Thursday, January 31, 2008

Leoville-Barton Dinner Party

Saturday night we had a most successful dinner party, though we say it ourselves. Guests Bron&Maggie and Paul&Siobhan seemed to enjoy themselves.

We usually have a theme like "what we learned on the cookery school". This time it was a double theme: "a vertical tasting of Leoville-Barton" and "recipes from South Africa".

The starter and main course were out of The Collection Cookbook and the Tiramisu ice-cream recipe was from the chef at the Makanyane Game Lodge.

four wine bottles
Leoville-Barton '82, '85, '89 and '95

Youngest to oldest:
'95 was fine but all agreed a little more cellaring would be good.
'89 was my favourite for balance of fruit and tannins.
'85 was second favorite but, by the end of the evening, had nudged ahead to first place.
'82 was a little faded. To my TCA sensitive palette there was a distinct whiff of cork taint.

And the Recioto di Soave with the dessert was perfect :-)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

SA Trip 8: Epilogue

Now it can be told. We liked South Africa so much we bought an apartment in Hermanus, Western Cape, at the Hermanus Beach Club an hour and a half's drive from Cape Town.

"Hermanus has the status of being the best land-based whale watching destination in the world. Southern right whales visit Walker Bay from June through to December and can be viewed from aboard a boat, an airplane or the shore. Hermanus is home to the world's only Whale Crier who blows his kelp horn when whales are spotted along the central sea route." -

It was an impulse buy. We had not gone out with the intention of buying a place but we loved it so much we had a giddy turn and decided to expand our property empire.

Part holiday home, part pension plan. The idea is to holiday there for a few years and when we retire, or down-shift, to spend the (European) winters down there.

The money went off to the lawyers yesterday and the apartment will be ours at the end of February. We go out over Easter to pick up the keys and fit the place out - a long way to go for a shopping spree. Our is the one circled in the aerial photo.

Terrace Terrace SW View
Terrace SE View Kitchen
Bathroom Apartment building
The apartment in not huge (two and a half bedrooms, one all-purpose living /dining / kitchen room) but the terrace is larger than the whole apartment!

Hermanus Beach Club Aerial View

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

SA Trip 7: Constantia

Mon 31-Dec-07 / Wed 02-Jan-08

A short hop from Robertson to Constantia for the final leg and the final wine tasting at Klein Constantia. Given as how they do South Africa's most famous sweet wine, and one that has an association with Le Gavroche, it had to be on the itinerary.

010 Klein Constantia

After which we met up with Andrew, an ex-colleague who moved to SA some 7 years ago. His three week tour of SA and ours managed to pass within a couple of miles of each other (!) on the 31st so we met for lunch and a natter.

020 Lunch with Andrew and wife

After that if was off to the third hotel in the Liz McGrath Collection: The Cellars-Hohenort and a fine 5 star hotel it was too. Another Gala dinner for New Year's Eve:

050 New Year's Eve

New Year's Day we spent hours walking round the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
130 Botanical gardens -

That evening our last meal in SA was at the hotel in the Cape Malay Restaurant. Then an early night for an early start in the morning and the flight back to the UK - Boo!

More photos on Flickr:

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

SA Trip 6: Robertson

Fri 28-Dec-07 / Mon 31-Dec-07

We left Plettenberg planning a gentle, scenic journey to Robertson along Route 62 - "Scenic Route" as designated on the road atlas. Reading the guidebooks Mary suggested a side trip to Prince Albert over the Swartberg pass: "One of the most - if not the most - spectacular scenic passes in South Africa as well as being an engineering feat".

The sign saying 'unsuitable for caravans' was a mind-boggling understatement. It was a dirt track scarcely wide enough for two vehicles with precipitous drops and no parapet wall. When we got to the 1-in-7 uphill and had to change down to 1st gear I thought "they have got to be kidding!" The views probably were spectacular but I scarcely saw them as I was white knuckle, eyes fixed on the road.

I insisted on going the long way round to get back on track - not doing that again! Then we found that Route 62 was closed and we had another detour so it was 8 o'clock by the time we reached our destination: Fraai Uitzicht just outside Robertson. Eat, sleep.

