Notes from my Kitchen Table: Highlights of 2005
As the year approached its end, I looked back on 25 great experiences of the year for me. I hope that you will try some of them to create the same magical moments for yourself, magical moments to look back on and from which to draw joy during 2006.
And of course it's all about beds, books, plates, people and wine, in no particular order.
1. The food of the double Franks. The two Franks of Constantia Uitsig, frankly producing fabulous food. La Colombe's Franck Dangereux, the most passionate chef in Cape Town producing the food of his childhood in France with the freshest the Cape has to offer. Frank Swainston, for 12 years Chef Patron of Constantia Uitsig Restaurant, producing sophisticated food with Italian leanings. One of Cape Town's most generous - with his staff, with his guests and on his plates both visually and on the palate. Matched with the truly seductive wines of Constantia Uitsig, you sail pretty close to heaven here.
2. The magical wines of Meyer and Beate Joubert of the Joubert Tradauw Cellar on the famed Route 62, near Barrydale. Traditional stately elegant old-world wines which show you don't have to be in Stellenbosch to create gems. Their Chardonnay beams you straight back to Burgundy and their R62 Cabernet Merlot Blend a little west to Bordeaux.
3. Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros, one of the most beautiful cookery books I read in 2005 - apart from my own, of course. The pictures are wonderful too. A magnum opus following her divine first cookery book, Twelve, the story of a year in Tuscany. I am told by the publisher that there is a third to appear this year - is there no end to this woman's talent?
4. Dinner at Haiku in Burg Street, Cape Town - one of the finest foodie experiences of 2005. I live with the memories and taste each dish every time I think about the place.
5. Clementine Cottage, Rushmere Farm, Sedgefield. One of the most blissful places to set your head down on a pillow. Carol Elphick has created a stylish "country chic" haven. No TV, no cell phone reception, just fish eagles calling, loeries crashing about in the trees and a forktailed drongo which will eat teensy blocks of cheese from your hand on the patio overlooking the mystical Outeniqua Mountains.
6. Most underrated wine in the country - Monis Sherry. Shakespeare in Henry 1V Part II said, "If I had a thousand sons I would teach them to ... dedicate themselves to sherry." I have always loved sherry - chilled it's a great aperitif; the delicate sweet-edged yeasty almondy hazelnutty flavours are just so sublime. A sweet sherry with cake is such a brilliant alternative to afternoon tea. In a trifle, well it just has to be there. I watched Sam Clark of Casa Moro in London use it in his Spanish-styled cooking - prawns and chicken - and showing me how to create rich emulsion sauces from sherry and olive oil. Sam refers to sherry as wine and uses it as such, cleverly using sweet sherries with sherry vinegar to create sweet and sour flavours.
7. Reading The man who planted trees by French novelist Jean Giono, written in 1954. It's a tale of a landscape transformed by the vision of one individual, but its simple moral is timeless. A magical book printed on beautiful paper and charmingly complemented by Michael McCurdy's wood engravings.
8. Visiting Mountain Oaks Vineyards in Slanghoek, home of Mark and Christine Stevens, in spring. Organically farmed, wines made with love by novice Christine and finding themselves in the top ten favourites for 2005 of Neil Pendock - my favourite wine writer. A place as beautiful as this is not something you come across often; there's an energy there reflected in the wines.
9. Eating sushi made by Julian and Bing at Pick 'n Pay Constantia - the finest in Cape Town. You can go down and watch them make it. Julian is fabulous with a Japanese knife in his hand and to see him prepping fish is like being in the presence of a master. Trained in the East - like Bing (I have not found out what his real name is!).
10. The local "Italians". The Steenberg Nebbiolo, made by John Loubser, tasting of hot baked plums and berries without sugar, drunk with a barbecued rib of pork with crispy, crackly skin. Oliver and John Parker's Altydgedacht Barbera, a sip of which will transport you to Italy - lovely minerally wine. Peter Finlayson's Bouchard Finlayson Hannibal - a blend of Sangiovese, splashes of Nebbiolo, Barbera and Pinot Noir - wonderful soil of the forest floor and Tahini aromas, chunky sappy fruits, elegant French oak.
11. A steak - any steak - at Brad's Grill in 2nd Avenue, Kenilworth. With a butcher for a brother, Brad gets great meat. He's been a legend down in Kenilworth for over 20 years. Tell him "Michael sent me!" and watch his face light up! We're there as often as possible - and when we're not, Brad does takeaways.
12. The local "French". Ridgeback Viognier and His Masters Choice, a stylish blend of Viognier and Shiraz by Cathy Marshall. Pieter du Toit's Kloovenburg Shiraz 2002, in the style of the northern Rhone Valley.
