All posts by Jo

Wine and Dine at The Planet, Mount Nelson

I’ve been trying to get us to one of the Wine and Dine evenings at the Mount Nelson for a while now – a once-a-month event where a 7 course wine and food pairing is designed around the wine. The idea is: select a set of wines – linked by cultivar or area – ours was the Constantia wine region – and then invent foods that go with it. This is done by Chef Rudy Liebenberg of the Planet restaurant, and the whole thing comes in at a very reasonable (for fine dining) cost of R395 per person.This ties in with why I have so long tried to do this with the Salty Crackerees and failed – when I get around to booking my dinner, generally no more than a week in advance, this function is reliably sold out. So the last time I called them (in June) and got turned down, I booked November there and then – four months in advance!

A word of warning – and a poor start to the experience: About a week before the actual event I got a very alarming email from them, saying that I have ignored their first email, have not paid the 100% deposit in advance, and unless I do so by end of the day, my reservation will be cancelled. This was annoying and poorly handled: I don’t know why I did not get the first email (spam filter ate it?), but following up with a second (final) warning via email as well, if email seems unreliable, is not very useful. If emails are not being answered, follow up by phone, please! Also, while I can handle and understand paying 100% in advance (it’s not great but I can deal with it), I think this is the sort of thing that should be clearly spelt out when making the reservation, not a week before. Whinge, complain, etc.

Moving on to the good things: wine. There is lots of it, lots and lotsedy lots. No nouvelle portions, no skimping, lots. The evening starts with drinks, where the winemakers have tasting stations and you can try three types of wine as many times as you possibly want. That is a fun way to get into the evening. The wines themselves were mostly great, although they tended to sauvignons, which are not my favourite white. But, you can chat to the winemakers and basically enjoy a very nice wine tasting. The drinks were served in one of the function rooms inside the hotel, next to the Planet, which was slightly unfortunate since the last time I was in that room I was telling a bunch of payroll practitioners all about pension reform, so the whole thing started feeling eerily like a conference. Other Crakeroos seemed to have a similar feeling, despite lack of prior experience, so I think the shape and carpeting level of the room are somehow to blame. I believe that on warmer evenings, the drinks are served by the fountain outside, which would be much more atmospheric.

The other strange part of this session was discovering that the other diners were in general much older than us – often the case, but the shimmer of blue hair was slightly more prominent this time around. It must the the Mount Nelson clientèle in general – again adding to that feeling that one is at a conference or function. Not bad, but a little weird.

The drinks were also individually paired with foods: the beginning of the actual problem with the evening. The food was generally lovely; the food/wine pairings were generally completely off. The three, fairly similar, whites – two sauvignons and a viogner – were paired with a roast lamb, a smoked crocodile, and a tom yum soup respectively. Nothing of this worked in any way – dry, light, grassy wines with rich food. When I approached one of the winetasting stations to get my mini-bowl of tom yum soup and glass of sauvignon, the winemaker _strongly_ encouraged me to have some wine first, because the soup was way too strong and I would not be able to taste the wine at all afterwards. Ouch! So it wasn’t just me…

After drinks, we moved into the actual restaurant for the meal. The Planet has thematically appropriate decor, with crystal stars, planetoid glass globes and a star-map carpet that caused Eckie and I to simultaneously exclaim “Star Control!”. It’s just like the game map. The effect is rather cute, although someone, somewhere must me able to tell me what it is with hotels and the need for carpeting… The seventies called, they want their rugs back.

The meal followed the pattern established by the pre-dinner drinks: ample alcohol with frequent, generous refills; good to excellent food very poorly matched to the wine; the continued feeling that you are gatecrashing a 50th anniversary function, with speeches (the chef, the winemakers, the sommelier) and that coordinated delivery of each course normally only observed at weddings. Whoosh, starter! Whoosh, main course! Whoosh!

Over the course of the speeches we did find out that Rudy (sporting a disturbingly fluffy moustache which was hopefully attributable to Movember) was overseas while the menu was designed, and while he endorsed and approved of his staff’s choices, he did not actually make up the food himself. This may be the reason for the food/wine disagreements we experienced, and could be a good justification to try this again another time.

The food itself, for those interested, was as follows:

Prawn and tomato salad with avocado and tomato vinagraitte (Steenberg Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2011) – tasty but slightly meek – no wow factor

Oxtail and ox tongue terrine, crisp fried bone marrow, bean salsa (Buitenverwachting Christine, 2002) – the undisputed winner of the evening, both the terrine, which was delectable and well complemented by the beans, and the wine (note the year!) which was deep, rich and wonderful.

Kabeljou fish cake, sweetcorn, fennel and oyster veloute (Steenberg Semillon, 2011) – I cannot recall much about this dish

Pork Belly, smoked potato, white mushroom puree (Eagles Nest Vereaux, 2009) – The pork belly was wonderful, and the flavours of the sides really worked. Unfortunately, the Eagles Nest wines are just not very good, and could not keep pace with the food, and especially not with the other wines – after having the Christine two courses earlier, this was painfully apparent.

Gruyere, healey’s creme, lightly pickled squash (Eagles Nest Shiraz 2009) – Another poor wine, cannot recall the food.

Coconut sponge, lemon and line parfait, macerated fruits (Buitenverwachting Brut) – that was a lovely desert, very fresh, great mix of sweet and sour flavours, really intense – we just could not make the wine work with it, particularly after drinking all those heavy reds just before.

This was followed by tea and coffee. Careful counting suggests that the pre-dinner snack is one of the courses (to get to seven), but quantity of anything is not the issue with this evening. We hope that the wine pairing was off due to absence of chef, and will not recur. We had a fine time, but compared to our gold standard (Overture, which we had the fortune of going to two days later), the Planet does not live up.

The table 1

The Table at De Meye

I’m all fascinated by this trend to serve just one meal. We cook it, you eat it. It seems to fit in with my musings on how difficult is must be to run a restaurant with a big menu – how do you know how much of what to buy? How do you know whether everything is still fresh? How do you decide what to order and how sad are you when the other people are eating something tastier? all this makes me warm and fuzzy at the thought of a single, set menu, which is what The Table does. REALLY WELL.

Their system is thus: only open for lunch on Saturday and Sunday. Devise a mouth-watering menu and publish it on your website a week in advance. Take advance bookings and require a 50% upfront deposit (to discourage last minute cancellations).  When people arrive, feed them wonderful, food served on big help-yourself-there’s-more-in-the-kitchen platters from which the whole table dishes up and stuffs themselves. all ingredients are fresh, locally sourced and everything seems to be made in-house, down to the marmalade and the bread. And for drinking, all the De Meye wines are available at a tiny mark up from cellar prices – lovely and very reasonable.

We booked for Saturday 28 July and turned out to be the only guests there (which seems an unusual thing and appears correlated to the rugbies or whatever sport seems to be happening right now) (in fact it seems that for the next 2 weeks they are not open on Saturday to account for this). We loved being there by ourselves though. The place is beautiful, and the weather was perfect, chill in the air but sunny and bright. Our menu was wonderful – have a look – I absolutely stuffed myself and we didn’t manage to finish everything. It was rich, warm, fresh and delicious winter food. I loved the pork belly and the duck pate, but ended up stuffed on carrots, cabbage and marmalade, they were so good.

After main course, we went for a walk waddle around to create the requisite space for the chocolate cake. We basked in the sun and generally fell about until they asked if we wanted some blankets, and proceeded to serve us desert on the lawn under the trees in sheer bucolic trance. I felt like I was in a Hollywood Indian Summer montage, complete with lens-flares and overexposure. Oh, and the cake was good too.

Heaven. Please go there. Lots.

IMG_0476

La Boheme Review

Gah. Our visit to La Boheme is receding in the rear-view mirror, with no review to show for it. Bad Salty-Crackerer, no biscuit.

I chose La Boheme because I was looking for that Bistro vibe – friendly, bustling, tasty, generous. La Boheme is all that, and, should I forget to actually say that, heartily recommended: Go There. Eat Things. It will Be Good.

