Food and flowers at beautiful Vergelegen

Today we’re heading to Somerset West and the somewhat unpronounceable Vergelegen. It means “situated far away”. The land was granted to the Governor of the Cape, Willem Adriaan van der Stel in 1700. Since then it’s developed into beautiful gardens that attract visitors from all over the world, a vineyard making lovely wines and also a favourite dining venue. You can choose from three restaurants.

We visited Stables at Vergelegen for a special birthday brunch. We sat outside on a sparkling blue day overlooking the gardens and mountains beyond and happily tucked into Eggs Benedict.

Fabulous garden and mountain views from Stables restaurant

Eggs Benedict at Vergelegen

Delightfully indulgent eggs Benedict

Fabulous gardens to explore

After brunch, a meander through the award-winning gardens. There are 17 of them to explore and a lot of amazing trees – like the Old English oak which is over 300 years old and believed to be the oldest living oak tree in Africa.

The Cape is in the midst of a drought at the moment – resulting in serious water rationing so the gardens were a little dryer than usual, but still a sight to behold. I loved the hydrangeas, they made me homesick for the English summer.

The beautiful hydrangea gardens

The rose garden is packed with bushes in different sizes and colours and wonderful scents. At its centre is the stunning sculpture of Aphrodite. Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure and procreation and it’s said that myrtle, roses, doves, sparrows and swans were sacred to her. She must be very happy with her Vergelegen home.

Aphrodite’s statute in pride of place in the rose garden

The herb garden offers more lovely aromas all neatly packaged into a little octagon of perfectly trimmed hedges.

The beautiful herbs at Vergelegen

Rosemary scents the air in the herb garden

Historical Camphor trees

There are five history Camphor trees at Vergelegen, believed to have been planted in 1700 by van der Stel. They were declared national monuments in 1942. The other Camphor trees on the estate are all seedlings from these magnificent five – Camphors obviously are of great importance to the estate. Camphors at Vergelegen is their signature restaurant which was ranked the 10th best restaurant in South Africa in the 2016 Eat Out Mercedes Benz Awards. Better go back and try that one.

Or if you’re after a relaxed al fresco lunch rather, why not Picnic at Vergelegen? Tables are set in the beautiful centuries-old Camphor forest and a tasty picnic brought to you. It’s a charming way to spend an afternoon.

Picnic under the shade of the Camphor trees

Vergelegen is at Lourensford Road, Somerset West.

Birthday dinner on the balcony at NV80 in Sea Point

We’ve been returning to stay in Sea Point for eight years now and it’s been wonderful to see the area blossom. We now have such an array of lovely restaurants easy walking distance from us that it seems like we should be going out all the time. It would be wrong not to, really.

So tonight to celebrate Terry’s birthday we headed to our local steakhouse in the shiny new shopping centre called The Point in Sea Point’s Regent Road.

I’m not a huge fan of restaurants in shopping centres. But NV80 has been done so well that as soon as you walk in, you no longer feel like you’re in one. Plus it has a lovely wide balcony, just perfect for the balmy February night we were there. Always love a bit of alfresco dining.

Oyster heaven

I love oysters and at NV80 you can have them three different ways. Plain, with Bloody Mary jelly or Vietnamese dressing. Beautifully fresh with amazing toppings, the Vietnamese ones are my favourite oysters ever. I do love the flavours of Vietnam.

Tasty oysters at NV80 in Sea Point

Tasty oysters to dream about

The Trinchado is pan-fried cubes of lean fillet of beef saved with a tangy lightly spiced sauce. The tenderest of fillet that melted in the mouth and a lovely zingy sauce. And not a small portion of it either – seriously, it’s almost main course size.

Tender trinchado at NV80 in Sea Point

Tender trinchado in a silken sauce

As well as their steak specialities, NV80 also has a good selection of fish and seafood. The salmon teriyaki was grilled and marinated in teriyaki and served with mash and drizzled with sweet soya and sesame dressing. A beautifully presented dish with great flavour and textures.

