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.

Fine dining at Aubergine in Cape Town

Aubergine is a Cape Town icon. It opened its doors in the suburb of Gardens in 1996. Set in a stylish building that dates back to the early 1800s, it’s an elegant place where you’re guaranteed top-quality food from Chef Harald Bresselschmidt. You feel like good things are going to happen when you walk through the door at Aubergine – and they do.

We started off with aromatic Hendricks gin and tonics complete with cucumber slices on the lovely terrace. It’s surrounded by frangipani trees and the magnificence of Table Mountain towers behind you in the near distance.

You can see influences from East and West in Harald’s cooking and there’s an abundance of local ingredients in evidence. There’s also a sense of anticipation – I organised tonight’s dinner for a group of holidaymakers from the UK and I’ve told them to expect great things!

We soon got them. I must admit I’m partial to an amuse bouche. The literal translation from the French is ‘mouth teaser’ and the idea behind it is to prepare guest for the meal and offer a glimpse into the chef’s approach to food. Tonight’s offering, a light, foamy, spicy cauliflower soup was served with a morsel of the tastiest kingklip (local white fish) on a beautiful slate obviously made specifically for this dish. The start to a wonderful dining experience – and a small insight into Harald’s innovative approach.

amuse

Velvety and luxurious, the amazing cauliflower soup

Because we were a big party the menu had been slightly pared down for us to a choice of three dishes for each course. Works for me, less menu decision making can’t be a bad thing. I didn’t hesitate when it came to the starter. Vitello tonato is one of my favourite dishes ever and this was Harald’s take on it. The veal was served with Serrano ham and marinated with porcini mushroom oil, yellow beets and anchovy mayonnaise. Such a wonderful mix of flavours and textures.

vitello

The tender and tasty veal starter

The crayfish bisque was served with a plump celeriac ravioli and spekboom leaves. It had amazing depth of flavour and lovely chunks of crayfish.

soup

A truly indulgent soup to tuck into

Even with three options to choose from for mains I was having a crisis so I asked the waiter his advice. When he highly recommended the springbok my mind was made up and I didn’t regret it. I’ve eaten springbok a few times and this was the best one ever. Perfectly cooked medium rare it was tender, tasty and served with an exotic combination of mango and pumpkinseed salpicon (which means chopped up small I was informed), gnocchi and shredded mange tout. I cleaned my plate.

As I’m speaking of plates I need to say how much I love the crockery here. It’s like each piece has been chosen specially (or even made specially) for the dish served on it. Such creativity and attention to detail makes a huge difference to the overall dining experience. Well impressive.

springbok

Beautifully rare and tender springbok

The beef prime rib was slow roasted on the bone and served with a green olive potato puree (absolutely spectacular) and a white pepper sauce. Again perfectly cooked with the lovely peppery sauce that went perfectly with the silken potatoes. A rather generous portion meant that my husband took the leftovers home in a doggy bag (box) and we had steak rolls for lunch the next day. Delicious they were, too.

beef

Bring on a generous portion of beef prime rib

And then it was time for dessert. Despite being not much of a dessert person, I’ve learned my lesson – when you’re in a fine dining establishment such as Aubergine, you simply cannot look away from the desserts. They are going to be something to remember – which was definitely the case tonight.

This beautiful plate of food composed of marinated purple fig, light mascarpone and cassis ice cream was a delight of sweetness and lightness.

fig

Puddings don’t get better looking than this

Okay, I cheated slightly and went for the cheese selection (how I love cheese). A mix of South African and international cheeses (six of them) were served with apples, grapes and chilli cashews. This is without doubt the best plate of cheese I have ever had. All beautifully mature and offering a wide range of cheesy flavours from delicate goat’s cheese to the strongest tasting of harder cheese.  I loved them so much I had to contact the restaurant afterwards to confirm what they all were so here goes: Top row left to right, South African goat’s cheese, French Reblochon, French Camembert, Bottom row left to right: 4-year matured South African Boerenkaas, Swiss Tête de Moine, German Backsteiner. Now I know what to look out for ! If you like cheese, don’t even hesitate about ordering this, it’s the cheese of cheesy dreams!

cheese

My best cheese platter ever

And then there’s the duo of creme brulee with fruit salpicon and sorbet. A long receptacle of delicious creaminess that had some of our party gasping with delight. The words “this is the best dessert I’ve ever had” even came out. What more can I say?

brulee

The best creme brulee in the world? Possibly.

