Regional food specialties
- A Trip to the Heart of South Africa's Wine Country
Back from the trip of a lifetime which included a few stops in South Africa. The first of which was a safari that you can read about HERE. Our other stops on this trip were Cape Town and Stellenbosch. Seeing as how South African Wine Country was only an hour (or less) ride from Cape Town it made total sense to visit the area while we were there. There's a few different valleys with towns known for their terrific vineyards and fantastic restaurants but we needed to choose just one. We ended up picking Stellenbosch over Franschhoek for the simple fact that there seemed to be more going on.
South Africa Wine Country
More going on meant more places to choose from. In comparison to California's Wine Country you could say that Stellenbosch is more like Sonoma while Franschhoek is more like Napa. The comparisons don't end there as I was very much reminded of Sonoma County while in Stellenboch. Wherever it is one chooses to stay in these parts I'm pretty confident they'll have a wonderful time no matter which area they choose. South African Wine Country as a whole is absolutely breathtaking with views as good as anywhere.
Of course the wine is also pretty great. They've been smashing grapes here going back some 300 years. Today there's over 300 vineyards in the region. Leading up to this I had very little appreciation of good wine as I usually opt for a cocktail or a cold brew. But this trip without a doubt made me appreciate wine a whole bunch more. An unplanned trip to Paris to end the Honeymoon also helped. Haha. Upon arrival which was on a Saturday we decided to check out one of the areas popular Saturday Markets.
We visited the Slow Market which is billed as the choice for local gourmands. While food is the focal point at most of these markets they're not limited to just to that. You can expect to come across wine tastings, art, furniture etc. Of course we were there for food and munched on some prawn samosas, a Tunisian Chicken Wrap, as well as a bunch of samplers.
Locally Made Cheese
We ended up buying some terrific locally produced meats and cheese for our room at the hotel and also some homemade chutney's and pepper pastes to bring to our kitchen back home.
Locally Made Sausage
The whole idea of these Saturday markets is to have a good time with friends and or family so the vibe was a very happy one. It didn't hurt that the weather was wonderful, the wine was abundant, and the food options were endless. These Saturday Markets aren't limited to just Stellenbosch. They can be found throughout Cape Town and the rest of the Western Cape area.
Warwick Wine Estate
Not wanting to overeat at the market we gathered our driver and headed over to the Warwick Wine Estate where we had a picnic reservation. These picnics are a popular form of lunch at most all of the vineyards where they also have kitchens. On the weekends it's a popular way for friends and families to mingle around in some beautiful surroundings.
View from the picnic
Each spot is different as far as what's in the baskets but the idea is you pre-order a picnic and they put it together for you so that's it's waiting upon your arrival. Then you enjoy it with some wine somewhere peaceful on the property. We liked what we got which included but was not limited to some grilled chicken salad, couscous, cheeses, spreads with some wonderful bread. A great way to spend a few hours of your day. Max Relax is easy in these parts.
Picnic Box upon delivery
Picnic upon opening
We hired a driver to take us from Cape Town to Stellenbosch though Uber is easily used in both spots. It's also ridiculously cheap as are personal drivers. Having our driver for another hour or so we decided to go do the tasting at Tokara. The property itself was a bit more modern than most of the other vineyards while the wine was wonderful. Expect a packed house on the weekends as it's a very popular stop on the trail. As mentioned I know very little about wine but this trip made me appreciate it a whole bunch more.
View from the Tokara Tasting Room
Post-tasting it was getting to be around the time we wanted to arrive. We chose the Clouds Estate as our resting place. The pictures made it seem like the type of place you want to hang out at all day so we were eager to make use of the property and more specifically the pool on what was a very hot day.
Just like on the safari this was a place we never wanted to leave. In hindsight I should've gave the go on three days in the area as it would've been nice to further explore the valley. It was our goal to get to at least five vineyards so we found ourselves moving around most of the time. But we did manage to squeeze some chilling in there too so it was most certainly relaxing. The service at the hotel was fantastic. We loved the fact it was both small and modern while being situated in one of the most scenic areas of the region.
View from the Room
I made reservations for dinner on our first night at the Delaire Graff Restaurant. It sits on the Delaire Graff Estate property which was located directly next door to Clouds Estate. While the menu didn't sing to me the fact it was next door just made it seem like the easy thing to do for a late dinner. They drove us over in a golf cart and we were there within 5 minutes.
Delaire Graff Restaurant
The Delaire Graff Estate is probably the most highly regarded hotel in the region. On top of their flagship restaurant they also have another restaurant called Indochine. I settled on keeping our reservation at Delaire Graff while hoping to visit Indochine the following night. My minor qualm with Delaire Graff was the menu didn't seem all that inspiring and unfortunately our meal didn't taste inspired either. There were lots of spots in SA that seemed stuck in the 90's. The menu here screamed 'I love the 90's' as much as any of them.
Complimentary Bread Tray
Usually I wouldn't bother with discussing the bread but it might've been the best part of the meal. The bread-making skills in this area are top shelf with lots of bakeries churning out a fantastic product. Also pretty good was an amuse-bouche. I forget exactly what it was although it was reminiscent of arancini.
Continuing on we hadn't had many oysters up to this point and the waiter rec'd a fresh batch from about 45 mins away so we got a half dozen of them. These too could've been considered the best bite of the meal. Super fresh.
In hindsight it was the entrees that just didn't do it for us. She had the line fish of the day while I had a plate offering beef in a few different forms. I never did take a pic of the menu so I can't describe these exactly but what I do remember is not being all that impressed.
Line Fish of the Day
She didn't like the fish dish at all and I thought my beef four ways was pretty bland. The mushroom sausage was good but the short rib and shredded beef inside the arancini concoction lacked moisture.
Beef Four Ways
An order of Truffle-Parmesan chips aka fries might've saved the meal. Never seen fries served with a soft boiled egg but now I hope I see more of this. Paired with some aioli these fresh cut spuds were a treat.
Truffle and Parmesan Chips, Aioli and Soft Boiled Egg
I made the mistake of thinking we could just waltz over to Indochine the following day which was a Sunday and the day many restaurants in the area are closed (dumb). Unfortunately they were booked so we never got to try it. I dont think the fact it was nominated (1 of 20) for 2016 South Africa Restaurant of the Year helped much. Their East Asian inspired menu seemed more exciting and apparently others agree. So while it was nice to get a mini tour of the property I wouldn't rush back to eat at their namesake restaurant. But as far as where we ate lunch the next day, that's a different story.
As stated many restaurants (like 3/4) close on Sunday's. This doesn't make any sense to me but it is what it is. I'd had my eye on the Jordan Restaurant at the Jordan Wine Estate but it too is closed on Sunday's though that's just for dinner. So I snatched up a lunch reservation a few months before we went. It's located in what could be considered a corner of the region as theres not much else near there. Still I highly rec this stop for both food and also a wine tasting. I thought their wines were the best of the trip and many of the experts agree as they rank very well.
Jordan Restaurant is led by Chef George Jardine who's pretty well known on this side of the globe. He has a more upscale place opening soon. But in the meantime I highly suggest a reservation here should you ever be in the area.
Complimentary Bread Starter
The lunch menu is a set price and includes your selection of an item off each the appetizers, entree, and dessert. There were a total of about four options in each category and the menu changes daily. As soon as our starters came out we knew it was on.
Mussels in a Bag
Steamed Saldanha Bay Mussels "papillote" with lemongrass, coconut milk, chili, lime, ginger, garlic
She went with the mussels which I got to try and they were wonderful. As plump a product as I can remember. I tried a tortellini dish that I wasn't sure whether or not I should hang up on my wall or eat it. This was art in every sense. Not just looks but also flavor.
Smoked Fisantekraal Trout Tortellini, pea veloute, spring onion, organic beets, and fresh crudities
Entrees were as good as the apps. Heck probably better. Line Fish is the term used in SA for the fresh catch of the day. Jordan Restaurant was featuring East Coast Hake on this day as well as an aged sirloin, baked heirloom eggplant, and also a plate of springbok which is what I got. She got the hake.
Pan Roasted East Coast Hake, lightly curried quinoa, fried calamari, compressed cucumber, yogurt
We shared an order of fries as a side with our entrees. All of the "gourmet" stops on this trip had fries on their menu and all of them were well done. Both figuratively and literally as they really know how to crisp them up perfectly over there.
Crispy Handcut Fries
The springbok was the best cooked piece of meat on this trip. It was more tender then venison and like everything else it was dressed beautifully in terms of both presentation and flavor. Dessert was our choice of locally produced cheeses from the cheese room. An A++ lunch that at 932 Rand ($67) was also a bargain. This is with the tasting for two and four glasses of wine with lunch.
