Beautifully fresh dishes at stylish Cavalli

Today we’re heading just outside Somerset West to Cavalli. Set on a hill with stunning views of Cape Town and the majestic Helderberg mountains, it’s a working farm with an olive grove, lavender fields, vineyards and citrus trees.

It’s also home to the Cavalli Stud (it means horses in Italian) – the family breed and train world-class Saddlebred horses. It’s a sprawlingly beautiful property in shades of green all enclosed with white picket fences – there’s definitely a touch of the Southforks here.

Environmentally friendly fine dining

The restaurant was recently awarded the Great Wine Capitals Best of Wine Tourism award for architecture and landscapes in Bilbao. It’s certainly a striking, contemporary building which uses a Geo-exchange system – using the dam to heat and cool, solar energy and a waste water treatment plant to recycle 93% of the estate’s water. Because of all these amazing environmental incentives it’s been named the first Green-star rated restaurant in South Africa.

Cavalli describe their food as “everyday gourmet”. They grow their own seasonal herbs and a wide range of vegetables and stress the importance of using local and sustainable ingredients. A lot of thought has gone into the combinations in dishes, the colours, textures and flavours – consequently you’re served plates of beautifully plated food packed with taste.

The menu at Cavalli

I love carpaccio – therefore it is one of my  most-ordered starters. Today’s was a particularly spectacular example. The beef was seared and served with shaved radish, ginger soy dressing, pickled shimeji and Thai basil. Tender, flavoursome meat with crunchy, zesty toppings and a wonderful light dressing that really brought all the ingredients to life.

Carpaccio at Cavalli

Fabulous carpaccio with an Asian twist

The glazed duck breast was served with mango puree, sweetcorn salsa, nam prik and a coconut reduction. Duck, mango and coconut make for a wonderfully refreshing combination.

Tasty duck breast nestles on salsa and puree

And of course we had to sample the pork belly – I’m still trying to taste every pork belly dish in the Cape, but think it’s a massive and intimidating goal – even for me! It seems like there’s a version on every restaurant’s menu. This was acorn-fed and served with nam jim vermicelli, bok choi, laksa sauce and roasted peanuts.

Succulent pork belly with noodles and crunchy crackling

My choice today was the fish dish – probably one of the nicest I’ve had this year as it turns out. The seaweed-crusted line fish (sea bass) was served with butter-poached prawns and mussels, chilli tagliolini and sauce nacional. The sea bass was wonderfully sweet with a crunchy topping and the seafood melted in my mouth. And the little pile of noodles were perfect to help mop up the creamy, buttery sauce.

A pretty and delightfully tasty fish dish

The grass-fed beef sirloin was served with estate beans, gem squash emulsion, pear chutney and potato dauphinoise. A delicious work of art on a plate.

A beautifully delicate plate of sirloin

A lot of the dishes clearly have an Asian influence which I loved. And you could really taste the freshness of all the ingredients.

Stunning mountain views

And then there’s the views! Vines, mountains, farmland, fynbos, wildflowers and blue, blue sky.

The view at Cavalli

The view across the farm to the mountains

The restaurant overlooks a lake – love the sculptures

And I really loved the rose-gold ice bucket which perfectly matched our lovely bottle of Rose. It seems like Cavalli certainly does everything with style.

Shades of pink and rose gold

In addition to the fabulous food, Cavalli is also worth a visit for their art on exhibit and fabulous wine tasting area.

Today’s price point

We paid R955 (£60 at today’s exchange rate) for lunch for four (two starters and four main courses).

There’s also an amazing wine list with a huge range on offer, including a selection from Europe if you feel like pushing the boat out. Whites and roses start from R125 (£8) a bottle, reds from R135 (£8.50).

Cavalli is just off the R44 between Stellenbosch and Somerset West.

Wonderfully exciting food at The Restaurant at Waterkloof

Today we’re heading back to the Somerset West area and climbing to the top of another hill to The Restaurant at Waterkloof. It’s rated the third best restaurant in South Africa in the 2016 Eat Out Mercedes Benz Restaurant Awards – behind The Test Kitchen and La Colombe in Cape Town. I had already been to both of these and had heard very mixed opinion of Waterkloof so was looking forward to making the comparison for myself.

The Restaurant is housed in a modern building with floor to ceiling glass and sensational views of False Bay and across the vines to the Hottentots Holland mountains. It’s cleverly designed with a huge glass box jutting out to make the most of these views – you need to be enclosed as the wind really howls up here. So don’t come expecting an al fresco meal.

The interior is modern and stylish with a circular fireplace central to the tasting area and the restaurant alongside. All open plan with light flooding in.