The long time that’s passed in some ways helps bring into focus what stood out the most: the staff. Service with an attitude, a big mouth, a sense of humour and a firm set of opinions. Service with enough chutzpah to keep us with the rowdy cracker bunch, and give us a run for our money. This does not mean it was perfect – I vaguely recall moments when we would have liked to get the waitress to our table but could not find her – but given the large personality and great investment in our meal that we got the rest of the time, this was totally forgiveable.

Another stand out was the wine – it’s a wine bar, so after some deliberation we left our own wines in the car (wine-bars sometimes get a bit huffy about bringing your own). I remember the wine list being large but navigable, and struck on the Satyricon from La Vierge on the grounds that it sounded cool. It’s an extremely lovely blend of strange foreign grapes with a naughty label, and when we got home we phoned our local wine store and bought a case of it, that’s how good it was. It’s drinking extremely well right now, and now, and again just now.

The food is a mixture of tapas, starters and mains, and I believe there was some sort of special combo deal that we probably ignored as usual. The menu is chalkboard and apparently changes often; here is a snap of what we were faced with:

We had the tapas for starters: the chorizo in red wine, the white anchovies, gnocci with roasted tomatos and the honey-glazed little ribs. All absolutely mouth-wateringly good, with the white anchovies (milder than the little black ones, and bigger, lovely flavour) and the gnocci the stand outs. Everything was fresh, rich, and beautifully balanced, excellent start to the meal.

We followed up with mains – unfortunately, these came from a third blackboard (yes, there were more blackboards!) which we got no pic of and which, curse the passage of time and the death of little braincells, I do not remember very much of. I know I had the duck: done in an Asian vibe, with fine noodles and a sweet sauce. It was nice, but I do recall being terribly jealous of everyone else’s food, so there it is: everything else was BETTER than Asian duck. Nums. The portions were extremely generous, it must be noted, and we really felt that we got excellent value for money.

Last note on the atmosphere: La Boheme and Bruxia have essentially merged into what is quite a large restaurant, and on a Friday it hustles and bustles and can get a tad loud. Let’s say the cracker team in full guaffing swing was not stared at by other diners trying to have a quiet meal – quite the reverse, at times. The concensus around the table was “loudish, but not in a bad way” as I recall.

OK, drum roll:

Bistro 1682

Due to a scheduling car-wreck, I ended up with a lunch slot for the August Cracker (it was that or have August Cracker in mid September…). Bistro 1682, where I have only been for breakfast until then, is not open for dinner, so it was the perfect opportunity and there we went.

Bistro 1682 is a beautiful beautiful place, all modern and tall and shiny and splendid. The glass-fruit chandelier in the bar and the awesome “alien creatures grazing” statues on the grounds of the Steenberg estate are notable standouts. It was a sunny day but just a smidgen too cold to actually sit outside, which is a pity as they have great outside – shallow pools and geometry.

Their winelist is quite reasonable is you stick to their own stuff, so we had sparkles to start (as we meant to carry on). The menu is a mix of fine cuisine and lunchtime favourites (the steak roll with fries next to veal sous vide, that sort of thing. Starters I remember in this time-delayed review are Eckhart’s beef tataki, the white risotto, and the fish brandade. The tatake is kind of a signature dish – when they took part in Taste of Cape Town, the recipe was published in a magazine and I have it cut out at home. It is fantastic. I chose the risotto which was delicate but did not quite hit the spot – the trouble was tasting everyone else’s meal and spoiling my palette, I suspect! Jess and Stv had the fish brandade which they enjoyed, as I recall.

I chose the veal sous vide from the impossible menu – so many options, all sounding too good. It was probably the weakest choice. Jess’s pork belly with asian, sweet and sour flavours was brilliant and unusual, Eckie’s steak and chip roll looked divine. Steve’s charcuterie was impressive but the flavours weren’t quite different enough and the truffle sauce had a slightly odd texture, like cold mashed potato.

