The Tasting Room

   
    
   
Today Andrew and I experienced our first real fine dining experience at The Tasting Room. The Tasting Room is a restaurant we have been longing to visit for a long while and by far the best restaurant on the African continent.  

This morning Andrew and I woke up to grey clouds and drizzling rain. The water bottles Betsy had put in our beds for us were still warm, but I cuddled closer to Andrew anyways to try and gain extra warmth. As I laid in bed around 4:00am (in Africa I have developed the habit of waking up ridiculously early) I began to think about all the wonderful experiences we have had here in Africa.

I tried not to think much about the fact that today is our last day in Africa. Today is the 18th of August, the day before our scheduled flight home via Munich, Germany. For days I have been both hoping for and dreading the moment this day would come, as I am both ready yet sad to leave this beautiful continent.

All that being said, we couldn’t have spent our last day in Africa any better. We spent the morning with Ryno, Kari, Betsy and Paul before they headed off to work and then were left in their beautiful home to fend for ourselves. With the delicious food an comfy slippers they have us, that was no hard task. I have met few families that are as kind and gracious as the Kruger family. They have had numerous travelers stay in their home, and they always treat them like family. During our last few days in Cape Town the Kruger’s place has been our home away from home.

We spent the morning laughing, reminiscing, looking at photos, and updating our blog. The fact that most homes in Cape Town have unlimited wifi is still a foreign concept to us, as the rest of Africa lacks any sort of infrastructure.

Just after lunch we began the most epic culinary journey we have ever embarked on, to The Tasting Room. At 1:00pm Paul arrived to pick us up to give us a lift to Stellenbosch, where he had a work meeting and the first stop along our route to Franschhoek, the French corridor of South Africa and home to The Tasting Room. Paul dropped us off around 2:00pm at a lovely little bazar in Stellenbosch where we spent nearly an hour browsing through the odds and ends that filled every nook and cranny of the store.

Stellenbosch is actually the oldest European settlement in South Africa. I believe the city was founded in the early 1600s, about the same time that The first settlement in the U.S. was founded at Jamestown in Virginia. I have discovered a love for old European cities, and I think the main reason lies in the fact that those cities are filled with antique bazaars such as this one.

We spent several hours exploring the beautiful cobblestone streets, antique shops, and old Dutch architecture. Stellenbosch is a charming little village that feels far more European than African. At one point in the afternoon we met a lovely little Indian lady in one of the shops who took quite an interest in our journey through Africa. By the end of the conversation she had directed us to one of her friends who was heading to Franschhoek around the exact same time we were planning on going, indicating that we could just car pool with them instead of paying the ridiculous shuttle fee to go only 20km across the mountains to Franschhoek.  

Originally when we planned on attending The Tasting Room for their 12-course tasting menu, we had no idea just how far the restaurant was from Cape Town. Come to find out, nearly everyone has their own car or hires a taxi for $100 one-way. Thanks to Paul and our new Indian friend named Denise, we were able to make the journey to Franschhoek for less than R50 ($4 USD).

We coordinated with the driver and soon found ourselves hitching a ride with three complete strangers through the gorgeous Stellenbosch mountains. Every time I looked out the window I felt like I was in the Swiss Alps or the Southern winelands of France. The entire journey was beautiful.

We arrived in Franschhoek no more than an hour after we left Stellenbosch, arriving around 5:30pm. Our dinner reservations were not until 7:00pm, giving us plenty of time to walk through the cobblestone streets of Franschhoek, another one of the oldest European settlements in South Africa.

The wineland region of Cape Town consists of three cities, Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Franschhoek and is arguably the most beautiful place in all of South Africa. The winelands are also home to many of the best restaurants on the African Continent, the top being The Tasting Room.

The moment we walked into the doors of The Tasting Room, we were guided to a beautiful foyer where we were to wait while our table was prepared (we were excited so we arrived very early). The staff took our bags and our coats and after a few minutes they escorted us to our table where we were sat next to one another rather than across from one another. This is how all restaurant and dining seating is in France. We were greeted by yet another waiter who brought us a welcome drink of berries and sparkling water and opened with an introduction of the culinary safari we were about to embark on. The 12 courses would be brought out over the next 3.5 hours, and each course would be accompanied by a story and history of how it represents cuisine and culture is South Africa.

