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.

Roots Restaurant at Forum Homini, Cradle of Humankind – Restaurant Review – 4th November 2012

With summer has come longer days, hotter sun and better reasons to drive off into the countryside for leisurely lunches.  Although country restaurants in Gauteng are a-dime-a-dozen, I feel that top class spots, serving fine cuisine, are few and far between.  I had eaten at Roots numerous times, and it was high time to go and get reacquainted with this spectacular place.

Sprawling sedately alongside a large lake, Roots sits at the epicentre of Forum Homini, a boutique hotel which embraces the remarkable heritage of the Cradle of Humankind.  A subtle structure with grassed rooftops, Forum Homini blends into its natural surroundings.  Warm-hued woods pick out gorgeous vistas across the lake, and vast glass doors circulate light and veld-scented breeze.  Roots exudes understated chic; luxurious materials, simple cutlery and fine-cut glassware lend to the feel of country oasis.  Happily seated at one of the prime tables on the wooden deck, overlooking the glittering lake, we ordered G & T’s and got down to the menu.

Roots offers a uniform tasting menu which changes daily, depending on seasonality and ingredients.  They are very accommodating of dietary requirements and preferences, which will be noted when you book.  Sunday lunch is generally 6 courses.  The restaurant boasts a well-stocked cellar and there is the option of having “wine teasers” with your meal.  This is really worthwhile, giving one the chance to have a specially selected wine with each course.

We started off with roast pear and chestnut soup, prawn toast, orange puree and cauliflower.  It was cleverly presented, with all the components beautifully arranged in a large bowl, the soup poured over these at the table.  The dish was paired with a Weltevrede “Vanilla” Chardonnay, 2011.  I was quite taken with this wine – it had a rich, vanilla taste which complemented the fruity undertones of the soup.  The second course was roast monkfish and octopus, served with pea and mint, grilled cucumber, braised fennel, broad beans, liquorice and lime confit.  This was paired with a Bouchard Finlayson Blanc de Mer 2011 and was a light and appetising course.

Roast monkfish and octopus, served with pea and mint, grilled cucumber, braised fennel, broad beans, liquorice and lime confit

One of my favourite dishes was up next: A medley of quail, crayfish and pork belly with squid-ink jellies, verjus and roast parsnip, served in a smoked tomato and prawn broth.  The gamey-salty quail, sweet, tender crayfish and soft, buttery pork belly made for a luxurious combination.  The dish was gorgeous, a tantalising tease for the senses.  The accompaniments brought the individual elements of the dish together.  Squid-ink jellies were a particular touch of genius – black cubes adding colour and texture, their unique flavour serving to offset the richness of the other components.  With the quail we enjoyed a Thunderchild Red Blend, 2008.  Many probably haven’t heard of it – a well-made wine with a good cause.  Originating from the Robertson region, Thunderchild is the product of a community project established to raise funds for a local orphanage.  These orphans are the “Thunderchildren”, many of whom come from stormy backgrounds.

The ultimate was the meat course: Duo of springbok with red cabbage puree, capers and anchovy, parsley potato and mushroom mille-feuille and sauce charcuterie.  This dish was exquisite in every way, beautifully presented and utterly mouth-watering.  The springbok was perfectly pink and juicy, with the tastiest crust of capers and anchovy.  Vegetable components were prepared with skill, the flavour balance wonderful.  Topping off this succulence was a heavenly sauce – rich, meaty and with a real depth of flavour.  This is game at its best, a brilliant combination.

Duo of springbok with red cabbage puree, capers and anchovy, parsley potato and mushroom mille-feuille and sauce charcuterie.

The main course was proceeded by a tasting of goats cheese, served on brioche rounds with salted caramel, grapes and rose.  Salted caramel is high-fashion food at the moment, and it was interesting to taste it with cheese.  I found the combination a bit sweet but my fellow diner thought it was delicious.  The cheese was expertly paired with a De Krans Cape Ruby Port, the sweetness of the port balancing out the caramel and adding another dimension to the dish.  Desert was a Roots Chocolate Plate consisting of chocolate delice, white chocolate sorbet, mint, passion fruit, coffee, pomegranate and brandy snaps.  Once again, the presentation was immaculate and the dish a success, the brandy snaps a welcome textural contrast from the softer chocolate components.

The service at Roots was generally good.  Staff were attentive and accommodating, the wine stewards particularly interesting and knowledgeable.  I was a bit disappointed that some of the dishes were not explained to us as they were served – always preferable when there are several, artful components to any given course.

There are few things more pleasant than enjoying a good meal, delicious wine and great company.  Add to this fantastic, hot weather and a vista of raw, African veld.  One can almost see the heat swirling outside, yet Roots is cool, comfortable and inviting.  This is a most sublime environment in which to savour some wonders of country cuisine just outside Johannesburg.

2 aperitifs, 2 tasting menus, 2 wine teasers, 2 glasses of wine and 1 espresso came to R 1150.00 including tip.

You can contact Roots on +27 (0)11 668 7000.

This review was sent to the restaurant on 28th November 2012.

DW eleven-13 – Tasting Menu and Restaurant Review – 25th August 2012

An “up-DoWn” evening, but good overall…..

When writing about restaurants, one should always compare ‘fondants’ with ‘fondants’ – so to speak.  Fine-dining establishment DW eleven-13 currently enjoys 7th place on Eat Out’s ‘Top 10 Restaurants in South Africa.’  So, DW will be appraised relative to the standards of other Top 10 restaurants where I have eaten (all but two).

We went to DW for the seventh time so that visiting friends could try a food and wine pairing.  Chef Marthinus Ferreira has introduced a 6 course tasting menu, so this seemed a good option.

