It’s a culinary Cinderella story if there ever was one. The little restaurant that started out in a dingy parking lot in Illovo now finds itself within a beautiful new space on a magnificent wine farm in the Cape. Though, to be fair, rather than a wave of a wand, this took substantially more effort.
Husband and wife duo of chef Alex and front-of-house Eloise Windebank closed their much-loved Joburg eatery at the beginning of the pandemic. Swearing off restaurants, they ventured into a career in the corporate world before realising, in the words of Eloise, “we’re just restaurant people”.
So, having relocated to Cape Town, they revived Farro with a multi-month-long pop-up before announcing that they’d be permanently reopening at Gabrielskloof.
The collaboration came to fruition as a result of a long-standing working relationship and friendship with Gabrielskloof cellarmaster Peter-Allan Finlayson, whose wines have often featured on Farro’s impressive wine list from the restaurant’s early days.
It’s a move that is well suited to both parties, with the ethos of both family-run entities — generosity, hospitality, sustainability — aligning so well. Of course, there’s also the fact that Farro’s food complements the enjoyment of fine wines, which Gabrielskloof has aplenty.
The space itself is simple yet beautiful. It’s bright and airy with high-beamed ceilings, cream walls and plenty of life in the form of greenery, and, of course, the floor-to-ceiling views over the wine lands.
Touches from the original Farro include one of the black-and-white photographs by Michael Myersfield, together with the original wooden bar counter that was made by Eloise’s father and at which many a regular would pop in for a last-minute reservation, bring the space full circle.
Furniture was tasked to local artisans at Houtlander and Homewood, and has the restaurant kitted out with the most spectacular Scandi-style tables and chairs.
The menu is where Farro has really evolved into the new space, once predominantly a dinner restaurant with a smattering of lunch, the new locale calls for hearty breakfasts and long lazy wine lands lunching.
Having sampled the breakfast menu, I can’t help but wonder why we haven’t demanded this from Farro all along. Toeing the line of their contemporary, comforting and classic style of cooking, chef Alex has produced a seriously impressive breakfast menu.
The breakfast bun alone (at a mere R50) is worth the hour or so drive to Botrivier. The golden brioche bun with a crust that crinkles at a touch, lathered with a smoky tomato ketchup and filled with crispy bacon; the sweet, nutty Emmental together with the yolky goodness of a soft fried egg, is simply a revelation. Dig in with your hands on this one.
Other breakfast options include the more gourmet likes of the salmon trout rarebit — the cheesy toast topped with ribbons of trout and a boiled egg has all the rich, creamy decadence one could ask for, while the full English is elevated with a slice of black pudding and pot roast potatoes.
Moving on to lunch, it’s all the Farro favourites and then some. Regulars will no doubt be thrilled to see snacks including the legendary crispy on the outside, soft on the inside sumac, smoked paprika beignets and creamy duck liver parfait starters with a quince jelly. They remain menu staples in addition to seasonally changing cappelletti and tarts, as well as the mains such as truffles and cauliflower risotto.
New additions include west coast crayfish served with a deep and flavourful spiced bisque sauce and the absolutely moreish lamb shoulder scrumpets.
The addition of a grill section caters to those who may prefer a heftier portion, though still done the Farro way. Think gourmet steak and chips served with a mushroom aioli, or a sublime cheese burger, which rivals some of the country’s best.
Dessert offers a mix of menu stalwarts and new creations, too. The chocolate cream, malt and cocoa dish with its cold-meets- creamy, Horlicks-like delight is a firm favourite, while those who prefer a fruitier dessert need look no further than vanilla panna cotta with a strawberry sorbet and a sesame-riddled brittle bringing balance to the dish.
The clever addition of a cheese board lends itself to an after-meal glass of wine or two for those with a more savoury tooth.
End the day with an espresso-based drink of your choice made with the Farro House Blend, created specially for the new space by Hermanus coffee roasters Mikro Coffee.
While Farro’s initial closure was no doubt a huge loss to Joburg’s dining scene, their reopening is sure to be a worthy and wonderful addition to the greater Overberg region and all who visit it.
Farro at Gabriëlskloof is open seven days a week for breakfast and lunch from 9am. For bookings click here.
Gabrielskloof Wine Estate, N2, Swartrivier Road, Bot River.