A match made in heaven – It’s hard to find a bad blind date in the Overberg. Join Fiona McIntosh as she uses a great online tool to tailor-make the perfect gastronomic adventure…
Pictures: Shaen Adey and Supplied
“It’s a white,” I gambled, dumbfounded that I couldn’t even discern the colour of the wine in the black glass proffered for the blind tasting. A nod. “The Viognier?” I punched the air in most unladylike triumph as Khail van Niekerk, Creation brand ambassador and our highly entertaining host, confirmed that my nose and taste buds had not let me down.
In truth I had a head start. Creation only produces four whites and one of them was sold out. Their Chardonnay is one of my favourite wines, which even in a blind tasting I would back myself to identify so I had a 50 per cent chance of hitting the jackpot.
The tasting was one of the highlights of our visit to this gorgeous wine farm and restaurant in the Hemel en Aarde Valley in the Walker Bay Wine Region, a fitting introduction to our tailor-made food route through the southern Overberg.
It started as a game. I came across the Food Routes website while idly surfing one day and was intrigued by the concept of its Culinary Sensibility Identities (CSI), a food forensic tool that, so the website claims, matches the expectations of the Food Routes traveller with the destination.
“Think of a blind date,” explains Food Routes co-founder Riaan Kruger. “Neither party knows what to expect so it’s a potential recipe for a disaster. By identifying an individual’s culinary profile we can maximise the chance of a good experience all round.” Having chosen the Hermanus area for my gastronomic adventure, I identified the CSI profiles that best described my approach to dining out – then sought out establishments to match.
As with all online dating, the research proved intriguing. Nay, compulsive. I spent hours studying photos of tasting rooms and restaurants, drooling over menus and trying to work out how much we could cram into 48 hours. The dozen or so Food Routes experiences on offer ranged from good-value, family friendly adventures such as wine blending and cheese- and olive oil tastings to fine-dining choices supreme. These included Springfontein Eats and Wine Estate, famous for its home-grown and foraged herbs and veggies, and the elegant, gourmet Pavilion at The Marine.
Eventually I plumped for what seemed to be the best combination of experiences to fit my tastes and tight schedule. A click of the mouse and, hey presto, the website flashed up all the information required to make my foodie adventure a reality: a route map, directions and approximate journey times between the various establishments, plus opening hours and other relevant details on my selections and, of course, an online booking platform. It’s hardly revolutionary but is an entertaining way to experience a new region, or discover some hidden gems in an area you think you know well.
Creation fell into the latter category, a treasure on the Heaven on Earth ridge that produces some of the Cape’s finest wines. Its primary CSI, ‘atmosphere’, was also mine, and the sublime location, clean, chic decor and artfully presented tasting platters were a match made in heaven. We lingered way longer than we’d intended, working our way through the various offerings to the grand finale, the decadent Paradoxical Wine and Chocolate pairing – if you’re in the area, do not pass this over.
From Creation we bumbled down the valley to Spookfontein wine estate’s ELL – Eat Love Life – restaurant, selected as fulfilling the locavore aspect of my CSI profile. ‘Locavores are interested both in enjoying food that’s produced locally, and in learning about, and meeting, the producers as well’, advises the Food Routes website so we weren’t altogether surprised when the ebullient owner, Nora Hudson, sat down with us and explained how she lives and works by her mantra ‘you are what you eat’.
“I’m actually vegetarian,” she explained. “We serve meat, but only from local, ethical butchers. It’s extremely important to us to ensure that animals are well-looked-after and slaughtered humanely. And we also make sure that nothing is wasted.”
Nora introduced us to Craig Sheard, the estate’s winemaker, and we started by sampling a couple of their organic wines. “The pesky baboons keep stripping the upper blocks,” he told us as he pointed out the extent of the vineyards under his care. We laughed, but his stance is completely in keeping with the holistic vision of organic, ethically sustainable products on the farm. The maverick winemaker believes in letting nature take its course, practising organic viticulture and natural viniculture. Not only does he refuse to use chemical pesticides, he won’t even scare off the crafty thieves.
Lunch was a true labour of love – curried mussels followed by the very best home-made chicken pie. In between jumping up to photograph the chefs and the delectable dishes coming out of the kitchen, Shaen tucked into a designer pizza drizzled with olive oil from Hemelrand, a neighbouring farm.
It was mid-afternoon when we finally left the Hemel en Aarde Valley for The Marine, the elegant Relais & Châteaux hotel in Hermanus that was to be our home for the night. The grand old dame is right on the town’s famous Cliff Path so we worked off the excesses of the day with a brisk walk along the winding promenade, stopping to watch the whales blow and descending to a couple of sheltered coves for a bracing dip.
SeaFood at The Marine’s primary CSI makes it attractive to ‘foodies’, the final piece of my CSI jigsaw. According to Food Routes, foodies are ‘not less than a gourmet, just different. Their passion for food plays out in varied, less structured and delineated parameters…’ Feeling that ‘gourmet’ was a bit too sophisticated for my eclectic taste (and somewhat apprehensive of larney, expensive restaurants) it seemed a good compromise. The stylish, fresh interiors of the restaurant created a relaxed atmosphere and the combination of classic and creative dishes constructed from fresh sustainable seafood, and prepared before our eyes in the open kitchen, ticked all of my boxes.
The restaurant had just re-opened for the season so the hands-on owner Liz McGrath was dining quietly in the corner. She looked familiar – with hindsight I realised I’d probably seen her face in The Marine’s marketing literature – so we smiled as we passed her table. Minutes later two glasses of bubbles arrived at our table and she caught my eye again as she raised her own glass. Our waitress smiled; apparently the gesture was typical of this amazing 93-year-old workaholic. Sadly Liz passed away in January 2015.
The following day we went hiking and biking in the area, sustaining ourselves with a tasting at Klein River Cheese farm before heading through Stanford to Lagoon Lodge in the Mosaic Private Sanctuary. This swathe of land south of the R43 coastal road is not a part of the world I know but the safari-style lodge is divine, with uninterrupted views from stone and thatch suites of the Hermanus Lagoon against a mountainous backdrop.
We sat out with our binoculars watching the birds, the sunset and the twinkling lights of Hermanus before dinner, an absolute feast of organic vegetables harvested from the garden and other locally sourced products (you guessed it, another locavore restaurant) served under the milkwood trees.
The foodie in me was delighted; the innovative dishes were beautifully presented, the wine list was impressive and, best of all, the staff was charming, informed and incredibly attentive. As we retired to our private deck for a nightcap under the stars I rued the fact that our own Overberg Food Route was coming to an end.
As we drove back to Cape Town the following morning we reflected on the varied experiences of the previous two days. Each had been memorable but it was the fervent passion of those involved that left the deepest impression. Everyone we had met lived the life. Whether they were owners, winemakers, cheese makers, chefs, waiters or gardeners they embodied the underlying philosophy of the establishment in which they honed their craft.
My conclusion? Well, the matchmaking certainly added a bit of entertainment value, while the route planner made us more realistic about what we could achieve in the time available. We were certainly not disappointed by any of our choices but, to be honest, it’s hard to find a bad blind date in the foodie haven of the Overberg.