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Myrna Robins

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Restaurants

Posted by on in Restaurants

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They say it does us the world of good to wallow in luxury occasionally. Certainly I woke fresh and raring to go after a great night’s sleep in my inviting, soothing, bedroom, its stylish pastel décor livened by bedside lights doubling as branches of a ‘tree’, upon which lifelike birds perched, and a china hound-dog that kept watch over me from an adjacent desk.

Experiencing DB&B at Leeu House, BAS Singh’s enchanting boutique hotel in Franschhoek’s main road, ticked all the boxes and then some. Getting there stressed and chilly, first pleasure is finding that staff miraculously keep a couple of parking places outside the front gate empty – seemingly always! My car was whisked away while I greeted both Nelson Mandela on the left lawn and Ghandi on the right before going inside to register.

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Spaciousness is usually synonomous with luxury, and certainly my huge bedroom with its sitting area and large bathroom added to the pampered feel as I explored. The cabinet containing crockery, glasses, bar fridge and snacks invited ransacking – for the purposes of reporting, of course! Well, the snacks are mostly frightfully healthy (dried fruit and veggie crisps etc) but I did find a packet of little chocolate –coated biscuit balls to go with my tea. Guests also get a 375ml bottle of both the red and white house wines – BAS white and BAS rooi, both approachable, enjoyable aperitifs.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_Leeu-House-2.JPGI fell in love with the hotel dining area – both inside and out – at first sight,  with its black and white tiled floor and soaring glass conservatory-feel. The other guests dining there were Americans – one couple from North Carolina and the other family party from further north up the coast. As they communicated and discussed the state of the Western Cape roads (good) and Chapmans Peak drive (stupendous) I dithered between a first course of local smoked salmon with brown bread, capers and lemon crème fraîche or  a Waldorf salad. The former won, and I went on to a delectable mushroom risotto seasoned with three-year-aged Parmesan. Other main courses included local fish, chips, peas and tartar sauce, rigatoni topped with Toulouse sausage and tomato ragout or beef and mushroom ragout with roasted carrot mash. As with the savoury courses, there is a choice of four desserts, one being a savoury option of local artisanal cheese and preserves. All in all, delicious cuisine that doesn’t try to be too grand or  gourmet, looks good and tastes even better.

This opinion was confirmed next morning when pondering on the two breakfast menus:  – One was available from the buffet – from croissants and pastries through berries and fruits to double thick yoghurt and honey-roasted nuts. Healthy items like oat granola bars and caramelised coconut were alongside muesli and tea-dried fruits while carnivores could protein-pack with the local charcuterie selection.

The a la carte choices include duck egg Benedict, folded omelettes with Swiss Gruyere and foraged mushrooms and smoked salmon with truffled scrambled eggs. Traditionalists and Scots can start the day with oats, malted sugar and single malt whisky or an old-fashioned pork sausage sandwich and brown sauce, which, I think, may hark back to the chef’s roots…

The previous evening I had walked next door to to visit Le Quartier Francais’s new renovated bar and lounge, which is now a vibrant, contemporary venue, as up to date as tomorrow’s weather. The walls are lined with a rough weave fabric, the roundback chairs sport blue suede upholstery and the long, long bar is fronted with a row of high stools dressed in blue and white. The lighting is dim, but its easy to enjoy the giant prints on some walls of everyday items like a pair of scissors and a bunch of screws. There’s also a cosy side room with nests of sofas for intimate fireside gatherings. Soft background jazz is teamed with black and white photos of the artistes, whether Jozi-style or New Orleans, I am not sure.

Everywhere at these exceptional venues now owned by Mr BAS Singh, the service is, as expected, swift and efficient. But it is also charming, friendly and concerned, with both the genial GM (who doubles up managing both Leeu House and LQF) and the receptionists and restaurant staff coming across as wanting to do their very best to make you happy. In this, they certainly succeeded.

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Why it’s taken me so long to visit this comparatively new Franschhoek estate, established in 2005, I cannot say, but I am glad that I now know more about this inviting former farmstead,  gutted inside to produce interleading spacious areas sheltering under a corrugated iron roof that has seen better days – and is proud of its heritage!

When I arrived midmorning and midweek on a perfect spring day I was  welcomed loudly by a rooster perched on the terrace. No other cars in the parking area, lined by a fragrant lemon orchard, but inside staff were bustling about setting up a food and wine shoot, while outside at the back, the chef seemed to be holding a class with a bunch of staff members.

