Where to stay: South Hill in the Elgin Valley, South Africa

Continuing on my series of lovely places to stay, today we’re deep in the Elgin Valley. It’s time to get away from it all.

Just over an hour’s drive from central Cape Town, yet feeling a long way from the bustle of the city, South Hill offers luxury accommodation in their modern five-bedroom guest house. Large en-suite rooms and a fabulous communal living area (both inside and out) offer all the comforts of home and more. There’s a 15m pool to cool off in the garden – and a pizza oven, too –  how’s that for a cooking dream come true (well, one of mine anyway).

And then there’s the Pumphouse, set overlooking row upon row of Shiraz vines, which is where we stayed. A self-contained little cottage, again with cooking facilities, a comfortable seating area and a sleeping area with expansive vineyard views and a large, comfy bed. Outside there’s a verandah and deck overlooking the lake, a jacuzzi and tempting hammock to while away the hours in.


The peace and comfort of the Pumphouse beckons

South Hill is the perfect place to get away from life for a while. Here’s what I loved about it.

The total tranquility

Seriously, it doesn’t get more peaceful than this. A winding drive off the busy N2 motorway through apple trees and vineyards takes you deep into the valley where South Hill feels like it’s the only place for miles around. You’re surrounded by mountains, vineyards and wide open spaces and pretty much nothing else. Watch the stars light up the night sky (an unusual sight for a city dweller) and open your curtains to the rosy dawn across rows of vines groaning with luscious grapes.


Vines as far as the eye can see from the Pumphouse bedroom

The views

There’s no doubt that life is better with a view, and there are plenty of stunning ones here.


Blue skies and green vines viewed from The Gallery Restaurant

The wine

The first thing to do to get yourself into the South Hill state of mind is taste their wine. There are seven of them and they’re all delicious. Four of the reds are named after members of the King family who own the place – nice touch – I’d love to have a wine named after me.  Inevitably we left with a case tucked under our arm…there’s no escaping that.


The Shiraz grapes look so good on the vine you can tell they’re going to make stunning wine

The food

The Gallery Restaurant at South Hill is open for breakfast and lunch from Wednesday to Sunday. The food is prepared from local, seasonal ingredients. We had a delicious, laid-back lunch which you can read about in a previous post by clicking here.

Beautiful olive bread got lunch off to a good start

Beautiful olive bread got lunch off to a good start


My wonderful starter with a mouth-watering pea panna cotta

The restaurant is also a gallery showcasing the work of local artists. So great views both inside and out.


The stylish light-filled restaurant

The activities

There’s plenty to do in the area if you’re feeling active like walking, mountain biking, kayaking or quad biking. Just don’t forget to take your camera as you’ll see endless photographic opportunities. Of course you could just curl up with a book and exercise your mind instead.

The farm stalls

Okay, this is an unusual one, but for me it’s part of the Elgin experience. I love a good farm stall and these are two of my favourites. Peregrine is fabulous, packed with freshly baked goods, preserves, fruit and veg, local produce galore. Also the perfect place to stop for breakfast or lunch – and their coffee is very good. Or just a bit further along the motorway you’ll find Houw Hoek whose pies are legendary.The restaurant at South Hill is only open for breakfast and lunch, so stock up on your way there and enjoy local delicacies in the comfort of your home away from home for dinner. And don’t forget to buy some apples – Elgin is apple country after all.

Try out the delicious local fruity preserves

Try out the delicious local fruity preserves

South Hill is at Valley Road, Elgin. Find out more at www.southhill.co.za

Laid-back lunch at Steenberg’s Sixteen82

Today I’m heading for Steenberg, at the end of Cape Town’s M3. It’s a Wine Estate with a hotel, two restaurants and a golf club. What more could you want?

Our destination? Bistro Sixteen82, which is named after the year the winery at Steenberg was established (so that’s a while back) and opened its doors in 2009.

Executive Chef Kerry Kilpin (always nice to hear of a female chef) aims to use fresh, seasonal ingredients. She also says that her travels to Thailand mean she has developed a passion for Thai food. So that sounds very good, you know how I love Thai food.

We’d managed to wangle a last-minute booking – today’s lunch was an unexpected treat. So we started off with a bottle of their beautiful pink sparkling Brut Pinot Noir, well, if you’re going to treat yourself..

The menu doesn’t offer a massive choice of dishes, which makes ordering decisions easier. And there’s a blackboard with daily specials chalked up.

