Snaking up a narrow vineyard lane off the Annandale Road it is easy to believe that you are driving further and further away from a reputedly first-rate lunch. The appearance of the Ernie Els wine brand temporarily reassures before doubts return as you see the golfer’s estate disappear in your rearview mirror. Can a Boland fine dining restaurant really* be up here in the mountains? Keep the faith for in no time the beige minimalism of Overture restaurant reveals itself, jutting out over a truly Hidden Valley on the wine estate of the same name.
+27 (0)21 880 2721
Hidden Valley wine estate
off Annandale Rd
We inadvertently enter through the tradesman’s door, passing promising trays of micro herbs, to find ourselves on a large patio overlooking the indigenous bush in the secret ravine and distant farmland.
Inside it’s all glass to take advantage of the same views. The theme of clean lines continues, softened by a smidgeon of stone wall, a deep parquet floor and a log fire, only just managing to keep the voluminous interior snug while a north-westerly gale threatens to rip the roof off.
Soon a platter of dainty pots arrives containing goodies to amuse us while we contemplate our options from the prix fixe menu. I dip warm chunks of olive bread into the freshest hay-coloured Hidden Valley olive oil – a reminder that even the most expensive oils sold from shop shelves have sat around too long.
My companion, The Kalk Bay Local, enthuses about cumin seed-infused onion preserve of onion. A couple of slices of coppa ham are spot on. The sea salt comes in micro-balls, another indication that we are in for an afternoon of pretty food.
To start a small slab of raw tuna is sweetened by poached prawns. Little mounds of green paste suggest a smack of wasabi to your nose but instead mellow dips of avocado and fennel are delivered, accompanied by Jordan unoaked chardonnay 2009.
Best of the first courses sampled is the Local’s leek and potato “spoom” (foamy soup) dotted with the kindest Cape Malay pickle, giving a traditional comforting soup a gently spiced finish. Paired with Waterkloof Viognier 2008.
All the while the chef stirs little pans, spooning sauces into his mouth in the open-plan kitchen as his assistants busy themselves around him.
My first “main” is a red stumpnose sitting on top of a sweet corn risotto. You could do a half-baked job preparing this dish at home with a fried piece of fish and half a tin of Koo sweet corn. Except chef Bertus Basson thought of it first. It is a simple success, with a golden glass of wooded chardonnay (given as Peacock Ridge 2006) weighing in with a robust conclusion.
The second main is the moistest roll of pork belly. A nudge with the knife and it collapses into a puree of potato and garlic. Wafer-thin slices of turnip hold the winter root’s sharpness in check while a jus of sweetness from raisons is equally understated. Accompanied by an easy drinking Bordeaux-style red blend Hidden Valley Gems 2006.
A confit of lamb shoulder (preserved in salt then slow-cooked in fat) is perfectly prepared. The pungent flavour suggesting the sheep dined on a diet of herby Karoo bushes. Melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi dumplings float in the broth. The pairing god selects the power of a pinotage, a 2006 from the same estate we are dining at, to compliment the skaap.
Then the triumph of the afternoon arrives. Introduced by the waiter as a pre-dessert it is more like crackers and cheese, without the biscuit. A froth of sharp cheddar style cheese is lathered over a ripe fig and a sugary sorbet of the same purple-skinned fruit.
My fancy French friends tell me it is traditional to serve cheese before pudding. Maybe they have a point there. The cheese is so damn good you wish there is more of it but then my tooth leans more to the savoury than the sweet.
And now onto the puddings proper. A caramalised pear tart with cardamom (elachi to Durbanites) ice cream is a fine balancing act between fruit, pastry and dairy. An extra sip of sweet comes from a glass of Avondale Muscat Blanc 2007.
The Kalk Bay Local says her chocolate and coffee gateaux with espresso ice cream and marshmallow is curiously light on the cocoa bean and a nibble confirms this. She surmises this may be on account of the chocolate grappa (Bottega) served with it.
Indeed the approach to flavours in all courses is a French-style subtlety allowing neither wine nor food to dominate. We both select the option of dishes paired with wine. The Local opts for the winter menu. This consists of four courses selected by the chef (R250). I go for the four course menu where you do have limited options at each stage (R400). The pre-dessert is an extra course on the four course menu. You are not directly billed for it. One vegetarian starter and main on this purposely limited menu. You can also go the whole hog: the eight course tasting menu with wine at R775 is only available if the whole table selects it.
While not dismissing the art of matching food and wine, when the dishes are this good it is easy to forget to sip your wine, consigning drinking to before and after each course. Call me uncultured. Today I’ve never been happier so.
Service of both food and wine is informed and unobtrusive. More details are gladly provided if prompted. The wine list includes many Hidden Valley options as might be expected but there are plenty of other wines, including those paired with food.
But there is more… jugs of vanilla syrup, speckled with the spice, grappa and cardamom arrive with the coffee. Petit fours include Turkish Delight, éclairs and unexpected pumpkin fritters.
While the food is hardly lean, only deft touches of dairy and sugar are used leaving you sated but not overcome with richness.
Basins in the toilets are of the trendy bowl sort, only made from polished hardwood. And men can have a pee with a view – of oak barrels in the cellar below. Now that’s a pretty meal.
5/5 stars on the afternoon
* indeed this area is hardly the culinary sticks for at the end of the main road (Annandale Road) is the renowned Rust en Vrede Restaurant
Posted June 3, 2010