Sunday, 7 August 2011

Gastronomic Tour of the Western Cape, South Africa

I have recently been on holiday and wanted to share some of the meals I have been eating. Holiday's normally inspire me to try new things in restaurants so I can bring them home to recreate them. This time I went to South Africa and spent two weeks in Cape Town and the wine region around Stellenbosch. I've been before, so I knew what to expect when it came to the best places to eat to get the most out of my trip. 

The one thing I love about food in South Africa is the new ways of using my favourite food items like avocado, sweet potato and passion fruit, and their way of combining the sweet with the savoury in their dishes. Apricot jam seems to be added to every curry and they share my love of combining banana and bacon. They do have some strange obsessions though, like combining weird ingredients such as the banana bacon and pineapple pizza we had, which was surprisingly good. And the obsession with avocado, which was present in EVERY salad I ate.  

The beef is in abundance so I knew I would be eating a lot of it in various formats - raw, cooked to perfection in a delicious steak, ground into burgers, spiced in a sausage or dried to create the famous biltong. I bought a lot of biltong while I was out there as I love the fatty, semi wet kind. It's the perfect snack for beer!

This post is quite image heavy, and I've tried to make them smaller so the page loads quicker on slower connections. For high quality images, just click on the image.

First up is Carne, and as you can guess from the name, we found this as we were searching for a place in Cape Town to have a great steak! They brought out a board filled to the edges with the various steak cuts you can order, I ordered a rib eye on the bone for my steak. To start though I had a seared steak tar-tare which was absolutely divine and seasoned to perfection. 

Societi Bistro
I didn't take any pictures at this place and I'm pretty upset about that. It's a tiny little place next to the hotel we were staying at. But the food was anything but small. This was the closest thing we ate to home-cooked food. To start, I had a winter salad of fennel seed spiced aubergine with rocket and feta which was the most divine salad I have ever had. I was savouring each mouthful hoping the taste sensation would never end. I am going to try to recreate this salad one day. My boyfriend had the game pappardelle which was stunningly rich. For mains, he had the vegan chickpea curry and I had the pork neck. The curry was cooked in the traditional Malay spices famous in South Africa. I had never eaten pork neck, and I have never seen it sold at the supermarkets so I wasn't sure what to expect. What turned up was a rolled joint slow cooked until tender and stuffed with apple and sage. It was excellent.

Gold Restaurant
Next up for something more African in nature. We had heard of Gold restaurant as it was a venue we had used in the past for work events in Cape Town. A sort of African supperclub where you start the meal at 18:30, sit down for half an hour's worth of interactive African drumming to prepare you for the 15 'course' menu taking you on a tour around Africa.

This was the menu when I was there:

    SPICED TOMATO SOUP CAPE MALAY SAMOOSAS WITH CREAM CHUTNEY Cape Malay samoosas are crisp, spicy pastries which originated in ancient Persia (Iraq) and variations can be found throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Ours are filled with potato and peas and served with a dipping sauce of chutney mixed with crème fraîche. 
     SOUTH AFRICAN ROOSTEKOEK Traditionally baked over open fires, these crispy bread rolls are served warm and are enjoyed with the tomato soup. 
Unfortunately we didn't get the chance to taste the pumpkin fritters and had Malva pudding instead with ice cream which was fantastic anyway. The star of the show, however was the tomato soup thick with cream and peppered with spices. The South African fish cakes came a close second, and are a treat for anyone that loves smoked kippers or smoked mackerel

Stellenbosch Wine Festival
The Stellenbosch Wine Festival was in full swing when we arrived so we dropped by to see what the big deal was. It was spread across two halls in my boyfriend's old school, Paul Roos. One hall for wines from vineyards with names from A-L and the other from vineyards with names from M-Z. It was only Stellenbosch wines though we did see Morgenster and Vergelegen which are both vineyards in Somerset West, just outside of Stellenbosch.

To our surprise we found some of vineyard restaurants doing tastings similar to the ones you get from Taste of London except you pay with real cash instead of crowns. Tasting the wine however, was paid through acorns, of which you get almost 30-odd of with your ticket.  My boyfriend was driving, so in essence I had well over 50 acorns to spend getting tipsy. Most of the wine tastings cost 1 acorn, but the more exclusive and fortified wines cost 2 acorns at most from the ones I tasted. The brilliant thing about the food was being about the pair your food with wines from the vineyard.

Above, on the left, is traditional South African bobotie, like a shepherds pie mixed with a moussaka. The topping is made from eggs and meat mixture below is made from minced beef, cape spices like tumeric and curry leaves, and a dash of apricot jam for sweetness. It is traditionally served with yellow rice (tumeric spiced rice with sultanas) and fruit chutney. This is a dish I have made at home, so next time I make it, I will post the recipe. On the right is French donuts, and I was told this goes well with a Chardonnay. 

To the left is tempura prawn and on the right is a slow cooked shoulder of lamb with roasted tomatoes in a bun. We didn't try either of these, instead, we opted for a Cape Malay chicken curry with cous cous (below, right) paired with the Clos Malverne Cab Sauv/Merlot blend. It was winter when we went so there was a lot of winter stews and curries around, but even in winter it's 22 degrees with blue skies and intense sunshine.

I found that not many of the punters were enjoying the delights that the vineyard restaurants had to offer. Instead we found people flocking towards the shawarma stand. Now, as an Egyptian, I am a fan of shawarma, but South Africa isn't the first place I'd think of eating one. It seems like a trend while we were out there, as I noticed a lot more kebab and shawarma style restaurants than from previous visits.

