The air is crisp and clean; the pungent, peppery smell of the fynbos shrubs is strong; the sharp sun gives the whitewashed walls of the Cape Dutch buildings an almost golden hue; and the winemakers, fresh off a busy harvest, are eager to give you insider access to their newest releases. The Cape Winelands in winter is every bit as magical … and may just steal a piece of your heart. We delved into the valleys deep and hillsides high, and snuggled up in our cosiest cashmere scarves near a crackling fire, to root out the foodie secrets in this delicious region this season. These are the dining experiences and dishes that made us swoon – and we couldn’t stop dreaming about thereafter.
WHERE TO STAY
Editor’s pick: Angala Boutique Hotel (Franschhoek)
Best for: Getting swept away at the most picturesque place to stay
Dreaming of a getaway to relax and recharge? Angala Boutique Hotel, nestled in the hills above the vineyard-studded Simonsberg wine region, ticks all the boxes. With its striking architecture designed with those looking to say goodbye to stress in mind – and its equally jaw-dropping location overlooking the postcard-perfect mountains that rise between Franschhoek and Paarl – this reposeful retreat is the quintessential Cape wine country hideaway. Upon arrival, guests are greeted with a glass of bubbly and then personally escorted to their room. A compound of 11 modern bungalows is surrounded by seasonal blooms, fragrant foliage, vivid dark purple-blue lavender hedges and vines of green-skinned sauvignon blanc grapes. Our Luxury Room – in a muted palette of olive, taupe and cream – had a minimalist aesthetic and a make-yourself-at-home ease at play. It was outfitted with a super king-size bed, fireplace, outdoor shower, deep-soak tub, air-conditioning and underfloor heating as well as a private terrace where you can sip coffee while gazing out at the morning mist rolling in; an only-in-the-low-season experience. Those that can’t tear themselves away from the grounds can look forward to a vineyard-facing ozonated pool, heated plunge pool, infrared sauna, steam room, private yoga sessions, locally-inspired therapies, shiatsu, reflexology and the hotel’s pièce de résistance – a revitalising, naturally filtered eco pool featuring a living ecosystem of water plants to purify the water. You’ll leave feeling nurtured, purified, pampered and relaxed. But what you’re really here for is the wine: As part of the package, guests get vouchers for wine tasting at Vrede en Lust Wine Estate and Rupert & Rothschild Vignerons, which are just 100m and 280m down the road respectively. The Vrede en Lust Sarah Bubbly by Nature sparkling wine with aromas of green apple, pear and stone fruit and the Rupert & Rothschild Classique – a Cape Bordeaux with nuances of fresh cranberry and wild black cherry – are as unforgettable as the places themselves. At the hotel’s bright, contemporary restaurant (exclusively for in-house guests), the menu is printed with the day’s date, proving that, yes … everything is indeed ultra-fresh and seasonal. It’s just the sort of setting for a long, lazy Sunday lunch, especially on a grey, drizzly day. The tasteful and unfussy food – pumpkin spice-scented soup, beef fillet with a crispy onion crust, a full English breakfast with all the trimmings and plenty more – is connected to the place, the season and the heart of the chefs. Wander into the dining room flecked with gorgeous pieces of furniture and you’d be forgiven for feeling like you’ve wandered into someone’s (truly amazing) home, or have your meal served on the sun-drenched outdoor terrace with generous pours of rosé. Either way, diners can expect conscious cuisine crafted with hyper-local, sustainable ingredients.
