Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The Whale Trail

The De Hoop Nature Reserve, located about 60km south of Swellendam in the Western Cape, has got to be one of most beautiful in the country. And that’s saying something! SA has a lot of very good ones.

I recently joined friends and family and took on a journey through the area using the recommended vehicle, ones feet. The Whale Trail is a 60km hike that takes you from hut to hut on a roughly circular route through the picture perfect landscape of the park. The accommodation along the way is not 5 star but is way more comfortable than I expected. There were always hot showers and most had indoor and outdoor braai (BBQ) areas. The kitchen had all the crockery and cutlery you’d need and the bunk beds were fine. The best thing about the walk is the way it’s organised. If you pay a little extra you can have your luggage transported for you, and this comes in very handy when you’re taking cooler boxes and wine. The huts are cleaned every day and at the end of the trail, at Koppie Aleen, there’s a shuttle bus that takes you back to your vehicle at Potberg, where the walk started.

After climbing the Potberg Mountain, first thing on day 1, you meander along a ridge dominated by the colour of fynbos and proteas, with views over the Breede River Valley and the ocean in the distance. By early afternoon on day 2, you finally reach the sea as you drop down into the rocky cove of Noetzie, to what was my favourite overnight stop of the trip. About half an hour later a whale drifted past and greeted us with a couple of fin flaps. Day 3, 4 and 5 are spent making your way back along the beach and rocky coastline and the geographical beauty would under normal circumstances be more than enough to keep one entertained. But The Whale Trail is certainly not normal, and if you get the season right, like we did, you’ll have the added bonus of whale shows the whole way to the end. There are tidal pools to wallow in, beaches to laze on and if you’re of the birding variety you will be in your element.

As I mentioned earlier the fact that you can get your cooler box transported for you on a magic carpet is very convenient. We took wine, braai stuff and plenty of other goodies, way more than we would have been able to take if we were carting it around ourselves. We braaied most evenings and one night, to give us a bit of an energy boost, I made an easy puttanesca.

My easy camping puttanesca


- a blob of olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- chilli seasoning (to taste)
- 2 tsp dried origanum
- 2 packets of black olives
- 2 tins of capers wrapped in anchovies
- salt and pepper
- a packet of pasta
- 2 cans chopped tomatoes


- heat olive oil, add garlic and spices
- add tomato, olives and caper/anchovy mix
- season
- while this cooks slowly for around 15 mins cook the pasta
- mix all and serve hot with an extra glug of olive oil

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Saturday, 12 November 2011

Thank God for Creation (Wines)

The Hemel-en-Aarde valley, just inland from Hermanus, has made serious inroads in the South African wine industry. You can’t go wrong with the likes of Newton Johnson, Ataraxia and Bouchard Finlayson but there was only one estate that was going to cheer me up after the generally unfriendly Franschhoek folk. Creation makes great wine and after my recent and first visit to their estate I can tell you that it’s not just their wine that’s good. Their restaurant and tasting room has views over the vineyard and with a menu that offers pies, salads and some great platters, I was a happy boy. But the wines were the main attraction and I was thrilled to find out that you get to taste their entire range. Yes, are you listening Franschhoek, even their premium wines.

They have a new ‘Whale Pod’ label, which includes a white blend and an incredibly good Syrah/Malbec that I predict is not going to be that easy to get hold of fairly soon.

Creation has given me a recipe to enjoy with their Sauvignon Blanc.

Salmon cheese cake


- 910g cream cheese
- 6 eggs
- 250ml cream
- ½ cup spring onions
- ½ tsp Tabasco sauce
- 1 tsp Worcester sauce
- ¼ tsp paprika
- ¼ cup chopped parsley
- 450g smoked salmon, cut in small cubes


- 1 cup bread crumbs
- ¾ cup parmesan cheese
- 4 Tbsp melted butter

Vegetable mix:

- 1 cup chopped onions
- ½ cup chopped red peppers
- ½ cup chopped yellow peppers
- 2 Tbsp shallots
- 1 tsp garlic


- for the base, mix breadcrumbs, parmesan and butter
- line a 30cm glass pie dish with the above mix
- saute the veg mix in olive oil until soft
- allow it to cool on paper to remove moisture
- beat the cream cheese and add eggs, one at a time
- add the cream
- fold in the rest of the ingredients using a spatula
- add the veg mix
- fill up the pie dish with the cake mixture and bake at 180 C for 1½ hrs, until golden and almost set
- remove from oven and allow to cool down
- serve with a crisp green salad and Creation Sauvignon Blanc

Huguenot hospitality - Franschhoek's 2 H's?

