Since returning from South Africa on Tuesday, I have been putting off this post. In some ways I have been dying to share all the best bits of the incredible trip and in other ways I feel like I just can't do it justice. How do I condense 479 photos, 12 marvellous days and 11 gastronomical nights into just one post? Impossible.
Having put it off for several days I have now decided to take a shot at it. Clearly I don't want to bore you with all the gory details so here goes an edited version of some of the culinary highlights of my trip.
Although I might just have to slip in the odd mention of the penguins on Boulders Beach...
And possibly the very naughty car that we hired for the duration of our trip...
Our trip started in Cape Town. Camps Bay to be precise, where we stayed with a friend who moved there around a year ago. THE place to go eat in Camps Bay is apparently 'Blues' but insider knowledge told us that whilst Blues has a great view, the food is better at neighbouring Paranga. This bar-cum-restaurant has a cool Capetonian vibe, overlooks the glorious beach and serves great cocktails and delicious food in time to the funky beats of their own music compilations. Being just five minutes from our pied-a-terre it soon became a favourite haunt. The menu was varied yet typical of Cape Town restaurants. Sushi is big in South Africa. And I mean really big. Many of the restaurants we visited had their own sushi bar. Meat is also big. And seriously good. I ate some of the best steaks I'd ever eaten. And I like to think I've eaten a fair few steaks in my time. Shellfish from Mozambique is plentiful but expensive. It is also HUGE. Prawns the size of small lobsters huge. Fish always features in the form of tuna and Kingclip (meaty white fish a little flakier than swordfish).
Apart from shellfish, for those earning pounds sterling, eating out is incredibly cheap. We didn't have a single poor meal during our 12 days - everything was delicious and beautifully presented. We would have paid triple in London. This divine starter of 'goats cheese cake' which was far more delicious than it sounds (think mild, creamy goats cheese coated in the crispiest of pastries sitting upon asparagus with a sweet chilli sauce) cost around £2.
We were sadly unable to get reservations in the two Cape Town restaurants that we particularly wanted to visit: Ginja and Madame Zingarra. No doubt we missed out on a treat but we were not disappointed elsewhere. Worth a mention for both its vast wine list and appalling service is Belthazar at the V&A Waterfront. This place has a cracking view of Table Mountain from its terrace and is the world's largest wine bar. It boasts a staggering 250 different wines served BY THE GLASS. Yes - that many wines which can be purchased by the glass. It is all do with nitrogen. Just go with me on that one. Anyway, this filled me with glee, especially when our selections arrived in nice big Riedel glasses with a little tag on the stem to remind us (and possibly our 'service ambassadors') which we had ordered. Genius.
Unfortunately I struggle to recommend this place further due to the dreadful service we experienced on our second visit. First time round it was ok. And certainly very cheery. Second time less good. It all started well with a delicious board of scrummy bread and little sausage nibbles to amuse us whilst we perused the vast and rather hectic menus. Once we had ordered it all went rather downhill. Things arrived at the wrong time. Or not at all. Then the wrong things arrived. We were disappointed. Especially as the food itself was pretty good - steak is their speciality. One friend braved the classic SA combination of steak with a chocolate chilli sauce. It was... interesting. Though I still think the sauce might have been better on ice-cream!
After Cape Town we headed (in the Cobra) up to Franshhoek and then Stellenbosch. We stayed in a heavenly spot on a wine estate called La Petite Ferme. Our little cottage had its own plunge pool right on the edge of the vineyards. It really was idyllic. A major plus was that the 'hotel's' restaurant is one of the best in town. It only serves lunch but it is well worth a detour. As you sit overlooking the sauvignon blanc vineyard you can sip on the very wine made from the vines below you and feast on some great South Africa cuisine, much of it with a Cape Malay twist. We shared two starters - an Asian fishcake on vegetable ribbons with a sesame, ginger and dhiania dressing (see below) and a tasty homemade rotie filled with Indonesian spiced fillet of beef.
Next up we both chose the butter chicken curry with sambals and naan. It was a fabulous curry - very flavoursome with melt-in-the-mouth chicken and almonds in the sauce.
Presentation was beautiful, even down to the butter...
Sadly, neither of us could manage pudding though they did sound extremely tempting. Especially the gingerbread and butter croissant pudding with ginger ice cream. We were stuffed and extremely grateful that our sun-loungers were a mere minute stroll down the garden.
En route to Stellenbosch we stopped at Tokara to meet winemaker Miles Mossop (just a touch of work whilst holidaying, but enjoyable none-the-less). An unexpected upshot of this visit was lunch at the breathtaking restaurant practically suspended over the winery's immaculate vineyards. The food did not disappoint.
Mushrooms with bacon, pinenuts, sundried tomato and butternut cream might not sound particularly exciting but I think it might have been one of the best things I ate all holiday. And I ate some pretty amazing meals so this is high praise indeed. It was the sort of dish that was so good, my travelling (and dining) partner had to physically hold me back from licking the plate.
Next up was roasted quail with caramelised apples. This was billed as a starter. Heaven knows what would have happened if I'd ordered a main-course size version! The quail was rich, the apples nice a tart. An expertly executed combination.
I promised not to go on for too long, so I'll just share one more destination with you. Birkenhead House, Hermanus. It is hard to know what to say about this place. As I type I'm humming 'Oh, Heaven is a place on Earth'... The hotel is pure indulgence. Total luxury. No detail is overlooked from the Champagne on arrival, the flower-strewn bed, the wonderful whales frolicking in the Bay as you sip on sundowners and the delicious food prepared for breakfast, lunch and dinner all included in the room-rate. I've never fancied the idea of 'all-inclusive' before but this hotel takes it to a whole new level. And it is true, once there I had no desire to leave. Ever. Well, maybe almost never! The setting is just stunning, right on the cliff top with fabulous views of the whales and a glorious long beach just begging for you to take a long windswept walk.
No pictures of the whales I am afraid. I took hundreds. But I think it is unlikely that I will be winning Wildlife Photographer of the Year. Has anyone tried to photograph a whale ever? It is NOT easy. Just as you hit the button to snap, the whales disappear back below water. Lots of expanses of sea with just a black dot in the middle are the result of hours spent trying to capture the gentle giants of the ocean. Guess you'll just have to go see them for yourselves!
So, that is a whistle stop tour of my trip. And definitely whistle stop. I've said nothing about the 'interesting' meat selections. I tried Kudu, Wildebeast, Crocodile, Springbok and Ostrich. I've said nothing about the flavourful soups we enjoyed at Birkenhead House (though hope to say more soon as I've asked for the recipes) and nothing about the raw chicken incident which had us laughing the whole way home from a certain Thai restaurant.
But hopefully I've given a flavour of my experience of South Africa. I can't wait to go back. Time to start saving up...