Either their portions are small (but they really are not) or because it was lunchtime and we stretched the meal out more, we all, for a change, had desert. There was something with a chocolate nemesis and cherry jelly, and another with toffee themed things (that was mine). I found the deserts a little too bitty and nouveau – too many tiny portions of various flavours, rather than an indulgent composition in itself. But desert, so not my thing.

The service was lovely – a waiter with a sense of humour, always good. They did forget to make Steve’s charcuterie which was a problem  it took only 5 minutes to prepare but that’s 5 minutes of him sitting hungry while our food arrived (no, we didn’t wait… we did feed him though!).

Nanobots: 111!!!!eleven/10

La Mouette

This was not our first time at La Mouette (well, not for all of us), but it was first time with Salty Cracker. We had discovered it last year just after they opened, and have been there before. Basically, extremely highly recommended place: excellent food, excellent value for money. Double excellent in May: they are running a two for one special that gives you 6 courses, normally a very reasonable R240 per person, at R240 for two people. You can’t get better than that, and the portions are very generous to boot.

I will digress briefly and slightly contradict myself. Latest discovery about self: despite years of training and hard work, a tasting menu is too much for me. I must face facts. We have had a number of opportunities to test this recently and it’s all coming together. Last month at Overture, we tried the tasting menu (8 courses, tiny). Then, for a hen party, the 6 course menu at Myoga (excellent range of options, really good value). And now 6 courses at La Mouette. In all cases, I am experiencing two problems:

1. It’s too much food to be able to enjoy all the flavours. Towards the end, I’m saturated.

2. I miss out on reading the menu properly and thinking about the flavours and combinations. In two of the above (La Mouette and Overture), the tasting menu is fixed – no choices. That’s not a problem in terms of variety or getting something you don’t like – it’s all good – but it does mean I don’t look at the menu with a serious and discerning eye. I think that removes some of the fun of anticipation and appreciation of the more trace ingredients.

So anyway, I think I’ll be sticking to a la carte for the foreseeable future. But back to La Mouette, because despite the rant above, that was a fine dining experience. The restaurant is set in a wonderful old house in Sea Point (right at the end of Main Road, near Shoprite). The decor is rich and baroque, and there was a roaring log fire that meant I went from toasty to I-need-to-go-outside-to-get-some-air (I was really close to the fire).

The staff is friendly, they bring tap water without any hassle (this seems to be the norm now, bottled water be damned), and generally looked after us very well. I had a half a victory: the set desert was the warm chocolate profiterole, but I hinted that I would have liked to try their gin-and-tonic desert, and they said no problem! When it came to desert, they brought me the profiterole though, and I was too full and tired to object. It was, in any case, magnificent (the almond icecream was nougaty and devine), so I squeezed it in, at which point the waiter apologised and wanted to bring me the ginantonic, and I had to say no. Self preservation. Anyway, mistake gracefully handled.

Ok, the set menu is here. Particular stand outs are their croquettes (they are famous for these things, wonderful cheesy little lovebites); the roast fish and risotto – brilliant, warm flavours, well combined; and the desert was just heavenly. The warm pimms-themed first course is more like a tiny palate cleanser, but all other five courses are full sized, armed and dangerous. The pork belly is perfectly done and rich, and the onion soup is creamy and cheesy. There is no getting off easy.

Oh, one final word of warning – skip the wine pairing. It’s relatively pricey (R180), the wines are nice but not brilliant, the portions are sufficient but not large. All of the pairings are white except for the pork belly’s match. I’d recommend a nice bottle of chardonnay for the meal and perhaps a glass of Merlot for the pork, it will be fine.

Scores:

Atmosphere: 8/10 (did I mention the table of blondes? It’s probably not a permanent feature, but the big function room table just in front of us was taken up by impossible number of impossible leggy blondes. Very distracting. Very mysterious. This does not affect the rating though. )

Staff: 8/10 (helpful, friendly, mistake made but fixed)

Service: 8/10

Food: 8/10 (brilliant but heavy going – proper winter food)

Value for money: 11/10. I’m not kidding.

Food Barn

Ayiee, it has been way too long, and my knuckles need rapping.

