Sunday, 24 August 2014

Babel - fresh innovation

The reason for a recent visit to Babylonstoren was lunch at Babel.  I had come across the menu a while back and thought it seemed somewhat decent.  I am a pushover when it comes to fresh, locally sourced ingredients and with this restaurant, that concept is taken to a whole new level.  The estate's 8 acre garden, with extensive fruit and vegetables, is harvested throughout the year and is inspired by the Company Gardens of the Cape. 

Our lunch began with fresh bread, guava, pesto and real butter.  The RED salad was our choice and it must rank in my top 5 of all time.  Brilliant combinations of flavour and great textural components.  My beef short-rib was about as tender as is possible but the game-changer was the cauliflower dish.  A real stroke of genius, that sounded good, looked great and tasted even better.  Sometimes chef's try to be a little too clever with it comes to thinking outside the box.  Sometimes they get it exactly right.

Amazingly, head chef Cornelle Minie never thought she would be a chef.  She said that it might have all started because her mom had 2 dishes - take it or leave it.  She started playing around with food, began to enjoy the rush, and wanted to learn more.  Her formal studies were at Silwood Kitchens, in Rondebosch, where she received her Grande Diploma.  Her first job was at Terroir (at Kleine Zalze), under the supervision of Nic Van Wyk and Michael Broughton.  A couple of years in Scotland, at a Boutique Hotel and a little restaurant, followed this and then she returned to SA, and The Big Easy, in Stellenbosch.  Her next move was to Cuvee at Simonsig before the opportunity at Babel arrived.  Cornelle says that the real joy at Babel, is the ability to harvest fresh produce daily, compiling menu's around whatever is available in the garden.  She gets to do what she loves, learning everyday in an environment with endless possibility.       

'The' Cauliflower dish

Cornelle was happy to share her fantastic Cauliflower dish with us.

Cauliflower sandwich with poached guavas, melting gorgonzola, macadamia nuts and viola salt

  1. 3 whole cauliflower heads, green leaves removed
  2. 4 ripe guavas, whole
  3. 150g gorgonzola
  4. bunch of purple viola flowers, dried
  5. 5 Tbsp fleur de sel - hand harvested sea salt
  6. 200g macadamia nuts, roasted
  7. olive oil
For the poaching liquid:
  1. 4 Tbsp granulated sugar
  2. water
  3. 1 stick cinnamon
  4. 2 star anise
  5. 1 piece of lemon zest - just the skin
  • preheat the oven to 180 C
  • steam the whole cauliflower heads for 20-30 mins, until just cooked, and set aside
  • for the poaching liquid, combine all ingredients in a saucepan (cover with just enough liquid to cover guavas) and poach them on a medium heat until just soft
  • remove the guavas from the liquid and set aside
  • for the viola salt, grind the dried violas until it looks like dust, combine with just enough salt to get a purple colour
  • to dry out violas, put them on a baking tray and leave in a warm place to dry out overnight
  • put macadamia nuts on a baking tray and put in a hot oven until golden in colour, leave to cool
  • chop the roasted macadamia nuts and set aside
  • to assemble, slice the cauliflower into 2-3cm thick slices 
  • you need 2 slices per person
  • lay the slices on a baking tray and top all the slices with gorgonzola
  • slice the guavas and place them on every second slice of cauliflower (so one slice will have just gorgonzola and the next will have gorgonzola and guava)
  • place in a hot oven for 5 - 10 mins until hot and warmed through
  • place the slice with both the gorgonzola and guava on the plate and top with the slice with just the gorgonzola
  • put a pinch of viola salt next to the sandwich
  • scatter the macadamia nuts over and around the cauliflower and drizzle with olive oil
  • garnish with some fresh viola flowers

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Stealth Delheim visit

Delheim was the first ever wine estate I had the pleasure of visiting.  This was quite a long time ago and I remember running around like a little hooligan.  That's probably because at that stage I was a little hooligan.  With the passing of time and the associated wisdom that is (hopefully) inevitable, I decided that, on my recent visit to the estate, I needed a well executed covert operation.  You never know, they may well have had a 'wanted' picture of me in reception.  I negotiated my way through the vineyards and into the tasting room and quietly went about my business.  What I can tell you, if you can keep a secret, is that their Gewurztraminer and Pinotage, as well as a few other things, are very good. 

Delheim has wine pairings with cakes and pancakes, and have evenings that involve cheese fondues and jazz.  Worth a visit I would say.  Where else can you have your cake and a glass of wine too.    



I recently enjoyed some of the Vriesenhof and Paradyskloof wines in the tasting room at their very picturesque vineyards.  Impressive views and wine indeed.  In celebration of 30 years of their Paradyskloof wines they have released the 2011 Paradyskloof Pinot Noir/Cinsaut/Pinotage blend (the father, mother and child).  A really interesting, easy-drinking, relatively light red that would work a treat chilled at a warm, summer lunch. 

Their 2008 Vriesenhof Pinotage was my favourite but all of their wines are well made. 

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Simply Saffron - modestly magnificent

We recently spent a couple of days in Prince Albert during their Winter School.  For those of you who don't know, it's the little Karoo town, at the base of the Swartberg, with a big heart and an even bigger creative energy. 

