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Myrna Robins

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Restaurants

Posted by on in Restaurants

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Given how rapidly the upper half of Franschhoek is changing, it is as well that we get a quarterly newsletter from  Nicolette Waterford to keep us up to date. As autumn gives way to winter and the number of upcountry and international visitors diminishes, the time is ripe for locals to reclaim the village and its many culinary and vinous attractions. We are also more likely to find place to park and contemplate the magnificent scenery at our leisure, can overnight in luxurious comfort and wander down the main road the next morning, as aromas of croissants baking drift on the crisp air.

Thanks to the Leeu Collection guests can take their tastebuds a lot further than local and Gallic fare: Tuk Tuk – the popular watering hole for tailor-made brews - has just launched a new menu at its Taqueria, consisting of small snack items which make ideal accompaniments to the beers produced at the Microbrewery, unique to Franschhoek. The snack fare consists of chimichangas and croquettes while the taco selection – think corn fajitas, game fish tostadas, burritos and chicken burger – will appeal to carnivores and vegetarians alike. There is also an irresistible dessert choice based on classic Mexican and Tex-Mex favourites. Enjoy all this seven days a week from 11am onwards.

There is also a special offer of accommodation at Leeu House and the magnificent estate hotel for families staying a minimum of two nights, that is valid from now for a whole year, with exception of the period Christmas to end of February 2019. This could make a breakaway for adults and children as memorable as any destination across the planet. And that’s a personal recommendation!

For more info, see www.leeucollection.com

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There are very few who do not enjoy riding the rails and many who claim that train  is by far the best way to travel. The experience of rattling along in carriages, especially when pulled by a proper steam engine, is an experience both unique and nostalgic, so that many visitors, local and international, mourned the passing of rail transport to Franschhoek.

The station, however, stayed intact and was maintained , not like other forlorn deserted stations across the South African platteland. Occasionally trips were organised to farms along the line – I remember one, in particular, a splendid journey to Bellingham to mark, I think, both a wine launch and the restoration of the old farmstead.

When doing research for my Franschhoek Food cookbook nearly a decade ago, there was talk of reviving the rail link shared by several farms along the R45 – while nothing has come of that  there was great excitement some five years ago when the Franschhoek Wine Tram service was launched, taking guests on a short journey on rails in a 32-seater open-sided tram which stopped at two wine estates in the village. Brainchild of the Blyth family, who no doubt spent many frustrating hours dealing with the logistics of their venture, from bureaucracy downwards, their vision and persistence are worthy of thunderous applause!

The tram proved to be an instant success, offering local and international visitors a fun way to travel that was adventurous, but less hazardous than tasting wine on horseback.

Earlier this month, the Blyth family and GM Brett Garner hosted officials,  media and  visitors to the new Franschhoek Wine Tram Double Deck trams, at Groot Drakenstein station. The service now embraces some 22 wine farms, spanning the valley’s wine route. Travellers can spend between 30 and 60 minutes on board as part of a full day R220 wine tour which extends as far as Vrede en Lust in Simondium.

From the wine tram website, we learn that a combo of tram and tram-bus transports passengers around a loop of stops. They can choose to hop on and hop off for wine tastings, cellar tours, lunch or just stroll through the vineyards.There are six hop-on hop-off routes to choose from, each visiting eight wine estates in different parts of the beauteous valley, while a narrative covers the history of the valley and its wine.

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As Western Cape Minister of Economic Opportunities Alan Winde remarked   in his launch address, this new expanded service will allow more than 120 000 guests to enjoy the trip in the current tourist season.

Just another good reason to make sure that the stupendous Franschhoek valley is on every traveller’s must-do itinerary this summer and autumn.

See www.winetram.co.za.  For more information  call Brett Garner on 27(0)83  260 0453.

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As I write this the ever-expanding rock – and green – outdoor festival Rocking the Daisies in is full swing near Darling. Not only is this becoming an international event, as claimed by the organisers, but this year’s events caused ructions in the academic world as UCT students requested being excused for exams as they had booked tickets for the fest.  In our era we would have probably been carted off to psychiatrists if we’d tried that one on...