13. Reading Jeffrey Steingarten's The Man who ate everything. Harvard magazine says, "When Jeffrey L. Steingarten switched careers in 1989, leaving the profession of law to join Vogue magazine as its resident food critic, he had at last found his true vocation. His new book, It Must've Been Something I Ate: The Return of the Man Who Ate Everything, is the second published collection of his eclectic Vogue pieces, and like its predecessor provides a highly readable and entertaining account of the preoccupations of a man who eats for a living."
14. The local "Locals". Pinotages tasting great. Jeremy Walker's Grangehurst Pinotage, an academic version, made from his own grapes, the stirring in of a little Cabernet giving it an elegance. Westbridge Wines: Ian Starke continues to produce great "different" Pinotage with aromas of tropical fruits and its Pinot parent showing itself in lovely earthy smells. Mark and Belinda Lindhorst's eponymous Pinotage - full and round and deep and dark and delicious. Slaley, made from their 50-year-old vineyard, rolling ripe tannins, mulberry, blood plum and also whiffs of demerara sugar.
15. Peter Goffe Wood's food. Pete is a kitchen cowboy of note. His roast fillet of springbok with risotto made from fresh cepes blew me away. My dish of the year. Drinking a glass of Morgenhof Brut while watching Pete cook it!
16. Meeting Ben Zander, author with his wife Ros, of The Art of Possibility. A life-enhancing moment for me. I had read the book before even knowing that he was coming to South Africa on a private visit. This conductor of The Boston Philharmonic talked to a small group of us using a concert grand piano to illustrate his riveting talk. Read it!
17. Recreating history. Groot Constantia was where it all began in the South African wine industry. And in the late 18th century it made us famous for Constantia wine. Written about by Jane Eyre, Dickens and Baudelaire. Drunk by many crowned heads of Europe. Ordered by Napoleon in exile on St Helena. Boela Gerber, while carving his niche as winemaker of note, has made Grande Constance - a muscat wine matured in oak. Candied peel, whiffs of Van der Hum and tastes of warm muscat grapes and sundry tropical fruits.
18. Lunch at Reubens in Franschhoek. Reuben has to be one of the most humble chefs around. He just produces magic on a plate in his modern restaurant in Franschhoek's Huguenot Road. Drinking Marc Kent's Boekenhoutskloof, The Chocolate Block with Reuben's food only served to heighten the experience as Justine Drake launched her fabulous dine, a new South African restaurant guide. Having Justine as editor just makes for something different and special!
19. The Saffron Pear Tree by Zuretha Roos. Her childhood as she was growing up on a farm in the Hex River so echoed my own that I felt an affinity with her. Talking to her after I had finished reading the book, I knew there was one. One of the year's most unsung books.
20. Idelia, a wine from Swartland Winery. Regal, rich wine made in limited amounts from finest barrels in the cellar. A warm, minerally wine reflecting its terroir so perfectly. No one's telling, but I suspect Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon with splashes of others too!
21. Blood Orange and Karoo Boy by Troy Blacklaws. Don't even ask. Just read them. They are the great contemporary South African novels you've been looking for since Cry the Beloved Country. Troy took second place in the Sunday Times fiction awards in 2005. (Click here to read the LitNet review of Blood Orange and here for an interview with Troy.)
22. David Finlayson's fabulous Glen Carlou Syrah 2004. Voted best South African Wine in the John Platter South African Wines 2006 Platter. I rest my case. Get some before it's too late.
23. Lunch at Sprigs in Kloof. Fiona and Clare Ras run a stunning little restaurant-deli in Kloof, near Durban. Delicious full-flavoured food available from a buffet for Lunch. Breakfasts can only be bliss too.
24. Leipoldt's Cellar and Kitchen. Any South African foodie simply must read this book. It is made up of 55 articles written by Leipoldt in Die Huisgenoot from 1942 to 1947 when he died. Charming, insightful, nostalgic, very amusing, poetically expressive, medically authoritative and written with the humility of the expert enthusiast. I have literally rocked with laughter reading these stories. Published by Trevor Emslie of Cederberg Publishers.
25. Gotta end on a glass of stunning bubbly. Nearly 35 years ago, Frans Malan of Simonsig Wine Estate in Stellenbosch started making Kaapse Vonkel, originally with Chenin Blanc, using the traditional methode champenoise. When Maddy, my wife, worked for him in 1977, she loved taking people on tours of the cellar with Frans who would demonstrate the manual riddling of the bottles during the second fermentation. On the 30th anniversary in the presence of Frans, I did sabrage on a bottle of Kaapse Vonkel, made by his son Johan, whipping off the top of the bottle with a silver sabre, a very swashbuckling experience.
Well, let me scrub down the old oak kitchen table. I'll keep my notebook and pencil handy so I'll have lots to talk about next time. Please visit my website www.noshnews.co.za - it's been upgraded. There's a mine of information there about books, wine, places to stay and good food.
Till next time, eat and drink well.
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