Lunching at Idiom in the Cape Winelands

Today we’re travelling into the Winelands outside Somerset West, way off the beaten track on a long and winding road to the top of a hill. Yes it did feel like something of a voyage into the unknown. As you can probably gather from the length of that sentence.

Idiom is run by the Bottega family who take great pride in their Italian/South African heritage. As a result Italian varietals are part of the wine portfolio, bringing the spirit of Italy to South Africa. The restaurant opened in June 2016, so it’s a new addition to the ever-growing Winelands collection.

Italian/South African fusion

You won’t be surprised to hear that the menu also has a real Italian flavour to it. And a good helping of South African influences. I particularly loved my starter which was a South Africanised version of one of my all-time favourite dishes, vitello tonnato. Usually it’s a dish of cold, sliced veal that’s covered with a creamy mayonnaise-like sauce that has been flavoured with tuna (normally tinned tuna). Sounds like a weird combination, but believe me it’s spectacular.

Today’s version substituted ostrich for the veal. I’m not a big fan of ostrich but was so intrigued by the creativity of the dish I had to order it. The sauce was made with tasty chunks of fresh tuna and the ostrich was some of the best I’ve ever had. It was tender, perfectly cooked and amazingly tasty. What a great start!

South African vitello tonnato in the Winelands

A classic dish with a truly South African twist

The porcini mushroom ravioli was packed with rich, earthy flavours and the home-made pasta was fresh and perfectly cooked.

Italian dishes at Idiom in the Winelands

Little ravioli parcels of mushroom delight

For mains I had beautiful little lamb cutlets, served alongside a mini bobotie (a South African dish of spiced mince meat baked with a custardy egg topping) and a lovely vegetable selection in orange and green – smooth and sweet butternut puree, cinnamon apples, crunchy sugarsnap peas, tender broccoli and pea shoots.

A delectable plate of lamb at Idiom in the Winelands

Lamb chops with a perfect vegetable selection

The pork belly came in piles of graded size – large, medium, small, with crunchy curls of crackling, buttery mash and candied apples.

Pork belly rocks in the Cape Winelands

Tender pork belly with towering crackling curls

The food at Idiom is really good – a clever mix of South Africa and Italy, packed with good flavours and combinations and beautifully presented. And the setting is truly spectacular with far-reaching views from on high across Gordon’s Bay and the sea. The Tuscan-style building and stonework also add an Italian feel to the surrounds.

Unfortunately the service leaves something to be desired. It was hard to catch anyone’s attention and people were slow to respond. Also, our plates weren’t cleared before the next course arrived and we moved them ourselves so the waitress could put our starters down. She walked off and left us sitting there holding our dirty plates until we asked her to take them. Generally the attitude was also unenthusiastic and lacklustre. A shame as it put something of a downer on the whole experience.

A taste of Italy at Idiom in the Cape Winelands

The Tuscan-style restaurant on high with sea views

The grounds at Idiom in the Winelands are an outdoor art gallery

A stunning statue and landscape

These beautiful heads welcome you at the entrance and are the masterpieces of contemporary South African artist and sculptor, Lionel Smit.

Lionel Smit in the Winelands

The stunning sculpture takes in the view

Malay Girls head by Lionel Smit in the Winelands

And here she is from the front

The beautiful setting at Idiom in the Winelands

Stone steps lead up to the restaurant

The vines include a lot of Italian varietals at Idiom

Even the view on the way out is worth a snap

Today’s price point

Our two-course lunch for two, including wine cost R640. That’s about £40 at today’s exchange rate.

Their Bianco (Pinot Grigot) is delicious and costs R100 (£6).

The red Italian varietals were on the expensive side.

A case of limited edition Nebbiolo (6 bottles) goes for R2,700 (£167).

Idiom is at Sir Lowry’s Pass, Somerset West.

Do you have a favourite restaurant in the Cape Winelands? I’d love to hear about it – I’m always looking for new places to try.

Exploring and indulging on the Franschhoek Wine Tram

As promised, today we’re hopping on board the Franschhoek Wine Tram. There are so many vineyards in Franschhoek in  South Africa’s Cape Winelands it’s quite a daunting task to pick which ones to visit. So someone clever thought about starting up the Wine Tram to make it easier. There are five routes to choose from and seven or eight vineyards that you can hop off at for each one.

We chose the Red Line, which has eight stops – and you have time to get off at a maximum of five. Clearly there is still some decision making to be done. Anyway, select your route and head for the centre of beautiful Franschhoek to start your adventure. It’s worth getting there a little early for a fabulous coffee at Sacred Ground (how’s that for a great name for a coffee shop). Then wait for the bell to ring to announce the start of your tour and for your guide with the red (or whatever the colour of your tour) flag to appear.

It turns out that the Wine Tram tours are mainly on a bus – well the actual tram only visits two stops which happened to be at the end of our tour. But you won’t be disappointed as it’s a particularly cute bus, resplendent in green and gold. The open sides make for easy picture taking and the informative commentary fills you in about the wine life in Franschhoek.