Succulent salmon at NV80 in Sea Point

Succulent salmon nestles on creamy mash

NV80’s steaks are fabulous and the king of them all (in my opinion) is the sirloin steak on the bone. I always have a bit of a debate in my head before ordering it – because it is HUGE – 600g. Way more than I can eat in one sitting! But the good news is that the restaurant has a doggy bag at the ready and I joyfully took home my leftovers. And as a result I could make a lovely Vietnamese salad (I know, we’re back in Vietnam!) for dinner. So three meals in one really. Recipe coming soon.

It’s a legendary steak this one, mouth-wateringly flavoursome. I probably shouldn’t bother looking at the menu and debating choices, I know it’s the way I’m going to go ultimately.

Giant sirloin at NV80 in Sea Point

My super-big sirloin on the bone

Also love a bit of creamed spinach and it goes especially well with steak.

Creamed spinach at NV80 in Sea Point

Luscious creamed spinach to accompany

As well as the lovely food, there’s such a great buzz about NV80 with its background of animated chatter and laughter. And the service is wonderfully welcoming, friendly and informed. When we left it seemed like half the restaurant thanked us for coming and hoped we’d had a good evening. We really had. Can’t beat that wonderful Sea Point hospitality.

Today’s price point

We paid R626 for our food tonight. That’s about £38 at today’s exchange rate.

NV80 is on the first floor of The Point at 76 Regent Road, Sea Point, Cape Town.

What is your favourite restaurant in Sea Point? Do get in touch and let me know.

 

 

Bistro-style food and lovely wine at Glenelly in Stellenbosch

Today we’re heading back into the wonderful Winelands to the outskirts of Stellenbosch and Glenelly Wine Estate.

In 2003, at the age of 78, May de Lencquesaing bought the estate which was part of the original Ida Valley Farm granted in 1682 by Simon van der Stel. Madame grew up in the heart of Bourdeaux’ vineyards in France and wanted to make South African wine with a French touch – an admirable goal for a 78-year-old. Especially since she had to start from scratch by replacing the existing fruit trees with vines.

It’s good wine, too, as we sampled before we lunched. I particularly liked the unwooded Chardonnay and the Merlot. The 1783 stamp on the label represents the nearly 250 years of the family’s wine history.

Downstairs, looking over perfectly manicured vines towards the mountains is The Vine Bistro. Chef Christophe Dehosse serves up french-inspired dishes using local ingredients.

There are several offal dishes on the menu, all of which we sampled, being something of offal lovers. The pressed pork tongue terrine came with a zesty pickled porcini salad and dollops of aioli. Really love picked mushrooms.

Tongue terrine at Glenelly in Stellenbosch

The pretty terrine piled with pickled porcini

This colourful salad of spanspek (melon), mussels and prawns had a lovely light balsamic and chive dressing.

Vibrant colours and sweetness

The pork trotter was pan fried with a gribiche sauce, which is a mayonnaise-like French sauce. The dish was incredibly rich – a really indulgent starter.

A delicious parcel of richness

For mains I tucked into roast spicy lamb ribs with potato wedges and cauliflower fried with turmeric and fennel seed butter. Lovely crispy bits of lamb, perfectly cooked piping hot rosemary potatoes and  spicy cauliflower made for a lovely combination.

Tasty, crispy lamb with great vegetable accompaniments

The slow roasted Karoo Lamb shoulder came with black olive, rosemary, ratatouille, confit garlic and gratin dauphinoise.

A tasty tower topped with lamb

And how’s this for the ultimate indulgent dish? Roasted veal sweetbread with root vegetables, celeriac puree and fresh tarragon.

That was quite a collection of classically French-influenced dishes.

For dessert the trio of homemade ice-cream and sorbet made for the perfect refresher.

