Overture Restaurant at Hidden Valley – Restaurant Review – 2nd February 2012

“In music the passions enjoy themselves” says Nietzsche.  “If music be the food of love, play on!” says Shakespeare.  If food is your passion and sheer enjoyment your pleasure, play at Overture, says I.  Yes, I have been quite utterly charmed by the overtures of Overture, the epicurean jewel in the crown of Hidden Valley wine estate in Stellenbosch.  An Eat Out Top 10 restaurant, we dined there recently with some friends from abroad, and what a culinary tour-de-force we enjoyed.

We arrived at Overture on a hot Saturday afternoon, our appetites whetted by a pleasant morning of wine tasting at the gorgeous Stellenbosch estates.  Happily ensconced at the prime table, we took a minute to appreciate our breathtaking surroundings.  Overture is best enjoyed on a fine day – the view is quite spectacular.  A baking landscape pock-marked with irrigated blocks of vines, destined to become the Hidden Valley wines.  The overhead sprays hissed gentle wafts of cold mist, and some ice cold mineral water a l’estate was welcome and refreshing.  There is not much ‘interior’ to speak of, with tables placed in an outdoor, covered courtyard.  Décor and table settings are simple and unassuming, clean and crisp.  It’s feels as if one has walked into an oasis.

Our enthusiastic host and conductor for the day was ushered onto stage by an ice cold bottle of MCC, with which we drank to health, happiness and the menu.  There are several menu options at Overture, and these change regularly.  We all decided to indulge in the eight course tasting menu with wine pairings.

Our first course was salted yellowtail with watermelon, garlic emulsion and watermelon pickle.  This was a dainty plate of food, with the pickled watermelon skin a particularly original touch.  The dish was paired with a 2012 Hidden Valley Sauvignon Blanc.  Bold, salted flavours proved a perfect ‘overture’ for the symphony to follow.  The next starter course was sweet onion tart with smoked feta, Huguenot cheese, rocket, walnuts and beetroot.  This dish was absolutely wonderful, beautiful flavours and textures, buttery pastry and a delightful treat for the taste buds.  It was paired with Hidden Valley Chenin Blanc 2012 – floral and sweet elements striking a harmonious chord with the food.  Our third starter dish was beef carpaccio with balsamic onion, pickled vegetables and puffed barley.  It was quite an exceptional creation, rather like a small reproduction of the Sunday roast one’s mother used to make – tasting just like home, but served cold and skilfully presented.  It was sensational and well paired with the Pepin Conde Pinot Noir 2011.

Beef carpaccio with balsamic onion, pickled vegetables and puffed barley

Beef carpaccio with balsamic onion, pickled vegetables and puffed barley

There followed two intermediate courses.  The first of these was vine-grilled, homemade pork sausage with mielie tart, sweet mustard and cabbage slaw.  In my experience of tasting menus, this dish is extraordinary and unprecedented.  The components were presented on large wooden blocks, and we helped ourselves.  It was a marvel, flavoursome, generous, I barely know where to start.  The pork sausages were pleasingly spiced, the slaw served to provide a cold contrast and the mielie tart added a South African twist.  It was paired with Hidden Valley Pinotage 2011, the spiciness of wine and food in perfect balance.

Vine-grilled, homemade pork sausage

Vine-grilled, homemade pork sausage

There followed gnocchi with pumpkin puree, pumpkin seed and parmesan cream – served with The Foundry Roussanne 2012.  Another excellent dish, gnocchi light, pumpkin flavoursome but not too sweet.

Gnocchi with pumpkin puree, pumpkin seed and parmesan cream

Gnocchi with pumpkin puree, pumpkin seed and parmesan cream

The first main dish we enjoyed was roast hake with pomme puree, courgette, gremolata and sauce vierge.  Sauce of the virgin.  Not an amusing play on words, but a legitimate combination of oils, freshest herbs, lemon and tomatoes.  The fish was beautifully cooked, aromatic and the sauce added a little touch of magic.  Light and refreshing, and cleverly paired with Mimosa Chardonnay 2011.  The main movement of the masterpiece was confit duck leg, mushroom risotto, brussel sprouts and celeriac puree.  This was paired with the Hidden Valley ‘Sectets’ blend.  The pairing was excellent and it was yet another superb dish.

It was then time for the grande finale – it was going to have to be something outstanding as the bar had been set so high.  And it was.  For pudding we had a vanilla and hazelnut praline soufflé with Tonka bean ice-cream.  Eating this soufflé was a joy – it looked so appetising, and there was something heavenly about the lightness and balance of flavours.  As for the ice-cream, it was a first for me.  Tonka beans are the seeds from the Kumaru tree, which is native to Central and South America.  They are small, wrinkled little chaps, but they have aromas reminiscent of vanilla, cinnamon and clove.  The Graham Beck Rhona Muscadel 2011 was a lovely accompaniment to this pudding.

Vanilla and hazelnut praline soufflé with Tonka bean ice-cream

Vanilla and hazelnut praline soufflé with Tonka bean ice-cream

The service at Overture was everything one would expect.  Waiters were all good natured, obliging and engaging.  There were no timing issues in terms of wine arriving after the food – something that seems to happen in even the very best restaurants.  Furthermore, we were delighted by the generosity.  We were given large tasting portions of wine, which made for a festive occasion.

As at the end of a perfect symphony, we left feeling uplifted and satisfied.  This is some of the most immaculate, creative and interesting food I have had the pleasure of eating in South Africa.  From the curtain raiser, to the crescendo and then the final movement, it was exquisite.  Standing ovation, says I.