I explored happily on my own, taking in the spacious indoor restaurant, casual seating area, furnished with plenty of blonde wood and a deli with shelves lined with produce, pates and pickles, jams and more.

I asked for a menu, was given one to take away, and offered a wine tasting, which I declined, as   a long chenin celebration llay ahead of me. The restaurant, named The Kitchen at Maison is headed by chef Arno Janse van Rensburg, who looks very fierce in his photographs, but presents an interesting menu that lists dishes by their ingredients – such as Beetroot, mushroom, turmeric, ginger, tuna and  another of Baby potatoes, nettle, chicken skin and egg yolk. He clearly is into fermenting and pickling, and includes trendy ingredients like kombucha with a dish of suckling pig, parsnip, cashew nut and celeriac. Adventurous palates are required for some of his creations, which range in price from R85 to R145 with a single steak – Angus prime rib – at an eye-watering R450.

Cheese and charcuterie plates make other options and a quartet of desserts, at R75 each, include unexpected combos like dark chocolate, quinoa, citrus, yoghurt and almond.

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I had received the 2014 Maison chardonnay with its trendy label of minimal wording and lots of white space. Maison boasts less than one ha of 11- year -old chardonnay vines, and viticulturist-cum-winemaker Antwan Bondesio has made good use of them in this wine, producing a wooded chard that is elegant, and almost frisky, in spite of its untrendy 14,5% alcohol levels. These are not apparent, however, as the citrus flavours prevail along with whiffs of butterscotch. An enjoyable summer chard, medium-bodied, with subtle oak, that will make an easy-going companion to a variety of salad fare, seafood and poultry, selling at R180.

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The setting is simply superb. From both the terrace and through the wrap-around full-length glass walls of the restaurant, vineyards and pastures roll out below you, bisected by the R60. The Brandwag, Rabiesberg and long line of the Langeberg range frame this inviting hilltop venue, open for some eight months.

Well-situated between Worcester and Robertson , this is an ideal stopping-point; Nuy could not have thought of a better way of celebrating their 50th anniversary.

Paging through the nostalgic and beautifully illustrated Nuy gedenkboek, we read about the cellar’s maiden harvest in 1965, a total of 6 192 tons, made up of Muscadel, Othello, Pontac, Pinotage, Hanepoot, Witsag and Hermitage. While hermitage is today better-known as cinsaut, the latest old-timer to head to trend-topping status, I could not find info on Othello or Witsag.

It it did not take Nuy long to become renowned for the outstanding quality of its soetes – muscadels both red and white, which even today continued to attract awards annually, yet are stil sold at giveaway prices.

As the number of reds and whites continued to increase, Nuy has slotted wines into three ranges. The entry wines, Inspiration, consist of five whites – sauvignon blanc, chenin, chardonnay, colombar and their perennially popular Chant de Nuit a blend of chenin and colombar finished with a little Ferdinand de Lesseps, a table grape. From the reds, my table companion found the 2015 cabernet sauvignon very agreeable, and there is also a shiraz and pinotage which we did not sample. There’s an off-dry sparkling wine made from sauvignon blanc and a semi-sweet bubbly using muscat. The 2015 red and white muscadels complete the range. Prices range from R30 to 47 for the whites, the reds are all R55 and the muscadels R52. The sparkling wines cost R50.

The middle range, called Mastery offered a delightfull, carefully wooded chardonnay, which makes a perfect “winter white” (R85) and a trio of reds , all priced at R103– 2013 pinotage (exceptionally light in colour, characteristic nose, medium bodied, modern and enjoyable), and a cab and shiraz, both 2013.

Nuy’s top range Legacy, leads with their flagship red blend Argilla 2013,(R150) a blend of 62% shiraz, 31% pinotage, finished with cab. Elegance joined by a good backbone, smooth tannins, this will be worth keeping for a few years . We did not try the bubbly, (R150) nor the potstill brandy, but I can vouch for the hugely impressive 50 Vintages Red Muscadel (R165). Matured for three years in small oak, bottled to mark the 50th anniversary, this sophisticated fortified has already attracted double gold from Michelangelo, and 4 and half stars from Platter – worth five I think.

And so, to the food.

When I see a menu as large and varied as Nuy’s I usually find that the cuisine suffers, as few kitchens can cope with such a huge number of dishes . While two of us enjoyed a simple lunch there one Friday, I can report that not only was the restaurant buzzing with happy diners, but also I did not see anyone complain or send back anything but well-cleaned plates. I have not heard a single bad report on the fare at this restaurant from local diners in the Robertson valley – so perhaps this is an exception to the usual rule.