A cleansing dish of ice cream to finish with

A classic French pud with a real South African twist next – Canele bordelais served with fynbos honey, rooibos tea ice cream and caramelised pineapple cream. A canele is a small French pastry flavoured with rum and vanilla, with a soft custard centre and a darker caramelised crust (in case you were wondering!).

Cute caneles with cream and ice cream

And finally, a delicious and varied selection of local South African cheeses, such a pretty plate.

Five cheeses for sampling

Service is friendly and the atmosphere is laid-back, making Glenelly a lovely place to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon. Oh and Madame is also still here – aged 91 – keeping up the wine-making family legacy with her grandsons.

Today’s price point

Most of our party ate off the set lunch menu which was R310 (£18 at today’s exchange rate) – incredibly good value.

To give an indication of the a la carte, the sweetbreads were R210 (about £12.50) and the lamb shoulder R195 (about £11.50).

Double wine cooling and vineyard views

Glenelly Wine Estate is at Lelie Street, Ida’s Valley, Stellenbosch.

Perfect vines and mountain views

Do you have a favourite Stellenbosch restaurant that I should try? Do get in touch.

Where to stay in Phuket: La Flora Resort and Spa in Khaolak

I fell in love with Thailand on my first visit, many years ago and that love affair grows every time I return. It’s very appropriately called the Land of Smiles – there’s always plenty of smiling going on – which is extremely catching. This was my third visit to Phuket (my first to Khaolak), which makes it my favourite Thai destination – so far anyway.

Today we’re heading an hour’s drive north of Phuket International Airport to La Flora Resort & Spa in Khaolak.

The hotel’s set in beautiful gardens with two pools, overlooking the golden beach of Bang Liang and those perfect Andaman Sea vistas.

Here’s what I loved about La Flora.

The beach

La Flora sits on a beautiful bay framed by palm trees. The beach is perfect for long post-breakfast meanders before settling down for the inevitable sunbed session. I was often the only person paddling through the beautifully warm water and watching the lone fisherman in action.

The sweeping beach is perfect for sunny meanders

The heavenly view from my subbed

Colourful boats alongside the beach

The drinks on the beach

There’s great beach-side service at La Flora. From frothy cappuccinos, fruity shakes and daily cocktail specials, all delivered to your sunbed for you to savour.

A mango shake makes beach life better

Cucumber gin and tonic overlooking the sea

The pool-side rooms

We upgraded from a regular to a pool-side room. And what a good idea that was.

Our spacious and comfy room offered all the facilities on my really-want list: a fridge, kettle with coffee and tea, a safe, good air conditioning, plenty of fluffy towels and great wifi. The bathroom had a huge shower and a magnificent spa bath complete with lights that changed colour as you submerged yourself in clouds of bubbles. Very indulgent.

The comfortable, huge bed in our stylish room

The room opened out onto a deck complete with two sunbeds (a lot of sunbed action going on at La Flora, you can see). One more step and you were in the sparkling blueness of the pool – private for those lucky enough to be living alongside it.

The pools

Step out of your room for an early morning dip, swim up to the central pool bar or expend some energy doing lengths in perfect peace. The sparkling water and fluttering palm trees made a fantastic scene to open the blinds to in the morning.

Living the pool life – steps from our room

And here’s the jacuzzi. Simply press the button and enjoy some relaxing bubbles on the top step.

Our own personal jacuzzi right outside our stunning room

You’re spoilt for swimming choice at La Flora as there’s also the main pool adjacent to the beach. You’ll have to be up fairly early if you want to  nab one of the overlooking sunbeds. It’s an active pool with swimmers, paddlers and those simply enjoying the view.

The main pool is right on the edge of the beach

The food

How I love the breakfast buffets in South East Asia. The colourful platters of tropical fruit make for a delightful start to any day. My three favourites – the combination of Ps – Passion fruit, Pomelo and Papaya. All made to taste even more delicious by eating them overlooking the beach. And that’s just the start.

