted prawns. The sauce with the aparagus was light but creamy and paired nicely with a chenin blanc. My husband is a huge pasta fan so the Osso Bucco Ravioli couldn’t be missed. The ravioli were filled was freshly braised meat and the sauce was hearty. As for our main course we shared the Duo of Vension. The vension was prepared in a filet and short rib form both very satifying. I enjoyed the cigarette filled with vension as well, it had a nice crunch to go with the soft meat.
After a good night’s sleep we decided to tour around the waterfront area and take the on/off bus around the entire area of Cape Town. The coast line is beautiful and I especially enjoyed Camps Bay. As for dinner that night we left it open to explore some local cuisine. We opted for Gold, an African/Cape Malay restaurant. We knew it was going to be a tad touristy but hey we are tourists and I wanted to try the food.
At Gold the menu is a fourteen course family style meal. Much more food than either one of us could consume but our waitress assured us the staff would enjoy the extras. For starters, we tried the Snoek Pate’ which is a local fish pate served with Xhosa Pot Breads. It tasted similar to our white fish spread that is served here in the states. The next twelve courses were all delicious but I especially enjoyed the Malay Roti with Ostrich Mince. The meat tasted similar to beef and the mince had a nice light sauce mixed in with it. Some other dishes like Namibian Vension Pot, African Couscous, Spinach Morog, Malay Lentil Dhal and Tabouleh Surprise we all delightful.
For dessert we watch the African people sing and dance and enjoy their Moroccan Orange and Almond Cake with a dollop of Amarula (an African tree) Cream. Very nice.
The following day we headed down the Cape to Scarsborough to have lunch at Chef Bruce Robertson’s house. Chef Bruce used to have his own restaurant in Cape Town but now is doing these semi-private meals at his lovely beachside home called “Boathouse”.
Chef Bruce was quite impressive creating a five course lunch starting with some fresh bread and condiments.
For our first course the chef prepared a Mussel Chowder with quail egg and asparagus. This dish had layers and layers of fresh flavors. What a exceptional treat….followed by Fish Cake with Abalone Cream. The cake was served in a cup with flavors of pickled fennel and cucumber as well as turmeric oil. Chef Bruce is a master of layering delicate flavors that add to a dish. Angel Fish over Herbed Risotto was our main course. The fish was served in a creamy bouillabaisse with fresh spring vegetables with a hint of tomato chutney. Once again fabulous!
The cheese course consisted of all local cheeses goat and cow alike. But the impressive highlight was the Cape Malay Chili Donut…crispy with a hint of chili powder. Impressive. For dessert, Booba (milk food) made of vermicelli, a kumquat and cherry roti and a lemon curd malua (soft creamy pudding). All nicely served on a platter for unique presentation. Chef Bruce Robertson is an exceptional chef and host, thanks again Chef Bruce!
The next day we were off to the wine regions of Cape Town. Our first stop was Stellenbosch. We began our day at Muratie wine farm (winery). The wines were very old style and it reminded us more of Spain. In an area that is focusing mostly on new world style this is an exceptional place to start. Our next wine farm was Waterford. Waterford specializes in mostly whites but they make a nice Cabernet as well. A beautiful setting to taste wine.
For lunch we dined at Overture located at the Hidden Valley wine farm. This restaurant run by chefs Bertus Basson and Craig Cormack has an outstanding reputation. The setting is absolutely beautiful overlooking the lovely valley and mountains. On our table was an array of olive tapenade, freshly steamed zucchini and freshly prepared breads.
To start I had the Salmon Tarter, which I found to have good flavor but a little too much mayonaise for me. My husband enjoyed his Rabbit Terrine with roasted beets.
For our entree we had the pan seared Sole with Mussels in a white wine sauce. This dish was nice but, I was still savoring Chef Bruce’s cuisine from the day before. Overall, a nice experience.
We went to two other wine farms on the way to Franschoek where we were staying at Le Quartier. Rust en Vrede Estate made some exceptional shiraz (syrah) that was both delicious and age appropriate for pouring. Our final wine farm of the day was Graffiti Delair which is in between Stellenbosch and Franschoek. The wines were good but we didn’t find anything we fell in love with except the surroundings…quite impressive.
