An outing yesterday to Paarl, to try out the Laborie Wines Lazy Days weekly market, led me to Fairview in Agter Paarl, probably because I had chatted to the friendly representatives at the Eat In  Produce Award’s Night Market on Thursday, and I had promised them a visit.   I was disappointed about the extreme unfriendliness displayed by the Fairview Goatshed Manager Shannon Riley and her assistant Portia, and felt that it has become a non-caring tourist destination, which is expensive food-wise but offers good value wines.

I have not been to Fairview in years, and definitely not since the Goatshed opened five years ago.  A sign at the door commands one to wait to be seated.  The problem, however, is that the desk behind which the managers stand, doubling up as the payment desk, faces inward, so all staff have their backs to the new arriving guests.   I stood for some time before Portia bothered to come to me.  There was no welcome, just a ‘machine’ asking my preference for inside/outside and smoking/non-smoking seating, without interest.  When I asked her where the deli was, not having been to the tasting room and cheese shop at that time yet, she looked at me as if I had lost it, and as if she did not know what the word ‘deli’ meant.  I remembered a long restaurant building with a counter from which one could buy cheese, breads and other deli items, which I did not see in the Goatshed, nor in the ‘supermarket’ type cheese shop later.  She did not show me a table when we got outside, seemingly having lost interest in me already. 

Luckily Yolandy came to the rescue, and was efficient in bringing a glass of water.  I asked for a foamy cappuccino, but was brought a flat white.  I reminded Yolandy of my request, and she told me that it is only made flat, but that she would speak to the barista.  Then I asked her if I could have a slice of rye or wholewheat bread instead of the ciabatta with the duck liver paté, and I was told that it only comes with the ciabatta, and if I wanted any other bread served with it, I would have to buy one of their loaves, and then they would cut two slices for me and serve it!  I had to laugh out loud.  Thereafter Shannon presented herself, and asked me rudely what the problems were.  She confirmed that the cappuccino could only be made flat, on the basis of which I declined it, but showed some flexibility on the bread request.   Surprisingly, soon thereafter a beautiful foamy cappuccino arrived, but Yolandy told me to not think of ever ordering one like that again, as they are not made that way at Fairview!  I did not see Shannon again.

The restaurant interior is large, but very dark inside, so I preferred to sit outside on the terrace.  There were tables alongside the terrace as well, and in total the restaurant can seat 320 guests.  The outside tables are made from wood and look well used.  Each table has a wire basket, containing a bottle each of Fairview olive oil and balsamic vinegar, a salt and a pepper grinder, and cutlery rolled into orange paper serviettes.  A heavily used tear-off pad is also in the holder, and is the order form for cheeses.  However, one is not advised of the list, and what it is for.   There is no tablecloth nor placemat.  The restaurant was heaving with customers when I arrived at about 14h30, and I heard Italian spoken by guests leaving, and there were Americans sitting close by.

The duck liver paté is the starter I ordered, and is expensive at R74.   It was topped with olive tapenade, an odd combination, and served with two big slices of toasted 70 % rye bread, but is usually served with crostini.  The menu does state that the portion is to share, but it is still expensive, given the serving size.  I found it very dry and crumbly.  I liked the clever plate decoration, which was a vine leaf, on which was placed some grapes, apple slices, peach slices, peppadews, and a lovely whole slice orange preserve.    Other starter choices are a spinach, feta and bacon quiche; snoek and trout fish cakes; stir-fried springbok; and a vegetable and goat’s chevin salad, costing between R 48 – R84.  Main courses include Sunday roast, chicken pie, lamb curry, seared trout fillet, Earl Grey infused Subu duck, pork spare ribs, and linefish, costing between R 68 – R165.  One can order 8 cheeses for one person, at R60, and 10 cheeses for two persons at R66.  Foccacia with parma ham and mozzarella, or smoked trout and Fairview cream cheese, costs R56.

I had a dessert which took me to back to my childhood, being Rote Grütze, a most delicious red berry compote, with a ball of ice cream.   Alternative desserts range in price from R36 – R48, and include cheesecake, pecan nut croquant parfait on pineapple carpaccio, chocolate brownie and ice cream, crème brûlee, and coconut panna cotta.  Breakfast is served from 9h00 – 11h30, and these prices look very reasonable, a health breakfast with muesli costing R28, as do scrambled eggs on a croissant.  When salmon is added, it costs R46, being the price for eggs and bacon, as well as smoked trout with Fairview cream cheese, too.