I took the crew to Noordhoek, to finally try the Foodbarn, which is done by that guy who did that thing (guy – Franck Dangereux*, thing = La Colombe). The idea is that it’s wonderful food in a comfortable environment, a little less pretentious than the high-food places but not compromising on quality. On the whole, they succeed beautifully and it was a lovely outing.

The setting is brilliant – I’d like to go back for lunch to have a better feel. The little farm village is quaint, there are few streetlights on the way there (almost missed that turn), and the barn itself (and it is a barn, very nicely converted) is beautifully decorated (I liked the fake-window mirrors, and spoons in windows. I think.). There is an upstairs area, where we were seated, up a very narrow staircase that gives credit to the waiters.

The service was great – chatty, informal, helpful and interesting. If a little too busy – the restaurant was full and sometimes it was difficult to find our waitress who did the whole upstairs area by herself. But she was very nice when found, and overall a good experience on the service.

The food is interesting. They have at least 2 menus – the a la carte and the Bistro (there is also a Degustation menu none of tried) . The Bistro is a set price menu with a number of courses for a fixed price (R185 for 3 courses if memory serves) which is a fantastic price. I had that, while everyone else had the a la carte. This created a strange discrepancy on the table – a lot of the Bistro dishes were almost exactly the same as the a la carte ones, but slightly smaller and lacking one or two ingredients (prawns, or truffles). They both worked, and I see the point of the smaller courses (I had room for desert), but I did feel like a poor cousin a little and would recommend everyone does one menu or the other together to avoid this subtle feeling of discrimination.

The food was excellent – I had:

Fresh fish tartare with lemon and chives, served on avo pulp with aioli, finished with minute fried curried calamari
Rack of  lamb roasted in a mustard and bread crust, served with a tomato and olive tart “Tatin” , finished with a rich garlic jus
and something for desert that I have unfortunately forgotten (or they’ve changed the menu since none of the options on the website look familiar).
The fish was wonderful, very fresh and interesting flavours. The “grown up” a la carte version had extra prawns, which weren’t necessary in my view, but I didn’t get to taste Eckie’s so may be wrong! The lamb was nice – the truffle version on the other menu was much better (Jess had that) and Steve’s steak was also nice, but in the end I felt there was too much “brown gravy” type of tastes in the mains and not enough distinctive flavours.
On the whole, I really like the place. Will definitely go back. Worth exploring the Bistro menu but don’t let others show you up with the a la carte. Lunch needs to be tried. On the negative side, a little too busy and while the flavours are lovely, I was missing that spark of genius that combines unexpected flavours into taste explosions (TM) – but that is setting the bar very high.
Atmosphere: 8/10 (would be 9/10 if it were slightly less busy/crowded)
Staff: 9/10 (intelligent, informed, friendly)
Service: 6/10 (lovely and friendly but need one or two more!)
Food: 8/10 (excellent)
Value for money: 9/10 for the bistro, 7/10 for the a la carte.

*Dangereux? really? Life’s not fair when other people have such awesome names.

95 Keerom

Oh dear, it has been a while. So far back that I only have general impressions left and few specifics. I will do my best, anyway.

The general feeling was positive – good ambiance, good service, good food. However, it was priced like an Overture but really was more of an upmarket Italian/steak place and not quite as inventive as I expected. More detail:

Food: *faint memories*… there was meat, and there was things-with-sauce. The meat was not outstanding – it was good but not brilliant, and not good enough to be the “speciality of the house”. The things-with-sauce – Pork, I think, and was it springbok or osso buco? Or springbok osso buco. It was very very good, in a home-cooked goodness kind of way (large portions, rich sauces), which is slightly out of kilt with the ver’ posh vibe, but that’s no reason for complaint. The carpaccios (which have their own section of the menu) were good, but not amazing, and the steak tartare, which I can’t resist, was not as good as I like it – the balance of condiments was not right.

Service: Excellent if occasionally slightly scarce. The bread basket at start was really interesting with all sorts of different home-baked things. Service highlight: Deliberating over desert, some of the party eventually ordered (yummy) things, and the waiter turned to me. “Nothing for me”, I said, until he turned away and was walking off. “Wait!” I called. “A SPOON.” He nearly keeled over giggling. I like cracking waiters up.