Course 1: Thin purple wafers with white pepper snow

Course 2: Scavenged greens from the hills of Franschhoek, mushroom purée, red cabbage crisps, and black mushroom-infused buns

Course 3: African cornbread baked in an antique Dutch sardine tin with homemade brown butter

Course 4: pojotie-inspired corn soufflé with wild flowers, paprika crisps, and Madagascar popped corn

Course 5: wild greens and black garlic infused tomatoes placed inside shredded potato cages 

Course 6: thinly sliced lemon-infused octopus on a bed of crispy quinoa, seaweed, and cucumber drizzle

Course 7: slow cooked fish from the local mountains served with mussel and garlic mayo

Course 8: seared duck with grape and apricot infused sauce droplets

Course 9: Tender beef brisket, soft Brussel sprouts, crispy red cabbage strands, and droplets of mushroom, garlic, Brussel, and cabbage sauces

Course 10: Soft French goat cheese served with puffed corn crisps infused with masala spices 

Course 11: raspberry sorbet with thin ginger snaps and crystallized ginger 

Course 12: Local Roibos tea and chocolate dusted nuts served with a sweet lemon sorbet over a bed of dried fruits and nuts.

If you want more accurate details on the food, read Andrew’s post as I know for a fact that he will remember ever single detail of those 3.5 hours. For me, the experience was rich not only because of the delicious food, but also because I was able to spend my last night in Africa fine- dining with my husband who I absolutely adore. I am so lucky to have such an incredible life and wonderful boy to share it with.

Ryno, being the absolutely wonderful person he is, offered to drive all the way to Franschhoek and pick us up at 10:30pm in the evening. We enjoyed our conversation on the way home and even drove by the famous prison where Nelson Mandela raised his hand signifying his long walk to freedom. We arrived home just before midnight, packed up our few belongings that we actually plan to bring home with us (we sent all our souvenirs home with friends earlier this month), and climbed in bed with warm water bottles at our feet. Tomorrow we leave for home, I can’t believe this is actually happening.

(Below: Andrew’s post)

Today marks our final day in South Africa. While technically we fly out tomorrow, today is our last opportunity to do something epic! So naturally what did Kylie and I decide to do? Eat at the best restaurant on the African continent, The Tasting Room.

The only obstacle was a stretch of 45 km that didn’t have buses (or safe buses as the locals said) to take us to the town of Franschoek where the restaurant was located. 

Thankfully the Kruger family worked yet another miracle and president Kruger gave us a lift to the town of Stellenbosch which got us halfway there.

He even helped make arrangements for us that a member in Franschoek would come give us a lift at 5pm. We’d just have to pay for his trouble.

When we got out of the car we stepped into a little piece of Europe. While I’ve never been, the town reminded me of the streets I’d seen of Dutch homes in the countryside, beautiful, intricate and quite stunning.

Stellenbosch was just that way. The cobblestone streets were lined with shops and cafes, and since it was a university town, young students walked the streets. 

The place was quiet and stunning. I was in awe how beautiful it was. 

Kylie and I chatted and decided before taking the travel arrangements that had been set for us, we’d explore the town and see if we could in fact take local transport to get to Franschoek. 

As we walked the beautiful streets we popped into a little clothing store owned by a kind Indian lady named Denice. We asked her about taking the local transport to Franschoek, but we’re surprised at her response. She told us the local buses wouldn’t be safe and could give us some hassle. She instead recommended either a more pricy taxi, ride with her (if no other option was possible), or go and ask a lady at the Green Gate cafe who may know how to take local transport safely.

Motivated that there would be many options, Kylie and I went to speak with the lady at the Green Gate. There we met Emily, one of the coloured workers who told us she gets a lift from a friend to Franschoek and that we could ride with them!

It was an incredible turn of events and after a 30 minute wait, we went with Emily and her friend to Franschoek.

The drive was stunning as we wove through green hillsides, grand wine estates, and sparse forests. Sooner than we expected we found ourselves in the town of Franschoek and at the tasting room.

When we stepped inside I could feel my excitement bubbling inside of me. Kylie and I had researched Michelin rated establishments around the world, and this was the best restaurant in all of Africa according to many sources. I’ve ways enjoyed trying new foods, and especially good food – love it!

We sat down in the lounge area since we were somewhat early (told you I was excited… It was only 20 minutes early!), and enjoyed the warmth of the fire, candles, and relaxed atmosphere.

It honestly was a bit of a ‘culture shock’ experience as we had people come to take our coats and Cotopaxi backpacks and bring us to our seats. We’ve been roughing it for so long that having someone look after me in any way was a bit disconcerting.

As we were seated in the main dining room, I enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere. While a fancy establishment, I was just glad it wasn’t a suit and tie type of place. I wouldn’t have fit in with my Malawi purchased cutch clothes.

As we were seated we were given complimentary drinks, berry purée with sparkling water, since we don’t drink wine. The drinks were lovely and scarcely a moment passed when suddenly our waiter was at our table side holding a palate cleanser. 

Now here’s where I get to describe the food 🙂 keep in mind these courses come out after 20-30 minutes so you enjoy the 8 course African Safari (safari as in journey and discovery). 

The palate cleanser was a crisp, paper-thin cracker shaped like a long, curved arch. It had a slight savory taste to it and was coated in white pepper snow. The white pepper snow was incredible as without the cracker you barely got a hint of white pepper taste, but together with the cracker it unlocked a balanced flavor.

