So today we’re lunching in the Devon Valley near Stellenbosch in the Cape Winelands. I’m going to say it again, I am constantly astounded at the range of top-quality restaurants in the area. It seems like there’s always somewhere new to discover which is great news for me on my ongoing restaurant quest. And this is a real superstar in the heaven that is the Winelands.
Our friends Mandy and Trevor told us all about Clos Malverne and eventually, several years later, we planned our visit on a balmy Saturday lunchtime. The place is set deep among rolling vineyards framed by the ever-present mountains. Simply beautiful.
It’s a family-run concern and has a feel of warmth and intimacy. And best of all we had the top table in the whole place. Laid out on the veranda with far-reaching views to dream of, the setting gave me that immediate sense of happiness and anticipation the second I sat down.
For Saturday lunch they do a fabulous tasting menu. It’s four courses, each matched with a glass of wine from the estate for R348 (£15.80 at today’s exchange rate). Oh and you also get a glass of bubbles to start off with, the ideal companion for some serious menu pondering. So that’s four courses and five glasses of wine each, just to be clear. Yes, for around £16.
There are three choices for Courses One and Two, six for Course Three and three for the desserts. My advice, don’t stress too much over the ordering, everything we ate (and it was pretty much everything on the menu between us) was delectable.
I’ve had a bit of hankering for mussels recently – for me they’re food I really need to feel like to order – if that makes any sense. So Thai-style (even better) mussels for me served with pickled ginger, dried chilli micro herbs and freshly baked bread. The creamiest of sauce with the delicate Thai flavours made for the perfect kick off.
The delicate salmon and prawn dish came with a salmon mousse terrine and prawns marinated with lime, chilli, coriander and ginger. A great summery starter – I’m loving all the Asian flavours.
On to Course Two and something meatier. I love carpaccio and have eaten my fair share of it over the years. Today’s offering was grain fed beef served with crispy capers, a 10-year aged balsamic vinaigrette, grana padano and dried tomatoes. So pretty classic with the addition of the beautifully salty caper crispiness.
The vegetarian option arrives like a little present to be unwrapped. The parcel is packed with butternut, feta and pine nuts and served with hot, sweet chilli, crispy sage leaves and a roasted garlic cream sauce. A delightful mix of textures and flavours with the magic of that roasted garlic giving a rounded sauce.
And here’s the winner for Course Two! Not that it’s really a competition…anyway this was the winner. Chilli and honey stick pork belly served with mustard and sesame red cabbage coleslaw with a seven spice jus and carrot puree. Pork belly is plentiful on Cape Town menus, so there are tough comparisons to be made before calling this one of the best. Melt-in-the-mouth pork, crispy crackling, sweet puree, an amazing coleslaw (with yet another touch of Asian cuisine). Wow, wow, wow.
Soon it was time for Course Three. More meaty delights for me. Grilled fillet steak is crusted with dried forest mushrooms and comes with fondant potato, crispy bacon, mixed mushrooms, wilted spinach, truffle and a bone marrow jus. A list of ingredients that it made it a dish impossible for me to resist. And I’m glad I didn’t try. Tender medium rare fillet packed with flavour and a plate that brought together a real feast of tastes.
I don’t ever tend to order chicken in restaurants (well, very rarely anyway) but this dish is the best reason to make an exception. Parmesan crusted, the chicken breast is served with egg noodles, a lemon and herb sauce, cocktail tomatoes, pak choi, ginger, garlic and crispy Black Forest Ham. I can’t remember seeing a more beautiful chicken dish.
The lamb rogan josh was described as a traditional Persian curry and was served with sambals, lemon rice and crispy a poppadum. A silken sauce, well rounded spice flavours and the king of poppadums.
Course Four is dessert. Four courses is a good way to go. Okay it’s not a small amount of food but not as hectic as some of those six or seven-course tasting menus around which I must admit to struggling to get through.
Pineapple and coconut consisted of pineapple fridge cheesecake with a coconut meringe and pistacchio brittle. Light and yummy with the sweetness and tartness of pineapple and some lovely crunchy bits.
Strawberry delight came with balsamic marinated strawberries, vanilla pod panna cotta, dried strawberries and a black pepper shortbread. I ordered it because I love panna cotta (and strawberries of course) and was a bit disappointed at the tiny piece of panna cotta on the plate. Until I tried the black pepper shortbread – a wonderful crunchy match with the strawberry flavours.
What a lunch! And great to get the chance to taste a new raft of wines from this estate. I’ve never seen them in Cape Town shops and discovered that’s because 70% of their wines are exported. Particular mention for the bubbles, the Auret and their dessert wine which is called Honeydew. The Auret is what is known as a South African blend (Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinotage) and was the first of its kind to win five stars in the prestigious Platter Wine Guide. The Honeydew is a wonderfully light pudding wine without that thick stickiness that you often find with wines of its ilk. My friend Sharon doesn’t do well with wine, though she’s happy with the bubbly variety and our waitress was happy to keep her glass filled throughout lunch with her preference. The service was like that, whatever we wanted they could do. Gotta love that.
Clos Malverne offer you R200 off your bill for each case of wine you buy (12 bottles). How can anyone resist that, the more you buy, the more you save…and it meant we came home with 12 great wines to enjoy at home. And we weren’t the only ones.
Oh and remember what I said about the view. Here it is in all its splendour.
I also loved the mini loaves of bread, delivered warm to our table on arrival.
The chef who came up with all these delightful dishes is called Nadia Louw Smith. A woman chef in a top restaurant is still something of a rarity, sadly, but that does mean it’s exciting to discover one. I salute Nadia and her team for their amazing creativity and skill in producing food that we all loved (seven of us) at what could be the greatest value ever. Too many superlatives? Go and see for yourself.
Clos Malverne is off the Devon Valley Road near Stellenbosch.