Tapas, small-plates, meze, sharing-style ... call it what you like but there can be no denying there’s something uniquely enjoyable about ordering an array of dishes and sharing them with everyone at the table. Perhaps now more so than ever. With the hopeful waning of the pandemic, it’s also a style of eating that allows us to connect with one another, sharing experiences and enjoying life together in a way that extends beyond the borders of a Zoom call.
Few places are better suited to indulging in this type of culinary conviviality quite like Pink Valley restaurant. Situated at the foot of the Helderberg on the wine estate of its namesake — producer of one of the few Provence-styled rosés being made in SA and the only in the country that focuses on producing only one wine — the laid-back eatery is quietly gaining a reputation for its contemporary take on tapas. The dishes, best enjoyed with a glass of the estate’s rosé, of course, while taking in the glorious mountainous surroundings.
The menu, created and cooked-up by chef Monche Muller and her team, is separated into bread and dips (knead to dip), small-plates (share it) and dessert (something sweet) and guests are encouraged to order for the table and share.
Start with the mieliebrood, which arrives hot at the table to be sliced and lathered with a dip of your choosing — whether it be the hummus, smoked snoek or baked labneh. We go for the snoek, complemented with textures of preserved apricot — the flavours making for a clever little nod and wink to the classic SA staple.
First up is the salmon gravlax, the fresh cured delicate fish contrasted by smokey, salty, crispy shards of prosciutto — fabulous use of texture and flavour — further elevated by the addition of dollops of yoghurt, a granadilla drizzle and a bitter touch of finely sliced radish .
The truffle waffle and prawn toast are both equally delectable dishes too. The former bursting with umami and rich savoury flavours, thanks to the combination of mushroom and bone marrow, enjoyed atop the fluffy waffle base. The latter, a sesame blackened iteration of the dish is a winner too, arriving with a fantastically balanced sweet chilli sauce.
Next it was on to the pork belly — there a very few reasons to not go for the pork belly on a small plate menu, the meat so easily lending itself to being bite sized, sticky glazed morsels of joy. Here Muller has woven in an Asian influence with elements of cucumber and kimchi adding a wonderfully considered acidity to the dish.
Perhaps, most impressive though were the cabbage rolls, the humble mince-filled parcels given a modern twist and a bit of flash with the addition of polenta and the most delicious pancetta creme. It’s a phenomenal dish through and through, deceivingly simple in practice with each component bringing just the right amount of flavour and texture to the plate. It’s often easy to make the finer ingredients shine but to do so with the often-mundane likes of cabbage and mince takes some seriously clever cooking.
Last but not least and another little nod to the SA classics — woven throughout the menu — are the churros, the crispy Spanish on the outside, light on the inside treats given a local twist with the addition of a melktert dipping sauce, and, yes, we may have asked for teaspoons for the rest of the sauce, it’s that good.
A sensational meal from start to finish complemented by the estate’s Pink Valley rosé. A beautiful Provence-style blush, which, thanks to its complexity and texture, makes for a seriously good food wine.
It’s a perfect place for long-lazy lunches under the summer sun, so gather a group of friends, enjoy the glorious Stellenbosch weather and share some big-on-flavour small plates and good company for as long as the conversation and rosé keeps flowing.