But I digress. A couple of weeks ago I spent a few days with my family in Darling, just ahead of their annual flower festival which marked its centenary this year. While we missed this impressive milestone. we were in good time to wander among fields  of daisies in pastel hues in the tranquil Tienie Versfeld reserve as the bulbs were poking up stems with the promise of blooms to come. Rolling hills  of canola made a golden backdrop.

Darling town is laidback and hospitable, rustic but efficient when it comes to meeting visitor needs. We had booked for a matinee of Adapt or Fly at Evita se Perron, it was a magical hour that finished with the promise of Uys impersonating Julius Malema next time around – I can hardly wait. We spent a happy half hour at Darling Sweet – along with a sizable group of enthusiastic customers – sampling the irresistible toffees produced by the Hentie van der Merwe and Frits van Ryneveld’s staff in a glassed-off section of the shop. This is a success story based on hard work, good marketing and fail-proof recipes for both confectionery and human resources: In a handsome Edwardian building , once the home of Darling’s General Dealer, the partners’ sweet production is in full swing on one side, while on the other free samples of their considerable range of toffees and toffee spreads invite tasting. Then choices are made, and the till rings constantly as happy customers leave clutching their goodies. The enterprise has provided employment for 20 locals, has become a must-see destination on  the tourist itinerary, and, best of all, these handmade toffees contain no artificial flavourings, or colorants and cont no preservatirves. What, I asked Fritz, do you use for the fat ingredient? Butter, of course, only butter” came the answer. I am hooked!

We went to sample local artisanal beer and agreeable fare at a evening show in the industrial area, and by way of contrast, joined an elegant midday wine and olive tasting at Ormonde farm Their recently released NJB sauvignon blanc 2017, only available from the farm is a tribute to a former patriarch and is a classy, if fairly pricy, wine.

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For me, a highlight was a visit to The Darling Wine Shop, the little emporium of well-known négociant Charles Withington, and stocked with a delicious mélange of vinous delights. I was sorry that the owner was not there, having met him previously years ago, but as we left the shop, he and his wife Janet arrived. As it was closing time, there was little time to talk, but we have since corresponded on email, while savouring two of Withington’s wines, which I have reviewed separately. See WITHINGTON DUO – Winning wines of Darling

We ordered takeout pizza, and ambled through streets lined with both Victorian and Edwardian homes, - gentle, unshowy architecture in keeping with the atmosphere prevailing in the town. When the international sophistication of glamorous wineland destinations threatens to overwhelm, turn tail and head for Darling, an inexpensive and soothing remedy presided over by real people. As a bonus, you may discover some fine wines.

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As Heritage month heads to a climax with the public holiday - and a long weekend to boot – we know that millions of South Africans will be lighting braai fires across the nine provinces as the recent tradition of combining heritage with a National Braai Day as been enthusiastically adopted.

Round many a fire family, friends and cooks will be clutching glasses of good Cape wine – both to celebrate the occasion and to accompany the brunch, lunch or supper feast sizzling over the coals.

Some of our cellars have established a heritage legacy through their history, having been in existence for more than 300 years. Others have done so through their products, that have become renowned as wines with a long tradition. Nuy Winery falls into the latter class, having produced fine muscadels since their inception in 1963. Hardly a year passes without these fortified dessert wines being rated as best in the country, both white and red. Former cellarmaster Wilhelm Linde (1971 – 2003 is widely credited with being responsible for the impressive increase in quality of muscadel at Nuy, something that present cellarmaster Christo Pienaar upholds and carries forward.

This month muscadel fans can invest in a case of of Nuy muscadel wines with five year intervals between vintages from 1991 to 2016 along with a 2006 white muscadel. Only 15 of these heritage cases will be released during September, each packed in a wooden case made for the occasion. This heirloom collection costs R1500.

