Today we’re heading to the bustling university town of Stellenbosch. I love the Cape Winelands and try to dine out in one of the many amazing eateries there as often as I can. That usually involves heading for a wine farm set deep in the countryside. Which means I’ve driven past Stellenbosch many, many times but very rarely driven into the heart of the town. Well, that’s not going to happen anymore. I’d forgotten how beautiful Stellenbosch is. The amazing architecture of the ancient university buildings (the Arts Department was founded in 1874), the magnificent trees lining the roads, the bustle of students going about their daily learning (lucky them to be studying in such an amazing place) and the fabulous pavement cafe lifestyle.
Even better, today we were having lunch in the latest opening from one of my favourite chefs, George Jardine. He’s the genius behind Jordan which I’ve blogged about several times before and happily plan to be again soon! The new offering is on buzzing Andringa Street opposite the national monument that is the Stellenbosch Hotel. We wove our way past so many eating establishments on our short walk there from the car park it’s lucky we were focussed and stuck to our original plan. Seriously, we could have ended up anywhere, there’s so much on offer.
We were seated in this laid-back little restaurant in the cobbled, covered verandah area, where it feels like you’ve been welcomed to someone’s house. Well, it was someone’s house once so that makes sense.
The simplest of menus was presented to us. For R160 (Just over £7 at today’s exchange rate -what great value) we could look forward to two courses. First up the garden salad and then three choices for mains.
I always love it when I see those two words on a menu in a good restaurant. I had the one of the best salads ever in the fabulous Borgo Santo Pietro in Tuscany a couple of years back, made simply from whatever they retrieved from the garden that day. Today we were presented with this fabulous board of greenery. The crunchiest of endive (love a good endive) and a richly creamy gorgonzola dressing. The simplicity of a few, perfect ingredients offering a wonderful combo of flavours. A lovely light start for lunch on a hot summer’s day.
The salad was served with freshly baked mini ciabattas and an indulgent garlic mayo. I’m not a big bread eater, but even I couldn’t resist these warm parcels of deliciousness.
For mains we had the choice of a vegetarian gnocchi, a fish dish and steak. The aged Chalmar sirloin was served with celeriac puree, creamed kale with mustard dressing and veal sweetbreads. I’m surprised how often people misunderstand what sweetbreads are and where they come from. They’re from the thymus gland which is in the throat or neck of the animal. I’m guessing they’re called sweetbreads because they do taste pretty sweet and they have a lovely soft consistency, a bit like fresh bread. Who knows? Anyway, they worked really well with today’s dish providing a different flavour and texture to the richness of the steak – which was outstanding. Topped with a vibrant green herb crust it was tender and one of the tastiest pieces of meat I’ve had in a while. Interestingly our waitress didn’t ask us how we wanted it done. I wasn’t nervous because I trust in the chef’s expertise and expect he knows better than me how the dish should be cooked – and I expect it’s not going to be overcooked. I was right and the medium rare dish arrived looking and tasting like a masterpiece.
Today’s fish dish was baked line caught silverfish with a soft gruyere crust, creamed spinach, confit garlic and pomme dauphine. Not a fish I’ve seen on menus before, we were told it’s like bream, the good news is that it’s seriously tasty. The sauce was amazing and the little crunchy potato balls a joy.
Time for dessert. Sorry, we just couldn’t resist! As regular readers will know I’m not a big pudding eater but am a lover of panna cotta, so it gets me every time. Today it was coconut milk panna cotta with aromatic sago and air-dried and fresh summer fruits. Served in a little kilner jar, it’s a beautiful looking dessert. Creamy, lightly coconut-y panna cotta is made even more delicious by the little sago bubbles that burst in your mouth. And the tiniest slivers of air-dried mango, pineapple and apple are a delightful addition. There was also fresh passion fruit drizzled over the top – three of my favourite fruits in one jar.
The Valrhona chocolate terrine came with summer berries and white chocolate mousse and delighted the table’s chocolate lovers.
Jardine had only been open for a couple of weeks when we visited. It’s a small, intimate space with a homely feel and wonderfully friendly and welcoming service. I like the idea of offering limited choices on the menu – you know the dishes are all going to be perfectly presented.
And if you’re heading that way, I’d highly recommend that you stay the night and spend some time meandering along those Stellenbosch streets. It’s a town well worth spending hours in. And of course it also means you’ll have more time to test out some of the myriad bars and restaurants. I think I’ll do it myself next time.
Jardine is at 1 Andringa Street, Stellenbosch.