The perfect way to start the day

Gotta love a multi-course breakfast. The Asian selection was quite intimidating – all that decision making first thing in the morning. A couple of times a week there was a huge dim sum offering which I dived into.

Lift the lid to reveal myriad dim sum

The restaurant had tables right on the edge of the beach which we always headed for whatever the meal. You couldn’t find a nicer eating environment. For lunch we often tucked into starters from the a la carte menu, all of which were delightful, like these chicken satays.

Eating chicken satays overlooking the sea

On the beach just to the side of the hotel was a street food cart. Or should that be a beach food cart? Corn piled high, large, luscious spring rolls, satays and my favourite Thai salad – green papaya made in front of you.

Beach food delights right next door

We ate dinner several times off the a la carte menu which offered a great choice. And twice a week the hotel set up an incredible buffet spread showcasing a wide range of Asian and Western dishes.

It’s also worth mentioning that there was a decent selection of good, well-priced wine on offer which is not always the case in Thailand. As wine drinkers it made our La Flora experience just that little bit more enjoyable.

The service

Thailand is known for its friendly service and La Flora didn’t disappoint. Waiters made an effort to get to know you and make you feel welcome and everywhere you went you were greeted with a cheery sawsdee ka. One night the manager even got an extra table set up for us overlooking the beach when they were already all reserved.

The entertainment

We enjoyed listening to the duo from the Philippines who sang on a few of the nights, took requests and could perform a mean version of Candle in the Wind. Plus one night we were treated to beautifully elegant traditional Thai dancing. Here are the lovely ladies.

Beautiful, graceful and colourful traditional Thai dancers

The nearby town

Okay, this isn’t actually about the hotel but the fact that it was set just back from a charming little town is definitely worth a mention. Five minutes walk up the street to myriad massage opportunities, rustic al fresco restaurants and bars and shops for all your necessities. Oh and a marvellous array of street food, too.

The street food is great in Khaolak

An array of tasty skewers to dazzle

La Flora Resort & Spa is the perfect get-away-from-it-all spot for a relaxed beachside holiday with beach walks and plenty of swimming, delicious food and warm service. They do offer a range of excursions if you’re inclined to explore the area more, but as ever I found it hard to drag myself off that perfect beach.

 

Recipe: Deliciously simple cinnamon rolls

Okay, I know we’re well into January – I can feel this year whizzing by already – but I felt I had to share a simple recipe for some delicious little treats. I made them first thing in the morning over the Christmas period when I had friends staying. They woke up to a deliciously aromatic house and some tasty little pastries to tuck into. Cinnamon rolls make the perfect breakfast.

Sweet and crunchy cinnamon rolls for breakfast

Makes six cinnamon rolls with each sheet of pastry.

2 tbsps unsalted butter, melted

2 sheets of ready-made puff pastry

4 tbsps ground cinnamon

1 tsp brown sugar

4 tbsps raisins

4 tbsps chopped hazelnuts

Heat the oven to 200C. Brush the inside and bottom of a baking dish with half the melted butter.

Roll the puff pastry out on a chopping board and brush it with the other half of the butter.

Sprinkle the cinnamon, sugar, raisins and hazelnuts evenly over the dough.

Roll the dough up into a spiral.

Cut the dough into six equal pieces with a sharp knife.

Lay the pieces in the baking dish and cook in the oven for 25-30 minutes until golden and cooked through.

Of course you can tuck into your cinnamon rolls any time of day – and the perfect accompaniment is a cup of tea. Absolutely one of my favourite beverages (I have lived in England for over 30 years after all). And you can make your tea with style with the beautiful stove-top kettle from Kitchen Aid. My red one even matches my oven. Now we’re talking.

Find out more about Kitchen Aid’s fabulous selection of appliances and kitchenware products at kitchenaid.co.uk.