A special vineyard that will satisfy any European foodie is the Lourensford estate in Someset West. This vineyard roasts its own coffees, makes chocolate, has it's own cheesery, a huge deli selection and even cultivates honey. We came here to try some honey liquor, pictured below right. This sweet liquor starts with an intense honey flavour similar to orange blossom, then ends with tang of alcohol. It's perfect drizzled over ice cream for a boozy desert.

Another vineyard to mention is Morgenster for pretty much the best olive oil in the country if not the continent. You can purchase this oil in England, as I have seen it in Waitrose for a staggering £15 a bottle. Come to the vineyard for an olive oil tasting and then you can purchase the same bottle for under £5.

La Petite Ferme
Of course, I cannot do any kind of food tour around South Africa without a mention of Franschoek. Literally meaning French corner, Franschoek is home to some of the best restaurants in the whole of Africa. Each restaurant in this small area drips with accolades recognised around the world. The first time we came to South Africa, we had a romantic dinner at the Tasting Room of Le Quartier Francais on Valentines day. This time we wanted something just as delicious, but a little lighter on the wallet. I was recommended La Petite Ferme by a student at work, so this was the place we headed for, and we were not disappointed.

The view across the vineyard on the balcony where we were seated was breathtaking and the food matched the view perfectly.

We ate ourselves silly ordering the most expensive items on the menu as we wanted to try the best dishes they had to offer. And for a bill just shy of £75 for two including three glasses of wine, it was definitely worth the belly aching fullness we had for hours afterwards. 

To start, my boyfriend had the pork belly with a large chunk of crispy crackling, and the best black pudding I have eaten outside of England. I ordered a crispy calamari and chorizo salad with aioli and dill toast.  The meal was so rich, we should really have stopped here.

For main courses, he had the beef fillet with a rich Guiness and black olive sauce. I had the trout with a sweet potato bubble and squeak and a caviar salsa. My dish was light, yet full of salty oily fish flavour from the caviar. The trout was delicately cooked and deboned yet stood well against the salsa and sweet potato underneath.

By the time desert came, I couldn't really move but the thought of the lemon meringue pie was irresistible and I was naive to expect UK portion sizes. Byron ordered a cheese board, which we were disappointed with as the cheese was rock solid from being in the fridge. Other than this oversight, the meal was excellent and I highly recommend this restaurant if you ever visit South Africa.


The final stop of our Gastronomic tour ends at Terroir restaurant. This is a restaurant that we previously visited on a whim in our 2009 trip. We were hungry and stopped off at the nearest vineyard just off the R44. The restaurant was still preparing for lunch so we did a little tasting as we waited. I'm not a big fan of white wines but wanted to see if there was anything that could change my mind and here, we found one. It was the Vineyard Selection Chenin Blanc 2008, which won the Investec Winemaker's Choice Diamond Award. This wine was so fresh and zingy with a buttery smoothness and strong passion fruit finish. When I first had it, I thought I was drinking distilled passion fruit. I went back in 2010 and tried the Bush Vine Chenin Blanc 2009, which was still brilliant but tasted more of apricots. The real shame is that the 2008 Chenin Blanc exported to Europe came from a different batch to the award winning wine. 

I'm veering off the point, after we tried the wine, we headed to the restaurant expecting an average meal but we were blown away. The first thing that blew us away was the amuse bouche of cauliflower and truffle soup. This time we went, and knew what to expect but we were still blown away by the stunning food. The amuse bouche this time was spiced fried squid with a lime oil and chilli sauce.

To start, I had the corn agnolotti with basil truffle. The pasta was delicate with a sweet fresh corn filling. I never figured out what the little red bits were as their flavour was lost in the sauce. My boyfriend had the gnocchi with brown butter sauce. We figured that the gnocchi was fried in brown butter after cooking as it had the tang while the rest of the dish has the smoothness and sweetness from the butternut squash.

Onto the main courses, my boyfriend had the crusted Karoo lamb and I had the braised pork belly with truffle macaroni. The pork was soft and succulent and the crackling was an unusual brilliant white. 

Having remembered the pork belly from earlier, I wasn't interested in the meat as much as the truffle macaroni, which I knew would be brilliant! It had lardons of pork mixed into the truffle goodness to add bite to the pasta. The rigatoni meant that I could carefully fill them with the sauce and quickly pop it into my mouth for a burst of truffle as I chewed into the pasta. To be honest, I could have had this little le cruset pot of macaroni on it's own. 

For desert, we shared the chocolate and hazelnut bar with coffee ice cream. On reading this from the menu, I thought it would be a posh version of an ice cream Snickers. I was partially right, except that it had a beautiful complexity to it that pushes it far out of reach of the Snickers. The middle was dense like fudge with the crispy hazelnut top and creamy outer coating. It was really rich though and so I only had a couple of bites.

So that ends my tour around Africa. Since coming home on Saturday, I've been itching to cook again so watch this space for more of my own cooking.


Janice said...

ooh quite the food fest there!

MeLikeyUK said...

My goodness, that is what I call a trip of culinary delights. Thanks for sharing. The view at La Petite Ferme is stunning!

Deana said...

Wow what a feast! So glad you had a good time and I see that you did plenty of mountain hikes to burn off the calories so you shouldn't feel guilty!

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