For a mid-season break, I chose to spend a weekend at Grand Dédale Country House, on the Doolhof wine estate on the Bovlei Road in Wellington, about ten days ago. I could not have chosen a more relaxing and grander place than this 5-star hotel and its excellent restaurant, which is on the Wellington Wine Route.
Doolhof is part of a farm that was awarded to the first owner in 1709, and means ‘labyrinth’ in Afrikaans. It probably was given this name because it was at the end of a cul de sac. The current owners Dorothy and Dennis Kerrison bought the farm from the neighbouring Retief family. The homestead was renovated by Mrs Kerrison, who is an interior designer in the United Kingdom, and her initial R7 million budget had doubled at the end of the project. Money does not appear to be an object in the tasteful design of the very spacious rooms, and almost every detail has been thought of. Angelo and Tina Casu rent the 6-bedroom homestead and cottage from the owners, having signed an eight year lease, and have called their establishment Grand Dédale, which means ‘large labyrinth’ in French. The Casus have managed Grand Dédale for the past 17 months, and previously were with the Winchester Mansions in Sea Point and Palmiet Valley in Paarl.
The house is an old Cape Dutch house, with new additions cleverly married into the Cape Dutch origin of the house. Some aspects, notably the staircase to the upstairs loft rooms, are extremely modern. The high gloss marble tiles in the public rooms on the ground level have been criticised by some as not being suitable for a Cape Dutch house, but I felt that they looked perfectly clean and chic. The star attraction for me was the 15 meter salt water pool. Parking is away from the homestead, at the winery, a benefit in not seeing any cars, but a disadvantage in not being able to keep an eye on one’s vehicle. The bedroom I stayed in had three sections, a very spacious bedroom, although a slanting ceiling does create space limitations too, with a more than king size bed, and excellent quality linen. A second section has a basin, the safe and the hanging space. The bathroom is in the third section, has a bath with shower over it, and a collection of Charlotte Rhys products. The high gloss tiles are a bit scary to walk on with wet feet, but a very generously sized bathmat is made available. Airconditioning is a great advantage to cool things down in the renowned Wellington heat. There are more than enough towels provided, hung on two heated towel rails. Towels are refreshed continuously. A fruit platter is in the room, and there is a turn-down treat every night (tasted like fudge). An iPod player is next to the bed, and one can request iPods to listen to.
From the terrace and pool area one looks onto the side of Groenberg, and below is the most lucious looking field, on which cows graze. Angelo laughed when he told me that they are the eco-friendly “lawnmowers” at Doolhof. A paddock with ex-racehorses is adjacent to the field.
The Room Directory is one of the most comprehensive and best presented that I have seen, bound in a neat brown leather cover, and detailing information about the wine estate (380 ha, Kromme River runs through it, located between Groenberg, Limietberg and Sneeukop), suggestions for day trips, a description of the public areas in the house, the location of the TV lounge in the upstairs loft (there is no TV in the bedrooms, strange for 5-star), and the location of the Spa Room (which I had read about, but was not proactively informed about), the Breakfast serving time, that light lunch and snacks are available, that a complimentary high tea is served in the afternoons (a combination of cake, fresh fruit and a savoury item), and the invitation to enjoy canapes and a glass of Pierre Jourdan sparkling wine before dinner with the other guests (quite colonial in its nature, but a good way to meet the other guests, as one is separated when dining). Three bar fridges stock beverages in various sections of the guest house, and are complimentary to guests. The bar fridges are a great idea, as mini bar fridges in rooms are noisy. The Doolhof winetasting is complimentary to the guests of Grand Dédale.
Breakfast is served on the terrace, and is a generous buffet of different cereals (I loved the Chef’s mix of crunchy and healthy muesli ingredients), fresh fruit as well as a fruit salad (one morning I was intrigued to see a bowl with an unknown white fruit, which was made by the Chef from the inside peel of a watermelon) and different yoghurt flavours. Cold breakfast treats are offered, and on one of the mornings it was salmon and créme fraîche served on rosti. Cold meats and cheeses are available, as are home-made jams and breads. A treat was that John organised frothy cappucinos for me each morning, and kept the ice water supply coming. A beautiful vase with a rose and a bougainvillea was on each table. At breakfast one is shown the dinner menu for that day, and one can say if one does not eat a particular ingredient. I saw the menu changed for one dinner due to my couscous feedback, which reflects great flexibility. There are no choices on the menu, and therefore the kitchen checks proactively on its guests’ tastes.