Distributing the delicious filling evenly with my Kitchen Aid kettle at the ready

All ready for rolling

Little spirals going into the oven


Where to stay in Vietnam: The Victoria Phan Thiet Beach Resort and Spa

Continuing my series of Where to Stay, today we’re in Phan Thiet in Vietnam. Phan Thiet is a coastal city in south-east Vietnam, a four to five hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City airport – sounds long but it’s totally worth it when you get there. It’s the capital of Binh Thuan Province with a population of around 300,000 and is actually only 200km from Ho Chi Minh City. At its centre is a bustling little fishing port and an amazing market.

The Victoria Phan Thiet Beach Resort and Spa is outside the centre in the beach resort area of Mui Ne. There’s a long palm-lined stretch of sand with plenty of watersports and a strip of hotels, restaurants and shops alongside it.

The hotel is laid out through beautiful gardens and is built in the style of traditional Vietnamese country houses. Here’s what I loved about our stay there.

The room

We stayed in one of their beach bungalow. A meander down a winding path through lush tropical vegetation takes you to your brightly painted, welcoming home for your stay. Set right on the edge of the beach – a few steps from the sand – the room was light and spacious with an enormous bed, large wardrobe and generous seating area.

Looking back from the beach to the beautiful bungalows

The bed’s made even cosier at night with the mosquito net

The glass doors opened out onto a large patio complete with two amazingly comfortable sun beds and an umbrella. This is where we spent a lot of time reading, sipping wine and just taking in the marvellous view from our verandah.

The seating area and our view towards the sea

There were good tea and coffee-making facilities, including a range of teas and a fridge which was restocked every day with fresh bottles of water and replacements for anything else you may have drunk. So no issues with in-room refreshments then. Other essentials (for me anyway) included a safe, plush bathrobes and towels, lovely bathroom products and great wifi.

The large bed and its crisp white linen

The bathroom

One of the best hotel bathrooms ever…large with a separate toilet, a wonderful corner bath for long bubbly soaks and – best of all – an outside area with a hammock and powerful shower.

Light floods in from the enclosed outdoor shower

How I love an outdoor shower

The views

The joys of waking up every day and opening the curtains to look through palm trees across the beach to the vast South China Sea.

Looking out across the South China Sea…just awesome

And as the sun set every day the little lights along the beach came on turning our beach view into a twinkling, magical land.

Night comes and a magic falls over the beach

I particularly loved the light at sunset

The pools

As well as the warm, inviting sea to swim in there were two pools, never crowded while we were there. Both had waiter service so you could lie back and enjoy lunch or a cocktail in the sun. The infinity pool at the top of the resort is perfect for getting in your lengths.

Looking through the hibiscus to the pool

Chef Hoang and his amazing food

This is a hotel with food in a league of its own with a genius chef. From the vast breakfast buffets to the amazing dinner menu with a selection of Vietnamese and Western dishes, there are plenty of exciting flavours to discover. Chef Hoang is always on hand making sure things are running smoothly when he’s not cooking in the kitchen.

The first couple of breakfasts took some serious decision making. The range of Vietnamese dishes on offer was stupendous – all on top of plenty of pastries, eggs any way you want them and a tropical fruit feast. I soon established my favourites – and tucked into fresh Vietnamese rolls every morning, filled with prawns, vegetables and herbs and dipped into Chef’s delicious, spicy peanut sauce.

Fresh Vietnamese rolls for breakfast, just delightful

A colourful first breakfast course of tropical fruit

We pored over the menu every night carefully choosing different dishes until we’d pretty much gone through it all. We tucked into delightful salads with Chef’s secret dressing, fresh fish and wonderful pork and duck dishes.

The amazing prawn salad in crunchy baskets

On our last night Chef Hoang made us a special dinner. We started with his special prawn salad served on banana leaves in these lovely bamboo bicycles (love the presentation).

Our prawns presented on the cutest of dishes

And for mains he specially selected a grouper for us from the market that morning. It was baked in a tangy sauce and  parcelled into rice papers with herbs, noodles and vegetables added at the table. A real ceremony.