From the board, a clever chicken liver dish served with perfectly cooked pasta, all nestling in a little bowl. A melt-in-the-mouth dish with a real chilli kick.


Chicken livers and pasta make a heavenly starter

The spicy black mussels came with a sauce of onion, garlic, Steenberg chardonnay, lemongrass and tom yum. Plump, flavoursome mussels matched with a simply perfect sauce the flavours transported me straight back to Thailand. The dish also comes as a main course – guess what I’ll be having on my next visit?


Mussels in a tasty Thai-style sauce

The calamari came with harissa mayo, avocado pulp and paprika oil. Some of the softest, sweetest calamari I’ve eaten in a while that went perfectly with the creaminess of the avocado.


A must-eat dish for calamari lovers

For mains I couldn’t resist ordering the pork belly. It came with apple mash, greens and balsamic juice. The pork was perfectly cooked, packed with taste and topped with the crunchiest of crackling. And I loved the apple mash – going to be making some of that myself soon. There was a lot of juice and it was very rich, personally would have liked less of it, or had it on the side so I could add it at my leisure and really savour the flavour of the belly. Looking at my picture, I am thinking it does look a bit saucy…


Another pork belly to add to my sampling list

The braised lamb neck came with millet, sultanas, cumin juice and greens. Tenderest of lamb (the neck is a great cut to cook with) with an interesting combination of ingredients – a taste of Northern Africa possibly?


An exotic lamb dish

Again on the specials board was beef fillet which came with a wild mushroom sauce. A beautifully velvet mushroom sauce, served with tender steak cooked to perfection.


Tender fillet with delectable mushroom sauce

On a sunny day, the stylish light-filled restaurant was packed with a mix of the beautiful people of Cape Town and tourists from all over the world, enjoying tasty food in a great setting. Oh and great wine, too. Aside from the bubbles, which I’d really recommend, their Merlot is lovely and at the top of the tree is their Nebbiolo with its amazingly soft fruity and herby tones and great depth – I’m not a trained wine expert but you get the picture. It’s wine heaven.

Thanks to Juanine for using her influences to nab us a table for a fabulous, spontaneous lunch….let’s do it again soon.

Sixteen82 is on the Steenberg Wine Estate. Find out more by clicking here.

What to drink in Chaweng, Koh Samui

We’ve explored the fabulous food in Koh Samui, but what is there to drink? Nothing quite says Thailand to me than the array of colourful and tasty fruit shakes available everywhere. There’s such a selection the best thing is to start at the top and aim to sample everything on offer during your stay.

In Chaweng, they were often served in console jars with handles attached. Looks really cool and tastes amazing. And a shake on the beach is a great way to start the day.

Like the beautiful yellowy orange of a mango shake at Sabroso on the beach in our little bay.

mango shakes

The sweetness and vibrancy of a mango smoothie

Or how about the beautiful pinkness and sweetness of watermelon. Sipped here under colourful umbrellas in the aftermath of one of many downpours. I think it’s my favourite…though I am also particularly partial to mango and pineapple too. Oh and the mixed combinations are lovely and fruity.


A jar of liquid watermelon to savour

It’s always important to find your coffee place when you arrive somewhere new. And we soon gravitated towards The Coffee Club in Chaweng Main Road. The perfect spot for some people watching and the day’s caffeine fix.


Cappuccino at The Coffee Club

latte picolo

A piccolo latte – the mini version

Breakfast at our hotel also offered some lovely beverage offers. Like this Bael fruit juice…we also enjoyed lemongrass, ginger and freshly squeezed orange juice.


Breakfast juice that gives you health

And then of course there’s the gamut of alcoholic options to chose from. Wine is more widely available in Koh Samui than I’ve found in other places in Thailand. A lot of the restaurants and bars we visited sold wine by the glass and had a wine list of sorts. Prices are still pretty steep, expect to pay £20 upwards for a bottle of wine, choices are normally Australian or Chilean.


Chilled white wine on the beach at Sabroso

Unless you visit the Samui Wine Oasis which has a book of a wine list with a selection from all over the world, including some incredibly high end options. It soon became a regular pre-dinner drink venue when we made the most of happy hour and sipped on a decent glass while watching the world go by on the bustling main road.


The perfect place for wine lovers in Koh Samui

And then there’s our favourite bar – Your Place – right on the beach with the sea lapping up against your feet when the tide was high.