5 tasting menus with wine pairing, 1 bottle MCC, water, a few glasses of other wine and coffee came to R 5250.00 including tip.

You can contact Overture on + 00 (27) 21 880 2721

The review was sent to the restaurant on February 26th 2013.

The Greenhouse, Constantia, Cape Town – Restaurant Review – 8th June 2012

An utter delight…..

Voted the best restaurant in South Africa by Eat Out magazine, we naturally had high expectations of The Greenhouse in Constantia.  The restaurant is situated in the beautiful Cape-Dutch CellarsHohenort Hotel – one of four gems in the famous Liz McGrath Collection for Relais & Chateaux.  Our expectations of the Greenhouse were not only met in absolute terms, they were exceeded.

For pre-dinner drinks we were ensconced in front of a roaring fire with a delicious bottle of Klein Constantia Brut MCC 2009.  The Greenhouse offers an extensive wine list.  Wines from the Constantia region are emphasised and only Constantia wines are paired with food in the tasting menu.  This bodes well for regional support and sustainability – it is great to see such a high profile hotel supporting the regional producers of South Africa’s exquisite wines.

Warmed in front of the fire, we went through to The Greenhouse proper.  The restaurant is situated in a beautiful greenhouse – softly lit, white and very chic.  The décor is subtle and attractive – though it is quite different from the old-world feel of the rest of the place.

We decided to order the Chef’s Tasting Menu with wine pairing.  Choosing a tasting menu is often a matter of debate.  At best, you – the diner – get to try signature dishes.  The chef gets to show off multiple skills across many different courses.  At worst, a tasting menu can be boring and ill-conceived – a great disappointment if the meal is expensive (which it generally is with tasting menus).  Chef Peter Templehoff’s approach to the food here is quite straightforward: “If it is not the best it can be, it doesn’t belong on the menu!”  Certainly Peter is true to his word: a brilliantly thought-out tasting menu, like the one we enjoyed at The Greenhouse, is a joy to behold.

What a spectacular gastronomic journey awaited us.  From a delightful Nicola Potata and Sunchoke Carpaccio, through ‘FoieGrasnola’ and Karan Beef ‘Tongue to Tail’ to a gorgeous ‘Camembert’ Cheese Cake, we could not fault the food.

Ostrich and Gemsbok Tortellini served in ostrich eggs

‘Camembert’ Cheese Cake with roast pineapple ice cream, pine nut biscotti melba, parmesan cheese and extra-virgin olive oil

We also enjoyed Miso and Sesame Cured Salmon Trout served with an ingenious soft vegetable spring roll, lashings of ginger aioli, jalapeño, crispy prawns and fluffy ponzu snow.  The Braised Ostrich and Gemsbok Tortellini was served in whole ostrich eggs, with hay-smoked sweet potato, celery tempura and the finest, most intensely flavoured consommé.  The palette-cleanser of Coconut Bavarios showed superb technical skill, peeling back the delicious layers of vanilla-lime sorbet and caipirinha jelly.  We also enjoyed some accomplished amuse-bouches and we were given an extra plate of friandises after the meal to have with our (second) double espresso.  Indeed, we ultimately concluded that this was one of the most fantastic meals we have had – right up there with the likes of the Fat Duck in Bray.  This is certainly high praise – and we spent a substantial part of our meal debating such a bold comment.  Furthermore, and importantly, the portions were not so tiny that we had to have a cheeseburger afterwards (has happened before!).

Amuse-bouches: Goats cheese and beetroot ‘lollies’ as well as sesame-parwn toasts with vietnamese-style sauce (fish sauce, soy sauce, chilli)

The wine pairing with the menu was fantastic and the sommelier had clearly given each course a great deal of thought.  Every wine was carefully explained – specifically how it had been chosen to compliment the food – which is always fascinating.  The portions were generous and the wine was served at the correct temperature.  We enjoyed the likes of De Krans Pink Port, Groot Constantia Shiraz 2010 and Constantia Uitsig’s Vin de Constance 2009 (A favourite of Napoleon whilst he was in exile on Elba).  My only real fault of the whole experience is that our wine arrived after the food on two occasions.  Unfortunately this called for some stern-ish words with the manager who ensured it didn’t happen again.  When one is paying top dollar for a meal, small details like this become more important.  The Greenhouse should ensure that this aspect of service is flawless in order to keep diners content – and coming back.

Apart from the two wine glitches, the service at The Greenhouse was charming and unobtrusive – just what one would expect from such a sophisticated establishment.  The waiters were very knowledgeable about the food and wine, and generally paid very careful attention to detail (folding napkins, ensuring that water glasses were always full and that we had the correct cutlery for each course).  The chef also did the rounds of the restaurant.  It is always such a pleasure to meet the person behind these spectacular meals – he was so interesting and friendly – endearing The Greenhouse to us even more.

The Greenhouse is expensive by South African standards: 2 x tasting menu’s with wine pairing, 1 bottle MCC, 1 glass red wine, 2 glasses dessert wine and 4 double espressos came to R 2 500.00 (including tip).  Money very well spent, says I.

Many a happy memory is made over a delightful meal, and I believe The Greenhouse will always stand out as one of the most enjoyable meals I have experienced.  The restaurant has a wow-factor which elevates a meal there from wonderful to quite exceptional.  I dearly look forward to going back to The Greenhouse soon.

You can contact The Greenhouse on +27 (0) 21 794 2137

This review was sent to the restaurant for a response on Monday 6th August 2012