Our special grouper and vegetable parcels

The beach

Okay everyone knows I’m a real beach baby, so I was in complete heaven here. The whole of hotel life is focused around the beach. You eat looking out to sea, open your curtains to the beach, exercise by walking along the beach…and it’s all rather quiet as the beach is private to the hotel.

At the Victoria life centres around the beach

My favourite time of day was sunset, which happens early in Vietnam – around 5pm. The beach became bathed in golden lights and shades of orange and pink.

Another beautiful sunset turns everything golden

The cookery course

We signed up for a food and cooking excursion. Awakening early we headed into the harbour with our guide, Lam and Chef Hoang. The catch of the day was coming in and the negotiations were in full swing as people heckled over prices – the women take delivery of the catch from the men and do all the bargaining.

The bustling harbour in Phan Thiet centre

From there we headed to the colourful market in the centre of town with it’s beautiful piles of tropical fruit, fish galore and every cut of meat you could need. Plus all those random household necessities dotted throughout. On the way home we stopped off at the local fish sauce factory where Lam explained the vast quantities of fish sauce consumed by the Vietnamese – it’s used in so many of their dishes.

On our return to the hotel we headed for our cookery course in the beautiful thatched gazebo on the beach. Chef Hoang and two of his chefs cooked us a delightful lunch which we ate overlooking the beach. Nothing like having three chefs cook you a private lunch! We left armed with a tasty collection of Vietnames recipes, including one for his secret salad dressing. I really must make that soon, it’s fabulous. And no, my lips are sealed.

Chef Hoang and his smiling helpers

Here’s the amazing prawn and banana flower starter they made specially for us. How exotic is that?

Prawn and banana flower with Chef Hoang’s secret dressing

The staff

The service at the Victoria is impeccable. We were so well looked after by everyone, from the front desk, waiters, chefs, masseurs, cleaners and gardeners. There were smiling, happy faces everywhere and nothing was too much trouble.

The spa

We had excellent massages in the open-fronted spa, with sea breezes and crashing waves providing the background to our indulgent treatments. Vietnamese massages are slightly less harsh than my experience of Thai ones, making it a perfectly relaxing experience while also getting rid of all those long-haul-flight induced knots. I also had a lovely manicure – the staff were expert and prices good value.

The gardens

The beach bungalows are sprinkled through the most beautiful and lovingly tended gardens. Perfect green lawns punctuated by our sunny yellow rooms and tropical trees and flowers including three of my absolute favourites: hibiscus, bougainvillea and frangipani.

Wash your feet off after a walk through the gardens

Live life surrounded by bougainvillea and hibiscus

The bedtime stories and other special touches

Okay this is a unique one. Every night we returned from dinner to discover cake delights in our little wooden box with a rolled up scroll alongside it – our nightly bedtime story. A truly charming touch and a great way to find out more about Vietnamese folklore.

I so looked forward to my bedtime story every night

Other special touches I loved included the fact that a chilled glass of water was delivered to your bed at the pool or beach as soon as you sat down – why doesn’t every hotel do this?

And the towels were extra large – having been specially made to perfectly cover the cushion on the wonderfully comfortable beach beds.

The Victoria Phan Thiet Beach Resort and Spa is the sort of place where you walk around with a smile on your face all day. Its beautiful and relaxing environment is made even more idyllic by the combination of smiley service and wonderful food.

It was a sad day indeed when we had to say goodbye and head off on the next leg of our adventure to Saigon, which you can read about here.

We organised our trip to Vietnam and Thailand with travel experts Eastravel. They are great to deal with and at the planning stage we spent some time discussing where we would visit and stay – with great results. It was a fabulous, well organised trip. You can read more about Vietnam and Thailand soon. Watch this space.

Have you been to Vietnam? What was your favourite thing about it? Do get in touch, I’d love to hear from you.