You can choose from the two or three-course a la carte menu or the tasting menu (with or without wine pairing). Bear in mind that whatever you choose you’re going to get more than you’re expecting as there are several delightful surprises along the way. We opted for two courses which in reality meant five with the extras.

Like this bread and butter extravaganza. Three rolls and five different types of butter to get you started – including smoked aioli, mustard butter, chive butter, garlic butter and plain butter. Never has this humble dish been more delicious or more beautifully presented.

Five types of butter at Waterkloof

An extravaganza of butter

The bread is delicious at Waterkloof

A selection of warm rolls

And then our next surprise – the amuse bouche. A mini Springbok tartare topped with with salmon cream, miso jelly and pickled seeds. A totally scrumptious combination of flavours and textures.

The amuse bouche at Waterkloof

A delightful mini springbok tartare

We ordered a bottle of Waterkloof’s Circumstance Sauvignon Blanc and (unusually for white) it was decanted and balanced in a bowl of crushed ice. Quite a charming touch, I thought – and doesn’t it look lovely. You can see the tasting area and the open kitchen in the background.

The wine decanter at Waterkloof

The wine nestles in a bed of ice

My starter of asparagus done several ways was served with an amazingly creamy parmesan mousse. What a beautiful plate of food and the delicate flavours blew me away. A truly wonderful dish for asparagus lovers like me.

Asparagus four ways at Waterkloof

A feast of asparagus

The plump scallop was served with an rich and earthy porcini mousse, that melted its bursting flavours into the mouth. Two outstanding starters.

The scallop starter at Waterkloof

A plump scallop and earthy porcini mousse

The attention to detail on each dish is incredible and you can see the effort going into every plate in the open kitchen.

The chefs in the kitchen at Waterkloof

Some serious kitchen concentration

The Mauritius sea bass came with confit leek, Saldanha mussels and cape gooseberries. The fish was sweet and perfectly cooked and balanced well with the sharpness of the gooseberries. And who’d have thought of doing confit leeks? A truly ingenious idea.

The sea bass at Waterkloof

Sweet sea bass with fresh fruit and veg

And how’s this for another masterpiece of plating? The Joostenberg Vlakte duck breast was served with saffron apples and glazed turnips. Beautifully flavoursome and tender duck matched well with the slight sweetness of the apples and turnips – and the saffron influence came through strongly. Seriously want to know how to make saffron apples, they were so perfectly infused with one of my favourite spices.

So that was the end of our two-course choice. And it was fabulous. Important for me to point out that portions are on the small side at Waterkloof so if you’re expecting large plates of food you’re going to be disappointed. Personally I like eating lighter and with the extras this was plenty enough for lunch for me.

In fact we decided against dessert as we were full. But then the selection of petit fours was delivered to our table – well, I think I’d describe them as pudding actually. This beautiful purple creation was delivered in a mini bell jar – the lightest of pastries filled with a blackcurrant mousse and topped with a blackcurrant macaron. Everything melted in my mouth with a zing of flavours.

Blackcurrant dessert at Waterkloof

A bell jar of deliciousness

There were also delicate chocolate toffee straws and little lollies of mint and coconut ice cream encased in white chocolate to pop into your mouth. Stunning.

So now I’ve been to South Africa’s top-three (on one list anyway) and I’d put Waterkloof first of the three of them. A thoroughly wonderful and exciting foodie experience.

Fruity little ice creams and chocolatey coffee delight

Wine tasting at Waterkloof

The contemporary fire is the focal point of the wine tasting area

The view from Waterkloof

The fabulous vineyard and mountain views

And here’s the glass box that juts out of the side of the building making the most of the sea views.

The sea views at Waterkloof

Clever design to make the most of the view

Today’s price point

Two courses from the a la carte menu cost R420 (£26 at today’s exchange rate). Of course you got all the extras included for this.

The bottle of Circumstance Sauvignon Blanc cost R190 (£12 at today’s exchange rate).

It’s really good value for great fine dining.

The Restaurant at Waterkloof is at Sir Lowry’s Pass Road, Somerset West.

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.

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.

Classically perfect pasta at Morgenster

I’m taking my job very seriously this month and trying to bring you news and lovely pictures from a range of Cape Winelands eateries. So today we’ve popped in for a casual mid-week lunch at 95 at Morgenster.

Morgenster is a thriving wine and olive farm which dates back to 1711. They are known for their Bourdeaux-style blends and their Italian Collection wines. All of which are fabulous. Plus they offer a  top range of olive oils.

The restaurant 95 at Morgenster is the baby of Italian chef Giorgio Nava, whose lovely original restaurant, 95 Keerom, is in  central Cape Town. The menu is inspired by the food of Milan and there’s a good selection of salads, antipasti, pasta and meat dishes.