Even the petit fours to finish off the dinner were works of art and completely individual.

petitfour

Petit fours that were almost too pretty to eat

There’s no doubt that Aubergine is just one of those places where you are going to love the food. It’s innovative without being crazy, every dish is perfectly done and the combination of courses was nicely balanced. This is cleverly conceived of  food cooked with love. And all our party loved it – it totally lived up to the expectations I’d built up in them (phew).

There’s also an amazing book of a winelist, with options from all over the world. Chef Harald is serious about his wine and there are some proper push-the-boat-out bottles here…you can certainly go big if you want to.

Okay, Aubergine is certainly not a cheap night out. But you’re looking at high-quality food in a unique style in an elegant restaurant with welcoming, efficient service. An all-round night to enjoy,  it’s a real treat.

Aubergine is at 39 Barnet Street, Gardens, Cape Town

Food to dream about at The Conservatory

The Cellars Hohenort Hotel is in the beautiful Constantia Valley. When we were looking for somewhere different to try for a relaxed post-golf Sunday lunch recently, we popped in to check it out. A delicious bloody mary later and a perusal of the menu, we’d booked a table on the sun-drenched terrace of The Conservatory for the weekend.

The hotel is set in nine acres of stunning, award-winning gardens. As you walk from the car park you don’t even have to stop to smell the roses, the scent is floating in the air all around you.

The stunning rose gardens welcome you

The stunning rose gardens welcome you

Everyone got very excited on reading the menu. Everything sounded so amazing, and we even managed to all order different things to get a proper flavour of the food. Our expectations were high as we waited for our starters to arrive.

Gosh, were our expectations met! The food at The Conservatory is truly fantastic and each plate looks like a work of art. Every mouthful was a delight, beginning with the fabulous starters.

ostrich

Ostrick tataki – shitake mushrooms, daikon radish slaw, burnt miso mayo and yuzu dressing.

I do love a souffle and don’t see them often on menus these days, so I simply couldn’t resist ordering this. Velvety smooth and perfectly cheesy.

souffle

Double baked underberg souffle served with a kirsch flavoured cheese sauce and fresh shaved parmesan.

My husband seems to be going for a full set of soup dishes in Cape Town, he’s been having one at every restaurant we go to…so far this is the winner.

The sweetcorn soup could be the best soup I have ever tasted

The sweetcorn soup could be the best soup I have ever tasted

Plates of food really don’t get more stunning than this octopus masterpiece.

Plates of food really do not get more stunning than this

Local octopus carpaccio with lemon bavarois, pickled seafood, crispy prawn and ponzu dressing.

Fish and chips in a good restaurant is always a wise choice.

A truly superior fish and chip dish

A truly superior fish and chip dish with tartare sauce, triple cooked chips and a beautiful garden salad

Fish of the day was monkfish, and this was another plate of food to remember.

Delicate monkfish to delight

Monkfish with pearl barley and spring vegetable risotto asparagus and cape lobster bisque.

When Kevin ordered the gourmet burger everyone on the table sighed with envy. I think we all secretly wanted to be tucking into what has to be the most indulgent burger ever…

burger

Gourmet burger with pan-fried fois gras, truffled mushroom ragout, pancetta, onion rings, cave aged cheddar cheese and shoestring fries.

The duck was beautifully sweet and crispy with silken potatoes.

Beautifully sweet and crispy duck that melted in the mouth

Slow roast crispy duck with pomme puree and exotic mushrooms in a honey-ginger jus

I’m literally salivating now as I relive our wonderful afternoon in the sun in blogtime. Truly great food to savour, and it was good value for money, too.

The hotel is also home to The Greenhouse restaurant which was voted best restaurant in South Africa in 2011 and for 2012 is eighth on the list. Oh well, I guess we’ll just have to make a return visit and check it out, too.