A fabulous lunch in the Winelands at Clos Malverne

There are few better ways to spend a Saturday than dining in the Cape Winelands (well, for me anyway). Long, lazy afternoons with beautiful sunny views and amazing food and wine. Like at Clos Malvern which is set deep in the Devon Valley near Stellenbosch.

The restaurant has a wrap-around balcony with fabulous views across vines and mountains. Get a table outside and settle in for the delights of their four-course tasting menu. You can go a la carte but believe me, the tasting menu is the way to go. Great choices and even better value for money, today we got four courses for R398 (about £24 at today’s exchange rate). For that, as well as the food, you get a welcome glass of their delicious bubbly and a glass of wine with each course. Plus if you buy a case of wine to take home (and who can resist doing so?) you get R200 off your bill.

The vineyard is owned and run by the Pritchard family and the restaurant serves seasonal, contemporary dishes that are the masterpieces of Executive Chef Nadia Louw Smith.

There are several choices for each course, making for some serious decision making. Quite a few of Nadia’s dishes have a bit of Eastern inspiration, like my fabulous starter – spicy, creamy seafood pot with chilli, coriander, ginger, prawns, calamari and mussels. I could have eaten a whole vat of it! The most delicately flavoured creaminess and the freshest, perfectly cooked seafood to compliment it. I’ll be dreaming of this dish for a while.

The delicately creamy and spicy seafood pot

The smoked sea bass was served with sweet pea aioli, pea shoots, lime dressing, salmon eggs, crispy capers and a red pepper coulis. The flavours and colours of summer.

Sea bass that’s pretty as a picture

The chilled asparagus vichyssoise came with spring onion and lemon creme fraiche, marinated asparagus, a parmesan crisp and a hint of truffle. Rich and velvety with that delicious truffly undertone, a real bowl of luxury.

The wonderful mix of asparagus and truffles

Second course – what a treat to have a course between the starter and the main – and I went meaty. The oak-smoked carpaccio was served with mushroom dust and topped with shimiji mushrooms, humus, sundries tomato strips, dried olives, gran padano and vinaigrette. Who knew dust could taste so good!

Carpaccio piled with little delights

The roast chicken croquette was served with sweet and sour cabbage, thyme and lemon sour cream, caramelised onion puree and a brown onion jus.

A rich and earthy chicken croquette

My South African pork belly tasting odyssey continues (yes, it’s become an odyssey) with this amazing slow roasted dish with confit baby onions, apple jelly, shimiji mushrooms, butternut puree, five spice jus and black garlic mash. What a lovely and exotic combination.

Luscious pork belly and crunchy crackling

The tender, rare springbok loin was bobotie spiced and plated up with creamy butternut and feta risotto, whole grain mustard pickled baby onions (love what she does with her onions) and a red wine jus.

Perfectly rare springbok and creamy risotto

There’s usually a curry on the menu – and it’s always beautifully spiced. Today several of our party tucked into the Badami lamb korma – a traditional Indian curry with almonds, chillis, saffron and cardamom served with savoury rice, sourdough bread and raita.

Lamb korma and all the accompaniments

As an occasional dessert eater, I was thrilled to see my absolute favourite of puddings as an option – panna cotta. Flavoured with saffron, it was served with frozen grapes, strawberries, vanilla meringue, mango coulis and a spearmint shortbread. Beautifully creamy it went perfectly with the fruity spread – and I loved the frozen grapes.

A delightfully colourful dessert plate

The lemon tart came with lime and coconut liqueur ice cream, chilli caramel and a sesame brittle. As it was Trevor’s birthday the next day I organised with the kitchen to make his a birthday dessert plate – happy birthday Trevor. The classic lemon tart went beautifully with the tropical flavours of the ice cream.

Lemon tart and birthday greetings

And here’s the view, just heavenly.

Stunning views across vines to the mountains

Inevitably we left clutching our case of Clos Malverne’s wonderful wines (too much of a bargain to resist that R200 off). I particularly love their bubbles, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet/Merlot blend. Now every time I sip on one of them I’ll be mentally transported back to the glorious Devon Valley.

Clos Malverne is at Devon Valley Road, Stellenbosch

Tasting menus and tasty views at Clos Malverne

So today we’re lunching in the Devon Valley near Stellenbosch in the Cape Winelands. I’m going to say it again, I am constantly astounded at the range of top-quality restaurants in the area. It seems like there’s always somewhere new to discover which is great news for me on my ongoing restaurant quest. And this is a real superstar in the heaven that is the Winelands.

Our friends Mandy and Trevor told us all about Clos Malverne and eventually, several years later, we planned our visit on a balmy Saturday lunchtime. The place is set deep among rolling vineyards framed by the ever-present mountains. Simply beautiful.

It’s a family-run concern and has a feel of warmth and intimacy. And best of all we had the top table in the whole place. Laid out on the veranda with far-reaching views to dream of, the setting gave me that immediate sense of happiness and anticipation the second I sat down.

For Saturday lunch they do a fabulous tasting menu. It’s four courses, each matched with a glass of wine from the estate for  R348 (£15.80 at today’s exchange rate). Oh and you also get a glass of bubbles to start off with, the ideal companion for some serious menu pondering. So that’s four courses and five glasses of wine each, just to be clear. Yes, for around £16.

