Wine lifestyle

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Reminiscing is defined as casting one’s mind back or recollecting past events or experiences and it’s something I did with a friend and colleague at a recent book launch held at a Stellenbosch wine farm.

Our collective thoughts turned to precisely what we were experiencing – the South African food and wine lifestyle. What could be more heavenly than drinking superb local wine in stunningly beautiful surroundings with the vines clad in their new spring garb and nibbling on tasty vittles? We both agreed that just a decade or so ago the offerings were rather scant, to put it mildly – whereas now tourists and visitors are truly spoiled for choice.

The annual Eat Out awards are eagerly awaited and the 2014 announcement should be made public within a matter of weeks. No fewer than nine of the Top 20 nominees are either associated with or located on wine farms or to be found in the winelands.

I can remember 15 years or more ago when the options in Stellenbosch comprised De Volkskombuis and De Cameron (both favourites of Dr Anton Rupert), Mama Roma’s, or something decidedly more casual and caféish. If you were in Paarl, you could eat at the Grande Roche or make the most of the cheese on offer at Fairview – while Robertson had Brandewynsdraai and Tulbagh had the froggie-themed Paddagang restaurant. Then 96 Winery Road opened – and so did the floodgates!

The Top 20 nominees are Terroir at Stellenbosch’s Kleine Zalze, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year (Chef Michael Broughton has kept standards high and a staffer revealed that the restaurant is booked up until February); Jordan Restaurant; Tokara, where chef Richard Carstens seems happily settled after four years in harness; and Rust en Vrede, which set the bar particularly high in Chef of the Year David Higgs’ day. Then there’s Makaron, the restaurant at Majeka House, which is also in with a shout.

In Franschhoek, Maison and Môreson’s Bread & Wine carry the torch, as The Restaurant at Newton Johnson does for Walker Bay’s Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, while Waterkloof in Somerset West leverages its eyrie-like perch above False Bay to make the most of the views of the Hottentots Holland mountains which sprawl around.

Add to that the numerous other top-notch restaurant options currently available in the winelands and it is patently obvious that visitors can have a hard time narrowing down their dining options. And there are more casual alternatives too, from relaxed country bistros to picnics.

All of which goes to show that when in a holiday frame of mind, enjoying the beauty of the surrounds and the ever-improving quality of wines in South Africa, people want to just kick back and relax and let the entire atmosphere soak in. That’s where some of the best holiday memories are made – over a table laden with tasty food, much of it local produce, with a glass of wine in hand.

Don’t be surprised if a high proportion of those aforementioned nine Top 20 nominees make it to the final Top 10 because the chefs in charge of the kitchens are unrelenting in their quest for quality. Michael Broughton is delighted to have swopped the cut and thrust of living in Johannesburg for his leafy surrounds and fellow chef George Jardine is happy to concede that being able to look up from plating food to the spectacular vista of Jordan’s dam and the Stellenboschkloof valley makes it all worthwhile.

– Fiona McDonald