We had a busy few days, taking part in a Mosaic Workshop, a film at the new Showroom Theatre, a lecture on minerals and a tasting of the cheeses produced at Gay's Dairy.  The restaurants in the dorpie (little town) have always impressed and this visit certainly didn't disappoint. 

Simply Saffron, at 10 Church Street, is owned and managed by Ridwaan and Hermon.  It's fairly new to town but has already made quite a name for itself.  A number of people told us about their ever-changing and interesting menu, great value for money and (most importantly) fantastic food.  All of our informants were spot on.  A 3 course menu, with options that would please the full spectrum of veggies and carnivores alike and a venue that ticks all the boxes when it comes to comfort and service.  To say the price is reasonable is an understatement and as a BYO (bring your own) establishment (with no corkage) it just gets better and better. 

I asked Ridwaan for a recipe, which I will share with you below, and he commented that he wanted to give me something easy, that everyone can have a go at and enjoy.  He said that it's the uncomplicated stuff that is often the most difficult to get right, because we take it for granted, but that with a little care and attention we can create something beautiful.  His 'easy' tomato soup starter was a perfect example of exactly this; simple food taken to the next level through meticulous preparation and execution.  My Ethiopian Lamb Stew had layer upon layer of flavour; a subtle dish but one that would awaken even the most weary of palates.   
Walnut and blue cheese pate with toasted linseed bread and orange, ginger and whisky marmalade

Carrot and cabbage koftas in a creamy yoghurt sauce
Ethiopian lamb stew

Here is Ridwaan's Vegetable Curry:

  1. 4 cups of seasonal vegetables, if you use potatoes make sure they are cut into small cubes
  2. 2 Tbsp ghee or coconut oil
  3. 1 tsp mustard seeds
  4. 1 tsp fennel seeds
  5. 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
  6. 2 stems curry leaves
  7. a thumb of ginger, grated
  8. 2 green chillies, chopped
  9. 2 tsp dried fenugreek leaves
  10. 1/2 head of broccoli, cut into small florets
  11. 3 ripe, jam tomatoes, chopped
  12. salt and black pepper to taste
  • slowly heat ghee or oil with curry leaves and chillies, not allowing them to blacken
  • add all whole spices and continue heating until mustard seeds start to pop
  • add ginger and braise for 30 seconds
  • then add vegetables with a little water and fenugreek leaves and allow to cook until tender but still al dente
  • add broccoli and tomatoes at this stage, along with seasoning
  • cook for a further 5 minutes
  • serve each portion with a roti or some basmati rice     

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Esona - the very (good) one

The husband and wife owned wine estate of Esona is serenely perched on the banks of the Breede River, between Robertson and Bonnievale.  All of the grapes on the farm are hand-picked and end up in their 'Frankly my dear' Pinot Noir Blanc de Noir, and their 3 single vineyard wines, the Chardonnay, the Sauvignon Blanc and the Shiraz. 

A little while ago I was lucky enough to attend the Friday night event at Esona during the Slow Festival. Seventeen guests started with an atmospheric vertical tasting in their old, underground, candlelit kuip (20,000 litre cement tank) that not only gave us an appreciation of their vintage variation but also the importance of having wine in glasses that are designed to show them off.  We then moved upstairs and enjoyed a 3 course, home-cooked meal with their superb wines.  Owners Rowan and Caryl were our hosts for the evening and when I say they got pretty hands-on that's exactly what I mean.  Caryl prepared all the food and Rowan was MC, waiter and reserve dish-washer.  The whole team that took care of us on the evening did a great job but Heinrich, who has a special talent when it comes to looking after guests, deserves special mention.  A truly unique experience at one of South Africa's great boutique estates.
Rowan and Caryl

The springbok loin (the main) was so good that I got hold of Caryl and asked her for the recipe.  Here it is:

Caryl's springbok loin   

  1. a good sized springbok loin, cut into steaks
  2. a pack of streaky bacon
  3. oil
  4. 1 small onion, chopped
  5. a squeeze of lemon juice
  6. 1/2 to 1 cup of red wine (preferably Esona)
  7. 2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  8. some herbs, whatever you like
  9. a good sprinkling of black pepper
  10. 250ml cream
  11. 1 Tbsp chicken stock
  12. a few cloves of garlic, crushed
  • quickly sear each steak in hot oil and set aside to cool
  • retain pan juices
  • when the meat has cooled a little, wrap each piece in 2 strips of bacon
  • place on a foil-lined baking dish, shiny side up
  • just before you are ready to eat put the tray of meat in a 180 C oven, and cook for 5 minutes each side, no longer if you're wanting it rare (as it should be)
  • use the pan that you could the meat in (with juices left)
  • brown the onion, add lemon juice, the red wine, the Worcestershire sauce and the herbs
  • add a good sprinkle of black pepper, a little garlic, some chicken stock and allow to reduce and thicken
  • you can add a little corn flour to help with the thickening
  • before serving add the cream and heat through, don't let it boil at this stage
  • enjoy with mash, rice or cous-cous and some vegetables