There are three choices for Courses One and Two, six for Course Three and three for the desserts. My advice, don’t stress too much over the ordering, everything we ate (and it was pretty much everything on the menu between us) was delectable.

I’ve had a bit of hankering for mussels recently – for me they’re food I really need to feel like to order – if that makes any sense. So Thai-style (even better) mussels for me served with pickled ginger, dried chilli micro herbs and freshly baked bread. The creamiest of sauce with the delicate Thai flavours made for the perfect kick off.

mussels

Magnificent mussels to get started

The delicate salmon and prawn dish came with a salmon mousse terrine and prawns marinated with lime, chilli, coriander and ginger. A great summery starter – I’m loving all the Asian flavours.

prawns

Succulent salmon and plump prawns to get started

On to Course Two and something meatier. I love carpaccio and have eaten my fair share of it over the years. Today’s offering was grain fed beef served with crispy capers, a 10-year aged balsamic vinaigrette, grana padano and dried tomatoes. So pretty classic with the addition of the beautifully salty caper crispiness.

carpaccio

Carpaccio with crispy capers and all the trimmings

The vegetarian option arrives like a little present to be unwrapped. The parcel is packed with butternut, feta and pine nuts and served with hot, sweet chilli, crispy sage leaves and a roasted garlic cream sauce. A delightful mix of textures and flavours with the magic of that roasted garlic giving a rounded sauce.

butternut

The prettiest of parcels to ponder

And here’s the winner for Course Two! Not that it’s really a competition…anyway this was the winner. Chilli and honey stick pork belly served with mustard and sesame red cabbage coleslaw with a seven spice jus and carrot puree. Pork belly is plentiful on Cape Town menus, so there are tough comparisons to be made before calling this one of the best. Melt-in-the-mouth pork, crispy crackling, sweet puree, an amazing coleslaw (with yet another touch of Asian cuisine). Wow, wow, wow.

pork belly

The picture of deliciousness

Soon it was time for Course Three. More meaty delights for me. Grilled fillet steak is crusted with dried forest mushrooms and comes with fondant potato, crispy bacon, mixed mushrooms, wilted spinach, truffle and a bone marrow jus. A list of ingredients that it made it a dish impossible for me to resist. And I’m glad I didn’t try. Tender medium rare fillet packed with flavour and a plate that brought together a real feast of tastes.

steak

Fabulous fillet with amazing accompaniments

I don’t ever tend to order chicken in restaurants (well, very rarely anyway) but this dish is the best reason to make an exception. Parmesan crusted, the chicken breast is served with egg noodles, a lemon and herb sauce, cocktail tomatoes, pak choi, ginger, garlic and crispy Black Forest Ham. I can’t remember seeing a more beautiful chicken dish.

chicken

A choice chicken dish to savour

The lamb rogan josh was described as a traditional Persian curry and was served with sambals, lemon rice and crispy a poppadum. A silken sauce, well rounded spice flavours and the king of poppadums.

curry

A regal Rogan Josh

Course Four is dessert. Four courses is a good way to go. Okay it’s not a small amount of food but not as hectic as some of those six or seven-course tasting menus around which I must admit to struggling to get through.

Pineapple and coconut consisted of pineapple fridge cheesecake with a coconut meringe and pistacchio brittle. Light and yummy with the sweetness and tartness of pineapple and some lovely crunchy bits.

pudding1

Pineapple and coconut, what a wonderfully tropical pairing

Strawberry delight came with balsamic marinated strawberries, vanilla pod panna cotta, dried strawberries and a black pepper shortbread. I ordered it because I love panna cotta (and strawberries of course) and was a bit disappointed at the tiny piece of panna cotta on the plate. Until I tried the black pepper shortbread – a wonderful crunchy match with the strawberry flavours.

pudding2

Sweetest strawberries with black pepper and balsamic highlights

What a lunch! And great to get the chance to taste a new raft of wines from this estate. I’ve never seen them in Cape Town shops and discovered that’s because 70% of their wines are exported. Particular mention for the bubbles, the Auret and their dessert wine which is called Honeydew. The Auret is what is known as a South African blend (Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinotage) and was the first of its kind to win five stars in the prestigious Platter Wine Guide.  The Honeydew is a wonderfully light pudding wine without that thick stickiness that you often find with wines of its ilk. My friend Sharon doesn’t do well with wine, though she’s happy with the bubbly variety and our waitress was happy to keep her glass filled throughout lunch with her preference. The service was like that, whatever we wanted they could do. Gotta love that.

Clos Malverne offer you R200 off your bill for each case of wine you buy (12 bottles). How can anyone resist that, the more you buy, the more you save…and it meant we came home with 12 great wines to enjoy at home. And we weren’t the only ones.

Oh and remember what I said about the view. Here it is in all its splendour.

view

Lunch with a view, and this is some view

I also loved the mini loaves of bread, delivered warm to our table on arrival.

bread

Mini loaves of warmth to tuck into

The chef who came up with all these delightful dishes is called Nadia Louw Smith. A woman chef in a top restaurant is still something of a rarity, sadly, but that does mean it’s exciting to discover one. I salute Nadia and her team for their amazing creativity and skill in producing food that we all loved (seven of us) at what could be the greatest value ever. Too many superlatives? Go and see for yourself.

Clos Malverne is off the Devon Valley Road near Stellenbosch.