I was invited by Manley Communications to try out the new The Marianne restaurant, which opened on Saturday on the De Huguenot Estate, almost two weeks ago. While the property was not yet ready to receive guests at that time, the lunch gave us a good indication of the good things to come.
The 2,8 hectare De Huguenot Estate was bought by Tom and Marianne Gray about five years ago, previously having owned Highlands Guest House in Kenilworth. The property is located alongside a wall that was built in the past year, whilst the road repairs in Pniel were done, with the Johannesdal name on it. Tom told me that Johannesdal was a block of eight plots that was allocated to freed slaves, who settled in Pniel, and they named their joint land Johannesdal. De Huguenot Estate is one of the blocks, and has the most magnificent view onto the Groot Drakenstein mountains. De Huguenot Estate has one of the oldest buildings in Pniel, in which the Grays live, previously having been a stable and which was built in 1820, about twenty-five years before Pniel was founded. We couldn’t have chosen a better sunny winter’s day, which enhanced the enjoyment. In the distance we were shown the recently acquired 550 hectare property of Dick Enthoven, owner of Spier, which stretches all the way to Boschendal, and where he will set up polo grounds.
The property has four luxury suites, one of them a Honeymoon Suite, and will be looking to attract wedding business. It has the Harry Q Bar (at which Chef Tanja will be serving what she calls “Floating Food”, being reasonably priced ‘sharing’ tapas with a difference) and Fraîche Deli and Café (to serve freshly baked breads, pastries, scones, quiches, and cakes, as well as all day breakfasts, and other lunch and treat options), and The Marianne restaurant.
The Marianne is a generously sized room with a fireplace, facing the mountains, and looks onto a massive oak tree, the valley and the mountains. The walls are painted a soothing grey, and this is the colour of the staff uniforms too, apt given the owners’ surname! For the lunch we were seated at one long table, being a collection of wedding planners, event co-ordinators, and writers. Antique furniture is married with modern. The impressive star heading up the kitchen is Chef Tanja Kruger, a talented winner of the Chaine de Rotisseurs Young Chef of the Year 2008, and a member of the South African Culinary Olympic Team, who moved from Hunter’s Country House in Plettenberg Bay, having worked at Lanzerac, the Radisson Hotel and Five Flies before. Her Sous Chef is Christo Pretorius, 2010 Unilever Young Chef of the Year. The patissier is Olga Puru, who will be doing the baking, and will make the wedding cakes too. A vegetable garden has been established, and Chef Tanja will be focusing on using the freshest produce to prepare her food on Slow Food principles. Marianne Gray is charming, and she made us laugh when she said she is the owner of the wonderful new property, but cannot cook an egg nor does she drink alcohol! But it is clear that she loves people and is a good entertainer and hostess. We were welcomed with a glass of Colmant sparkling wine, and I enjoyed the Thelema Red wine.
Our menu was printed on classy silver paper, and was representative of the food to be served at The Marianne, with prices indicative of what will be charged. We were offered a choice of seven starters, nine main courses and eight desserts, and we could see each others beautifully presented dishes as they came out of the kitchen. I chose Rabbit for the starter, my first ever, a pistachio crusted saddle of rabbit and bacon pressed flank, served with liver parfait, an apple and raisin chutney, pickled shimiji and succotash (a corn, bean and tomato stew), which will cost R75. Other starter choices are a Baby Iceberg salad, and Cauliflower custard and sweetcorn velouté (R40), Oxtail ravioli and Fairview Chevin and apple terrine (both R55), Quail curry (R65), and Pan seared scallops served with black pudding and sugar snap pesto (R75).
Main courses range from R80 – R135, and I chose the Sticky pork belly, which was served with apple and sweet potato puree, celeriac remoulade, apple crisps, roasted root vegetables and honey cider jus (R120). It was hard to choose a dish out of the list of beautifully presented options, and I look forward to coming back, to try some of the other main courses, including Asparagus and mushroom bolognaise; a Caramelized onion, olive and Brie tart; an interesting sounding “Exploration of fish pie”; Prawn laksa, served with basmati rice and a laksa curry sauce; Roast rack of lamb; Chalmar beef sirloin; and “Hot smoked free range baby chicken”. For dessert, which all cost R45, I chose the Valrhona dark chocolate fondant, which oozed thick rich chocolate, and was served with honeycomb, milk chocolate ice cream as well as chocolate soil. Other choices were a passion fruit soufflé; Orange crème caramel; poppyseed pannacotta; banana split, which was a deconstructed collection of deep fried banana custard, macerated cherries, caramelised banana, vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and nut brittle; Sticky toffee pudding; and Blue cheese trifle. What impressed was the Cheese board, which one can make up from a selection of eight cheeses, including an aptly named Huguenot, each costing R20, and to which one can add homemade watermelon preserve.
The Marianne Restaurant adds another fine dining restaurant to the Stellenbosch Restaurant Route, and adds another splendid restaurant to the Helshoogte Pass area, which includes Tokara and Delaire Graff. I will be trying out the other dishes at The Marianne, and also Fraîche. I liked the friendliness of the owners, and know that De Huguenot Estate will become a new food lovers’ destination in what is now South Africa’s new gourmet centre.
POSTSCRIPT 14/7:I returned this evening, to try the Harry Q bar for tapas – good quality, and value for money Seafood pops (hake and prawn tempura) at R45, Chicken Satay (R35), and home-made Marshmallow with a Valrhona chocolate ganache dip (R40). Other tapas one can order include soup, mini Caesar salad, Caprese salad, ‘nude oysters’, Franschhoek salmon fish cakes, smoked gnocchi, pea and ham risotto, Aubergine Roulade, Pepperdew poppers, Spiced pork riblets, Fried Fairview Crotin, Beef short rib croquettes, and venison boerewors. Sweet tapas range in price from R30 – R40, and include homemade chocolate brownies, truffles and fudge, macaroons, and strawberries, all of which can be ordered with Valronah ganache or toffee sauce, at R10 each.
Manager Philip told us that owner Marianne has protested about the use of her name for the restaurant, and therefore it is now called de Huguenot.
POSTSCRIPT 7/8: I had my first lunch since the opening of de Huguenot to the public today, struggling to book telephonically earlier in the morning, but managing to do so by Twitter. The restaurant was heavily booked, and had a nice smoky smell from the lit fire. The restaurant windows allowed one to see the snow-topped Franschhoek mountain peaks in the distance. A vase with daffodils and anenomes was on the table. Fortis Hotelware cutlery was laid on the table, on a quality white table cloth. The serviette was forgotten. The menu has not changed from the one we saw at the launch lunch, as written about above. A bread plate with a home-made seed loaf and two rolls were brought to the table with parsley-topped butter a minute before the food was served. I loved the seedloaf so much that Manager Philip sold me the left-over loaf. I ordered Asparagus and Mushroom bolognaise, made with lime spaghetti, a tomato sauce, and topped with parmesan shavings (R75). It probably was not the best representation of Chef Tanja’s culinary skills. Much more interesting was the Banana Split, which was a deconstructed dessert with slices of banana, a deep fried banana custard, macerated cherries, nut brittle, chocolate sauce, and a ball of chocolate (R45). The waiter that served me lacked polish and experience, and his service was not reflective of the quality of Chef Tanja’s food. The winelist look rather weathered from heavy use. MCC’s offered are Moreson’s Miss Molly (R150), Colmant Brut Reserve (R35/R195), and Graham Beck Brut (R235). White wines by the glass are Thelema Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc (R25/R99), and Ken Forrester Petite Chenin (R25/R99). Red wines by the glass are Thelema Mountain Red(R25/R99), and Ken Forrester Petite Cabernet/Merlot and Petite Pinotage (R25/R95). Six Shiraz options are offered, ranging from R145 for a 2010 Guardian Peak to R325 for Hartenberg 2007.
POSTSCRIPT 14/10: Sadly the De Huguenot Restaurant will close down on 31 October. Fraîche is no longer happening, and the Harry Q bar will become a breakfast, lunch and dinner venue. The venue will focus on weddings and events.
POSTSCRIPT 2/3: Sadly, De Huguenot Estate will be auctioned on 14 March.
de Huguenot Restaurant, Fraîche Deli and Café, and Harry Q Bar, De Huguenot Estate, R310, Helshoogte Road, Johannesdal, Pniel, between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. Tel 021 885-1240. www.dehuguenot.co.za (Website still under construction). Open ‘360°’, as Chef Tanja put it, Mondays – Sundays for breakfast and lunch, and eventually for dinner.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage