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

 

 

 

Another great Franschhoek restaurant: Ryan’s Kitchen

Today we’re having dinner in the beautiful Winelands town of Franschhoek. About an hour’s drive from Cape Town, the valley of Franschhoek (which means French Corner in Afrikaans) was originally settled in 1688 by 176 French Huguenot refugees. There’s a definite French feel to the town with many of the settlers naming their new farms after where they came from in France.

Which means the town has a strong wine culture which, along with the stunning scenery and architecture, make Franschhoek one of the most desirable towns in South Africa. It’s also often described as South Africa’s gourmet capital as it’s packed with so many top-quality restaurants. Tonight we chose to have dinner at Ryan’s Kitchen.

It’s a welcoming, modern space with an open kitchen that’s buzzing with activity. Our table was close enough to the action to watch the meticulous presentation skills that every chef is clearly required to have to produce the beautiful plates of food that we enjoyed here.

Ryan’s goal is to produce modern South African cuisine using local ingredient, all prepared with imagination, flair and ingenuity. And he certainly didn’t disappoint.

First up, the breadboard of the year was delivered. How we loved his fabulous beer and cocoa creation, bread has never had a more enticing aroma. The other selection was an equally delicious turmeric bread.

One of the best bread offerings ever

And then what we weren’t expecting – an amuse bouche feast. Croquettes, a pea marshmallow and tasty potatoes topped with smoked fish. Wow!

Close up on the wonderful croquettes

A spoonful of pea marshmallow, who’d have thought?

Smoky fish and delicate potato flavours

Now that got the meal off to a great start…particularly as we were feeling incredibly hungry after a day exploring on the Wine Tram. And we hadn’t even started on our starters yet.

The duck egg 63C was served with seasonal salad greens, asparagus cream, rye wafer and black garlic aioli. A wonderful mixture of flavours and textures with the perfectly (and scientifically) cooked egg. A proper fresh start.

Beautiful colours and flavours bring the whole dish together

Here’s a real innovative dish – a pulled duck koeksister with sweet potato, chicory, vegetable dice and coconut broth. A koeksister (a traditional Afrikaans treat)  is usually sweet – fried dough infused with syrup or honey (loads of it).It’s derived from the Dutch word koek which generally means a wheat flour confectionary. So today’s revelation was a savoury version, full of rich and luscious pulled duck served in a creamy broth.

Koeksisters don’t get better looking than this

The Karoo lamb belly was slow cooked and served with smoked green chakalaka, sweetbreads and spiced peanuts. Chakalaka is a traditional South African relish, though it’s normally tomato-based, Ryan has taken it to a different place – love what he’s doing with the local favourites.

A vibrant plate of lamb delight

The grass-fed beef sirloin steak was served with lime and lemongrass, coconut creamed spinach and heirloom carrots. More Asian flavours being introduced here with delicious results.

A delicate tower of steak with an Asian touch

Another great South African ingredient – springbok – was served with runner bean relish, pressed potato, fried eggplant and broccoli puree. Perfectly rare with crispy accompaniments.

Tasty springbok with a touch of green

Phew, that was all quite something. There’s a lot going on in Ryan’s dishes – though I’m pleased to say we all thought everything worked really well together.

The portions are certainly substantial and with the unexpected addition of fabulous bread and amuse bouche we were all feeling rather replete.

But that didn’t stop us from ordering dessert – and thank goodness for that. This is one of the best desserts I’ve ever eaten, never have I experienced such a souffle spectacle. The smoked plum souffle was cooked with curry leaf and served with buffalo yogurt ice-cream. It was fluffy, pink and melt-in-the-mouth, like clouds of heaven delivered to our table. As well as adding that perfect pinkness,  the plum gave a lovely tart flavour.

The queen of all the souffles

A dessert so good I had to show it from two angles

We also shared the vanilla custard which came with mango, mango sorbet, candied pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed ice-cream.

Delicate beauty on a plate

Now that was quite a feast. It’s definitely hearty fare at Ryan’s Kitchen so I’d advise working up an appetite before you tuck into his inspired dishes.

Thanks to my friend Candy and her great photography skills for the pictures of the duck koeksister and springbok steak – my efforts were blurred…yes, it does happen, especially when you’ve spent the afternoon wine tramming around the stunning Franschhoek valley.

Ryan’s Kitchen is at 1 Place Vendome, Huguenot Road, Franschhoek. You see it’s very French in Franschhoek.

Coming soon!

Find out all about our adventure on the fabulous Franschhoek Wine Tram.

You’re gonna want to climb onboard, believe me.

 

Tasty tapas at Spek & Bone in Stellenbosch

Today we’re in the beautiful university town of Stellenbosch. Majestic tree-lined streets, quirky shops and bars and a happy buzz, this university town offers many dining opportunities. One of the newest ones is chef Bertus Basson’s (of the famed Overture) latest venture, Spek & Bone.

The restaurant is named after his pet pig Spek (it means bacon in Afrikaans, poor Spek) and his boxer dog, Bone – who are best friends! There are plenty of pictures of the two of them scattered around the restaurant which is set back from busy Dorp Street down through a narrow passage to a welcoming courtyard shaded by an enormous tree.

Welcome to the road to Spek & Bone

Despite being a new opening there’s already a lot of history here. The wall on the left as you come in used to be the original market of Stellenbosch. And the huge tree you’re sitting under is the oldest fruit-producing vine in Stellenbosch. So take in your surroundings before settling down to peruse the menu which is a range of tapas-style dishes.

We started with this amazing dish of pork crackling topped with maple bacon. The lightest of crackling with great crunch combined perfectly with the slightly sticky sweetness of the bacon.

The amazing potato dish was cooked in camembert and topped with crispy bacon and thinly sliced spring onions.

Next up, fish tacos. Fresh tuna with a mix of avocado, cabbage, red onions and peppery radishes. Love a fish taco and these were beautiful with the crunchy vegetables and zesty flavours.

The Chalmar sirloin was served with a Monkey Gland baste, mushrooms, spinach puree and croquettes. Perfectly cooked medium-rare steak and a wonderful marriage of ingredients. Loved the depth of flavour of the spinach which somehow lifted the whole dish.

Spek & Bone is wonderful. We stopped off there on our way home from a visit to Franschhoek (more of which later) where we’d eaten rather a lot over the past 24 hours, so tapas suited us perfectly and we didn’t order that much. Having said that, I thought the portions were very generous.

I did feel somewhat conflicted eating bacon and crackling considering the name of the restaurant. But don’t worry, Spek is safe. The story on the menu assures us that he will never be eaten – “he sleeps on the couch and we love him dearly”. Thank goodness for that.

Right next-door is the legendary store – Oom Samie Se Winkel (which means Uncle Sammy’s shop), a Victorian-style shop that sells all food, gifts, souvenirs, antiques and all sorts of goodies. It’s a Stellenbosch institution since 1904 that’s set out over 10 rooms and it’s really well worth a visit.

Pop in and visit Oom Samie

Today’s price point

Lunch for three cost R540 (£32 at today’s exchange rate).

This included the dishes above, a lovely bottle of Rose and service.

Spek & Bone is at 84 Dorp Street, Stellenbosch.

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

Lunchtime delights at Buitenverwachting

The first thing I love about this place is its name. It means “Beyond expectations” which is a big claim (well, depending on how much you’re expecting I guess, it my case that’s usually a lot). And it’s also particularly hard to pronounce for English speakers (until you’ve got the hang of it) – all those syllables make for a real tongue twister and some hilarity at times.

The estate goes way back. It originally formed part of the Constantia Estate which was founded by Simon van der Stel, who was the first Governor of what was then a Dutch colony in 1679. The first vines (90,000 of them) were planted here in 1825 by Ryk Arnold’s Cloete. The farm was more recently restored to its former glory by current owners, the Muellers.

Set on the slopes of the stunning Constantiaberg mountains, it has a beautifully peaceful and rural feel, despite being a short hop from the centre of Cape Town. The drive there through forested lanes immediately puts you in a laid-back state of mind

The restaurant is in the original thatch-covered and white-washed Cape Dutch building with a large inside area and welcoming veranda overlooking the courtyard. Love a courtyard. Chef Edgar Osojnik hails from Austria and serves up hearty retro-style dishes. So what can you expect?

Well, it’s an interesting menu with lots of classic dishes and some more unusual offerings. And the classics have some added extras too. Like Edgar’s Caesar salad which is served with a generous portion of Norwegian salmon. The dish, like quite a few on the menu is available as a starter and a main course.

caesar salad

Edgar’s extra special Caesar salad

The prawns are also available as both a starter and a main course. I do love the concept, wish more restaurants would do it. Pan fried, they were served with cucumber, pal choi, sea lettuce, spring onion, pea shoots, ginger, micro coriander, citrus dressing, sesame and soya. Juicy prawns nestling in a bed of green with a wonderfully zesty dressing.

prawns

I love it when I read a menu and find a dish that totally intrigues me – one I can’t imagine how it’s going to look or taste – so I couldn’t resist ordering this. This is porcini ravioli consommé. A light slightly set consommé is served with a large mushroom ravioli atop and burnt butter powder, parsnip puree and watercress peaches which are pan fried in Buitenverwachting’s dessert wine. One of the most unusual dishes I’ve had for a long time – and it was truly delicious too with a mix of flavours, temperatures and textures. An adventurous ordering choice that was well worth it.

jelly

There seems to be a pork belly dish on every Cape menu and I’ve sampled my fair share of them this summer – I’m happy to say. Today’s offering was served with potato gnocchi, pan fried baby cabbage, caramelised apple, fine beans, celeriac and leek puree. Deliciously flavoursome with crispy crackling and a wonderful combo of sweet and savoury ingredients.