Ambiance: Lovely decor, very pleasant, light and modern. All works together.

Value for money: Slightly too pricey for its offering. Only one bottle of corkage allowed – but communicated nicely so we let it slip.

Altogether: It was nice, but won’t become a regular.

Food: 7

Ambiance: 8

Service: 8

Value for money: 6

Sloppy Sam

I wanted a comfy, homey, snuggly vibe, with no sign of pretentiousness and giant portions. Check. Sloppy Sam’s is all those things, delivered with a mediterranean flair and plenty of lamb. Lamb, lamb, wonderful lamb, rolled with garlic on kebab sticks (Jess and Stv), slowly braised into melting goodness (EL), its ribs crisped with garlic and lemon (next time, next time) or in an iraqui abgusht stew with dried limes (yet another visit needed).  Defiantly, I had calamari, which were lemony-sour, garlicky and awesome.

Food is simple, large and tasty, with beautiful flavours and the minimum of fuss. For starters, it was various culturally-appropriate things, which were very good: tsatsiki (nice but not outstanding), pickled calamari (not nearly as rubbery as all that but still kind of rubbery), deep fried crispy sardines (I have a deep fried fondness for deep fried sardines, they are wonderful), and a tomato, red onion and anchovy salad that was tasty but a little too simple for the price.

Service was friendly, casual but attentive, very good.

The venue is lovely and belies the name – nothing sloppy about this creatively decorated space. Lots of food paraphernalia (tins, bottles, vegetables, things) strung out all over the place, backed by warm paint tones and an open kitchen. Only complaint: we were seated in the window and the curtain of fairy lights made it hot hot hot. Bonus on window seating: the building across the road has really awesome coloured lights which we spent most of the night figuring out.

Overall: great place, great experience. Yay! Also, chalk up 1 to me for restraint, of alcoholic* kind, and actually driving to salty cracker for a change. Jo: 1, Stv: 37. She edges in. She’s getting there.

Atmosphere: 8 / 10 (target: mediterranean relaxation. Mission: accomplished.)
Staff: 8 / 10 (friendly, relaxed, attentive)
Service: 8 / 10 (see: atmosphere)
Food: 7 / 10 (simple but hits the spot)
Value for money: 9 / 10. (that means good, i.e. cheap :))

*Full disclosure: Drinking copiously at lunch and being unable to face much more alcohol may have had something to do with it.

Bread and Wine

Bread and Wine, at Moreson Wine Estate near Franschhoek, do not take the N2, allow 45 minutes for driving. Minimum. But. Worth it.

B&W has a lovely, shaded courtyard perfect for lunch. When we arrived, it was a little too shady, what with the evil clouds and all. The inside is very nice too, though, giant ostentatious chandeliers in otherwise down to earth, barn-type venue. Bonus points: Watercolours of their favourite menu items on the walls here and there (menu obviously does not change much!). (Edit: They did move us outside when the sun came out resulting in lovely summerly mains under the tree).

They specialise in home-made, cradle-to-the-grave-and-beyond-charcuterie (oh, that one’s not going to be picked up by any food magazines), slaughtered, cured, smoked and otherwise perfected by the chef. We shared a platter for a starter (R95), before the other starters that is. It was lovely and interesting and very munchable. Concensus was that it is entirely insufficient as a main meal though, but then we are piggies after all.

Backtracking, the winelist is lovely and very reasonable, since it is on a wine estate. It is their own wine, but that is not a bad thing – Chardonnay was particularly nice. 3 bottle lunch! New heights, new lows.

Starters – i specifically came back to this place (it was my birthday restaurant last Feb. I think.) because of the risotto, which was a little different this time (peas replaced asparagus, as far as I remember), but still divine. White, truffly risotto, mmhm. Jess’s not-gniocchi (stuffed with yummy green stuff! with yummy green sauce! oh, if any of the ingredients were actually remembered, this would be like a food review!). The menfolk had reddish things: an out of character tomoto-type salady thing Without Any Meat for the EL, and  something auberginy for Stv. Oh dear. I don’t remember any of the stuff! I was eating risotto! It was delectable! It caused temporary other food amnesia! Stv’s was better than Eckie’s, if this helps.