Corner of R45 & Klapmuts Road (through Vrede en Lust Wine Estate), Simondium, Franschhoek
021 874 1366
Spanish Farm Guest Lodge (Somerset West)
Best for: A treehouse hotel that takes design to new heights
For visitors looking for an authentic, picture-perfect Somerset West villa, Spanish Farm Guest Lodge (part of the Cape Summer Villas Boutique Collection) brings glamour and originality to this must-stay destination. Hidden away on the grounds of a four-hectare estate on the slopes of the Helderberg Mountain, the luxury guesthouse and self-catering villas are surrounded by fynbos vegetation, indigenous gardens and the Hottentots Holland Mountains, but they’re still in the heart of the Helderberg Wine Route. We recommend booking the sun-filled two-bedroom villa, which is set above a canopy of trees and makes the most of its natural surroundings. Its gorgeously minimalist interiors are a mix of the rustic and modern, with hand-plastered walls, matte charcoal floor tiles, exposed beams, décor in various shades of black, grey and blue as well as art, rugs and textiles that create an urban loft feel. The perfect spot for a multi-generational getaway, the villa has two en-suite bedrooms – one with an oversized rain shower and the other with an enormous bathtub (where you can soak away the day with luxury Healing Earth bath products) and a beyond breathtaking outdoor shower – plus a private nature pool, wooden deck, fully-equipped kitchen, dining room, wood-burning fireplace, air-conditioning and heating, DStv, terrace and wraparound windows that give spectacular views over False Bay and Somerset West. Climb down from your perch to the explore the grounds and use the villa’s fragrant garden, or snuggle up in bed under a fur throw and watch nature do its thing – with never-ending skies studded with the brightest stars, this is what childhood dreams are made of! Our favourite space is the sleek and modern kitchen, which we couldn’t stop swooning over. You can totally imagine cooking up an indulgent breakfast – think chocolate chip pancakes with cinnamon honey syrup or Italian eggs Benedict with pesto hollandaise – with a food-obsessed group of friends here, with its stunning kitchen island, Le Creuset cookware, SMEG appliances and Nespresso machine. Or, you can dial up the cook who works the kitchen for the guesthouse.
40 Silverboom Kloof Road, Spanish Farm, Somerset West
0 21 852 7352
Eendracht Hotel & Apartments (Stellenbosch)
Best for: Those with a passion for antiques and curiosities
There’s a lovely Danish and Norwegian word, hygge, for a mood of cosiness and comfortable conviviality. And Cape Country Routes’ Eendracht Hotel & Apartments, located in the heart of the oldest part of Stellenbosch, is very hyggelig indeed. With the original building – a small two-bedroom cottage – built in 1710, it’s hard to imagine a place more steeped in history. Although this hotel, which has 13 elegant, cosseting en-suite bedrooms and three newly refurbished self-catering units, wears its heritage lightly … and with flair. Among the eye-popping mosaics, painted wood, hand-carved plaster, old prints and bric-à-brac, the furniture is made from richly varnished wood that gleams in the sun coming through the windows. Wherever your eyes fall, there’s something to discover. But a museum it is not: Beyond the unique décor, the bedrooms are also deeply comfortable. Most romantic is the Honeymoon Suite, with its queen-size bed, corner bath and balcony for cocktail hour. In the mornings, you’ll awaken to cheeky sparrows squabbling outside or the thump-thump of coffee grounds being emptied from the espresso machine downstairs, before tucking into a full-house breakfast – mini pastries with cheese and cold meats, cereal, yoghurt and your choice of a hot plated dish with a coffee or fruit juice. For lunch, grab something light like a salad or toasted sandwich at the sunlit Senobia’s Restaurant, a new addition to the hotel which also whips up superb traditional South African dishes with local seasonal ingredients. Highlights include Cape Malay bobotie, cottage pie, green bean bredie, homemade roast chicken and mushroom pie as well as milk tart with homemade ice cream. Off days can be spent sipping wine on the garden patio or at the outdoor splash pool, though for the restless, the affiliated Adventure Shop (a three-minute walk from the hotel) offers guided hikes, guided bike tours and 4×4 wine tours. The popular half-day e-bike tour from Stellenbosch to Boschendal in Franschhoek trails through town and up into Idas Valley and the Banhoek Conservancy. It includes transport back to Stellenbosch by bus in the early afternoon.