The ultimate beach bar

Our friendly local bartender was a dab hand with the cocktails. And it was so beautiful sitting there it soon became a regular pleasure. Go at happy hour for bargain drinks (90 baht, which is less than £2) for a cocktail. This is called Coconut Wonderful, and it was wonderful.

coconut wonderful

The joy of Coconut Wonderful on the beach

Or how about a Welcome to Samui.


Seaside Samui cocktails decorated with an orchid

Or the Sombie was a tasty citrussy combination.


Artfully made for our drinking pleasure

I bet these pictures have made you thirsty! Happy drinking.

A piece of wine heaven in England

So last week I was invited on a day of wine tasting and dining in a vineyard – an English vineyard. English wine is highly regarded these days, and I was intrigued to find out more so I headed into Surrey on the train to Denbies in Dorking.

I love travelling by train, it’s relaxing and comfortable and gives you plenty of time to work, read or simply ponder as you watch the countryside go by. Dorking is a short journey from London and as you emerge from the tunnel just before the station, it feels like you’ve magically arrived in a different world (or country at least). There are vines growing both sides of the track and hilly, lush green countryside surrounds you. Good start!

Set just minutes from Dorking Station, Denbies is the largest vineyard in the UK, grows 19 grape varieties and produces 400,000 bottles a year. And it’s breathtakingly beautiful. There are walking paths through the estate that are open to the public, so there are quite a lot of people walking their dogs, which I’m always happy to see.

Denbies  vineyard full shot

The beautiful vineyard nestles in a valley


Grapes abound in September, it’s nearly harvest time

There’s plenty to do at Denbies. You can take the train tour up to the highest point of the vineyard where you won’t be able to help yourself gasping at the view. You can also enjoy a Vine & Dine experience where you are taught about grape picking (and pick grapes), have a wine tasting and lunch. Or on bad-weather days there are even indoor wine tours in their unique circular (and slightly bewildering) cinema with surround vision.

And then there’s the restaurants. The Conservatory is a spacious atrium which is open for lunch and tea. The Gallery (which is where I had lunch) is upstairs and is a beautifully light-filled room with panoramic views across the vines. It’s open every day for lunch and Thursday, Friday and Saturday for dinner.

The food is truly lovely (as the pictures clearly show), made using local ingredients where possible. To start, their signature duo of soups which is a healthy and hearty combination of Heirloom tomato and butterbean served in the same bowl, but separate – novel!


Start with a tasty two-in-one soup

I enjoyed the most perfectly cooked piece of salmon (I’m quite a fussy salmon eater and if it’s even slightly overdone I can’t eat it…sorry), served on bed of creamy pesto mash with lovely roast tomatoes and peppers. It looks as lovely as it tasted.


The perfect dish for a sunny day in a vineyard

pork belly

Tender pork belly with perfect crackling, served with mash


The vegetarian option: mushroom, brie, hazelnut and cranberry wellington…stunning

And to finish off, a fabulous cheese platter with grapes, naturally. All local cheeses, the middle one was garlic and herb and incredibly moreish.


There’s also a lovely farm shop (how I love a farm shop) and a modern wine tasting area. And the wine is excellent, too, I loved their Juniper Hill white which I had with lunch.

Find out more at www.denbies.co.uk

It’s a family affair at Villiers in Covent Garden

Villiers Street, which leads up from the Embankment to the Strand, has always been famous in my mind for Gordon’s Wine Bar which I have visited many times. It’s said to be the oldest wine bar in London, established in 1890 and it’s been family-owned since it opened. Clearly family businesses abound in Covent Garden…who’d have thought? I keep discovering more of them!

And this family’s not finished with their Covent Garden plans. The granddaughters of the current generation running Gordon’s Wine Bar have opened their own venture in the same road. Villiers is the brainchild of Rose and Sophie Gordon and serves breakfast, coffee and an informal all-day menu. The bar is laid out with food during the day and in the evening becomes a bar for sitting around. Great idea.

We were welcomed with open arms by the charming staff and led into the small, buzzy room behind the bar. The menu’s divided into sections: Snacks, Salad and vegetables, Fish, Meat, Charcuterie and Cheese. Making a logical way to order seem by section, so we did. I like a menu with a bit of logic! Here’s our selection of tasty morsels.

I must try making these polenta chips, they were beautifully golden and served with a creamy, salty gorgonzola sauce drizzled over them.