I was interested in the educational message in the menu, on its first page, which is a note to parents, explaining why, in a roundabout manner, they do not have a children’s menu with “fries, bangers, fish fingers and carbonated sugar-laden drinks” - only two of the menu items have a reduced children’s price, and therefore one must order from the standard menu for children.  “All Goatshed meals are freshly prepared using wholesome ingredients.  A healthy lifestyle starts in early childhood”, the menu stated.  “Thank you for understanding and co-operating in fighting diabetes and obesity amongst children”, it continued.  I was not sure how parents would react to this ‘lecture’.   I was also interested to see how few of the dishes on the menu contain cheese, this being one of the products that are synonymous with Fairview (as is its wine, of course).  The menu also contains a glossary of food and wine terms, such as dukkha, chakalaka, sobu (an Asian buckwheat flour noodle), hummus, and coulis.

Something else that appeared impressive in the menu was the special notes about the breads at Fairview and their coffee.  The ‘artisanal’ breads are baked by bakers from ‘the community’, the menu explains, and the bread range includes ciabatta, sour dough, and rye, as well as Danishes and croissants, and their ‘unique signature breads’.  All the breads had sold out at the counter in the restaurant, and most in the cheese shop too.   There seemed to be only a small space allocated to the bread sales in the cheese shop, surprising, given the attention that is drawn to the breads, and one’s ability to buy them, in the menu.  It was also written that Johan Sörberg, who owns the two top bakeries in Stockholm, has trained the Fairview bakers, and returns regularly.   The menu also proudly states about their coffees: “Our baristas strive to bring you the best in every cup”.  Klaus Thomsen, the ‘World Barista Champion’ in 2006, has travelled from Denmark to train the Fairview baristas in “the art of brewing world quality coffee”, and he returns regularly too, the menu states.  The coffee beans come from Beans for Africa, Yolandy found out for me.  

The wines are very well-priced, and only Fairview-owned wines, being Fairview, Goats Do Roam and Spice Route, are served.  Every dish on the menu has a wine recommendation.  The Spice Route wines are from Malmesbury, and belong to Fairview owner Charles Back too.    The Fairview Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Mouvèdre, Pinotage, Pinotage Viognier, Shiraz and Chardonnay all cost R27 per glass and R65 per bottle.  Riesling costs R16/R35, Darling Chenin Blanc R18/R45, Sauvignon Blanc R22/R50, and Viognier R28/R70.   Surprisingly for a wine estate, there are no vintages on the list of wines.  The availability of Jack Black beer is very visible on the menu.  I met the nice tasting room manager Neil du Plessis, and I liked the interesting lamps over the tasting counters, which looked like vine branches with lights in them.    I asked about next-door farm Seidelberg, which Back bought recently, and Yolandy thought it would be business as usual there in terms of their Cape Malay restaurant.  She was not sure what would happen on the wine side of things.   

The cheese shop has a supermarket feel, a large space selling twenty Fairview cheeses, including camembert, brie, Bleu and Blanc, Blue Rock, Feta, White Rock with cranberries, Havarti, Chevin traditional, and with different herbs, four varieties of cream cheeses, La Beryl, crottin, and a Vineyard Cheddar. Surprisingly, one cannot taste the cheeses.   There was no staff in the cheese section to answer questions, or to proactively provide information, as they have in the tasting room, which is just around the corner.  The camembert and brie cost R 16, not much less than one would pay in a supermarket.

Cyril is the chef, but I could not get a surname nor his track record from Yolandy (nor from Shannon, when I called to verify this – she said Cyril has a long surname).  However, the Goatshed website states that Andreas Küng is the chef.   My final poor impression of the restaurant was when the bill arrived in a Diner’s Club billfold, that must be as old as the restaurant is, and was falling apart, a poor reflection on the image of the Goatshed.  Yolandy told me three times that I had to pay the bill at the counter inside, as they do not have a ‘cordless credit card machine’, she said.  The payment taker at the counter did just that, and there is no farewell or thanks to send one on the road with.  There also is no attempt to encourage one to visit the cheese shop or the tasting room, as the entrance is not visible from the restaurant.     I went to the ‘Nanny Goat’ cloak room, with  ‘portable’ toilets, with open top and bottom.  The toilets are cleaned continuously, and are functional, but do not add to the Fairview experience – they just reinforced that Fairview is an expensive mass tourist destination, and that building a relationship with any of its visitors is completely unimportant – not the impression one would want tourists or locals to experience!   

Fairview Goatshed, Fairview wine estate, Agter Paarl.   Tel (021) 863-3609. www.goatshed.co.za  (The menu is on the website, and the website has a clever but restricted slide show with good photographs.  However, there is no Image Gallery.  The photograph of the bread collection does not reflect what is available in the shop and the restaurant).  Twitter: @FairviewWine  Monday – Sunday 9h00 – 17h00.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com   Twitter: @WhaleCottage