Boschendal may be one of the oldest farms in the country, but there’s something altogether new taking place here too. Look further than the beautifully restored Cape Dutch Manor House, scratch beneath the archetypal postcard panorama, and you’ll quickly encounter a reborn sense of passion, focus and a paradoxical commitment to both new-world innovation and old-school values.
More than 300 years ago, this was where the original settlers of the Cape Colony built a refreshment station - a welcome stop for weary travellers, where food, wine and hospitality were never in short supply. Fast forward to August 2017, and not much has changed in this regard. Feeling a little like a weary travel myself, I arrive late in the day on my modern day ‘horse’ to eat and drink at The Werf with executive chef Christiaan Campbell and winemaker Lizelle Gerber.
Situated in the beautifully revamped original cellar of Boschendal’s Manor House, the focus at The Werf Restaurant is on contemporary farm to table dining using the finest local, seasonal and ethically-sourced ingredients. Expect fragrant fermented breads, slow-roasted ribs and brisket sourced from the herd of Angus cattle on the farm, or house-smoked trout, pasture-reared poultry and desserts you’ll still be dreaming about months later.
A warm and characterful space, it feels more like walking into a welcoming home buzzing with life rather than a fine dining establishment. As you enter, there’s a workspace immediately on your left where a team is preparing and just behind them, an open door to the kitchen - in which a dedicated team of chefs work – all dedicated to Christiaan’s vision.
It’s a vision I’m quickly introduced to first-hand. Before I can even sit, Christiaan’s palpable passion has made little work of introductory formalities and paved the way for more focused conversation.
Zealous about ‘farm to table dining’ rather than fine dining, Christiaan also believes in ‘top to tails’ sustainable farming and dining, in which nothing goes to waste.
“Not everyone gets it, but we’re clear on our mission to source local ingredients which have been organically farmed,” he shares.
Just then, Lizelle Gerber, winemaker at Boschendal, joins us at the table. Just like the bottle of bubbly she brings with her, she adds a lively energy to the table, possessing equal amounts of enthusiasm for the food prepared here as the wine she prepares in the cellar.
As I’m soon to discover, it’s not just the vision and vista that has been reborn at Boschendal, but their commitment to producing world-class wines too.
The bottle of Jean Le Long Prestige Cuvee 2007 that we enjoy together could very well hold its own against any vintage French Champagne. Together with our first course, butter poached chicken, oyster mushrooms and poached egg – it’s a match made in heaven. Next up, Lizelle’s site specific Appellation Series Chardonnay 2015 offers a generous palate that is powerful yet intricate. Enjoyed with the cured kingklip, infused with flavours of fynbos and garden pickles, both the food and the wine bring out the best in their partner – leaving only pleasant memories and a lingering follow-through behind.
As we tuck into one amazing dish after the next, there’s something surreal about sitting at a table overlooking the gardens from which your vegetables and free roaming animals on your plate first found their origins. So many people talk about farm-to-table philosophies but here at Boschendal, it’s really happening.
Christiaan’s lamb broth, pulled lamb belly and Parisian gnocchi is next – paired with a Pinot Noir 2015. Again, the wine’s wild berry flavours and rich oak spices match the intensity of the food beautifully. These limited production wines express Elgin’s distinctive cool climate and focus on purity of fruit and impressive ageing potential.
Hours later, it’s time for me to say goodbye and head back home. Like countless travellers before me over the centuries, I leave refreshed, with both a full tummy and heart. I had arrived with mixed emotions, remembering being here with my dad some 30 years earlier, where a Boschendal Gran Vin Blanc took centre stage on the table, then recalling a Boschendal Blanc de Noir… it was the first bottle of wine I ordered on my first date with my first love, and it tasted so sweet.
As I leave today, I add another great memory to my Boschendal collection, and leave behind a team that’s breathing life back into the beautiful buildings and vineyards.