161 Dorp Street, Stellenbosch
021 883 8843
WHERE TO EAT
Gåte – Quoin Rock Wine Estate
Best for: Top-notch fine dining with polished silverware for foodies in the know
Home to some of the most adventurous eating in the Winelands, the sophisticated, glass-walled interiors of Gåte is where youthful head chef Jack Coetzee (formerly executive chef at Urbanologi in Joburg) spins out artfully plated South African food crafted with local ingredients … and whatever else strikes his fancy. Situated on the slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain, it’s a transportive environment that’s cleverly cosy in winter, with its tree and foliage-inspired elements and food that’s as striking as the design. However, tables are well-spaced, all the better to focus on the beautifully presented food. For lunch, there are three menu options: We strongly recommend the three-course rather than the two- or five-course (which includes a vegan option), as a succession of amuse-bouches and pre-desserts will push up the plate count in any case. You can expect dishes like a selection of tomato varieties on a pine nut crumb, topped with Phantom Forest goat cheese; deliciously colourful and flavourful beet steak with beetroot dauphinoise, baby beetroot and halzenuts; as well as a fresh, zesty pineapple and lime dessert with coconut sorbet, salted caramel and pineapple confit. Chef Jack doesn’t shy away from crowd-pleasers – hello, quail liver parfait and beef fillet – yet he still gives himself room to be creative with seasonal specials. Just as his talent is for showcasing unusual ingredients without showboating, the fashionable servers’ is for putting guests at ease with the ever-changing menu. The most photographed dish – and certainly the most ordered – is the langoustines, prized for their delicate sweetness, served with a ball of sweet corn mielie pap, pancetta and sweet pea vierge plus a velvety, full-of-flavour langoustine velouté. Desserts are spectacular, especially the Not Your Ouma’s Milk Tart that dazzles not only the eye, but the palate, too. Once you break it, the coconut shortbread, cinnamon curd and dehydrated cinnamon mousse contents are refreshingly untricky on the tongue; a delicious nutty, earthy walk in the woods. Wine is the restaurant’s other forte: Those who opt for the wine pairing will sample a selection of wines from Quoin Rock and neighbouring Knorhoek. Book at least three to four days ahead.
Quoin Rock Wine Estate, 7600 Knorhoek Road, Stellenbosch
021 888 4750
SALT – Waterford Estate
Best for: Assertive dishes that are strong on flavour … with subtle twists
The word is out: Local gourmets and visitors (many of them guests at nearby four- and five-star hotels) have been flocking to SALT – a stellar addition to the Winelands’ culinary scene – since it opened earlier this year. Set on the terracotta, Tuscan-inspired Waterford Estate, looking out onto the iconic fountain courtyard, the restaurant emanates a calm elegance and has a hushed, luxe feel that’s evident from the moment you walk in. With Craig Cormack and Beau du Toit, who previously helmed the restaurant at Paul Cluver, running the show, local and foraged ingredients form the basis of deceptively simple dishes. The chef duo rises to another level through modern techniques, and underlying it all is a passionate farm-to-table philosophy. Well-honed techniques and a large dose of creativity turn ingredients such as humble red bunching onions into stars in a French onion soup starter with sourdough and gratinated Gruyère. Mains, all deeply inspired and exquisitely presented, include the braised Boesmanland lamb shank, grilled veld-raised beef and brisket bacon, Thai green curry of single line-caught fish and black sesame-crusted tofu with confit fennel. They each come with a glass of selected wine: Choose from Waterford Elgin Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Waterford Elgin Pinot Noir 2018, Waterford Heatherleigh, Kevin Arnold Shiraz 2016 and our top pick, Waterford Rose-Mary 2020; a light and fruity rosé with a lovely transparent pink colour and delicate raspberry undertones. Speaking of that lamb shank, served with cured, dried and fried pork belly plus pepino melon, Japanese mayo, radish and mebos chutney – it’s melt-in-your-mouth, so snap it up with a glass of well-oaked Waterford Estate Chardonnay 2018 when you see it. On the other hand, the line fish in a Thai green curry, with corn, peas, coriander and pickled ginger, reveals itself to be beautifully balanced; substance and not just flashy presentation. Dessert is worth leaving room for – say, nutty almond biscotti and a chilled glass of subtle, layered dessert wine to dip it into, or an unusual pear tart fin served with creamy-cool ice cream with the zing of fiery black pepper. As you’d expect, the service is smooth as silk, but happily, it’s also far from being pompous.
