From the winelands with love

I get very excited before a review. We have so much to be proud of in SA, and the winelands are often the first tick in a visitor’s box when they come to our beautiful country.  When I no longer have that little frisson of anticipation before heading to the winelands for a meal, I will hang up my boots as a gourmet writer…and that is such a long way off.

CAMPHORS 

It was on a chilly, perfect winter Saturday that we set off to Camphors at Vergelegen. Here the camellias bloom in winter, the roses in summer, and the 300-year-old camphor trees statuesque all year, with the talent of chef Michael Cook overshadowing all. His tour menu is a sequence of dishes that expose the true value of the Vergelegen property and surrounds.

After a warm welcome by GM Christo Deyzel, we settled on the patio, admiring the view over a glass. When double-checking our dietary requirements, Michael noted that neither of us enjoy oysters and that we would skip that course. Then he explained it, and, to prevent FOMO, I said we would try it. Let that day be recorded as the day I fell in love with oysters – dehydrated, smoked and shaved over creamy, piquant smoked snoek, served with a tapioca crisp. Ok, so let it now be noted that I only refuse oysters when nothing special has been done to it!

Our meal was nothing short of extraordinary, elevated by attentive service and the opportunity of dining out on Christo’s immense knowledge and passion for wines as he served the award-winning Vergelegen wines with each course. Dishes are orchestrated to enhance the wines, and plated to show guests where the ingredients originate. There were many highlights – the chestnut starter, the atchar-glazed hake with west coast mussels, the pine-roasted quail, and the BBQ quince with yoghurt and ginger!

An afternoon of wandering around the impressive estate completed our epicurean adventure. I quietly mused on their responsible sourcing, minimal wastage, and how all ingredients not picked or pastured on the state are ethically raised and locally sourced. Here they follow the ingredients, as the seasons are unpredictable, holding the integrity of the product dear and having fun. Chefs wander off in the morning to pick the produce, ensuring that they trim don’t rip, to ensure that each plant is left better than when they found it. Respect and provenance at its best. My hot cooking tip extracted from Michael was to fry the roots of an onion, or roast it in its skin and dry before blending to make a pepper.

OVERTURE 

Whilst many only know Bertus Basson from his time on TV, others have for more than a decade been following his success at Overture on the Hidden Valley Wine Estate. What a treat to head there on a week day to enjoy his superlative winelands cuisine and to chat after the soft opening of his new restaurant, Eike, the night before (where everything is truly South African, even the music).

At Overture they have the space for creativity, and the new space is even better than before. Bertus is authentically passionate about all that is South African and agrees that we should stop apologizing for living at the bottom of Africa. “We forget as South Africans how much we have at the southern tip of Africa – forgotten foods like the guava. We love this interesting life at the bottom of this continent. I have South African sun running through my veins, yet we don’t celebrate it enough.” He is clearly inspired by the influence of local, seasonal ingredients and the varying SA cultures. His guava dessert, simple and satisfying, truly pays testament to this belief. Older followers will remember those guava trees that gave us fruit prolifically…

Every day the chefs go to Bertus’s garden at his home in Jamestown and harvest what is ready to be picked. They believe in evolution rather than revolution, and allow the restaurant and its menu to constantly evolve. At Overture nothing is overdone, it is real food, perfectly executed and plated, a superb canvas for what Bertus and his team do. In his words, “Everything we’ve always done is straightforward.”

My dining companion was overawed by her first visit to the Hidden Valley Wine Estate and lunch at Overture. South Africans, you really should get out more…

JORDAN RESTAURANT 

Another week-day treat was lunch at Jordan’s, where chef George Jardine and head chef Kyle Burn keep it simple, yet stunning. Simple, classic flavours are given a good twist, perfected by using good techniques. Here care and consideration create beautiful plates. The menu changes every Tuesday, which Kyle told me is inspired by walks, the forest and foraging – sorrel, chick weed and mushrooms appear on the menu.  Food is flavoursome, and guests are guaranteed to leave feeling satisfied. Know that George’s mussels en papillote, which was taken off menu – now stays due to regulars (and there are many of them) begging for more. Chef Kyle has come into his own – his finesse and respect for ingredients no doubt cemented whilst cooking at Nobu in Dubai for two years, has been further refined working with George. The creative, inspirational interchange obviously works well – whilst George is busy with Restaurant Jardine and opening Seven (his seventh restaurant), Kyle is clearly confident, yet humble, working wonders in this beautiful setting. I love interrogating chefs about their heritage, and his love of cooking, like mine, comes from his mom.

A good reminder that our most memorable meals are those with family, cooked with love?