I’ve only ever driven through Franschhoek and once or twice sat up on a hill looking down over the town, pondering life and the valley below. If you do some research you’ll discover that the town is one of South Africa’s culinary superstars and when you combine that with a generous scattering of vineyards you’re bound to have some fun. Or so we thought as we decided to spend 2 nights on the outskirts of town. We visited most of the wine estates and had dinner at the highly rated and recommended ‘Le Bon Vivant’ and even though I’d love to report back on just how wonderful everything was, unfortunately that’s not going to happen. I’m not big on complaining and will therefore keep this brief and try to give it a bit of a positive spin.

The town has thoroughly embraced its heritage and in feable economic times, with less opportunity for international travel, given all Southern Africans an easily accessible opportunity to appreciate genuine French hospitality. The wine estates worth a stop are La Bri, Stony Brook, Haute Cabriere and Dieu Donne and Anthonij Rupert's Motor Museum at L’Ormarins is fantastic, even if you’re not a petrol-head.


I am a big fan of well done wine dinners, the sort of occasions that see chefs putting a bit more punch on their plates and winemakers bragging about just how good they really are. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend quite a few in recent times and I don’t think I've ever walked out unhappy.

The latest of these events, a tasting of Morgenhof at Scotty's, in Plettenberg Bay, sits at the top of my scoreboard and will be there for a while. The 5 courses of exquisite fare was flawless; great food cleverly and perfectly paired with good wines. The stand out for me was the marriage of the Merlot with the meat course, a grilled fillet of beef with peppered blackcurrant jus served with a pumpkin puree and parsley mash.

Morgenhof’s wines were very good but struggled to shine on an evening dominated by a very talented kitchen. The wine estate, nestled just outside Stellenbosch on the slopes of the Simonsberg Mountains, is owned by Anne Cointreau, a lady with a family tree that has aged roots in the business of making Cognac and liqueurs. Their Fantail range seems very affordable and even though the Pinotage was by far the most reasonable of the wines tasted, it was, in my opinion, probably the best.

If you ever find yourself in ‘The Garden Route’ make sure you ask around and find Scotty's, you won’t be disappointed. Owner/chef Scott Rattray came second in the Sunday times chef of the year in 2010 and Delvin Reck, who recently joined the team, won 'The Stalwart of the Kitchen' award in this years competition. They certainly don't show off, with food that is unpretentious, interesting and bold at the same time, and there’s something for everyone. Scott has given me his delicious Blackcurrant jus recipe. Give it a try.

Blackcurrant jus


- 50ml veg oil
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 500g beef trimmings – not fatty
- 1 onion, sliced
- 2 tsp whole black peppercorns
- 6 white mushrooms, sliced
- 1 stick celery, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, whole
- 1 carrot, peeled and sliced
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp tomato paste
- 2 tsp white flour
- 200ml cassis
- 500ml red wine
- 3 litres chicken or beef stock
- 25g lump of chilled butter
- 2 cups of fresh or frozen blackcurrants


- heat a large pan, add butter and oil
- add meat trimmings and fry for 20 mins
- add onion, carrot, celery, mushrooms, pepper, garlic and salt
- cook for another 15 mins, until veg has taken colour
- add tomato paste and flour, cook for 5 mins more
- add cassis and cook it off until dry
- add red wine and reduce by half, then add stock
- gently simmer for 30 mins, then strain through a fine sieve
- return to a clean pan and reduce the sauce down to about 600ml
- if you need, thicken with a bit of cornflour
- check seasoning, stir in lump of butter
- just before serving, add the berries, bring back to the boil, skim and then serve