010 Fraai Uitzicht chalet

Sat: We did a self drive wine tasting tour:090 Veltevrede tasting
Tasting wonderful dessert wines at De Wetshof

Sun: A walk round the farm and then a tasting at the eponymous Robertson. We ate in Fraai Uitzicht all three nights as they were a little out of town and I try not to drink and drive and I do not want to miss out on all the wines!! Fortunately it was yet another awarding winning restaurant.

040 Canna roadside
Robertson Wine Route - Canna by the roadside

Full set of photos on Flickr:

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

SA Trip 5: Plettenberg

Mon 24-Dec-07 / Fri 28-Dec-07

The Christmas period was aimed at the garden route to allow for relaxing and unwinding before we launched into the next round of wine districts. Not sure why it gets the marketing label of "The Garden Route" - seems much like the rest of the Western Cape to me but there you go!

We (I) drove for six hours in a torrential downpour, wipers on Max, through the worst weather of the holiday to arrive at The Plettenberg.

020 The Plettenberg living area

By this time we had discovered that the travel agent had booked us into three 5 star hotels in the same mini-chain: The Collection By Liz McGrath. We had done The Marine at Hermanus and were booked for New Year's Eve at The Cellars-Hohenort.

We had a gala dinner on Christmas Eve in the hotal *and* Christmas Linch in Christmas Day. It was still wet that day and everywhere was closed so we ended up dining in the hotel that evening as well. Just as well it was a 5 star restaurant :-)

Robberg Island Nature Reserve:
120 Robberg Island peninsula

Wed: Boxing Day was a walk round Robberg Island Nature Reserve. Not for the faint hearted this cliff top walk with some real cliff edge scrambling over rocks. Hard work and we deserved our picnic lunch at the end.

Evening meal at Fu.Shi, food excellent but the kitchen was overwhelmed by several large parties arriving all at once. Three hours for a meal. I would go back but they got no tip that night.

Knysna Elephant Trail:
130 Elephant trail ford

Thu: A walk in the Knysna nature reserve followed by an excellent pizza at Cornuti Al Mare.

For more photo see Flickr:

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

SA Trip 4: Stellenbosch

Fri 21-Dec-07 / Mon 24-Dec-07

Lunch and beer tasting at Dieu Donne:

020 Lunch with beer tasting at Dieu Donne

Because of our leisurely departure from Franschhoek we arrived in Stellenbosch with just some time to wander around around town and get a feel for the place. We went to visit Oom Samie se Winkel an Aladdin's cave of curios, nick-knacks and tourist souvenirs. Evening meal was in the Fishmonger restaurant.

040 Samie's

Sat: Another wine tour, this time with Keith of Redwood Tours and the wineries were:120 Tasting at Simonsig

Then De Volkskombuis for a supper of traditional Cape cuisine.

Sun: We hired two bicycles and cycled 10k up to Sugarbird Manor - a WWF guesthouse. From there we did a 9k Devon Valley walk. We then cycled all the way back to Stellenbosch for an afternoon of relaxing. A quick trip to the Village museum then evening meal in the hotel's "1802" Restaurant.

080 Devon Valley view

Our hotel was the d'Ouwe Werf, it may be SA's oldest inn dating back to 1802 but it was the one with the smallest and most cramped accommodation on our trip. A bit of a come down after Le Quartier Francais.

Full set of photos on Flickr:

Monday, January 07, 2008

SA Trip 3: Franschhoek

Tue 18-Dec-07 / Fri 21-Dec-07

The next leg of our trip was to Franschhoek and the wine region around it. This was the cutest town and the best hotel of the entire three weeks.

The drive over from Hermanus via Villiersdorp took in some stunning scenery: it was like the highlands of Scotland but with sunshine!

010 Le Quartier Francais

The hotel, Le Quartier Francais reminded me somewhat of the French Quarter in New Orleans. They seem to have brought up a whole "city" block of houses, removed the garden fences and created a unique hotel. That night we went for the seven course tasting menu with matching wines in the hotel's Tasting Room (as their posher restaurant is called) - a stunning display of culinary virtuosity and completely over the top.

