Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Ataraxia, The Plettenberg and the taxi that forgot about us

I have been fortunate enough to attend a few wine dinners at 'The Plettenberg' over the last few years.  It's a great place to enjoy a meal and to learn about and taste some of our fantastic South African wines.  The exciting thing is that it seems as if these events are getting better and better.  A recent dinner, with wines from Ataraxia, was almost perfect.  I'll let the menu do the talking:

Confit duck wonton

Smoked salmon tartar

Broccoli, pear & Danish feta quiche

Ataraxia Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Free range chicken ballottine

baby gem, parmesan custard, anchovy aioli,

pancetta crisps, caramelised walnuts

Ataraxia Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Slow roasted pork belly

prawn and glass noodle salad, spiced pineapple chutney,

asian vinaigrette, crackling

Ataraxia Chardonnay 2013

Parmesan gnocchi

oyster mushrooms, baby beets, deep fried artichokes,

 red onion marmalade,pine nut paste

Ataraxia declassified Pinot Noir 2013

Roast beef tenderloin

oxtail, potato & wild mushroom gratin, pea puree, confit pearl onions,

 red wine jus

Ataraxia Serenity 2009

assiette of friandise

Earl grey madeleine, assorted macaroons, pistachio & walnut baklava, marshmallows, Turkish delights, mini tiramisu phyllo baskets

Executive chef, Grant Parker, had the somewhat difficult task of compiling a menu that could stand up to a list of wines of exceptional quality.  The food could very easily have been bullied into the background but this was not the case.  The food and wine shone in equal measures. 

Kevin Grant, owner and winemaker at Ataraxia, has a special piece of land in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge Ward, near Hermanus.  He's a self-proclaimed soil farmer and says that essentially what he does is put soil in a glass, with the help of some grapes and a bit of effort.  Kevin, a Burgundy fanatic, is working hard to create wines that have ageing potential.  A great example of this is his Chardonay, with a delicate oak expression that accentuates the complex fruit and bold mineral acidity.  In fact, an ABC (anything but Chardonnay) advocate at our table, who, when first presented with the wine, nervously sniffed and poked at it, fell in love and it turned out to be her wine of the night.  In reference to his Sauvignon Blanc, Kevin says the vintage on the label shouldn't be the sell (or consume) by date, sadly an impression that is often absorbed by the market.  He is a winemaker that speaks with abundant humour and a chiseled common sense and I can't remember experiencing a more interesting, informal wine talk in the last few years.  The 'declassifed' 2013 Pinot Noir, that is not being commercialised until it's just right (according to Kevin), has huge potential and seems to, like his Chardonnay, be a cheerful amalgamation of old and new-world winemaking and style.

The most wonderful thing about the evening was that we had pre-booked a taxi for the ride home.  The worst thing was it never arrived.

Grant has very kindly given me the recipe for his Gnocchi dish.

parmesan gnocchi

oyster mushroom, baby beets, deep fried artichokes,

red onion marmalade, pine nut paste


for the parmesan gnocchi
  1. 400g potato
  2. 160g white flour
  3. 1 whole egg
  4. 5ml fine salt
  5. 120g finely grated parmesan cheese
  • bake the potato in an oven at 180 degrees for approximately 40 mins making sure it's cooked all the way through
  • peel the potato and pass it through a fine sieve
  • add the flour, egg, salt and parmesan
  • knead the mixture for 5 mins
  • lightly dust a board with flour and break the dough into 4 pieces
  • roll the dough into a sausage shape, approximately 1.5cm in diameter
  • from the left hand side cut the end piece off and discard
  • pinch the mixture with your index finger and thumb to form a hour glass shape and cut on the right side of the shape, will be about 2cm in length
  • cut all the dough and place on a tray, lightly dusted with flour, use a large knife to pick this mixture up
  • place a pot on the stove with water and salt and bring to the boil
  • have a container with ice and cold water ready
  • in batches place the gnocchi into the boiling water and stir softly so that it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan
  • once the gnocchi comes to the surface it is cooked, with a slotted spoon remove it from the water and place into the ice cold water
  • carry on this way until all the dough has been cooked
  • strain the gnocchi, place it into a container and sprinkle with olive oil, which will make sure it does not stick together

for the red onion marmelade
  1. 1 red onion, chopped fine
  2. 30ml unsalted butter
  3. 30ml brown sugar
  4. 20ml balsamic vinegar
  5. 30ml red wine
  6. salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • melt the butter in a saucepan
  • add the onion and sauté until tender and slightly brown
  • add the brown sugar and cook until it is dissolved
  • add the balsamic vinegar and red wine
  • reduce the heat and simmer until the liquid has evaporated, then remove from the heat

for the pine nut paste
  1. 100g pine nuts, toasted with olive oil and maldon sea salt
  2. 20ml olive oil
  3. blend the nuts in a food processor, slowly adding the oil until the mixture becomes smooth

for the baby beets
  1. place the beetroot in a pot, cover with cold water and add salt
  2. cook the beetroot until tender
  3. peel and cut in to match sticks

for the deep-fried artichoke hearts
  1. from a tin of artichokes, peel the leaves off and dry as much as possible
  2. lightly dust with corn flour and deep fry until golden brown
  3. place on a paper towel and season with salt

putting the dish together
  1. put a black pan on the stove, moderate heat and add a drizzle of olive oil
  2. pan fry the gnocchi until golden brown, remove and place in a container
  3. pan fry the oyster mushrooms and season with salt and chopped thyme (once almost cooked)
  4. add 125ml white wine and reduce by half, then add 125ml fresh cream and simmer
  5. add your gnocchi and red onion marmalade
  6. place the gnocchi into a soup plate
  7. spoon the pine nut paste with a teaspoon into the centre of the dish on top of the gnocchi
  8. sprinkle the beetroot around the plate
  9. add your artichoke and shaved parmesan
  10. sprinkle the top of the dish with chopped chives
Enjoy with a glass or 2 of pinot noir!

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