From the winelands to wow, come dine with me

AUBERGINE

If it’s classical and conservative with a guarantee of good food that never goes out of fashion that you are looking for, then Aubergine is a great choice of restaurant in Cape Town. For more than 20 years chef Harald Bresselschmidt has stayed steadfast and true for what he can do. He has been wowing discerning diners from near and far with his timeless, not trendy, cuisine. Here the wine leads the way – chef patron Harald follows his passion for wine first, chooses a selection and then starts crafting a menu to pair with it, perfectly. His well-trained and knowledgeable staff, who seem to be as passionate as he is, take true delight in guiding guests through the menu. We loved the carefully considered pairings, with my stand-out dish being the seafood potpourri, delicately balanced and delicious. My carnivore companion chose the blue wildebeest with tortellini and walnut foam, black trumpet mushroom dust.

No surprises with the décor, it remains traditional. When the seasons change the menu takes full advantage of what is growing in Harald’s garden in Stelllenbosch, so for those who visit Aubergine often, there is always something different to delight their palates.

In Victoria Moore’s ‘The Wine Dine Dictionary’ she calls the aubergine a chameleon ingredient – it can be cooked with uplifting summer accents that make you want to reach for a fragrant white, or cosied up and made so wintry that only a heavy red will do. Trust me, Harald will know what to do with any ingredient!

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FOXCROFT

In December good friends celebrated a milestone anniversary, and I gave them a copy of the JHP Gourmet Guide™ with instructions to choose a restaurant so that we could enjoy a celebratory meal together. Foxcroft was their first choice, so off we set for the early sitting on a balmy Friday evening. Champagne outdoors was followed by an exceptional four-course meal, good value at R495. Our friendly waiter Mike made a good impression, having to artfully interrupt animated catch-up conversation that included meaty debates and lots of laughter. He brought to our table the seared tuna takaki, cured yellowtail, honey-glazed quail, turnip gratin and venison tartare, to loud applause. The chef generously sent an additional course, which I found to be my favourite – the goat’s cheese and fig. The free-range pork with gem squash, charred cabbage and fermented plum was also exceptional. Chef Glen Foxcroft William’s pastry expertise came to the fore in the desserts – both the chocolate and compressed strawberry dishes were works of art, from their visual splendour to the last, lingering flavour.

PAARMAN FOODS

When invited to tour the Paarman Foods factory, I donned my flat shoes, removed my jewels and set off for Diep River to see how my much-admired mentor has developed a global business. I was fortunate to work for Ina, testing recipes and working on her first product, seasoned sea salt, many moons ago, with a student of hers at the Cape Technikon. Pearl Isaacs gave me the guided tour, and at each station handed me over the staff member in charge to explain the products and processes. I was impressed with their passion, the sophistication and standards of the plant, and of course, remain a firm advocate of her product ranges.

CAPE POINT VINEYARDS

Here is a great place to spend a Thursday afternoon in autumn, on the lawns in Noordhoek capturing the setting sun and view over the rim of a glass. The market offers a wide variety of cuisine from oysters to traditional Greek fare, with plenty of choice for vegetarians too. Add some bubbly, beer, or their wines, and you are well on your way to welcoming the weekend in al fresco. It opens at 4.30pm and closes at 8.30pm, so be sure to find your spot early if you want a table, or take a picnic blanket and settle on the lawns overlooking a lake. Bliss…

LA MOUETTE

How delightful to spend a week night sitting in a cosy courtyard experiencing chef Henry Vigar’s talent. La Mouette on the busy strip of Sea Point offers tranquility, and truly good food. Here a six-course dinner costs a palatable R495, with wine pairing R870. After having our appetites whet with a platter of cured sea bass, Malay pickled aubergine and carmelized onion and truffle and cheese croquettes, we moved our way through the menu. Look out for the ostrich with fermented cabbage, a BBQ carrot purée and bolognaise sauce and the smoked pork belly with umami jelly, almonds and a pea and ham velouté. Worth a mention too is the lemon meringue, mascarpone, lemon leaf snow and sorrel. This restaurant, like Aubergine, supports StreetSmart, so why not support them too when next looking for something special?

CAVALLI WINE ESTATE

Taking a day out to enjoy Cavalli and the superlative talents of chef Michael Deg made me feel like I had a holiday. The setting is superb, allow for time to enjoy the art and your surroundings, and be sure to book your table well in advance so that you get prime seats. We did, overlooking the dam and Stellenbosch mountains. Here Michael, formerly chef at Delaire Graff, has truly found his niche, and his cuisine has developed into heart-stopping splendour. I had a catch-up with Michael whilst my date spent a happy half-hour tasting Cavalli wines with a knowledgeable host. Whilst enjoying a glass of their very own bubbles, we were wowed by the bread and the baby beetroot macarons with them. I chose the spiced carrot tartar, a vegan dish recommended by chef, and my date the chilled pea gazpacho, as he remembered having a memorable pea soup at Delaire Graff last winter. This one was with a yoghurt and lemon ice cream, pea salsa and goats cheese. I then savoured the line fish with butter-poached wild prawn, delectable, and my man the free-range oak valley pork belly (sous-vided for 15 hours), which was equally superb. We tried the cauliflower steak, on the menu as a main course option for vegans, with tempura, a cauliflower purée, macadamia nuts, capers and sultanas, and then waxed lyrical. Out of this world. Desserts, too, give one a tough time in terms of decision-making, but at capacity due to all the unforgettable in-betweeners, we narrowed it right down to just one, new on the menu, the watermelon beignet with a coconut meringue and watermelon sorbet. May it stay there long enough for me to return for an eat and repeat!