Wed: We walked all the way to Dieu Donne for a tasting then walked back again. In the afternoon we did a conducted wine tour with Pauline.
Stony Brook
Haute Cabriere
Rickety Bridge

060 Tasting at Moreson 2

Supper that night was at Topsi and Company.

Thu: We hired bikes and cycled all the way to the prison were Nelson Mandela was finally released. Then on to Boschendal for a tasting. We cycled back to the hotel and got a lift to La Petite Ferme for lunch. I cannot remember which colleague recommended this place but it was probably the best meal we had in South Africa. Supper that evening was at Reuben's yet another top-rated SA restaurant.

Relaxing after the meal at Le Petite Ferme:
110 La Petite Ferme - relaxing after

Fri: Shopping for stocking fillers for each other as we, obviously, did not bring all the family presents with us. Then the Huguenot Museum followed by a repeat visit to Stony Brook to order a couple of cases for the UK. Next another tasting, this time at Graham Beck. Then lunch at Dieu Donne and a drive to our next stop, Stellenbosch.

Full set of photos on Flickr:

Sunday, January 06, 2008

SA Trip 2: Hermanus and Walker Bay

Sat 15-Dec-07 / Tue 18-Dec-07

After the safari it was a return flight from the airstrip to Jo'burg then pick up the next leg of our BA flight: Jo'burg to Cape Town. There we picked up the hire car and drove to the five star Marine Hotel in Hermanus arriving at 8:00pm in time to change and go straight into the restaurant.

The next day we went for a cliff top walk to admire the fynbos vegetation that is unique to SA. Along the way we saw an owl, a Dassie (or Rock Hyrax) and lots of the flora. Our evening meal at an excellent seafood restaurant: Meditterrea. A recurrent theme of this trip was dining in the best restaurants in every town we visited.

060 Cliff top walk

The next day was a wine tour with Percy of Percy Tours. We had the tour to ourselves and, as Percy is a fully qualified tour guide, we had an excellent and informative tour. We would highly recommend Percy and this way of doing wine tasting - somebody else drives, no spitting out for me <grin>

120 Newton Johnson tasting
Our itinerary for the day:That night we went to dine at Annie se Kombuis for some traditional SA food; I had the Bobotie.

Full set of photos on Flickr:

Friday, January 04, 2008

SA Trip 1: Madikwe Safari

Mon 11-Dec-07 / Sat 15-Dec-07

What can I say - Fantastic! This was our first safari and I guess everyone must feel something similar. Just amazing to be so close to the real thing, wild animals in their natural habitat. No cages, no bars. Talk about up close and personal!


As mentioned before we went for a top class accommodation throughout this trip. We went for a small lodge: Makanyane. We got our own chalet and this was our view from the bedroom window. We were woken one morning by a loud grunting which turned out to be hippos in that stream right outside our chalet.


The routine was two game drives a day, one at 5:30am and one at 4:00pm with lunch back at the lodge. Our excellent guide, David, drove us around Madikwe Game Reserve in an almost indestructible Toyota Land Cruiser in search of animals. Fortunately all the lodges cooperate and radio each other when there is something to see. In the first couple of days we could hardly turn around without bumping into another herd of something.


We would then stop mid-drive for coffee or a sun downer as appropriate:

The first day there were two other guests. The rest of the time we had the whole place and 30 staff to ourselves. The service was immaculate as was the food. One odd feature was that when the menu said "venison" it didn't just mean deer as in the UK It might mean springbok, kudu, blesbok, or any one of a number of other antelopes. It felt a bit like dining at the zoo.


We dined in the restaurant a couple of nights but the staff set up our table for romantic dining the other nights. Once by the (swimming) pool and once on our own chalet veranda. Mind you we had to put covers over our wine glasses to stop giant bugs diving in. They have some big creepy-crawlies in Africa!

I think my favourites animals were the dung beetle and the wart hog :-)

Selected set of photos on Flickr:

Previous Makanyane posts:
Lion and cubs playing in Madikwe Game Reserve
South African Safari