In response to the growing support for the Die Vine Intervention wine tasting podcasts I conduct with the legendary Michael Olivier, ZA Confidential is expanding its coverage to include more writing about food, wine and lifestyle issues.
We will continue to comment on business matters, but will do less day-to-day writing on routine events, concentrating on the big stuff.
In the spirit of this new approach, here are a few reflections on a recent gastronomic meander in the Cape….
I flew to the Cape and back with SAA, as I had some Voyager miles to redeem. I have no complaints about the flights as such, but am sure that the airport taxes I was charged on top of my redeemed miles – in the order of R1 500 – could in themselves have funded a return flight on a cheaper airline. The sooner someone investigates this loyalty scheme, the better.
My mates at BMW lent me a sporty set of wheels for the trip, and I could not believe the power of the car. I was able to effortlessly overtake and had to control myself to drive safely. I also received a number of admiring glances, which is something that rarely happens in my own battered vehicle. On returning home, I had become so used to the power of the BMW that I genuinely thought the hand brake was still on when I set off in my own car.
In an effort to enjoy drinking without the risk of driving, I used the phone app Uber for the first time, and found it efficient, and far more affordable than I believe many traditional taxi services are.
Warwick Wine Estate
I had a couple of memorable drinks on the terrace at Warwick, sitting under the trees. One day I just worked on my own while sipping their Platter 5* Cabernet Franc. I later had a session with my chum David Bullard, cheekily ordering a bottle of Black Lady for us. Warwick offers classy picnics, but I favoured the lighter tapas-style menu of cold cuts and other nibbles. Absolutely delicious, even though a sour note was hit when I asked if I could order some tapas and received a sneering response: “We don’t serve tapas.” The rest of the staff in the tasting room were excellent, attentive, knowledgeable and delightful. I also managed to catch up with Warwick owner Mike Ratcliffe who is one of the most absorbing and eloquent ambassadors for Cape Wine. If you have time for only one visit to a Cape wine estate, I would urge you to head for Warwick.
Pendock Wine Gallery
Wander into the CT Taj hotel and you will find somewhere which offers tastings of some of the lesser known wines, but that is no bad thing. Neil Pendock is well known for his outspoken wine writing, which I appreciate in an environment where far too many food and wine writers have no objectivity, little knowledge, and are happy to recommend the awful. In return for? I wish I knew! I tasted some delicious and impressive wines, with a great welcome from Neil’s team. They also hold a number of special events. If only every hotel in SA showed the same commitment to promoting our wines!
I stayed in the CT Taj, and really enjoyed my stay, during which I was hosted by the hotel for one of my nights and given dinnner. It is comfortable and elegant, has excellent valet parking and very good breakfasts, which include some authentic Indian breakfast offerings for those who may find bacon and egg a bit dull. The only black mark came when a room service order was messed up, a sin compounded by the awful cheese platter with plastic and tasteless cheeses. I did raise this with the management and hope it will be sorted. The hotel has an enjoyable Indian restaurant, where I ate twice in the evening, really appreciating the food and the service. Not cheap, but a distinct improvement on one of the neighbouring Indian restaurants which is in slow decline.
The Franchhoek outlet of celebrity chef Reuben Riffel is a firm favourite of mine, and I ate there several times on my recent trip, enjoying both lunch and dinner. I am concerned that Reuben is stretching himself too thinly with several restaurants and frequent travel and TV work, but I remained impressed with his original outlet. My only upset came with a starter on my final visit – of a tempura scallop and prawn dish, which had become my new favourite, as it is the best starter I have ever eaten in SA. On this one occasion, though, the prawns were overcooked and spoilt the dish, but to the restaurant’s credit I was not charged for it. I was also suspicious when one of the wine specials, being served by the glass, tasted nothing like the identical wine I had enjoyed on previous visits. I hope this was a mix-up and nothing more sinister. As always the welcome was warm, and the service professional and efficient.
Chef Franck Dangereux’ Foodbarn was a delight, made more so by the company of M. and Mme. Olivier. I ate the best lamb I have tried this century, had some superb wine thanks to Michael’s unique expertise, and delighted in a venue which is as impressive as it is unpretentious. This was my first time there, although I have tasted Franck’s magic in the past, and I will certainly be back.
The Black Sheep
I first visited the Black Sheep in February and really enjoyed a first class meal. Really superb. This return visit was not quite as good, as a few of us ordered steaks which were not well cooked. This was soon forgotten, however, when the cheese platter arrived. Quite simply, this was a knockout selection of ravishing cheeses – all local. Why on earth do so many other establishments serve up plastic shit when this quality of food can be sourced, albeit with a bit of trouble? Maybe they just don’t care as much as the team at the Black Sheep?
Having escaped Belgium after serving an 18 year sentence, I have always avoided Den Anker at the Waterfront, worried it would just be a tourist trap for wandering Belgians. More fool me. It was a hot lunchtime when I went, and we sat indoors, eating surprisingly good food and downing cool, refreshing Belgian beers. Those diners who chose to sit outside were turning red as I watched them, and I would certainly return in the evening if I wished to eat outside, or would sit indoors again on a warm day. But boy, what a pleasant surprise to find a popular restaurant in that location that is so much more than a tourist trap! Some very good Belgian dishes in a magical setting.
I remember visiting Fairview before it became so commercial, when I was the only one in the tasting room. These days the masses arrive by the coachload. However, I still enjoy lunches in the Goatshed restaurant there, with a superb selection of the farm’s wines, which can be ordered by the bottle or glass, brilliant bread and cheese, and an array of other delights. The salmon gravalax was inspiring, the coffee excellent, so this is far more than just a wine and cheese hangout. I rarely travel home with wine, except on those foolish occasions when I drive to and from the Cape, but I always pick up a few bottles of Fairview Olive Oil. And I remain impressed by the range and quality of their wine. I would just stay away at the height of the tourist season, when the crowds can overwhelm.
So. That is a rather personal summary of a delightful fortnight break in the Cape. I won’t dwell on the seafront walks, the delights of strolling through Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, the majestic drives through the Winelands. But I will guess how much a gastronomic meander of the same top quality would have cost me in London, Sydney or NY. A hell of a lot more.