All aboard the wine bus wine tram

We headed out of central Franschhoek towards our first stop Maison. It’s a beautifully quaint little building with a welcoming verandah and tasting area in front. The restaurant – Kitchen at Maison – which is currently rated the eighth best in the country, overlooks vines and mountains.

The quaintest of cottages greets you

There’s a strict timetable to follow which actually makes life easier. Each segment is organised in periods of an hour – so when you’re dropped off watches are synchronised and the bus is back in exactly an hour. You can of course stay two hours (or three, or however long you want). We found that the hour worked really well. The farms are all used to the system and served us quickly and efficiently. So we were ready to head off to the next stop when the bus arrived.

In the garden at Maison – a bit of natural art?

We decided to skip the next two stops – Eikehof and Leopard’s Leap, though I did get the opportunity to capture this stunning sculpture from the bus. No prizes for guessing which vineyard this was at. As well as all its other great qualities, Franschhoek is like a massive outdoor art gallery!

Look out for the leopard prowling on high

Next stop Chamonix which dates back to 1688. The newly opened restaurant which overlooks the forest at the back. We tucked into the cheese and charcuterie boards because you’ve gotta eat if you’re tasting all that wine. They were beautifully presented and tasty, just what we needed.

A tasty cheese selection to keep us going

A delicious charcuterie platter with local meat and cheeses

A short hop and we were off the bus again at spectacular Dieu Donne. It’s a modern construction, set high up on the slopes of Franschhoek with this spectacular view across the valley.

Dieu Donne’s view is one of the most amazing

The bus meanders through the streets of this historic little town – and it really makes you feel like you want to live there (or perhaps that’s due to the wine?). Beautiful views, quaint cottages and a sense of peace – I could picture myself moving into this house!

Picture perfect cottages line the streets

By now the afternoon was starting to run away from us, time really does fly when you’re having fun. Finally it was time for the best bit – the actual tram. We waited excitedly alongside the track as it trundled up. All aboard and we headed for our final stop – Grande Provence.

It’s on the tram for the last two stops

On arrival at the station there’s a tractor and trailers awaiting you which trundle through the vines and trees to a beautiful destination. Grande Provence oozes class and style and there’s a very warm welcome, too.

Love the Franschhoek modes of transport

It’s over 300 years old and has the most spectacular gardens. Beautiful trees, water features and art everywhere for your pleasure. And the wine is great too. We settled in the shady garden with a chilled bottle of Rose. The perfect last stop to complete our day.

The stylish inside tasting area at Grande Provence

The beautiful trees offer shade for the sculptures

More fabulous Franschhoek art to admire

I loved our afternoon on the Wine Tram. We made new friends and sang with them along the way (wine tasting definitely helps with that!), tasted new wines and enjoyed the beauty of the Franschhoek Valley in style. The Bus/Tram works like clockwork and is certainly a novel way to travel.

Homeward bound after a fabulous Winelands afternoon

The vineyards we visited in conclusion

They were all very different, a mix of historical and modern, varying views, food and wine. My opinion in short.

Maison

Quaint and quirky.

Expensive wine tasting.

Highly regarded restaurant, though we didn’t eat in it this time.

Chamonix

Lovely cheese and charcuterie platters.

Delicious Sauvignon Blanc with lots of citrus notes.

Not much of a view.

Dieu Donne

Spectacular views.

More delicious Sauvignon Blanc.

Grande Provence

The classiest of the lot.

Beautiful gardens, water features and sculptures.

Delicious Rose.

Find out more about the fabulous Wine Tram at winetram.co.za

 

 

 

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

Travel: A culinary tour of Chile

One of the best things about being a food and travel writer is that you get to explore the world and sample all its flavours. I’ve travelled fairly extensively so far, though that travel wishlist seems to be constantly expanding rather than being ticked off. And there’s one big gap in my travels – I’ve never been to South America.

I love the look of Chile and Peru so when I recently met a delightful lady called Paula Christensen who is totally passionate about her culinary tour of Chile, I decided I simply had to tell you all about it.

It’s a personalised 12-day (11-night) tour focused on markets, cooking classes, excellent restaurants and wine tastings. At least I can say I’ve drunk a fair helping of Chilean wine which is exported all over the world.

The trip starts off with a couple of days exploring Santiago, the nearby beaches and the vineyards of the Central Valley – and tasting all the food associated with them. Then for the second half  of your journey it’s back to the capital for an early flight to Patagonia for four days discovering more about the beautiful and unknown region of Carretera Austral.

Experiences include demos by top Chilean chefs, wine pairings, vineyard visits, shopping and sight seeing and what I think I’d love most – cooking classes in traditional Chilean cuisine.

You can find out more about this wonderful tour by clicking here.

You can also follow Paula’s adventures on twitter.