That was followed with an ‘introduction to Stellenbosch’ which consisted of a beautiful, salty mushroom purée with a small, spongy mushroom pastry and cracker to dip into it. The plate was a circular tree round with rocks, wild flora and fauna native to Stellenbosch alongside the food. It almost looked like the mountains and landscape surrounding us. Stunning presentation.

Now that the samplers were aside, the meal could begin.

For the appetizer bread, we were served a beautiful, moist corn bread with whole corn inside, parsley, and it was served with a side of brown butter with cracked salt over top. The interesting thing is the corn bread was served as it was traditional when Cape Town was settled, in a can! I was so excited as we’d seen online the photos of the bread being served this way and to see it for myself was quite entertaining.

The cornbread was delicious. In fact I’m salivating just remembering how warm, soft, and full of richness it was! The brown butter topping truly added to the flavors. The rich, creamy butter was an incredible addition. 

Now it was time for our first course. We were served a sweetened corn meal mash with the most incredible ingredients. It was served in a fish bowl like fish, with the corn meal mash at the base. Inside the mash was fresh pea leaves and greens, hibiscus infused beetroot, and white pepper truffles. The top of the ‘fish bowl’ was capped with a thin salty cracker dusted with powdered beetroot and sesame seeds. The top of the cracker was a platform for more pea flowers and leaves. You cracked the top and the dish fell together in the center. The pea greens were bitter, but that was well balanced with the white pepper and beet that came as little surprises as you ate.

The second dish was to symbolize the tumbleweeds of the African desert. Thin thin potato strips were woven together (and friend) to form perfect bite-sized tumbleweeds with tomato and broccoli greens in the center. The rest of the dish was an array of broccoli greens, sprouts, and a tomato sorbet (non-sweet). It was a delicious blend of flavor with a little surprise – the potato had been garlic infused so the bites were quite flavorful.

The third course was quite impressive as well. It was a deep black bowl with a lemon olive oil baked octopus, served atop baby mushrooms, cucumber, and a small fish fillet. The entire dish when it arrived at our table was covered in freshly dried seaweed, over which a warm cucumber soup was poured. The surprise of this dish was the toasted quinoa that dusted the top of the octopus rounds.

As each dish kept coming, Kylie and I enjoyed a lovely dinner chat. It really made the evening special to relax, enjoy wonderful food together, and be in a nice environment.

The fourth dish was extremely creative. A local white fish was served with crumbled almond pieces meant to be the sand of the sea. Fresh kale had been cooked in sea water and topped the light cooked fish and most impressive, they’d created a mussel out of a mussel purée, the ‘shell’ coating had also been hand made and was built from a light, soft layer of… I dunno something good! A streak of lemon, creamy sauce formed a long line across the plate. Definitely a beautiful presentation of both flavors and colors.

The fifth dish came after a brief pause, but was one of the best! We were served duck breast that had been hung for two days, roasted lightly and served alongside a grape regulation and apricot purée for flavoring. Alone the duck was wonderful, but when you added it to the purée and reduction mixtures it was an incredible blend of sweet and savory.

The sixth dish came after another pause, but was by far the most beautiful and creative plating of the evening. We were served a beef brisket fillet, topped with fresh mozzarella. It was surrounded by several puréed to be added to each bite of brisket. The four were: a beet sauce -sweet and savory, a garlic purée – rich and flavorful, a brusselsprout purée – light, and a mushroom purée – savory and rich. Half the plate had been dusted in beet powered. It was delicious and beautiful all at the same time!

As we began to finish our meal it was time for course 7, which was a fresh, soft goat cheese with thin rice cracker orbs inside. It was quite rich and had to be eaten slowly to really enjoy the creamy textures and tastes.

The final course was a lovely dessert formed from a local numa berry that grows in South Africa. The way they presented it was stunning. They room numa nectar and combined it with sugar to form a paper thin orb that you had to crack with a little hammer (traditionally they used hammers to crack open the fruit) to access the ginger and numa fruit inside. The dessert was delicious, light, and flavorful.

As our meal came to a close we were served a cup of roibos tea and a couple sampler items that were… Like everything this evening. Delicious 🙂

We left satisfied, but not bloated as portions were careful controlled, and everything was quite healthy.

This by far was my best tasting experience of my life. And I found it oddly fitting to have had an African food safari my last evening in Africa. It was incredible and I enjoyed the evening with Kylie.

I can’t believe we depart tomorrow. Fingers crossed all the legs of our journey go well, but most of all. I hope to always remember the lessons I learned in Africa.

Ryno was kind enough to get us this evening (the guy is a saint!) and on the way we stopped off at the prison Nelson Mandela made his final walk to freedom. What an incredible day!

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