Waterford Estate, Blaauwklippen Road, Stellenbosch
021 880 5300
The Jordan Restaurant – Jordan Wine Estate
Best for: A parade of polished plates
What is there to say about The Jordan Restaurant and celebrated chef George Jardine that hasn’t already been said? We’ll just say this … if you’re lucky enough to get a reservation, be sure to arrive at the restaurant on Jordan Wine Estate on time. This is where you come to sample some of the Winelands’ finest haute cuisine. You won’t want to miss a second of the entire experience – it’s fancy, fussy and oh-so-good. From the moment you arrive, you’ll want to take in every tiny moment: The sophisticated, light-filled dining room rich with artisanal furniture; the panoramic vista out front that encompasses the undulating vineyards; the generous bread platter of focaccia, seed loaf, charcoal buns and luscious garlic aioli; and the trip to the Cheese Room, which features South African cheeses made by small producers from all over the country. There’s also an open kitchen, so you can watch the skilled chefs in action as they masterfully whip up exceptional food. The short, sharp seasonal menu (your choice of two, three or five courses with or without wine pairing) focuses on local flavours and features creative dish after creative dish, all presented on bespoke ceramics. A top starter is the steamed Saldanha Bay mussels papillote (French for ‘in parchment’) – succulent mussels presented wrapped in the pocket that releases an aromatic steam when you open it. The mussels’ natural salty brininess is balanced with sweet coconut milk, aromatic lemongrass, tart lime juice and a generous hit of fresh ginger, garlic and chilli. You’ll argue over the stars of the mains with your lunch date, but take it from us: The aged Chalmar sirloin cooked medium rare – accompanied by a soft herb crust, black lentils, roasted garlic, and a mushroom and pancetta dressing – is next level. The pan-roasted line-caught hake served with a zucchini and olive salad and fried zucchini flowers is also a knockout. Drenched in a buttery hollandaise sauce, the fish is so fresh that it barely needs to be cooked. Finish things off with a suite of decadent desserts, such as the showstopping honey and poppy seed soufflé drizzled with crème anglaise and vanilla ice cream. It’s a delicate work of art with a light-as-air texture – you won’t be disappointed.
Jordan Wine Estate, Stellenbosch Kloof Road, Vlottenburg, Stellenbosch
021 881 3612
Paulina’s Restaurant – Rickety Bridge Winery
Best for: Indulging in your love of food and drink
Tucked inside the busy Rickety Bridge Winery, the sun-filled Paulina’s Restaurant – named in honour of the original owner of the property – is a true oasis. Here, bartenders shake up cocktails like the Rickety River Gin, chefs slide freshly prepared pizzas into the wood-fired oven and groups of friends chat the day away over casual cuisine. It’s the kind of place you could spend hours working your way through classic comfort food and intriguing bottles of wine, much as you would at a friend’s home. Don’t be fooled by the restaurant’s cosy, easygoing décor and no-frills à la carte menus. Despite its minimalistic design, the restaurant still has loads of character, and the food is outrageously good – expect big, rich flavours perfect for a chilly climate. The only thing you need to figure out is whether to dine in the farmhouse-like dining room with a toasty fireplace, or on the wood-clad year-round outdoor terrace surrounded by towering trees and vineyards. The weekend menu changes regularly, but could include anything from homemade mushroom gnocchi with a hint of garlic and chilli to slow-roasted pork belly with sweet potato purée, buttered greens and sweet chilli jus. The problem (if there is one) is that there’s too much choice – from signature dishes to mix and match meals, it’s all so good that you really need several repeat visits to sample everything here. Our advice? Ask your waiter for recommendations, order a bunch of plates (but make sure the sticky chicken wings, deep-fried pork ribs and tempura onion rings are on the list) and work your way through the smorgasbord of flavours. We recommend the al dente homemade tagliatelle tossed with a gorgeous medley of seafood in a heavenly white wine sauce, paired with a glass of Paulina’s Reserve Chenin Blanc – a rich, mouth-filling wine with dominant pineapple, peach and ripe pear aromas plus notes of spicy oak. It’s simple but superb. Omnivores will delight in the gloriously hearty slow-braised beef oxtail loaded with seasonal vegetables and creamy herbed polenta, and a glass of red fruit-forward Rickety Bridge Pinotage with blackberry and blueberry flavours in the background. Whenever you come – and whatever you order – rest assured that you won’t leave hungry.
Rickety Bridge Winery, R45, Franschhoek
021 876 2129