Our taste buds got awakened by the sound of all the pasta dishes. My homemade ravioli of slow baked Karoo lamb shoulder was served with sage butter and parmesan. One of those pasta dishes that makes you want to sigh with delight with every mouthful. The richness and softness of the lamb, the flavoursome pasta pillows and that amazingly silken butter sauce. Truly a pasta dish to dream about.

Luscious ravioli in sage butter

You can’t beat a classic Italian dish perfectly done. The handmade tagliatelle came with a slow cooked beef ragu and fresh herbs. You can tell just by looking at this picture that it was a lovingly prepared ragu with great richness and depth.

Rich and tasty ragu with flavoursome fresh pasta

We actually got to Morgenster a bit early for lunch so settled on the restaurant’s lovely verandah overlooking the dam and mountains and enjoyed a pre-lunch coffee. Love the attention to detail here, with footprints in the foam.

Who left their footprints in the coffee?

You eat in dappled sunlight under a slatted roof (as you can see from the pictures of our lovely pasta dishes). And this is the expansive view of water, mountains and azure sky.

Food always tastes better with a view

Morgenster is at Vergelegen Avenue, off Lourensford Road on the outskirts of Somerset West.

Today’s price point

We paid R320 (about £19 at today’s exchange rate) for two delicious pasta dishes and a bottle of Merlot.

Bistro-style food and lovely wine at Glenelly in Stellenbosch

Today we’re heading back into the wonderful Winelands to the outskirts of Stellenbosch and Glenelly Wine Estate.

In 2003, at the age of 78, May de Lencquesaing bought the estate which was part of the original Ida Valley Farm granted in 1682 by Simon van der Stel. Madame grew up in the heart of Bourdeaux’ vineyards in France and wanted to make South African wine with a French touch – an admirable goal for a 78-year-old. Especially since she had to start from scratch by replacing the existing fruit trees with vines.

It’s good wine, too, as we sampled before we lunched. I particularly liked the unwooded Chardonnay and the Merlot. The 1783 stamp on the label represents the nearly 250 years of the family’s wine history.

Downstairs, looking over perfectly manicured vines towards the mountains is The Vine Bistro. Chef Christophe Dehosse serves up french-inspired dishes using local ingredients.

There are several offal dishes on the menu, all of which we sampled, being something of offal lovers. The pressed pork tongue terrine came with a zesty pickled porcini salad and dollops of aioli. Really love picked mushrooms.

Tongue terrine at Glenelly in Stellenbosch

The pretty terrine piled with pickled porcini

This colourful salad of spanspek (melon), mussels and prawns had a lovely light balsamic and chive dressing.

Vibrant colours and sweetness

The pork trotter was pan fried with a gribiche sauce, which is a mayonnaise-like French sauce. The dish was incredibly rich – a really indulgent starter.

A delicious parcel of richness

For mains I tucked into roast spicy lamb ribs with potato wedges and cauliflower fried with turmeric and fennel seed butter. Lovely crispy bits of lamb, perfectly cooked piping hot rosemary potatoes and  spicy cauliflower made for a lovely combination.

Tasty, crispy lamb with great vegetable accompaniments

The slow roasted Karoo Lamb shoulder came with black olive, rosemary, ratatouille, confit garlic and gratin dauphinoise.

A tasty tower topped with lamb

And how’s this for the ultimate indulgent dish? Roasted veal sweetbread with root vegetables, celeriac puree and fresh tarragon.

That was quite a collection of classically French-influenced dishes.

For dessert the trio of homemade ice-cream and sorbet made for the perfect refresher.

A cleansing dish of ice cream to finish with

A classic French pud with a real South African twist next – Canele bordelais served with fynbos honey, rooibos tea ice cream and caramelised pineapple cream. A canele is a small French pastry flavoured with rum and vanilla, with a soft custard centre and a darker caramelised crust (in case you were wondering!).

Cute caneles with cream and ice cream

And finally, a delicious and varied selection of local South African cheeses, such a pretty plate.

Five cheeses for sampling

Service is friendly and the atmosphere is laid-back, making Glenelly a lovely place to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon. Oh and Madame is also still here – aged 91 – keeping up the wine-making family legacy with her grandsons.

Today’s price point

Most of our party ate off the set lunch menu which was R310 (£18 at today’s exchange rate) – incredibly good value.

To give an indication of the a la carte, the sweetbreads were R210 (about £12.50) and the lamb shoulder R195 (about £11.50).

Double wine cooling and vineyard views

Glenelly Wine Estate is at Lelie Street, Ida’s Valley, Stellenbosch.

Perfect vines and mountain views

Do you have a favourite Stellenbosch restaurant that I should try? Do get in touch.