Wednesday 10th August 2011 - Posted by Chris von Ulmenstein
Cuvée Restaurant opened on Simonsig wine estate nearly three years ago, and its interior curation by Neil Stemmet put him on the map, with its unusual marriage of old and new. Cuvée Restaurant is a sparkling complement and compliment to the Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
Simonsig is on the Kromme Rhee Road, one I had never previously driven, connecting the two roads to Stellenbosch via Klapmuts and Joostenberg. There is ample parking, and one sees the modern oddly shaped posters within red frames outside the tasting room and restaurant entrance. Dirk the waiter told me that Strijdom van der Merwe, co-owner of Casparus restaurant and nature artist, had prepared the curved large metal posters on the lawns outside to commemorate the 350th anniversary of winemaking in South Africa for Simonsig last year, a very modern statement for a long established wine estate owned by the Malan family. The late Frans Malan, with Spatz Sperling of Delheim and the late Neil Joubert of Spier, was one of the trio establishing the Stellenbosch Wine Route, which itself celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. The Simonsig 210 hectare farm has been farmed by the Malan family for ten generations, and the late Frans Malan was a pioneer in creating the first Méthode Cap Classique, being their Kaapse Vonkel. The Malan brothers Pieter (Marketing), Francois (CEO and Viticulturist), and Johan (Winemaker) run the farm. In addition to the Kaapse Vonkel, there is a Kaapse Vonkel Brut Rosé, Cuvée Royale, and Encore Vin Sec. Other wines in the Simonsig range include Vin de Liza noble late harvest, Chenin avec Chéne, Chardonnay, Sunbird Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Tiara Bordeaux blend, Frans Malan Cape blend, Redhill Pinotage, Merindol Syrah, Labyrinth Cabernet Sauvignon, Mr Borio’s Shiraz, Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz, Shiraz Mouvèdre Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, and Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot.
The tasting room and restaurant are design extremes, the tasting room being part of the historic building, with traditional sash windows, yet it has a modern crockery and sparkling wine glass chandelier made by Jacques Erasmus of Hemelhuijs, and Tord Boordje paper curtains, one of only three establishments to have these designer curtains in Stellenbosch! The restaurant appears to be a building addition, with more modern architecture but with classic interior touches added by Stemmet. The room is on two levels, the lower one having a very dominant thick black and white striped wallpaper, with black, brown and white striped curtains, modern crystal chandeliers, a riempiesbank hanging from the ceiling, a red painted wall, and glass doors facing the vineyard. A massive fireplace ‘divides’ the room into two. The higher level appears more modern, with a raw concrete ceiling, one wall painted in a deep grey, and another left in rough brick. At the back end, or entrance to the restaurant, is a modern black bar counter, behind which the wines are stored across the length of a wall. Above the bar counter are large ‘Fifties style black and silver round lights. One wall has seating as benches against the wall, and there is a small lounge area. The tables are black stained wood with glass tops. There is a large Persian carpet in each of the sections, adding a homely touch. Contrasting the more modern furniture is the traditional yellowood and stinkwood heritage furniture, such as a bakkis, and an amoire. Modern perspex lamps and shades are spread around the restaurant, and there are bold white leather pouffes near the fireplace. An interesting Ikebana tree, with coloured silk wrapped around it, is a ‘small wishing tree’, Dirk explained. Classical music chosen by Stemmet rounded off the quality impression. I would have loved to walk through the restaurant with Stemmet, to hear the ‘story’ about his curation.
Each table has a ceramic vase with a red protea, with cutlery by Arthur Krupp, and a most impressive serviette which has a crown logo and 1971 date embroidered on it, to attract attention to the October 40th anniversary celebrations of the Cap Classique at Simonsig. The bread knife is by WMF. Three types of bread, beautifully folded into a serviette, were brought to the table. Coarse salt and pepper were brought in small bowls, with a spoon. Stemmet dictated the crockery and cutlery, and it reflects class. Staff wear black T-shirts and trousers, with a black apron. Dirk showed me the Van Niekerk Room upstairs, a special events function room for about 20 guests, which also has strong elements of black and white stripes, with red leather chairs around a large table. Mr van Niekerk was the father-in-law of the late Frans Malan, whose family is now at the nearby Knorhoek, on which wine estate Stemmet did the interior curation for their Towerbosch restaurant.
I met the new chef Lucas Carstens, who had moved across from Reuben’s at the One&Only Cape Town at the begining of the month. He has introduced some of his own dishes on the new menu, and kept other favourites. He previously worked at Terroir restaurant and at the Kleine Zalze Lodge. Dirk Smit, ex-Tuscany Beach, is the new Restaurant Manager, but was not on duty on Saturday.
The menu is A3 size on white board and well-presented, each item having a Simonsig wine suggestion. The Black pepper-seared tuna (R85/R140), with a Kaapse Vonkel pairing recommendation, is printed in gold, with the logo for the 40th Cap Classique celebration on it in gold too. Starters and mains are not separated on the menu, as most dishes can be ordered as a starter or a main portion. Not listed on the menu, but offered was fresh oysters at R12,50 each. I chose a starter portion of pan-fried kingklip, a smallish but very juicy thick piece of fish, served with asparagus (not specified on the menu and offered as a replacement for artichoke, but was served with artichoke too), braised fennel, slices of naartjie, and a most unusual citrus butter sauce. With this was served an apple salad with a good dressing, not mentioned on the menu, making the R70 (R130 for full portion) charge good value. Other interesting starter/main course options are Wild mushroom soup (45), Warm green bean and tomato salad (R50/R90), Tomato tartlet (R50/R90), Kleinrivier Gruyère soufflé (R85), Cape Malay butter chicken with Basmati rice (the restaurant smelt of this lovely curry when I arrived, and will be my first choice for my next visit, at R100), Grilled Mocambique prawns (R70/R140), Bobotie (R90), Joostenberg pork neck (R60/R110), Lamb shank (R140), Venison and wild mushrooms (R80/R150), and Flame-grilled beef fillet with Café de Paris sauce (R85/R160). I had the Valrhona 66% chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream (substituted for a red wine and cherry ripple ice cream), baked in a white dish, and thick and creamy inside (R60). Crème Brulée, pecan nut tart, malva pudding served with Amarula and rooibos ice cream, and White chocolate panna cotta cost between R45 – R55. A South African cheeseboard with preserves sounded expensive at R150, but I did not see it to judge the price.
The winelist is a folded A3 board, listing only Simonsig wines. Kaapse Vonkel, the Brut Rosé, and Encore Vin Sec cost R27/R135, a R45 surcharge on the bottle price in the Tasting Room. I had a glass of the Brut Rosé, and it was a good match to the kingklip. Cuvée Royale costs R54/R270. The Mr Borio Shiraz costs R18/R90, and the Merindol Syrah R66/R330. No vintages are listed for the wines, but the Platter star rating and awards won are denoted.
I almost felt sorry for Cuvée that such an excellent restaurant is so hidden away in the Winelands. It has a dramatic ‘Cape Dutch modernism’ interior, excellent food, and stands for quality in everything that it does, much like its excellent sparkling wines. I will go back, now that I know where it is.
Cuvée Restaurant, Simonsig, Kromme Rhee Rhee Road, between R44 and R304, Stellenbosch. Tel (021) 888-4900. www.simonsig.co.za (The website contains the menu and winelist, but still has details of the previous chef. Few of the many photographs in the Image Gallery are of the food). Tuesday – Sunday lunch, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday dinner.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage