My big eat in the winelands

Tuesday, 1 January, 2013
Graham Howe

Looking back on 2012, Graham Howe picks the highlights of the food and wine circuit which showcased food and wine tourism in Cape Town and the winelands.

The winelands won an impressive seven places in the annual 2012 Eat Out Top 10 Awards. Four cellar-door restaurants - Jordan (#3), Overture at Hidden Valley (#4), Rust en Vrede (#5) and Terroir (#9) at Kleine Zalze - won hotly contested spots in the new Top 10, confirming Stellenbosch’s new role as the culinary epicentre of South Africa. The three other wineland restaurants in the Top 10 are The Tasting Room (#2: Margot Janse also won 2012 Eat Out chef of the year) in Franschhoek, La Colombe (#7) at Constantia Uitsig and The Greenhouse (#8) in the Constantia Wine Valley.

The Cape winelands have come of age as a global gastronomic destination over the last decade. The synergy of food and wine is the essence of wine tourism. On the outside looking in, five more wineland restaurants won nominations in the Eat Out Top 20 - Babel, Delaire Graff, Makaron at Majeka House, Pierneef á La Motte and Tokara. South Africa’s top chefs have made their mark in the winelands - namely George Jardine (Jordan), Bertus Basson (Overture), Michael Broughton (Terroir), Christiaan Campbell (Delaire Graff), Chris Erasmus (Pierneef), Richard Carstens (Tokara), Margot Janse (Tasting Room) and Matthew Gordon (Harvest at Laborie).

I sampled world-class fare at many Top 20 Restaurants during 2012 in my ninth year as a reviewer for Eat Out, reaching a personal milestone of over 500 reviews for the authoritative guide. I was also a judge on the novel interactive Klink Awards launched in 2012 by Monika Elias of Wine Tourism South Africa. Thousands of consumers voted online for a different line-up to Eat Out in fourteen categories: Haute Cabrière won the “Beyond Expectations” award for great food and value; Harvest at Laborie won the “Comfort Zone” award for best bistro on a wine farm; Pierneef á La Motte won the “Gourmand Award” for Best Restaurant; Creation won “Best Food and Wine Pairing” and Fairview won the “Delicious Deli” ward for Best Deli on a Wine Farm.

The twelve-course gourmand menu at The Test Kitchen - winner of Eat Out 2012 Restaurant of the Year and a new South African entry at #74 in The World’s 100 Best Restaurants - was the highlight of my big eat out in 2012. Ex- Eat Out chef of the year Luke Dale-Roberts matches the Cape’s top wines to his amazing compositions on degustation menus which showcase the art of food and wine pairings. Luke’s creations capture the zeitgeist of global gastronomy - the focus on provenance, foraging for salty sea, earthy forest and farm ingredients, cutting-edge technique, wonderful combinations, umami flavours and a playful culinary aesthetic.  

We were enthralled by a “bitter walk through the citrus groves” - a “touchy-feely” dish of citrus leaves, frozen mandarin with Campari and orange jelly - served in a wicker basket under a bell jar which releases a frosty mist while the waiter sprays mandarin essence around your table! Bravo! Or a deconstructed Caprese and Waldorf salads. Next the amazing salty essence of the sea in a slow clam and oyster extraction with green tea pasta - and the earthy, forest flavours of organic sweet potatoes with shortrib, roasted bone marrow, eringi mushrooms and porcini dust. The wine pairings were sublime - from Eben’s Sequillo and Raats’ Red Jasper to Paul Cluver Riesling.  

More memorable highlights of late 2012 were the long lunches at Bistrot Bizerca in its sunny new courtyard venue in Heritage Square (in the old Caveau/HQ premises). Chef Laurent Deslandes of Bizerca - an Eat Out Top 20 nomination in 2012 and winner of best bistro in 2011 - prepared some of the tastiest dishes I’ve tasted outside of France. We tasted a superb bouillabaisse and salmon gravlax in soy and ginger at the launch of Saffrone Cinsaut Blanc de Noir 2012 and Antebellum Chenin Blanc 2012 from Mount Abora/Meerhof in the Swartland. And at the launch of Allée Bleue’s new Walker Bay Brut MCC and Sauvignon Blanc 2012, chef served white asparagus, broad bean and fennel salad, prawn gallette tempura and pork belly (caramelised with L’Amour Toujours, the winery’s red flagship). Yum yum.

Wine launches and tastings in Cape Town generally draw a bigger media crowd than down on the farm as any good public relations agency knows. Yet the brand always shines brighter at source close to the cellar and vineyards where the wine is nurtured. Quite the conundrum. Two highlights on the city food and wine circuit during 2012 were the Bouchard Finlayson Pinot Noir vertical and Woolworths Paul Cluver range launch at Auslese. Aubergine chef-patron Chef Harald Bresselschmidt, the king of food and wine pairings in South Africa, wowed the critics with a matching menu of salmon trout (Ferrocrete Riesling 2012), guinea fowl gelée (Paul Cluver Riesling 2005), seared marlin with porcini risotto (PC Pinot Noir 2000), rare ostrich (PC Cabernet Franc 2007) and fruit gratin with rhubarb sorbet (PC Gewürztraminer 2005).       

Moving into the winelands, lunch at Delaire Graff - another Eat Out Top 20 2012 nomination - was another highlight of my big eat and drink in 2012. Acclaimed chef Christiaan Campbell rose to the launch of Laurence Graff Reserve 2009 (R1650 per bottle), the cellar’s new red flagship with a menu which expressed his philosophy of using only fresh, seasonal produce and organic, free-range fare. Chef’s focus on the natural, pure flavours and textures of ingredients on a minimalist plate showed in inspired pairings of goats milk with lemon confit and almond cream (Delaire Graff Sauvignon Blanc and Coastal Cuvée 2012), octopus and lobster with broad beans (DG Semillon/SB Reserve 2012) and  slow cooked lamb shoulder (LG Reserve 2009).

Yet another highlight of 2012 was lunch at Diemersdal Farm Eatery in the Durbanville Wine Valley, the newest cellar-door restaurant in the winelands opened in November 2012. Headed up by master chef Nic van Wyk (ex Terroir and La Colombe), the new venture is set in the old stables of the Louw’s sixth generation farm. Whether you take a table in the long room or on the terrace with a vineyard view, the wine list showcases Diemersdal signature Sauvignon Blanc and reds at no mark-up - an example for other cellars on how to promote your wine brand at the cellar door. We shared a gourmet tapas platter (fabulous with chilled Grenache)- fish brandade (fritters), pork belly and prawn trinchado skewers, pulled lamb shoulder with white bean and truffle cream, pickled beans, farm artichokes and baby leeks, and wild rocket salad. A seriously good-value menu with a Mediterranean accent tempts with French classics like steak béarnaise and frites - or hake in a Basque crust.  
On my big eat in 2012 I also enjoyed wonderful fare from fine dining to country kitchens at the cellar-door at Bistro sixteen82 at Steenberg, Cuvée at Simonsig, De Grendel and Diemersdal (two stunning new restaurants in the Durbanville Wine Valley), Fraai Uitzicht, Harvest at Laborie, Haute Cabrière, Pierneef á la Motte, The Red Leaf Restaurant at Beyerskloof, Terroir, Tokara, Waterkloof and 96 Winery Road. You can read my reviews on - see the art of tasting menus at cellar door (news) and brand synergy at cellar door (news)

See | Graham Howe has been a reviewer for Eat Out for nine years - and is a judge for the new Klink Awards: see