Finding the green fairy: A day around Wellington.
Lauren recently orchestrated a day out in Wellington with her friend Liz, a fellow foodie and environmental scientist – she’s certain I will “divorce” her for Liz. Liz had arranged for us to visit a distillery which specialises in producing interesting spirits, but before this we spent the day driving around near Wellington.
First stop of the day was Ridgeback vineyard. A beautiful tasting room, perched on the edge of a lovely pond with ducks, made for an idyllic setting to enjoy wine. The tasting selection was good, including a usually not for tasting shiraz which was particularly nice. Their Vansha range is really well priced and I left with a bottle of their Mischief white blend.
We decided to stop for lunch at the Stone Kitchen in Dunstone vineyard. We were welcomed and offered a wine tasting free at our table whilst we perused the menu. Chef Johan Van Schalkwyk has put together a really great, balanced menu, with influences from around the world. We deliberated long and hard over what to choose.
Although a lot of ingredients at this restaurant are sourced locally, some are not free range, so the poached pear, smoked pork belly and gorgonzola salad was unfortunately a no for us, delicious as it sounds. We eventually decided on a wild boar, sage and apple burger with onion marmalade and blue cheese with chips and a coriander mayonnaise; a traditional lamb waterblommetjie bredie and a smoked haddock and egg bake (from the breakfast menu but they were good enough to source us a portion for our lunch!). Next time I would be keen to try their free range chicken salad, which sounded utterly delicious and the roasted vegetable pancake stack with sundried tomato sauce.
Our meals arrived promptly and were quickly devoured. Voted best was the wild boar burger which was rich and moist and sandwiched in an amazing, crispy bread roll. The chips with skin left on were a perfect accompaniment dipped in the coriander mayonnaise – I’ve not had this before but I think I will have to make it with our vietnamese coriander at home. The waterblommetjie stew was also lovely, with lots of these delicious, indigenous treats and a huge chunk of perfectly cooked lamb. The haddock and egg bake makes a great change from a traditional breakfast and The Stone Kitchen in fact offers a great full breakfast menu including dishes with sweet potato rosti, lambs kidneys and banana and pistachio french toast. Fear not though traditionalists, most of the breakfasts also contain poached eggs
We were stuffed after our lunch but could not resist the desserts. We chose the Fig and pumpkin tart with goats cheese ice cream and orange syrup and the chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream and berry coulis. Sadly the freezer with the goats cheese ice cream had failed, so we were substituted vanilla ice cream for the tart as well. This made us sad, so much so that we asked if we could taste the melted goats cheese ice cream anyway, just to get a hint of its flavour. It was delicious and complements the tart flavours much better than the vanilla as it is slightly less sweet and the hint of cheeseyness works great with the figs and pumpkin. The fondant was perfect aswell. Dark rich chocolate sponge, totally melted in the middle, I could have eaten ten despite my full belly.
Overall the restaurant was really good and incredibly reasonably priced for the quality of the food. We paid around R260 for the three of us.
After the awesome lunch we headed for Jorgensen Distillery where we were met by the wonderful Roger. Originally from Britain, he too saw the light and escaped to South Africa to become an authority on making exotic spirits. We were given a tour around the distillery whilst Roger explained the processes and instruments involved. We tasted a variety of herbs and spices which he had sourced from around Africa. All three of us were very excited by the large box of juniper berries destined for a new batch of Gin (we will be back to taste this) but equally, we were fascinated by some of the more obscure herbs and spices he had found. I tasted some pepper for use in the gin. Immediately I was struck by ideas to incorporate these flavours in to food and Roger was kind enough to give me a bag to take home and trial in recipes. We also got to see some naartjie wine which Roger had made in preparation to be turned into a liqueur and smelled an in prepartation Bay leaf liqueur, still too alcoholic to be tasted but what a flavour!
Not only an accomplished distiller, Roger is also passionate about the environment. He showed us his crop of African ginger plants – a species now extinct in the wild but for a few plants in botanical gardens like our own Kirstenbosch. Taking a step back in time, we got a history lesson about how plants were used in olden times, to keep the air smelling fresh when animals lived in houses with people. Breaking up the reed like plant, we were struck by the fresh smell emanating – the worlds first air freshener?!
It was then time to taste the spirits we had been learning about. First up the “Primitiv” vodka. Roger brought out glasses and the bottle from the freezer, accompanying our shots with a selection of food designed to complement the vodka: Rye bread with gruyere cheese and mango atchar, capers, anchovies, pickled ostrich, smoked mackerel and baby gherkins dipped in an amazing black volcano salt. There’s something to be said for really good vodka, I can see why the Russians love it whilst I normally think of it as something alcoholic to accompany my cocktail. Primitiv vodka is certainly good entirely on its own.
The vodka was followed by tasters of the naked limoncello and limecello – also delicious. It was really nice to see the lime as well as the traditional lemon and I’m already thinking of potential uses in desserts. Next up was the Savingnac – a cognac, but this is not France and so Roger cannot use the region specific name. This was also very nice and served, like the other spirits, in beautiful glassware, in this instance though bearing Rogers family crest and motto “labore et amore” – love and work. I think this motto is something Roger fully embodies!
Finally, it was time to try the “field of dreams” absinthe, made using the herbs we had heard so much about. Deep green in colour, this spirit is interesting just to watch. Roger poured it in to bubble stem glasses and then added a little water. We watched the spirit rise above the heavier water, creating a spectrum of green shades. Despite its 73% alcohol content, the flavours from this spirit are amazing, tasting medicinal you can see why it was used in this capacity in history.
We had a really great time with Roger and his wife Dawn as hospitable hosts. Discussing the state of the environment and particularly farming was a fantastic end to our day. We will return when the gin is ready!
Check out all Roger and Dawns amazing products at the Jorgensen Distillery website