From picnic blankets under trees to sunny tables laden with good food and wine, outside dining spots are where we want to be now.
WESTERN CAPE WINELANDS
1. Farm to fork at De Meye
Though new owners, Leigh Williamson and Brendan Thorncroft, took charge of The Table at De Meye in 2019, the ethos at this much-loved winelands restaurant remains unchanged.
Celebrating seasonal hyper-local produce each week, Thorncroft whips up a three-course set menu to be served at country-style tables out on shaded lawns.
Invariably it begins with generous slices of Schoon sourdough topped with salted farm butter, followed by hearty main courses — think braised Karoo lamb or ballotine of free-range chicken.
But leave space for the honest, homely desserts that will fill any empty corners. Generous country hospitality is the signature here, with vintage plates piled high and served family-style at your table in the gardens. Expect lunch to be a long, lazy and languid affair. Just as it should be.
Picnic pods at Warwick
There’s no shortage of estates offering winelands picnics, but Warwick certainly raises the bar. Thanks to its private picnic pods you’re not relegated to a chequered blanket on sun-baked lawns. Rather, you unpack your picnic spread in a shaded space set aside exclusively for you and your socially distanced group of gourmands.
In your picnic box — booking is essential — you can look forward to a spread of salads, pâté, preserves, charcuterie, cheese and freshly baked breads. A range of Warwick wines are available both by the glass and by the bottle.
3. Smokin’ hot at Spier
Chef PJ Vadas showcases the subtle art of smoky southern barbecue at this laid-back venue at Spier Wine Estate.
It’s a wide-ranging menu, running from snacks (don’t miss the superbly smoky jalapeño poppers) to the smokehouse meats that bring in hungry locals. The smoked beef brisket is a must.
But the sides are just as much of a reason to visit: how about fire-roasted broccoli with cider vinaigrette and smoked Stanford cheese? Or harissa-roasted carrots with lubne and za’atar? Perhaps perfectly tender beetroot sprinkled with feta, naartjies and pistachio dukkah? And to finish? Vadas is famed for his flaky pastéis de nata (custard tarts).
The best tables are out on the wide brick terrace, overlooking kid-friendly lawns. When you’ve filled your belly, take a turn past the Spier Artisan Studio to watch the ceramic artists at work.
4. The Russian connection: Hazendal
Hazendal has evolved from a historic, though somewhat tired, estate to being a dynamic winelands destination. Today it’s home to rejuvenated gardens with a clutch of works by notable artists, the interactive kids’ "edutainment" centre Wonderdal, and the intriguing Marvol Gallery of Russian art. There’s also no shortage of spaces to eat.
Top of your list should be the Babushka Deli, where executive chef Michélle Theron serves up contemporary bistro cuisine alongside a compact menu of traditional Russian plates, a hat tip to the Voloshin family, who have owned the estate since 1994.
The best tables are outdoors, set well apart in the threshing circle but with lovely views over the farm’s original werf and across to the Bottelary Hills. Across the lawns the whitewashed walls of the historic cattle kraal today house the Pivnushka Beer Garden, a convivial space for flame-grilled fare, craft beer and fine winelands views.
5. A feast of France at Glenelly Estate
With a reputation for making the Joostenberg Bistro a must-dine in the winelands, chef Christophe Dehosse has of late focused his efforts on The Vine bistro at Glenelly Estate, the modern hillside winery perched on the outskirts of Stellenbosch.
Here Dehosse blends French flourish with local produce, and hungry locals can’t get enough of plates that run from pan-fried pork trotter galette and sauce gribiche to springbok rump with mushroom duxelle. For dessert, the superb tarte tatin, of course.
To drink? The Bordeaux-inspired wines of cellarmaster Luke O’Cuinneagain are superb, just like the vineyard views from tables out on the wide terrace.
6. Escape the hubbub at Babylonstoren
Is there a more glorious garden to wander in on a spring day than Babylonstoren? Here espaliered fruit trees give way to quiet fountains and veggie gardens so bountiful as to seem unseemly. If Eve lived here she’d nibble more than an apple, that’s for sure.
And visitors to Koos Bekker’s winelands bolthole are equally spoilt for choice when the hunger pangs hit. There’s the Babel restaurant, of course, all contemporary chic, clean lines and elegant plating. But both my wallet and my palate prefer the Greenhouse Restaurant, a relaxed space of generous simplicity: perhaps coconut-infused cauliflower soup, a pot pie of lamb and waterblommetjies, or a humble sandwich given due love and attention.
With tables scattered under the oak trees, and gurgling leiwater for the kids to splash about in, it’s a family-friendly haven amid Bekker’s garden of plenty. While you’ll want a seat in the fresh air, take a moment to admire the striking conservatory, custom built in France for the estate.