And here are some pictures of the stunning country that is Chile to whet your appetite even further.

caminata P.D

There’s beautiful scenery to enjoy

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Accommodation is of the highest standard

Mallin Colorado lunch in the garden

There’ll be plenty of opportunities to savour the cuisine of Chile

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Vineyards in many shades of green

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The traditional Chilean way of slow-cooking lamb


Tasty local fare at The Gallery at South Hill

Today we’re heading for the wine growing region of Elgin. It’s about an hour’s drive from the centre of Cape Town over the magnificence of Sir Lowry’s Pass which is a real feat of engineering with stunning views. As roads go it’s in a league of its own. And once you reach the other side you’re in a different world…the world of Elgin. A get-away-from-it all destination with fabulous food and wine to sample – just up my street. And also an area that I didn’t know much about before, so time for a voyage of discovery. And I’m going to start by discovering a new restaurant. Why wouldn’t ya?

Turning off the motorway down a winding road past vineyards and apple orchards (Elgin is officially Apple Country and the trees are laden with them at this time of year), we headed for South Hill vineyards, set in its beautiful valley. The restaurant, The Gallery looks out over their Cabernet Sauvignon vines. It’s a light-filled, airy space with a lovely little bar and seating on the lawn. The perfect place to settle in for a little pre-lunch wine tasting and take in the tranquility that is South Hill.

South Hill’s wines are simply wonderful (more of that in later post). I can’t go wine tasting without purchasing a selection of new beverages to take home…is it just me? So the inevitable transactions took place and then it was time to eat. Lunch is served here from Wednesday to Sunday and the bistro-style menu today had a choice of six starters and mains made using local, seasonal ingredients.

First up a little something extra from the kitchen, a vibrant, tasty pea soup. Simply yum, a classic dish that I’m going to make more often myself. Love sipping soup from a mini cup.

peasoup

The beautifully sweet and creamy pea soup

Continuing on today’s pea theme, this is one of the nicest starters I’ve had this year. Goat’s cheese wrapped in cured ham and baked and served with a pea panna cotta. I say it all the time, I love a panna cotta but I’d never experienced the joy of a savoury one before. My life hadn’t been complete…the warm creaminess of the cheese, the saltiness of the ham and the sweetness of the melting pea panna cotta made for a dreamy combination.

goatscheese

A fresh summery starter

The soup of the day was tomato. It seems that Elgin tomatoes are in a class of their own, producing a beautifully sweet and flavoursome vibrantly red soup.

tomato soup

Beautifully fresh tomato soup

The Indonesian chicken came stir fried with noodles, vegetables, sesame seeds and soya.

chicken

Asian-style stir-fried noodles with chicken

The rib-eye beef burger came topped with a generous helping of sweet caramelised balsamic onions, crispy fries and salad. A good burger is hard to beat and this was right up there, obviously made from superior beef and perfectly cooked.

burgers

A meat and juicy burger

As I said Elgin is Apple Country so when you spot an apple tart on the menu you simply have to order it. Served here with bourbon vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce, with a light, flaky pastry and thin slices of the lovely local fruit.

appletart

Light, flaky apple tart

And then time for a chocolate fix with the chocolate orange fondant and vanilla ice cream. A grown-up version of ice cream and chocolate sauce with the warm chocolatey centre oozing out gently over the ice cream and the delicately zesty orange flavours.

choc

Indulgent chocolate fondant and ice cream

What a good start that was to my Elgin Odyssey…and there’s plenty more to come. Watch this space.

The Gallery restaurant is at South Hill Vineyards, Valley Road, Elgin.

Chilled out lunch at Constantia Glen

One of the many attractions that Cape Town offers is its wine. There are several wine regions around the Mother City where you can pop in for a tasting and to stock up your cellar, or settle in for a leisurely lunch. The Constantia area is only 20 minutes from the centre of town and is the oldest wine producing region in South Africa, dating back to 1685. There are several vineyards to visit here and today we’re at the stunning venue of Constantia Glen.

It’s amazing that you can be in a city, yet feel like you’ve been transported away to a private paradise in the mountains. Sitting looking over the Constantia Valley with vines as far as the eye can see, sapphire blue skies and rugged mountains framing the picture, an instant contentment washes over you. And that’s before you’ve even tasted the wonderful wine.

view

A picture-perfect view to enjoy

Constantia Glen makes just four wines, the Two, Three and Five, as well as a special Sauvignon Blanc. They are all fabulous, so don’t stress about which one  you order. I guarantee you’ll want to take some home with you, too.

And then there’s the food. A simple menu offering choice platters makes ordering life easy. We tucked into two meat and cheese combination platters between the four of us. I love a good platter and these are great. The freshest of (still warm) bread and a good selection of meats and cheeses that go perfectly with the wine.

platter

A mix charcuterie and cheese platter. Yummy!

And here’s the view from another angle in its magnificent blues and greens.

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Wonderful vineyard and mountain views

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Constantia Glen’s Five is a stunning red

This is a popular place and the hot summer’s day that I visited it was heaving. Service was still smooth and friendly and it’s hard to imagine a more beautiful and laid-back place to spend an afternoon. I intend to do just that as often as I can!

Constantia Glen is off Constantia Main Road in Cape Town.