Chips with a difference, made from polenta

The beef carpaccio was tender and served with the classic combination of rocket and parmesan. Works every time.


A classic carpaccio dish

Deep fried artichokes were interesting, sprinkled with crispy little deep fried capers.


A crispy bowl of tastines

The lamb koftas came with a spicy, velvety sauce


Lovely lamb with a great sauce to dip it in

The peach, beetroot and mascarpone salad sounded like such a weird combination that we had to try it! It worked really well together with the beautifully caramelised peaches, sweet and creamy mascarpone and slightly tart beetroot.


It’s amazing the combinations you can come up with using beetroot

Portions aren’t huge (but then nor are prices), so we were still hungry. The menus were returned to us and we unanimously decided we should have one of their cheese platters to finish off. A lovely selection to behold. I particularly loved the Stinking Bishop (first on the left), which I’d never had before and was beautifully strong, creamy and stinky and delicious, as only cheese can be!


A cheese platter to finish with

We also managed to polish off some totally delicious Verdejo from Spain, perfect summer white wine.

Somewhere else new to frequent in Covent Garden…how delightful.

Villiers is at 31a Villiers Street

Wine heaven down the Annandale Road

So it’s time to continue with my Winelands explorations one carefully selected section at a time. This is a serious business that takes time so, to keep it simple, today I’ve selected four amazing destinations that are a stone’s throw from each other.

We headed down the N2 from Cape Town, took the R44 towards Stellenbosch and turned right after the strawberry farm. This is the Annandale Road and you’re officially on the Helderberg wine route.

First stop, Rust en Vrede (which means rest and peace, literally translated), towards the end of Annandale. The drive will take your breath away, take it slowly, there are plenty of photo opportunities along the way.


Rust en Vrede’s elegantly stylish gates give you a taste of the grandeur to come

For the last 32 years Rust en Vrede has specialised in producing only red wine with a focus on Shiraz, Cabernet and Merlot. Their wines were chosen by Nelson Mandela to be served at his Nobel Peace Prize dinner in 1993. Very much at the high end of the price spectrum (their Proprietor’s Collection sells for R2,750 a bottle), these are proper wines and it feels like a privilege to taste them in such glorious and historic surroundings.

The estate is also home to the famous Rust en Vrede restaurant which was ranked second best in South Africa for 2013. I’ve never eaten there myself but by all accounts it’s a wonderful experience. You can tuck into a four or six-course tasting menu or totally push the boat out and indulge in the Estate experience menu. This is described as “a four to five hour long gastronomic journey”, has to be shared by the whole table, the menu is a surprise and it costs R2,000. Wow!


This is the breathtaking view as you meander up to Rust en Vrede


Welcome to the world of stupendous reds

If you can drag yourself away, it’s time to retrace your steps before taking a left turn and driving deep into the valley until you find (aptly named) Hidden Valley. It’s home to another of the top-10 restaurants in the country – Overture (rated no. 7). If you want to sample chef Bertie Basson’s menu, make sure you book well in advance, tables here are hard to come by. While you’re there, visit the shop and pick up some of their olive oil, it’s truly fabulous.


Hooray for the Merlot at Hidden Valley

A very short hop away is Ernie Els Wines. The popular professional golfer decided to cement his love for wine by creating Ernie Els wines in 1999. Lucky him! He’s worked with winemaker Louis Strydom since then and offers a good range to try. While you’re there you can also check out his golfing achievements in the Trophy Room and settle in for lunch, again with stunning views.


Our chosen venue for lunch today was Guardian Peak. It’s one of the few Wineland restaurants that’s open on Mondays. The sweeping views are simply gorgeous and the menu offers bistro-style food with an emphasis on their steaks. I had a delectable mussel starter which I am going to have to attempt to recreate at home. The combination of a creamy sauce made using sauvignon blanc, the plump mussels, bacon and pine nuts was simply wonderful. We also enjoyed their lovely Rose, perfect for a hot summer’s day lunch.


My delicious mussel starter with bacon, pine nuts and a creamy white wine sauce

guardian peak

Looking out towards the mountains from Guardian Peak’s restaurant

The most wonderful way to spend an afternoon, so much glory and deliciousness to enjoy on one winding road. Annandale rules!

You will find all these vineyards (and more) down the Annandale Road off the R44 on the way to Stellenbosch from Somerset West.