Dinner is served on the terrace, with the most wonderful view onto the greenery below. John and Angelo are in attendance. Canapés are served with the glass of bubbly. Heila Basson is the Chef, and Angelo calls her a ‘boeremeisie’. She previously worked at Grootbos and at Seasons at Diemersfontein. She has been at the Taj, to train in their kitchen, and will soon join Luke Dale-Roberts at The Test Kitchen for a short session, before he comes to Grand Dédale to cater for a wedding with Chef Heila on the wine estate. The table is beautifully set, with a silver underplate, professional folding of the serviette, and three sets of Italian Pinti cutlery, to prevent any stretching across clients. The butterdish and salt and pepper containers are all in silver, making the woven bread basket out of place. However, its content was wonderful, being bread rolls with different toppings. I love poppy seed rolls, and was amazed to find these in Wellington, of all places! An amuse bouche is served, prior to the three course meal. On the first night it was a spicy bobotie, served with mango chutney. The bobotie was unusual, made from diced rather than minced meat, and with an unusual taste, colourfully presented. The starter was a beef sirloin carpaccio served with feta crumble and a sesame dressing, adding a sweet taste. The main course was Norwegian salmon served with sweet and sour balsamic beetroot, mash, a vodka créme fraîche sauce, and roasted pumpkin seeds, creating a good colour contrast on the plate. I found the pumpkin seeds too hard relative to the soft textures of all the other ingredients. Dessert was a nougat terrine with berries, moreish, and chewy in texture. On the second day the amuse bouche was a courgette and brie cappuccino, served in a little coffee cup, an unusual combination and very tasty. The oregano potato gnocchi starter served with a wild mushroom and gruyere sauce was absolutely delicious, but did not have any contrast in colour. We were spoilt with a second starter when we discussed mozzarella, and Angelo proudly allowed all the dinner guests a taste of Wellington’s Buffalo Ridge mozzarella, in the form of a small Caprese salad. The main course was lamb rump, served a little too rare and with too much fat. The dessert was a pineapple tarte tatin served with homemade milktart ice cream, an unusual combination, but was delicious. Dinner costs R335, for a three course meal, but includes an amuse bouche and a cheese platter as well, actually making it a generous 5-course meal. One must book to eat dinner at Grand Dédale if one is not staying over.
The winelist offers Pierre Jourdan for R170 as a Cap Classique, and Champagnes offered are Dom Grossard and Brugnon Brut. Wine by the glass is from Doolhof and costs R40, but is not mentioned on the winelist. It is poured at the table from a bottle (I ordered a glass of Doolhof Shiraz 2007) in a silver basket. The Doolhof wines are good value: Unoaked Chardonnay R 90; Oaked Chardonnay R 154; Cape Robin Rosé R 63; Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon R116. In the Legends of Labyrinth range, Dark Lady pinotage and Lady in Red each cost R117 and The Minotaur R250. Wellington wines offered are Nabygelegen’s Lady Anna (R120), its Chenin Blanc (R130) and Snow Mountain Pinot Noir (R235). Diemersfontein Carpe Diem Viognier and Chenin Blanc cost R190. Each wine is described, and the vintage specified.
There is little to suggest to improve at Grand Dédale: a desk lamp on the desk/make-up area; training staff to not move one’s belongings from a chair or a bed (this is a common problem in accommodation establishments and is an irritation); allowing one to park outside the house; any means of improving cellphone reception would be very welcome, and the limited reception should be mentioned in correspondence (I am on 24/7 duty for my business, even when away for a weekend, and I had not made arrangements to divert the company phone line to a colleague’s cellphone, until I arrived and realised the impact of the reception problem on my business); addressing the blocking of outgoing e-mails by the server (incoming e-mails arrived safely), which problem was solved by downloading e-mails at The Stone Kitchen/Dunstone winery, which has a free wireless service which works easily and perfectly, but is only open until 16h00; a TV in each room; instructions on how to switch off the lights in the various sections of the bedroom; a blind for the bathroom window, so that one is not woken up by the light coming through in the morning; a warning to guests that there is 4 km of dirt road, the first part being very bumpy, and therefore not suitable to drive for all motor vehicles. What I did request while I was there was attended to immediately by Angelo.
It is not inexpensive to stay at Grand Dédale Country House, but I was lucky to benefit from a hospitality discount. The accommodation cost includes a full breakfast, all drinks from the guest bars, a small high tea, canapés before dinner and a glass of Pierre Jourdan. If one stays for two nights, dinner is free of charge on one of the two nights, as is a bottle of Doolhof wine. One has little choice to eat out in Wellington, so one is almost ‘forced’ to eat there, but it is an absolute pleasure to do so, to not have to drive on the gravel road, or to drive all the way to Diemersfontein, or even to Paarl, to find a relatively acceptable restaurant. If I can manage to leave the laptop and cellphone at home, I would be back for a next visit, to have a proper break!
Grand Dédale Country House, Doolhof Wine Estate, Bovlei Road, Wellington. Tel (021) 873-4089. www.granddedale.com
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleCottage: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage