Mon 10 May 2010
“Overture” is a musical term, meaning introduction to a musical piece. As a restaurant, Overture has been operating on the Hidden Valley wine estate outside Stellenbosch for 2,5 years, and no longer needs to be introduced. With its owner and chef Bertus Basson, it has established itself as a most professional and passionate restaurant, which has made it on the Eat Out Top 10 restaurant list for the last two years.
To receive an invitation to a lunch at Overture is a treat – to spend 2,5 hours hours with Bertus Basson enjoying his restaurant’s lunch with him was an absolute privilege. It was my fourth visit to Overture, having enjoyed each of our lunches in the past.
As I drove to the Hidden Valley Estate, well hidden at the end of a road that takes one past Ernie Els wines outside Stellenbosch, not far from another Eat Out Top 10 restaurant, Rust en Vrede, I had to think back how negative Rossouw’s Restaurants was about the road to Overture when JP Rossouw first reviewed it. It is no problem to drive at all, unless JP has a fear of heights. All is forgiven, Rossouw has been back, and now he has included Overture as one of his select top-rated 3-star restaurants.
Bertus and I started talking about the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards, which placed Overture and Le Quartier Francais’ Tasting Room at joint 10th position, an unprecedented occurrence in the history of the Eat Out awards, and which attracted a huge degree of criticism. Basson admits that he was extremely angry, using an unrepeatable word. He consoled himself by saying that at least he was in good company with Le Quartier Francais’ chef Margot Janse. Whilst he said he did not need to rethink his restaurant as a result of this ranking, he did make one immediate change – that was to start buying imported products, e.g. scallops, salmon, truffles, and foie gras, because the imported products offered a better range, and the service delivery from the importers suited his needs better, says Basson. Prior to this Basson had been ‘proudly South African’ in terms of sourcing his ingredients. Recently Basson has thrown out the clipboard menu holder, and changed to a beautiful brown leather holder for each of the winelist, and the daily menu, the latter which changes daily.
Bertus Basson is a character – for years he sported a Mohican, but he has grown his hair, and now hides it underneath a grey ‘Andy Capp’ cap. He had stopped smoking earlier in the week, and was really chuffed about this victory. The restaurant has added new round tables, for tables for two, and added beautiful white table cloths and serviettes. Bertus talks and talks, and he reflects confidence in his product and his staff, without ever sounding like he is bragging. He has found his niche, yet he never takes his restaurant’s success for granted. He often arrives at work, he says, and radically changes something about it – the winelist, a dish is added or removed, constantly reinventing the restaurant, believing that evolution is necessary for all restaurants.
We discuss the plethora of food blogs and restaurant websites, and he is critical of some, and complimentary of most. He says he reads Eat Out, Food24, JamieWho, Kim Maxwell, Tony Jackman, Michael Olivier and WhaleTales regularly, to stay up to date about what is being written about restaurants. While he wants to make sure that any mentions of Overture are positive, and he wants to learn more about his restaurant colleagues through these websites, he says that he does not care about reviews, because the success of his restaurant is purely measured by his bookings book. The summer season has been very good, mostly sold out, and so far the ‘green season’ has been better than last year.
One of his favourite restaurants is Restaurant Christophe (its foie gras in particular – read our review), and he raves about George Jardine’s new restaurant at Jordan, both in Stellenbosch.
At Overture a three course meal costs R 265, 4 courses R 315, 5 courses R 375, and 8 courses R 470. Pairing the courses to recommended wines costs extra. Each portion is roughly the same size, so that there is no differentiation between the size of a starter or a main course. In total, ten menu options are offered. The wine list has a choice of reasonably priced Hidden Valley and Lands End wines, which come from the wine estate, but Overture also offers a small collection of four Cap Classiques/champagnes, white and red wines, and dessert wines each. A special 4-course winter lunch menu is available at R 200, Tuesdays – Fridays.
We were spoilt by being served by the Maitre’d Kris van Zyl and the sommelier Kris Snyman. An amuse bouche was brought to the table on a wooden board, with a selection of coppa ham, sweet cream and onion, parmesan cheese straws, garlic aioli, and caviar salt. An olive roll was served with this, as was a refreshing glass of Graham Beck Brut Rose. A glass of Jordan Unwooded Chardonnay accompanied the first course, which was my favourite dish of the meal: cured salmon and kingklip terrine, a beautiful pink/white wheel, oyster beignet, and seared scallop in a sweetcorn and vanilla sauce. Tagliatelle, basil pesto, buffalo ridge mozarella and smoked aubergine puree, a symphony in green, was served with Aeternitas Blanc, a garagiste wine made by the Kanu winemaker after hours in his garage in the Strand. A matured entrecote with turnips and pomme fondant was paired with the Hidden Valley Gems, a Bordeaux style blend. When the dessert of chocolate torte, banana and banana sorbet was served, the sommelier brought two massive bottles of Bottega Chocolate Grappa, offering us a choice in white chocolate or dark chocolate. The glass bottles look less like alcoholic containers, and more like those for shampoo, and become a talking point at the table close by, being so unusual.
Our coffees were served with a collection of jugs, containing a most unusual vanilla syrup, grappa, and cardomon syrup, which one can add to one’s coffee, a nice touch. The ‘real’ Bertus came to the fore over coffee, and he talks almost emotionally about the new ‘addition to his family’, Patat his dog. One can hear the love for his pet when he speaks. He emphasises that Overture is family friendly, and he and his team will gladly prepare meals suitable for young guests.
I left Overture impressed with the slick operation which Bertus and his team runs. His staff appear happy, despite his reputation of being a tough boss, but he needs the best staff, to stay at the top. He sources the best products, and he has his hand firmly on his restaurant’s pulse, and is mostly in the kitchen himself. If there was anything to recommend, then it is to the Manager Kris to look a little less serious, and to smile more. I also found it hard to understand him explaining the elements of each dish, but was allowed to take the menu with me, to save me from having to write it all down. I know I will return to Overture regularly, and that Bertus and his team deserve better than joint 10th in this year’s Eat Out Top 10 restaurant awards list!
Overture Restaurant, Hidden Valley Wine Estate, Annandale Road, off R 44, Stellenbosch. Tel 021 880-2721. www.dineatoverture.co.za (the website is not very helpful, with barely any information, and an outdated menu of 12 March). Open for lunch Tuesdays – Sundays, and for dinner on Thursday and Friday evenings. On the Stellenbosch Restaurant Route.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com