THE soaring mountains and dramatic sweeping valleys of the Western Cape have bestowed upon the region what have to be the most striking winelands on the planet – and then there is the food.
Over the past decade there has been a gastronomic revolution that would suggest Cape cuisine is up there with the best in the world – both the Tasting Room at Le Quartier Francais in Franschhoek and The Test Kitchen in Cape Town are included in the San Pellegrino list of the top 100 restaurants in the world, and I shall name almost a dozen more that are, in my view, their equal.
It has taken a while, but the Western Cape is now making the most of its produce and its indigenous creative zeal.
My mission was to travel through a significant part of the winelands – from Cape Town, to Stellenbosch, to Franschhoek, to the Swartland – to find the best of the best.
START at Luke Dale-Roberts’s The Test Kitchen (021) 447-2337; thetestkitchen.co.za – it’s the hot Cape Town ticket, so you will have to book well ahead.
The decor gives it an industrial workshop feel – bare wood, stone floors and exposed steel piping everywhere, and an open kitchen.
Innovative dishes, many with strong nouvelle Asian cuisine influences and/or classical French references, draw on fresh South African ingredients. Try the scallops, pork belly or pan-seared springbok, which are all outstanding.
Easier to get into, cheaper and less formal is The Pot Luck Club – (021) 447-0804; thepotluckclub.co.za – Dale-Roberts’s other restaurant at the Biscuit Mill in Cape Town. It is on the top of the building, has a great atmosphere and serves excellent food.
A few miles from The Test Kitchen, just around Table Mountain, is Constantia.
The best restaurant here is Greenhouse – (021) 794-2137 – collectionmcgrath.com – in the Cellars Hohenort Hotel at 43 Brommersvlei Road, where executive chef Peter Templehoff’s elegant 45-seater offers cutting-edge cuisine with an emphasis on local ingredients.
Liveried waiters deliver duck and porcini pastille and slow-roasted crispy duck with honey ginger jus. Lobster sandwich, miso and sesame macaroons and goat’s cheese cupcakes lead you to slow-cooked Karoo lamb chops and coconut-crusted lamb heart.
Close to Cape Town is Noordhoek, a coastal suburb some 32km from the city and the location of Cape Point vineyards, where Duncan Savage makes international award-winning wines.
Nearby is the Foodbarn – (021) 789-1390; foodbarn.co.za – where chef Franck Dangereux serves up a Cape version of French country cuisine as well as outstanding tapas. In the summer, well worth visiting is the Thursday market which takes place on the slopes of Cape Point vineyards, a giant picnic featuring wines from the estate and food from local producers. The view overlooking the 8km-long Kommetjie beach alone is worth the trip.
THIS university town 48km from Cape Town is at the heart of the country’s wine industry.
In the Blaauwklippen Valley just outside the village is Waterford – (021) 880-0496; waterfordestate.co.za – one of the most tourist-friendly wine estates.
Cellar master Kevin Arnold not only makes marvellous wines (the flagship Jem, the Library Collection blends) but also leads vineyard safaris through the estate and conducts chocolate and wine tastings at the winery.
Nearby is one of the great characters of the Cape winelands: Jan Boland Coetzee, former Springbok rugby hard man and brilliant wine-maker.
His Vriesenhof Estate – (021) 880- -0284; vriesenhof.co.za – is on the south-facing slope of the Stellenbosch mountain – and his pinot noir is worth the journey alone. The 2011 grenache is also worth tasting.
Two of the best restaurants, and two outstanding wineries requires you drive to the Helshoogte Pass in the Stellenbosch area.
Delaire Graff – (021) 885-8160; delaire.co.za – was bought in 2003 by the diamond billionaire Laurence Graff and over the past 10 years has been transformed into a wine estate, a five-star boutique hotel with spa, a burgeoning art collection and two restaurants.
The main one provides spectacular views of the Simonsberg mountains to go with lunch on the terrace, described as “bistro chic” and featuring estate-grown ingredients. The farmed kabeljou is delicious.
However, I would recommend dinner at the property’s small, discreet Asian restaurant Indochine, where a five-course chef’s selection includes delicious tuna tataki and Thai tom yum khaa.
Across the road from Delaire Graff is Tokara – (021) 885-2550; tokararestaurant.co.za – an estate owned by one of South Africa’s wealthiest men, the banker
Although chef Richard Carstens has a penchant for Franco-Asian fusion, the dishes are somewhat elBulli-ish in their deconstructive creativity.
Try his beef tartar and sashimi with katsuoboshi, sorbet, daikon, tomato and red pepper dashi as a starter, and move on to the baked Alaska with rainbow trout as a main or springbok with carrot purée, peaches and curry jus.
DOWN the other side of the Helshoogte Pass, you enter the Franschhoek Valley – one of the Cape’s top tourist attractions.
The most famous restaurant is The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Francais – (021) 876-2151; lqf.co.za – whose chef, Margot Janse, is the godmother of the new Cape cuisine.
Janse’s food is a celebration of indigenous South African ingredients. Dishes such as salted farmed kabeljou and confit suckling pig with fynbos caramel provide a startling gastronomic adventure.
Others in Franschhoek include Foliage – (021) 876-2328; foliage.co.za – opened by Chris Erasmus, a Margot Janse protégé.
For lunch I recommend Bread & Wine – (021 876-4004; breadandwine@ moreson.co.za – on the Moreson Estate, where the chef is Neil Jewell, a transplanted Englishman known as Mr Charcuterie in the Franschhoek Valley. His wagyu bresaola and biltong and mouth-watering cauliflower cheese risotto are triumphs.
While in Franschhoek it would be remiss not to visit Anthonij Rupert Wines (021) 874-9041; rupertwines.com – the most beautiful winery in the area, with two tasting rooms and great views of the Franschhoek Valley and the Groot Drakenstein Mountains.
THE hippie/wannabe astronaut winemakers north of Stellenbosch are regarded as the hottest new thing in the Cape.
If you stay in Riebeek Kasteel you will find wines from the “Big Three” estates (the Sadie family, the Badenhorst family, and Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines) at Wine Kollective – (022) 448-1008 in the square. Base yourself at The Royal Hotel (022) 448-1378; royalinriebeek.co.za. — The Daily Telegraph