Meanwhile, Nuy has also been increasing its range of wines from other cultivars over the last couple of decades, and one of these, the Mastery range has acquired a sauvignon blanc 2017, just released in time for spring flings. Moderate alcohol levels at just over 13, the back label uses Afrikaans to describe the wine as presenting tropical fruit aromas followed by a combination of fruit on the palate and having a long finish. I found the nose quite shy, but the palate full and fruity with a silkiness that lingered. Mixed fruit, yes, with a little passionfruit and lime, balanced by the freshness of youth and no searing acidity.  Slips down agreeably, both as a aperitif and a companion to a range of summer fare/

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A group of us from the McGregor Heritage society recently lunched at the Nuy hilltop restaurant and I’m pleased to report it's maintaining its well-deserved reputation for both cuisine and service, although the prices have risen. (What hasn’t, I hear you mutter).

 

Earlier this year cellarmaster Christo Pienaar was elected the new chairman of the SA National Wine Show Association, replacing Charles Hopkins who retired after a five-year stint. Pienaar is well qualified to take over, and has been actively involved in the Association for more than a decade.

 

All in all Nuy’s tasting centre and bistro, with its panoramic views, provides both an outlet for some notable wines and spirits, and offers a delectable oasis in the gastronomic desert that exists on the R60 between Worcester and Rooiberg.

 

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There can be few landscapes more evocative of the rural Cape than that of Val du Charron – the iconic gabled farmstead, the whitewashed ringmuur, orchards and vines all set in an exquisite valley edged with mountain ranges.

Nicely named to encompass Wellington’s earlier name - Valley of the Wagonmakers -  while adding a Gallic tribute to the Huguenot founders, the beautiful 45ha Val du Charron is in the Bovlei,  in itself a district worth visiting for beauty, history, hospitality and good wine.

Just over a decade ago the Entwistle family bought the neglected fruit farm, first registered at the close of the 17th century, and set about restoring it. Once again English settlers have joined Afrikaners in this region, confirming a pattern that has been developing over the last few decades with beneficial, even synergetic,  results.

 

Val du Charron is today a renowned destination offering a choice of luxurious accommodation, fine fare and some fascinating wines. The farm acquired estate status some five years ago and today  produces two wine ranges, the Val du Charron Reserve, comprising chardonnay, pinot gris, shiraz and  cab, while their Theatre of Wine presents a trio of blends.

Catherine Entwistle sent me a pair of blends, plus the 2017 pinot gris from the reserve range.  Pinot Gris is an uncommon cultivar at the Cape, consisting of just .35% of the Cape vineyard area. I have found some previous examples rather characterless, so was keen to see what Bovlei terroir produced. This one is pleasing without overwhelming, crisp and fresh,  offering sufficient fruit, both citrus and melon, along with  discernible structure and with moderate 13% alcohol levels. A portion of the harvest from the eight-year-old vines was barrel fermented which no doubt helps account for fullness and good mouthfeel. Cellar door price is R89.

 My favourite wines of the moment are chenin-led blends, so it did not take me long to unscrew Four White Legs, a 2015 vintage comprising 38% chenin blanc, 28% pinot gris, 18% roussanne and 16% viognier. In a word – delicious! From its complex nose combining stone fruit with vanilla to wafts of flavour on the palate, fruit, cream  and honey, full-bodied but retaining freshness.  Fourie harvested the components over two and half months, and matured a portion of each in French oak, mostly second fill, for eight months. Alcohol levels at 14% are a little high for today’s tastes, but at R59 from the farm, I certainly would not let that detract me from a great buy.

This is also a chenin blend with a delightful  story behind its unusual name which is  spelled out on the back label  - suffice it to reveal that the four legs are those of a horse.

The tale behind the Black Countess red blend is also printed on the back label – this involves a British remittance man from Wellington  who met the daughter of a freed slave in the Northern Cape. The couple settled in Wellington and in 1883 the man, Harry Grey inherited the title of Earl of Stamford and his wife became the Countess. They stayed in this country, undertaking the building of schools and uplifting the poor.

The wine is a shiraz-led blend finished with 21% mourvèdre and 5% grenache. Medium-bodied, well-rounded with berry flavours alongside some herbiness, the oak adding a dash of vanilla.  French and American oak were used for 12 months maturation. Alcohol levels just over 14% and the farm price is R99.

Val du Charron also produces a merlot, malbec and other red blends.

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