Breakfast offers predictable variations on the bacon and egg theme, plus a salmon rosti and a Nuy Benedict. There’s a a choice of seven burgers, including a Banting burger which replaces the bun with a giant mushroom. The tapas menu is extensive – my companion tried and enjoyed the beef carpaccio, which was a generous offering teamed with shaved parmesan and a balsamic glaze. From the speciality dishes, - pork, battered fish and chicken enchilada – I opted for mushroom soup, and it was a good choice – plentiful, creamy, and well-flavoured and served with toast. There is also an extensive pizza menu prices ranging from R85 to R105, while steaks – fillet and sirloin with a choice of toppings and sauces - start from R115.

By way of contrast the dessert menu is miniscule – cake, spring rolls, waffle with banana caramel, cream or icecream, and icecream with bar one sauce. We tried two of these, again a large serving, predictably rich and satisfying for every sweet tooth. Beverages include a range of milkshakes , and there’s a full liquor licence. Nuy on the hill cocktail (R45) melds peach schnapps, vodka, orange juice and blue curacao. There are four artisanal beers from the Mountain Brewing Co made on the Klipbokkop reserve which seemed a popular choice with diners. A kiddies menu concludes a really astonishing range .

Six years go the Nuy directors handed over 1ha of white and 1ha of red muscadel vines to the cellarworkers who formed the Keerom Landbou Bpk, to develop and cultivate themselves. From their maiden harvest in 2011 their grapes have been rated in outstanding condition. They are delivered to the Nuy cellar and form part of the distinctive 50 Vintages Red Muscadel.

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Health benefits and sensational flavours are two reasons to welcome the current gastronomic craze of fermentation. Myrna Robins gets the lowdown on updates of this ancient technique . This article first appeared in the Cape Argus on July 20 and in The Star the following day.

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Less adventurous palates will no doubt shy away from an offering of fermented black garlic with a “tender, almost jelly-like texture with a consistency similar to a soft dried fruit…” Yet the same diners probably relish their breakfast yoghurt followed by crisp toast, and enjoy fine wine or a good artisanal beer when eating out. All of which have undergone fermentation, which is best defined as a metabolic process that converts sugar to acids, gases or alcohol. It occurs in yeast and bacteria, and also in oxygen-starved muscle cells, as in the case of lactic acid fermentation.

We humans have been busy fermenting our food and drink since the Neolithic age, both for preservation and good health. China, India, Egypt, Babylon (Iraq), Mexico and Sudan are countries where evidence of fermented fare and beverages have been uncovered, the earliest around 7 000 years ago.

Early this year culinary websites were announcing fermentation as one of the hottest trends of the year. And, predictably, South African chefs are not being left behind as they experiment with a range of ingredients that are adding zing to our tastebuds . I contacted a few of the Western Cape’s leading chefs to get their say on the subject.

First stop Franschhoek where executive chef Oliver Cattermole presides over the kitchens of Leeu House, a boutique hotel in the village and the five-star mountainside Leeu estate. At the launch of the latter last month, his luncheon menu included black garlic and smoked miso as accompaniment to braised heirloom carrot, an intriguing mix of bland root vegetable with tingling flavours. Miso, a traditional Japanese seasoning is produced by fermenting soybeans with salt, a particular fungus and other ingredients such as rice or barley.

With an enviable relaxed approach that belies carefully created, utterly delicious five-star cuisine, Cattermole is embracing the new trend comprehensively, as these comments from him prove:

“Jac [his baker] ferments all of his yeast for his breads and sour doughs – we have one that he feeds daily that is nearly three years old. All the chocolate that we use is fermented. We are currently fermenting red onions, slowly turning them translucent, which we use in our butternut lunch dish. We have just started a ferment with walnuts, which should be ready by Christmas. And we are fermenting garlic, both wild and elephant ,which has been ongoing since October last year… about three weeks ago it started to turn black which is the desired effect, and it makes the kitchen smell lekker.”