pork

Another wonderful plate of pork belly

I love a good steak tartare and this is a real tartare extravaganza. Described as DIY, it comes with a selection of nine traditional garnishes all beautifully laid out in compact little bundles. Someone has taken a very long time making all these delicate delights. Some of my favourites were the hard boiled egg (separated in white and yellow parcels), the chopped capers and the rich and salty anchovies. It’s a lovely ritual eating this dish as you mix and match different flavours to mix into your meaty pile in the middle. I can’t imagine I’ll ever order anything else here, that’s how much I loved it!

tartare

A simply stupendous steak tartare

A lamb plate combo of pan fried lamb cutlet and grilled loin are with lemon thyme sauce, aubergine falafel, chorizo, leek puree, roasted chick pea gremolata and yogurt. Tender lamb perfectly done.

lamb

Delightful lamb done two ways

Edgar’s portions are truly substantial – two starter-sized ones make for an ample lunch. But you still have to make room for dessert when there’s my favourite on the menu. Who can resist a panda cotta? Not me. Today’s offering was a delicate vanilla served with strawberry balsamic sorbet. Just wonderful.

dessert

Panna cotta that’s pretty as a picture

You’re not finished yet – even the petit four are substantial at Buitenverwachting. And delicious.

petitfour

Finish off with some yummy sweetness

As you’re lunching on a wine farm make sure to try some of the estate’s wine (you have to, really). The Sauvignon Blanc we had was particularly pleasing and there’s a good selection of reds.

Our long, leisurely lunch sitting on the veranda was punctuated with friendly service. A really lovely experience – expectations truly exceeded. Oh and here’s the view from our table towards the leafy courtyard. Keep that spot for me, I’ll be back.

butter

Freshly baked bread is served up with butter and dips

 

Buitenverwachting is at Klein Constantia Road, Hope of Constantia, Cape Town.

It’s Fresh, Fresh, Fresh at Paul Cluver

Today it’s time to explore more of the Elgin Valley. So we’re heading to Fresh for lunch. It’s a restaurant on the Paul Cluver wine estate that offers country-style cooking. There’s a large and abundant vegetable garden on site which is a major source of inspiration for the chef who cooks with seasonal ingredients. Sounds good to me.

On summer days the tables are laid out under the trees on the lawn which sounds lovely. The day we visited it was raining – I never complain about life-giving rain, you just make another plan. So we had to eat inside. Which turned out to be lovely. There isn’t much seating and tables are communal (a chance to make new friends, perhaps) and the place has a relaxed, warm feel to it which the welcome accentuates.

The enthusiasm of the owner Niki Hall-Jones (her husband’s the chef) as she describes the dishes soon has your mouth watering. And today she was waxing lyrical about the myriad tomatoes growing in the garden. Great news for me, I seriously love tomatoes. So I didn’t have to think hard about ordering the Caprese salad – a selection of their Heirloom tomatoes served with Buffalo Ridge Mozzarella (also produced down the road) and garden basil.

I love Caprese salad and have tasted it in restaurants all over the world (well, quite a few anyway) and this was seriously up there. One of my absolute favourite dishes, as long as  each of the three ingredients is top, top quality – and today they were.

caprese

Caprese salad to dream of

And then time for more tomatoes – oven roasted and made into soup with basil pesto. It’s hard to imagine a better tomato soup, bursting with flavour and health.

Tomatosoup

The freshest of intense tomato soup

On to mains. The confit duck came with char-grilled aubergines and tomatoes, wilted garden greens and a glaze of tomato chilli jam. It was also aubergine season so the veg flavours were amazing and the duck  perfectly crispy while also being moist. And tomato chilli jam is a wonderful thing. Note to self – make some tomato chilli jam – and soon.

duck

Flavoursome duck on a bed of the freshest veg

And then time for some pie. Elgin free-range chicken, leek and mushroom topped with a perfectly puffy, glossy, golden pastry. A good pie is never to be under valued and this one was polished off with relish.

pie

Comforting chicken pie for a rainy day

While we were enjoying our lunch, Niki came over and said as we clearly loved tomatoes so much she would like to give us a bag from their garden. I simply couldn’t refuse. Here’s the cornucopia of the little treasures in their different shapes, sizes and colours. Yum!

tomatoes

A plate of tomato heaven

This restaurant is so aptly named – there’s no doubt that ingredients are the freshest of the fresh. And they’re all beautifully cooked too, what a perfect combo.

Oh and Paul Cluver’s wine is also wonderful. We enjoyed a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc with our lunch, having had a sneaky tasting beforehand and left with…you’ve guessed it…another case to enjoy at home. So loving those wine tasting (and buying) lunches. We will miss them.

Fresh is just off the N2 on the Paul Cluver Wine Estate in Elgin.