Mains – a polarisation of the table into Ladies’ Pork Bellies and Men’s Gemsbok fillets. Tough one. The bellies were rolled, and very tasty, but we have been overly spoiled by the always different, always amazing, 101 ways to make heavenly things form pig’s stomachs the Overture does, and so the Gemsbok won for me. (Of course I had the marital 50% of it!). Gemsbok had some sort of berry thing going on and was simply divine.

After that, only room for (excellent) truffles and (much needed) coffee, followed by a walk through the winelands and to the river, in which I was successfully discouraged from swimming in. Probably a good thing in hindsight, it was a bit manky, but then what are memories made of if not random bouts of bilharzia? Sigh.

Finally, service: friendly, smiley, helpful, but frequently unwilling to acknowedge the 4-of-July parade acrobatics I had to attempt to get their attentions. I am Sitting Right Here! That’s my Limbs all in the Air! But, for leisurely lunch purposes, it was, you know, leisurely. Came to R1450 with food, wine and generous tip for 4.

Veridict:

  • Atmosphere: 7
  • Staff:6
  • Food: 7
  • Value for money: 7

Overture Review

By common, unchecked consensus, this may be my first choice since the unmentionable purple vegetable related restaurant. Of which we shall not speak. And if it is such, I forgive myself all my brinjally sins! Overture is Redemption!

Overture was on Eat-out’s list of top-10 restuarants of the year, which can or cannot be a good thing. More that that, every single of the 17 people who made comments on eat-out website said things like:

– best restaurant experience ever!

– most wonderful service ever!

– amazingest food ever!

And it was all true.

Overture is at Hidden Valley wine estate, so named because you will u-turn at least once on the way there and there are windy, dark country roads which seem entirely too long to fit into the space on the map where the farm should be. Overture itself is a summery lunch place, which is why we obviously needed to have dinner there in winter*. We got there on time (40 min from cape town) and it was dark, and cold, and unobvious where to go, and did I mention the cold?

This concludes any negatives I may have had, and at this point we get to the restaurant.

We’ll need to go for a summer lunch. It would have the most amazing views – wraparound balcony high up, with vineyards as far as the eye would be able to see, were there light. In winter, the inside is a modern, wood-and-stone-and-metal type building, with warm light and high ceilings and one of those completely open kitchens for additional entertainment.

The staff were lovely. We had 3 people looking after us, which normally is a bad sign (purple! vegetable! alert!) but wasn’t here. I remember most of their names, which is a good sign (thank you Vision and Brenda!), and they were omni-present, very helpful, knowledgeable and had a sense of humour.

Tap-water test: Passed with flying colours. “Would you like some still or sparkling water?” “A big jug of tap water would be nice?” “Certainly, ma’am.” With a smile. And that was it. And the very lovely Brenda ensured water glasses were never empty. Yay!

Bits and pieces: Lovely, warm bread served straight away with olive oil, and every time we were finishing a plate of food, mop up sauce with!. Also, baby marrow mousse/soup taster thingy served straight after ordering to make sure we were never empty-handed. And delicious things they were!

Wine: This is a no-bring-your-own-place (we checked in advance), but they have, beside wine list, a very recomendable food-and-wine pairing thing. Which I recommend. The deal is, their 3, 4 or 5 course menu can be served with matched wine or not. It is unusually reasonable to do the matching thing, and well worth it. It is so reasonable, in fact, that I was expecting the wine portions to be measly, I mean, elegantly restrained. Instead, they were enormously bountiful and very tasty to boot. The idea, I gathered, was to make sure that we always had something to drink. For example, the Chicken Liver Pate and Snails starter dish came with a glass of noble late harvest on the menu, which was delivered ahead of the food, along with an unexpected and unmentioned glass of delicious chardonnay, to “have something to sip on while you wait for the food”. Bliss! And danger to designated drivers, a position from which I was allowed to abdicate half way through the evening with some relief (thank you, Jess!!!).