DW has cleverly made its rather unfortunate location (on the lower level of the unsightly Dunkeld West Shopping Centre) work to its favour.  A classy façade distinguishes it from its neighbours.  The space itself is modernistic; gorgeously decorated with contrasting African urns and artefacts, sophisticated wallpaper and classic white table settings.  The lighting is soft and the ambiance serene.

We had informed DW in advance that we would all order the tasting menu with wine pairing.  For some reason, this was interpreted as negating the need to see a wine list.  When it was eventually brought to us we followed the recommendation of our wine steward and ordered a bottle of Genevieve MCC Blanc de Blanc 2009 to toast our friend on her birthday.

We were given two copies of the tasting menu printed on flimsy bond paper.  One of our party, allergic to shellfish, could not eat the first course of prawn ragu.  We had been cautioned in advance that:

“Chef Marthinus would like for you to experience the tasting menu the way he prepared it therefore unfortunately we do not allow any alterations to the dishes.”

We were informed, very matter-of-factly, that nothing could be done.  No substitution.  No concession.  Our friend would “just have to skip the first course.”

Why do I feel so indignant about this when we knew what we were in for?  Because every other Top 10 restaurant where we have eaten has happily accommodated this shellfish allergy.  The request doesn’t seem unreasonable, does it?  Shellfish can be lethal to those who are allergic.   While restaurants can’t be expected to cater for everyone’s foibles, it’s not as if we asked for a carb-free, low fat meal!  I am left wondering what makes DW so self-important that allowances for diners with legitimate (medical) dietary requirements cannot be made.  It affects such a small portion of the menu.  Too much to substitute one dish for another?  Our friend would have been happy with an extra plate of conciliatory amuse bouches.  Instead, we all sat there eating our prawns – he hungrily watched us.  This did not make for a happy start to the meal.  To add insult to injury, he still had to pay full price for the menu!  The message seems to be:  ‘Like it or lump it, if you can’t eat something on the tasting menu then order a la carte and spare us the trouble.’  Not the most winsome of attitudes.

So, the un-pleasantries out of the way, the prawn ragu was actually rather tasty.  Three juicy, perfectly cooked prawns, served on a delicate tomato compote, drizzled with lemon butter.  These subtle flavours worked well and were complimented nicely by the Champagne, Marguet Brut Rose.  The second course of springbok tataki and springbok tartare was a favourite at our table.  Tataki, meaning ‘pounded’ or ‘hit into pieces’ is a Japanese dish.  A thin slice of meat or fish is seared, seasoned with vinegar and rubbed with a paste – pounded from a variety of spices.  The DW tataki was lightly smoked (something the restaurant has truly mastered) and the tartare was wonderfully rich and flavoursome.  Several inspired accompaniments brought these components together: nori (thin, dried seaweed), beetroot gel and parmesan spheres to mention but a few.  The wine choice of Rainbows End Cab Franc 2010 originally struck me as odd – a red right at the beginning of the meal.  However, it worked like a charm.  The Loch Duart Scottish salmon with butternut puree was lovely.  Salmon soft and luscious, the butternut added smokiness and gentle sweetness, and pink grapefruit a dash of acid.  The whole dish was topped off with super-crisp fried salmon skin – brilliance in terms of texture.  Served with Hermanuspietersfontein Bloos Rose, another cleverly selected wine pairing.

Loch Duart Scottish salmon with butternut puree

An unremarkable palette cleanser of orange and Pimms slush followed.  The main course was my absolute favourite, a succulent fillet that melted in the mouth.  It was topped with tantalizing rounds of rich, scrumptious bone-marrow.  Accompanied by red wine and garlic crumbs, carrot, courgette, onions and rich, deep beef jus, the dish was a triumph.  This was served with a complex, fruity Capaia Red Blend 2009.  Not a well-known wine, but do try it if you get the chance, it is quite wonderful.

Fillet with red wine and garlic crumbs, carrot, courgette, onions and beef jus

The cheese course was an epicurean revelation.  A round of white, creamy goats cheese layered over with a delicate peppered-pink guava jelly.  Shallot vinegar caviar – still fabulous (you can read more about it in my review of Cube) – completed the dish.  Bursting with flavour, we were all surprised and cheered by the cheese course and the lip-smacking Surin ‘Burlesque’ Straw Wine 2011 which attended it.

Goats cheese and peppered guava jelly with shallot vinegar caviar

A pudding of dense Valrohna chocolate tart with chocolate sorbet, chocolate soil and honeycomb helped to end the meal on a high.  This was served with a Catherine Marshall Myriad Dessert Wine, 2007.

Special attention to detail was evident in the wine pairing.  Highest compliments to Patson, who used to be a waiter at DW and is now the wine steward.  He explained each pairing to us in detail, was immensely personable and clearly deeply passionate about food and wine.  The wines were very well chosen to compliment the dishes.  Evidently DW is committed to the development of its staff, and it was heartening to see that there is such opportunity at the restaurant.

The service was variable.  Some staff were really warm and kind, others seemed irritated or disinterested.  Food was served before the wine on one occasion and we eventually asked for the wine ourselves as nobody had noticed this rookie error.

Small things matter.  Always.  But much more so at one of the best restaurants in the country.   The little irritations of our meal were certainly a pity.  I firmly believe that eating out is as much about the joie de vivre as it is about the food.    Endeavouring to keep diners happy should be a prioritiy for a Top 10 restaurant.  I do like DW eleven-13 and the food was excellent.  I recommend the tasting menu, but those who have dietary requirements should proceed with caution.

5 tasting menus, 1 bottle of MCC and 5 other beverages cost R 4800.00 including tip.

The review was sent to the restaurant on 1st September 2012

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