There’s something to be said for a restaurant’s ability to present balance on all fronts. Most manage this feat with one or two key elements – a tasty signature dish, a distinctive flair or style, the ambience, the degree of service diners have come to expect from the multi-digited figures on their bills. At De Grendel, one may have the good fortune of seeing all the above come together in a rare and gratifying dining experience.
Situated just 20 minutes from Cape Town proper, De Grendel’s estate successfully counteracts the hustle and bustle of the city with its simple charm. Blue sky overhead, a light breeze tickling the grass while cows and sheep graze along the wooden fencing, and an unmatched full-on panoramic view of Table Mountain in the distance – all of which you can drink in with a glass of wine from the restaurant’s terrace.
The building’s interior offers a tasteful collaboration of new and old. Owned by the illustrious Sir David Graaff and his family, the restaurant plays with hints of classic elegance reflected in the family pictures along the walls, matching cloth napkins and tablecloths, and the blue-and-white porcelain table settings. The same blue can be found on the crisp pinstripe button-down shirts donned by the waiting staff, who are simultaneously agreeable and efficient – even while juggling multiple large parties both inside and outside. Maintaining an understated balance overall is the modern layout of the place: reed-lined ceilings, plain but comfortable furniture, and full-length windows lining the cubic floor plan which offer wraparound views of the vineyard-covered hills.
Enter Chef Ian Bergh whose culinary sensibilities match the scene to a scintillating tee. Known for his stints at La Colombe, Five Flies, and Pure at Hout Bay Manor, he brings to De Grendel a food profile that is sophisticated, not complicated, full of flavour but not overdone. The Salmon starter, for example, (R 120) is gloriously juicy and soft with a pungent miso savour, the salmon having been marinated for two days in a miso/mirin/sake mixture. No hint of fishiness, just tender bites refreshed by lightly dressed baby leaves on the side. A dish like this has every right to be ostentatious, but here it is entirely unfussy and easy on the taste buds.
Each menu item demonstrates the kind of attention to detail which keeps the overall effect in mind. On paper, the dish may appear to be a teeming list of unrelated ingredients: “rabbit, quail, prosciutto, date, apricot, beetroot, corn, edamame, melba, orange” (R 85). In presentation, this dish is an innovative composite of rabbit rolled in crispy prosciutto with apricots and dried dates, slivers of pan-seared quail in an orange-honey-soy-sauce concoction served with a smattering of strategically textured edamame and corn, citrus-dressed greens sitting atop melba toast, and a streak of beetroot puree which looks to exist purely for visual purposes until one drags a piece of the rabbit sausage across its silky length. The flavour profile runs cohesively in spite of the crowded narrative, with everything working together toward a superb balance of sweet and salty across a spectrum of textures and colours.
The same kind of basic-list-to-innovative-dish phenomenon can be found all across the menu. The Organic Lamb Shank (R 200), highly recommended in a pairing with De Grendel’s oaky Merlot, literally falls off the bone with a decadent port jus tempered by a drizzle of gremolata, while the Pork Belly (R 175) – working just as nicely with the same peppery Pinot Noir paired with the rabbit dish – is an opulent rendering of scrumptious textures and intricate accompaniments (fresh apple and fig, rooibos jus). Rounding out the memorable meal is the treacle tart (R 50) with fragrant earl grey ice cream and the Chocolate espresso crème brulee (R 50). The only misstep might be a crème brulee that hasn’t completely set under the caramelised sugar top, but this is a minor issue in light of the meal’s gastronomic rewards overall.
And there is good news for those who might find the prices a tad daunting. A three-course meal at De Grendel is just about one of the best ways I can think of to spend R 275 (two-course meals are R 245). This allows you to select a starter, main, and dessert from the a la carte menu which includes the above-mentioned dishes and more. Setting, service, food, and style – De Grendel seems steady on all fronts. If you’re meaning to splurge a bit on something entirely worthwhile, this is the place to go.
By Esther Lim
De Grendel Wine Farm, Plattekloof Road
Hours: Tuesday to Saturday 12 noon to 2.30pm and 7pm to 9.30pm | Sunday 12 noon to 2.30pm
Tel: 021 558 7035
See our photos of De Grendel here.