Now for food: 3, 4 or 5 courses, as said, where all items from the menu are eligible for the deal. So 2 mains followed by 2 deserts and a starter is fine, IF you are insanely hungry and have a couple of spare stomachs to stuff five courses into. Or your name is Landlord, Evil Landlord. (Though he at least had his starter-starter-main-main-desert in the right order.)

The prices are actually very reasonable, ranging from R195 for 3 courses, no wine, to R350 for 5 courses, with ample rivers of wine. We ended up having around 4 courses each, according to a rather complicated matrix:

Course 1:

(All): The kingklip, smoked, with poached egg and a hollandaisy but not really creamy whitey sauce. Paired with Hidden Valley Rose, which is suprising un-rose like (tastes more like a white, which is how I like my Roses). Lovely. Rich. Mope-plate-with-bread-to-hoover-up-the-sauce-y.

Accidental (involuntary muscle twitches!) stealing of last bit of kingklip from Stv’s plate done by me. I am sorry! There is no excuse!!!

Course 2:

(Jo and EL): Snails cooked in red wine with Chicken Liver Pate. Served with a creamy green (why green? I don’t know!) sauce. Paired with aforementioned Late Harvest/Chardonnay duo. Very very rich, but lovely flavours. Snails not tasting snail like, pate very fluffy and light but rich at the same time. This was kind of the theme for the day. More bread. Mop, Mop.

(Jess): Spinach Soup with bread dumplings with cheese inside. Rich and wonderful. With one of the 2 Sauvingnons.

(Stv): Malawian-heritaged fish from Bredarsdorp (local ingredients thing) something like talepi? tamale? Thumbelini? Something of the sort. With risotto bianco and tomato risotto. Surprisingly, my favourite flavour combination for the evening (cue coveting Stv’s dish. Tuck fingers under seat for dining safety). Yum and light and fluffy and all those things. With another Sauvignon, judged even nicer than the Spinach Soupy one.

Some under-the-tablecloth bread trade observed between the Fish and the Spinach Soup. Just saying.

Course 3: (Wondering if we can actually have any more than this, despite firm 4 course plans)

(Jess): Duck. I cannot remember how it was done or what it came with, only the extreme juicy deliciousness of it. Mmmmhmmm… duck…. And it came with the Hidden Valley Merlot, which was dark and berry-y and the wine winner for the evening by universal, glass-sharing concensus.

(All others): Pork Belly. Rolled into a little rolly thing. With root veg. And other things. Emergency systems kicking in, memory closing down to make room for expanded stomach. It was awesome. With HV Pinotage, which was classic and fitting and unfairly pitted against the Merlot. Poor Pinotage.

Course 4: (Tam-da-Dam!)

(EL): Duck, and Merlot, and going (reasonably) strong.

(Jess): Malva pudding with cinnamon ice cream, under protest, shared with Stv in order to ensure survival.

(Jo): Sits this one out. Moans. Holds extremities. Gets teased by waiters about early defeat. Digests furiously..

Course 5: (To the Escape Pods!)

(EL): Slightly pale. Braves Malva Pudding. Shows no appreciation for cinnamon ice cream.

(Stv, Jess): Sensibly avoid any more food. Not even my most excellent desert.

(Jo): I’m having rib-eye steak for desert! My life is complete! The waiters are impressed! (Or horrified. Don’t care.) I may explode, but: Rib eye steak, medium rare, with a thin sliver of rare liver (!) (It works, but not as course 4. Liver spurned for purposes of retaining a little bit of digestive tract.) With lots of tiny mushrooms and deep-fried gnocci (works!). And Shiraz.

*Falls under table*

This, Ladies and Gentlemen, was a Fine Meal.

*Note for winter: it is small inside, and the outside tables are out of the question. So book early. By all accounts, book early in summer too. They are popular. We booked aweek in advance and got lucky, there was a cancellation! (It’s good good good so do it anyway!)