Down the R45 to the Drakenstein valley and Boschendal estate where chef Christian Campbell has spent months researching and experimenting with fermenting produce traditionally popular in international cuisines. Along with the mammoth task of overseeing all the restaurant menus on this large estate, he sources his produce from the huge organic vegetable and herb garden, which enables him to present seasonal menus which change daily. Fermented lemons feature right now, while Campbell embraces the popular oriental traditions of kimchi, kombucha and kefir on his his signature shared meal platters in the Werf restaurant. He describes these classics for us:

“Kimchi is a national Korean dish consisting of fermented chilli peppers and vegetables, usually… Chinese cabbage, radish, garlic, red pepper, spring onion, ginger, salt and sugar… fermented with red pepper, garlic, ginger and salty fish sauce. …It is rich in vitamins, aids digestionsand may even prevent cancer…. The best tasting kimchi is stored at room temperature for an average of six months to reach its full flavour.

“Kefir is high in nutrients and probiotics and is incredibly beneficial for digestion and gut health… a fermented drink, traditionally made using cow’s or goat’s milk. It is made by adding kefir “grains”– cultures of yeast and lactic acid bacteria… to milk. These multiply and ferment the sugars in the milk, turning it into kefir. All the rage with health addicts, this is considered to be a healthier, more powerful version of yoghurt.”

Readers who shop at pharmacy chains and health shops will have seen bottles of kombucha on the shelves, a fermented drink made with tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast. Kombuch ais a colony of bacteria and yeast which is added to sugar and tea, and left to ferment. The result is rich in vinegar, B vitamins and other compounds.

Campbell also uses fermented black garlic, which he describes as “sweet meets savoury, a perfect mix of molasses-like richness and tangy garlic undertones” and has turned to honey mead, which he describes as “fermented honey and water mixed with herbs and spices.” As one of the original alcoholic drinks of Africa, this is a good choice indeed.

We continue our culinary journey from bountiful Boschendal to the equally aristocratic Delaire Graff estate, off Helshoogte pass. Here pampered guests can choose to go oriental when dining in the Indochine restaurant where chef Virgil Kahn is introducing fermented ingredients with their rich probiotic profile to several dishes on his exotic menu. He had this to say about the hot topic of fermentation:

“On the whole consumers are still nervous to experiment with fermented foods, however they add a wonderful flavour profile to a dish, a natural refreshing zing which I love to experience in a dish. From kimchi to our salt- fermented black garlic, fermented foods are transforming not only the balance of flavours on a plate, but our overall health.”

So there you have it. Back to Chef Campbell for the following list of benefits that probiotics and a good balance of healthy bacteria, found in ferments, afford us: Boost our immune system and lower cholesterol. Reduce allergic reactions to both food and environment. Help reduce intestinal inflammation, prevent constipation, and suppress growth of harmful micro-organisms. And finally they apparently help manufacture K and and B-group vitamins, along with digestive enzymes and essential fatty acids.

Wow! no wonder fermented ingredients and drinks have long been red-hot hot favourites in the East, both with chefs and home cooks. Now that the West has cottoned on, are South Africans making their own versions of kimchi at home, or are our Occidental palates staying with sauerkraut and pickled cucumbers?

Fermentation festivals are taking place, I hear, across the United States in Portland, Oregon, in Massachusetts and in California at Santa Barbara. Perhaps we can look forward to our first South African celebration soon? An event where both the health-conscious and trendoid diner will mingle, palates a-tingle…

 

 

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As the lime-green baby leaves emerge from the pruned vines the original heart of wine production at Buitenverwachting, the old cellar, is being renovated to take on a new and very appropriate role.

This gracious building was first restored in the early 1980’s by Gwen and Gawie Fagan, which was also when the modern wine cellar and restaurant were built on the farm.

But the cellar’s history goes back to the late 18th century, and its likely that wine has been made on the farm since 1769, date which is reflected in the name of its  exceptional Noble Late Harvest.

Recently the cellar has housed the picnic facility, where generations of locals and overseas visitors have booked to savour family lunches on the lawned court enclosing the venerable outbuildings.

Now MD Lars Maack is breathing new life into the cellar, taking it back to a vinous role: A large terrace will seat guests for al fresco wining and dining, and inside a wine bar will cater for those visiting in inclement weather. Part of the cellar will showcase older vintages and present the history of these wines on a story-board. And, to keep the decor trendy, a lounge area will be added where guests can relax in comfort with their choice of vintages and order from a selection of light snack fare.

A large illuminated map illustrating the vineyards anad detailing the various cultivars and soil types, will add further interest.

Those 18th century walls are set enclose a facility where aromas and tastes will be evocative of the days when berries were brought in for crushing, and new wine gurgled in old oak barrels.

                                        

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