Returning to the joys of the Cape…Glen Carlou, Vrede en Lust, Rickety Bridge and The Test Kitchen!
I know its been an incredibly long time since I posted and I’m very sorry – I blame illness over christmas and work but I have since returned to the Cape and gotten straight back on with enjoying life!
How is it possible to have so much good food and wine in one day?! I arrived back in the Cape with a bang and found myself asking this question after a delightful first day back with the Loveday family. For the last day of their holiday it was decided we would indulge in some of the many vineyards in Stellenbosch and Franschoek. I was naturally hugely excited a) because I love wine, b) because I’d never been to Franschoek and c) the itinerary was my job and had several places I couldn’t wait to visit.
First up (after getting a bit lost – google maps is no match for a good atlas) was Glen Carlou. I’ve really liked Glen Carlou wine since I stumbled upon one of their representatives doing a wine tasting at wine concepts on Kildare Road, so it seemed like a good place to start. With a fantastic setting, a 12 wine tasting for R35 and very knowledgable staff, this has topped my wine tasting experiences so far. The wine was served to us at a table on the balcony by a friendly member of staff who answered all our questions and served us extra wines for comparison. The result of his diligence was the purchase of several bottles of wine for the collection – investing time and money in good service at vineyards really must pay off for them. I was also bought the new (and bright green!) platters guide as an impromptu gift by Ben’s mum, Anne – which was incredibly thoughtful and soon put to good use at our next stop!
Vrede en Lust is another vineyard I’ve had good experience with at a wine concepts tasting. The representative had brought little food morsels to pair with the wine (I’m always impressed by this), gave us extra tastings and even carried my purchases to the car for me! So I’d hoped for a similar experience at the vineyard itself. I was slightly disappointed as the service did not match our stellar experience at Glen Carlou, which is a shame as the wines were still exquisite – mainly the award winning Boet Erasmus – and the setting was perhaps even more stunning than at Glen Carlou. I don’t know if we were pre-judged on arrival but we left without purchase, despite some excellent wines on offer.
By this time we were all a little tipsy and lunch seemed like an essential next stop. In a mightily convenient, if not entirely un-coincidental, occurence we arrived in Franschoek and at one of my most anticipated vineyards – Rickety Bridge. Anyone whose been to dinner at my house or accompanied me on a saturday Mill adventure knows my love of Rickety Bridge. At the Biscuit Mill their stall sells amazing preserves, dressings, salt rubs and vinegarette reductions and is run by my favourite stall holder – officially christened “the Rickety Bridge man”. I feel somewhat sorry for him as Hazel and I harass him in a mojito/wine/Jack Black/James Mitchell/Steph Weiss induced stupor and eat all his tasters on a weekly basis. But regardless he always seems happy to see us and his recent absence saddened us greatly. Turns out he has been in Franschoek at actual Rickety Bridge and I don’t blame him. The vineyard is beautifully situated and Francschoek itself is stunning in its entirety. We decided to opt for lunch instead of wine tasting (I will obviously return for this!) and this turned out to be a great decision.
Ben, Sam and I opted to share the “picnic barrel” which arrived as literally a 3rd of a barrel as a serving plate for an array of food. Included in this indulgent spread was fresh bread and 3 types of cheese, pesto pasta, prawn salad, chicken kebabs, kofta, melon with some form of soft and delicious crumbly cheese – am not sure what, possibly feta but less salty, amazing salmon omelette roulade slices, lots of olives and dips, fresh fruit kebabs and chocolate brownies. Full was an understatement and this really was a delightful and social way to enjoy lunch amongst the vines.
Rickety Bridge: 7/10 – Very nice, wholesome food, served in a unique way and great for sharing over a glass of wine. I will definitely go back.
After hauling our(somewhat fatter)selves to the car, we went to Moyo at Spier for some light drinks as most of the vineyards were closing for the day. After the traditional face painting, we went back home to freshen up before my evening “surprise”.
I knew something sneaky was going on and to be honest, had half suspected what had been planned. I don’t think I’m a very difficult person to please and the things I love aren’t terribly hidden by my overly loud and opinionated outbursts of joy, usually accompanied by bouncing, squealing and blog post writing. So I was not surprised but thoroughly delighted when our taxi headed for the biscuit mill that evening, knowing that I was in all likelihood about to experience Cape Towns newest and arguably now, best restaurant.