Nori Dusted Springbok loin, garlic roasted pakchoi, fried shimeji, miso and soy glazed young turnips
While Ubering to Jordan we hit it off with our wonderful driver who volunteered to wait for us as she thought it would be hard to get an uber back. Maybe not hard but it might've took some time. Stellenbosch is very spread out for the most part. She ended up rushing us over to a 300+ year old estate so we could do another wine tasting. She also ended up being our driver back to Cape Town and then again on our last day including a trip to the airport.
Aside from trying some wines we also wanted to see the Rustenberg Estate. It's been around since 1682 with the first known sale of wine from the property being in 1692. So they say it was a bottle of brandy. We arrived maybe 20 minutes before closing but they were happy to have us. The people of SA are very welcoming and always seemed genuinely happy to have you visiting. The wine was good but the estate itself was the real reason to come here. Enjoying some wine and walking around the property was a very pleasant experience.
Sights from the Estate (click pics to enlarge)
Since this was near the end of our trip we were starting to hit a wall. After lounging around at the pool and watching the sun go down it was time to decide what we wanted to do. We had a reservation and decided to keep it despite the ride being about 20 minutes away. Ubers are damn cheap so it doesn't matter. No sense in driving here if you're going to indulge on adult grape juice.
Babel is a restaurant on the Babylonstoren property. The latter of which is another highly regarded hotel in the area. I too dates back to the late 1600's. To this day it's a full fledged working Cape Dutch Farm. Babel gets as much of it's ingredients as they can from the various gardens on the property. It sits in an old cow shed that was redesigned into a beautiful restaurant. Menu is small. With most of the entrees being grilled over wood we thought it'd be good.
A hyper local offering of fresh picked fruits and vegetables was an Amuse-bouche. We immediately moved onto our entrees as the fact this place was so far out there had us worried about catching an uber back on a Sun. night. Our driver there said we'd have a hard time finding one so we rushed our order in. I suggest visiting this property while it's still light out. It gets dark when the sun goes down.
Sticky Miso Marinated Baby Chicken with Spicy Apple Kimchi
Order up. She was sick of fish and decided to try the chicken which was a wise choice. As mentioned they do some real deal grilling. I should've listened to the waitress who rec'd the grilled lamb chops which is what everyone seemed to be ordering. My fish dish was good but I suddenly wanted the lamb after seeing orders go by after the fact.
Yellow Snapper with Romanesco Sauce and Blackened Crispy Rice
On our last day in town we only had a few hours before a lunch reservation back in Cape Town. So we WhatsApp'd with the Uber driver we met and notified her of the time we had to be there. The hope was to get to three vineyards on the way out but we only ended up at two. The first of which came on rec from my cousins boyfriend who's on his way to master sommelier status.
The first stop was Stark-Condé which was another vineyard situated amongst a most scenic setting. They seemed to specialize in reds and we were preferring the South African whites but none of it really mattered as the backdrop for the tasting was perfect. All we wanted to do was stay in Stellenbosch forever. But we had to make our last stop and go see the ducks before lunch in CT.
Vergenoegd Wine Estate
A while back someone posted a video on social media about these South African vineyard living ducks who pay their rent by eating up much of the pests. I got a laugh out of it and looked it up when we decided to go to South Africa. Turns out it was in Stellenbosch. If time permitted it was on my list and as it turned it out we passed the estate on the ride in which meant we'd do the same on the ride out. We stopped for a tasting and more importantly the viewing of the ducks.
Ducks on Parade
Vergenoegd Wine Estate gathers up the ducks two times a day and directs them to a part of the vineyard where pest control is crucial. Watching them get rounded up and then directed towards the pests was worth the stop. When they turn that final corner they get MOVING. You can check out an Instagram video I took HERE.
The story behind the 900+ Indian Runner Ducks
Thus ends our two day stay. As I said in the beginning we left wishing we had another day as both the area and the place we stayed were wonderful. Serene is the word that comes to mind when asked to describe SA's Wine Country. I have no idea when but I without a doubt plan to be back. When paired with Cape Town it's one of the best 1-2 punches on Planet Earth. See ya next time.
Note: I linked to the website of each place of business mentioned. Feel free to email me if want to use my google maps guide. More to come.