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Restaurants & Bars

Exciting food experience in the Cape Winelands: Babel (Babylonstoren)

Nelson | Dec 15, 201006:50 AM

It's an old Cape Dutch wine farm, a vegetable and herb garden extraordinaire--it's among the most memorable meals I have experienced anywhere in a very long time. Don't let limited and poor signage along the road between R44 and 45 between Franschoek and Paarl stop you from seeking out this gem of a gastronomic experience.

We stopped by latish for lunch this afternoon just to have a look at the impressive herb garden a local gourmet had waxed lyrical over. After touring the lavish and extensive gardens, couldn't resist a quick look at the menu for the small, light, airy glass-enclosed restaurant. Then no way to resist the simple, creative and [ulitmately] outstanding culinary specialities on offer. The theme is "fresh and simple," in its truest sense. The menu is planned around seasonal availability from the gardens, and guests are encouraged to tour the grounds before making their selection to whet their appetite.

Chef Simone has a deft touch with the fresh sourced ingredients available to her and salads categorised by colour--Green, Red and Yellow are immediately intriguing. We haven't intended to eat, having recently finished breakfast, so debate how best to sample the irresistible menu extensively without ordering large quantities of food . . . sharing is welcome and encouraged: portion sizes are generous and extra plates and cutlery provided with a smile. The service provided by our charming waitress Felicity (who managed to squeeze us in late without a reservation without any qualm or hesitation) is altogether delightful, as is the service ambience in the entire restaurant. Chefs, staff and managers alike seem happy to work here and take pride in their establishment.

We order a sampling of the main courses on offer: crisp pork belly with plums (ZAR 140), coriander and wild mountain rosemary marinated lamb cutlets
with mint and pomegranate dressing (R 135) and grilled aubergine with toasted Macadamia nuts and fresh pair with a tahini yoghourt dressing (ZAR 85) and settle for the “Red” salad: beetroot, strawberries, mustard cress, watermelon, vine tomato, guava, grapefruit, beet greens, bronze fennel with beetroot and mint dressing for ZAR 65.

The mood and décor is breezy, light and airy: we are seated in a glass-sided potting shed on casual mismatched old wood tables, benches and modern plastic, Lucite chairs. Tiling at one end and the open kitchen at the other create an informal farm-style ambience.

Absolutely ideal for enjoying a crisp Sauvignon Blanc from the neighbouring wine estate, Noble Hills, for an unheard-of ZAR 90 . . . Food is delivered promptly and cheerfully and starts the whole table salivating. There is no dish that does not look like gastronomic art on the plate. The sharing plan has to be enforced—no-one wants to share a bite of their own dish. Lamb is moist and delicately scented with rosemary and pomegranate, as promised, if slightly chewy, but in the way one expects an organically raised lamb to be rather than tough. The pork belly, redolent with the spicy tartness of red plums with which it is paired, is crisp and glazed on the fat side, meat side tender, though perhaps slightly dry in texture—nothing detracts from the amazing flavour of the dish. The star is probably the humble grilled aubergine which has new dimension in its blanket of tahini yoghourt and crunchy toasted nuts: this dish is enough to turn gauchos vegetarian.

The salad is a vision in reds: all shades of colour and flavour, sweet, tangy, sour, bitter . . . a beetroot based dressing served on the side in a beaker is the icing on the cake. By far the most exotic and delicious vegetable concoction I have tasted in memory.

And not to forget the accompaniments: a lavish bowl of simple green and yellow string beans, blanched to crunchy perfection with a light sprinkling of sea salt, and chewy golden brown home fries with a light dusting of porcini salt . . .

But the best is yet to come: the chef’s invention—a savoury crème brulee of gorgonzola and rosemary with a Cabernet balsamic syrup and a Serrano ham crisp. This amazing creation is beyond description. For a non-sweet-eating, cheese-loving gourmand, this “dessert” is dying and going to heaven. Chef Simone kindly—and delightedly—shared the recipe on the spot. (The glamorous carrot cake out of the garden was apparently also good).

Bill for four came to ZAR 640. That is about $25/pp. That is amazing.

If you love food and are within several hundred kilometres of this amazing restaurant in the Cape Winelands, run, do not walk, to try and get in!

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