Luke Dale Roberts has earned his reputation from working at La Colombe. Probably the most internationally recognised restaurant in Cape Town, if not all of Africa – it was voted 12th in the world in the San Pellegrino restaurant awards, which counts the Fat Duck (probably my most desired eatery) in its highest ranks. Luke Dale Roberts has now decided to create his own venture in the form of the Test Kitchen situated at the already renowned and trendy Old Biscuit Mill. The idea of the restaurant screamed perfect at me from the second I wandered in one saturday morning. I already love the mill and its old architecture and the kitchen itself is in the centre of the restaurant – satisfying my culinary curiosity and definitely saying something about the confidence which Luke places in this team of chefs to produce great quality food under the critical eyes of those about to recieve it. They also operate a tasting menu with wine pairing – lots of small dishes, each with a specially chosen South African wine. So needless to say I was in love with the place before we even set foot in the door that night! But would it live up to my expectations?
I don’t count myself as a food critic in any way, I very much doubt I have a hugely refined palate and anyone who’s seen me cook knows I’m no perfectionist. But in my honest, food appreciating opinion – I ate the best meal I’ve ever had. The service was impeccable – a great explanation was given about the menu options and we were offered the kitchen cocktail – a fabulous drink of gin soaked watermelon topped with champagne. Before selecting our food we also had free taster of a mushroom sushi special – loved by everyone, even Ben, who is convinced mushrooms only grow in hell.
We opted for the 5 course tasting menu with wine pairing. 3 starters, 1 main, 1 dessert and individually paired wines for R600. First up for me was Beetroot mousse, slow cooked baby beets, lemon and thyme puree, horseradish and mixed nut crumble, fennel confit and puff shards – paired with a glass of Constantia Uitsig Chardonnay Unwooded. All plates that arrived at our table looked so pretty, it felt pretty sacrilegious to destroy them! Each flavour involved could be picked out from the description of each dish whilst simultaneously complimenting each other. I really liked the beetroot dish – despite having no meat, it sang with flavour and was one of my favourites from the night. Next up was Quail in three ways, langoustine, liquorices jus, miso, corn and ginger emulsion, lime gremolata with Newton Johnson Chardonnay. I like to try new things and this seemed like a great opportunity to see the best made of quail – a totally founded assumption as this was spectacular, with the liquorice flavour particularly interesting. As my final starter I had the Asian Beef Tataki with Constantia Uitsig semillon – again absolutely wonderful with the beef soft and full of flavour. Unfortunately the lamb tongue with scallops and elephant garlic had run out…I guess a return visit will be in order for this 🙂
My main course involved me addressing some ethical issues I have with foie gras. This is not something I particularly approve of, due to the health issues and cruelty involved in fattening goose/duck livers to that extent. However I really wanted the pan seared duck breast and had to see if foie gras was worth the fuss which is made about it. The Pan seared duck breast, cashew nut and turnip purée, mineola and jasmine glaçage, pan seared foie gras and confit duck sushi with a glass of AA Badenhorst Red Blend was actually one of the more disappointing dishes of the evening. Don’t get me wrong – it was beautiful but just not as mind blowing – I expected slightly more cooked and tender duck with crispier skin and the foie gras, although nice, was not something I would be willing to make an ethical compromise for. The confit duck sushi was one of the stand alone aspects of any dish I had that night – fantastic, better than actual sushi for sure! I also tried a little bit of the pork belly and beef fillet with milk stout risotto mains…make that another 2 trips I will have to make back to The Test Kitchen 😉
After mains we were presented with a delightful Amuse-bouche of Apple sorbet, gin and tonic jelly and shiso cress. Perfectly refreshing and I do love gin. Unfortunately they had also sold out of my preferred dessert choice – White wine poached pear and sorbet, chocolate fondant liquorice mousse, cold filter coffee jelly with Joostenberg Chenin Blanc. So I had the Tomato and Mozzarella: Cape gooseberry, vanilla and pepper syrup, Stracciatella, goat yoghurt snowballs with Quoin Rock Vine Dried Sauvignon Blanc. A very different style of dessert indeed – mixing one of my favourite starter salads (tomato and mozzarella) with sweet elements. The goat yoghurt snowballs were particularly outstanding.
Conclusively I wish I could eat at The Test Kitchen every day. At R600 for 5 courses and wine this is a pretty far away dream, but actually for the quality, I think this is good value for money. They also do cheaper lunch time variations of the dishes. I’m certain I will be back there just as soon as I can find an occasion worthy of the splendour. A big, big thank you to Anne for this delightful evening, I hope to see her back in South Africa soon 🙂
The Test Kitchen: 9/10 (I’ve yet to find a 10, my previous favourite would be an 8 now, so I’m reluctant to give out a full 10!)
Check out their website and be sure to make a booking for your next special occasion: The Test Kitchen