Franschoek is probably one of the most beautiful wine countries we have ever seen. The mountains behind the beautiful valley is just stunning and if anything, we wish we would of budgeted a little more time in this area.
Our suite at Le Quartier Francais was grand and impressive. We had a sitting area with wood burning fire place and our own bar with snacks and of course gin & tonics. I think gin and tonics are the drink of South Africa. They are everywhere….hmmm??
That night for dinner we were going to the tapas style restaurant in our hotel called “Common Room” because the following evening was our big dinner at the acclaimed restaurant “The Tasting Room”.
We had some fun small plates of food like Tempura Green Beans with Asian dipping sauce and a Pork Rillette. But the standout by far was the sticky bun ice cream! Yes, I said sticky bun ice cream. I think I will try to replicate this when I get home.
After a pleasant night’s sleep we headed out with a great tour guide named Merryl who really enjoyed the area and loved wine. Our first wine farm was Boekenhoulsklouf Winery. Now that’s a mouthful. They are known for their wine called Chocolate Block. It tasted very rich but too young, they are pouring 2011 wine. It definitely needs a few years. Our next stop was at Cabriere wine farm which makes an array of sparkling wines. I found the wine cave tour “top notch” and our guide exceptional. La Motte was our next stop and by far I had wished we would of dined at this restaurant. The winery was beautiful and Chef Bruce mentioned the restaurant was fantastic as well. The shriaz at La Motte was the best in the valley and we tried to bring some home except for the fact that we were going through London on the way home and they don’t allow wine to be carried on when passing through the UK. La Motte is not exporting at this time but they mentioned they are trying to get the proper permits to do so.
For lunch we wanted something small because we were going to The Tasting Room for dinner and needed to eat lightly. Sure. So we opted for Bread & Wine which in on the same property as Moreson Family Winery. Bread & Wine has an array of cheeses and charcuterie which we thought would make a perfect lunch in the wine country. Bread & Wine also conducts bread making classes at their bakery.
After lunch we went to Le Grand Provence wine farm and they were making some terrific reds. What a perfect day in Franschoek. Dinner that night was at The Tasting Room and we were ready.
The Tasting Room is located in a small building in front of Le Quartier Francais. Chef Margot Janse has won chef of the year in South Africa and many other awards as well. The room looks rather casual for a five star dining experience however, the staff is friendly and conscientious.
To start, we were served a molecular plate of amuse bouches that were interesting to look at and taste. I especially enjoyed the Squid Ink Rock with Buffalo Cream inside. The freshly baked in a can cornbread and caramel butter were served next.
Let the courses begin…our first course was a Beetroot, Buttermik Labne with Cucumber Granita. This beet ball was both spongy and interesting. I found the flavors satisfying but I am not sure of the textures.
Our next course was “A Summer Walk through Franschoek”, or better yet, “fresh salad from the garden”. Clean, fresh and simple and I especially enjoyed the butternut chip.
The next dish was a Nettle and Artichoke Soup with a smear of Granadilla, an exotic fruit with a sweet and sour flavor. Both flavorful and a beautiful display.
Our next dish was my favorite by far, Luderitz Oyster, Sour Fig over Vichyssoise. The oyster was perfectly seared and still creamy inside and the soup made the entire experience come together.
My husband’s next course was Curry Dusted Kingklip with Yellow Dahl and Tomato Confit. He thought the fish was perfectly prepared with a nice spice essence.
The next course for me was Guineafowl with Fennel and Porcini. The poultry was cooked perfectly, I wish the bird portion was a little larger so I could taste the flavors better.
Lamb Cheek and Tongue with Aubergine (eggplant) and Black Garlic was to follow. I thought the garlic puree was outstanding.
The final savory dish was Wildebest Fillet, Wild Grains and Rainbow Carrots. The filet was seared perfectly but the dish was just average in flavor.
For dessert, we enjoyed the Madagascan Chocolate with Cape Lemon and the Baobab, Coconut and Caramel.
Overall, “The Tasting Room” was a great experience but, many dishes felt a little like a science experiment for us. I do appreciate the food art experience.
With an early airport departure and a wake up call at 4:00 a.m. — I was ready to head to Zimbabwe for our first safari experience. See next blog for safari!