TO BORROW a trademark phrase from the biblical King James version: thus it came to pass that the home of Pierre Jourdan, Haute Cabriere – hosted me twice in a space of five days.
First time, on a wintry but sun-kissed Monday in Gauteng’s Melrose Arch at the swanky, The Peech Boutique Hotel and the second time, on a wintry and overcast Saturday in the Western Cape’s Franschhoek at the very home of Pierre Jourdan – right at the toes of the Franschhoek Pass!
“No measure of human pursuit beat the memory of the week’s stretch!” – I might have declared under the subjugation of sensory delight.
In the order of that most recent travelogue treasure trove memory, the initial experience of a lifestyle idyll transpired in the counterweighting of the proverbial Monday blues aggravated by news flood of the spate of cash-in-transit heists which have been wreaking havoc on the country’s senses – in the form of joining fellow members of the fourth estate [in the main] and gourmands at James Peech’s home-away-from-home establishment tucked away in Joburg’s leafy northern suburbia.
Not long after having been offered a welcome flute of Pierre Jourdan’s Methode Cap Classique Brut, did I realize that I co-opted myself in an Eric Myeni book title scenario – where, once settled at one of the hotel’s bistro’s four, 8-persons-a-table, tables: I was the only black man at the lunch table!
For a newshound whose beat is usually not of matters pertinent to the culinary, those in whose company I became, were of a rather intimidating caliber.
For one, they included the like of Gwynne Conlyn, 30 year veteran food & travel writer-at-large and author of Food Gurus Uncovered.
The auspicious rendezvous was in response to the clarion call of the Haute Cabriere team of Cellar Master Takuan von Arnim and chefs, Nic van Wyk and Westley Muller – to present a tour of the wine estate’s pop-up restaurants in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and the Garden Route.
And for the Joburg starting point, Peech’s boutique establishment hosted a lunch preview of what would be on offer pending the pop-up events.
The duo of bearded gentle giants of chefs was there and so too, Peech – but the cellar master, Von Arnim was missing! Unbeknown to me – I was on a destiny bend to cross paths with him sometime later in the week, right on his hunting grounds in the world renowned wine lands of the Cape.
Upon Peech expressing his delight in hosting us and introducing the chefs amidst an intimate space decorated with black & white outtakes of a Leopard and Baobabs flanking a fireplace, van Wyk let slip to the gathered that the idea of pop-up restaurants came up when their kitchen at Haute Cabriere had to close for renovations.
“Thank you very much for joining us for lunch”, declared van Wyk – half of two Gauteng boykies strutting their stuff around the Cape of Good Hope. With those promise-filled words, thus then commenced what has easily got to be the most marathon lunch I ever volunteered to partake in!
A sequel to their 2017’s successful debut venture, this was Envyland stuff laying out six-course art lore fare separately accompanied by different wines at each turn of presentation and serving! In a room already heightened by the camaraderie of long-standing acquaintances and newly-minted ones, first appeared whole wheat ciabatta, quince jam, bocconcini cheese croquettes with smoked aioli.
Pierre Jourdan Belle Rose accompanied this opening gambit.
Amidst sparkling cutlery and shiny porcelain and with efficiency of military troupe execution by the waiters, the two chefs took turns introducing the varying courses – all the while the palpable ambience swirled with erudite quips such as, “interesting food for a pop-up concept!”
Lost in the excitement and stupor of both the culinary and vinous assault, my stupefied hammer, anvil and stirrup overheard the Big Apple being described as the ‘new’ food capital. “No wine palette is the same”, cared to educate van Wyk when it became his turn to introduce yet another course.
Now donning an apron, Nic announced the Haute Cabriere Chardonnay Pinot Noir 2017 as one for all occasions. Said liquid was an accompaniment to very delicious pea soup [rather meticulously served in a porcelain teapot] with chorizo and pork puffs.
A foodie blogger at our table constantly crossed paths with the waiters as he had to literally move his plate or dish containing offerings, to another section of the hotel where he reasoned the lighting was appropriate for him to record images of the creations for his blog. A new acquaintance seated next to me teased the bespectacled fellow diner as also being the establishment’s ‘waiter’ every time he removed the utensils from the table.
With journos speaking of the hosting of a Cape wine academy in Gauteng amidst much titillation and raucous laughter, the waiters kept on delivering the fare and washes-down. Probably owing to being a part novice, I noted that they always served the ladies in the bistro, first.
A 2017 vintage, the Haute Cabriere Pinot Noir Unwooded was paired with pan fried Patagonia calamari with black tomato sauce and seared scallop. How the tomato sauce was rendered black immediately became the subject of curiosity and our table corralled van Wyk to reveal a recipe secret. A curious bunch we were as the chefs were also asked about the logic of the dish and beverage pairing.
The ebb and flow of culinary matters continued unfolding whilst diners’ vocabularies were introduced to new entry phrases and terms such as “Photoshop-on-the-fly” and “law of diminishing returns” as the waiters continued shuttling from the kitchen with further helpings of creamy rosemary and bay leaf venison ragout, complimented by soft parmesan polenta and bone marrow foam. Aah! Bone marrow foam – shades of what the now discontinued El Bulli used to serve patient guests in Spain?
Lost in meaty proposition thought the trademark domain of Argentina’s king of fire cooking, Francis Mallman – a 2014 Haute Cabriere Pinot Noir Reserve proved to be just the apt buddy-o to return one’s wondering to the present!
By now, the journalists were gaga and applauding a particular wine and remarking about the lavishness of the meals as, eventually, Chef Westley Muller announced the last course in their array.
A Pierre Jourdan Ratafia became the last hurrah to a dessert of chocolate torte with Amaretti crumbs sprinkled delectably with candied pecan nuts and salted caramel popcorn – to bring the gathering to its zenith!
Van Wyk had at the beginning of the eat-drink-and-be-merry journey teased the gathered gourmands to make sure that they had enlisted the services of Uber – and the meted hospitality was capped with departing guests being given packaged twin bottles of a 2014 Pinot Noir Reserve, as well as a 2017 Chardonnay Pinot Noir.
According to a press release by the publicity agency representing the Western Cape estate, the Pop-Up dinners offer guests from other parts of South Africa the chance to enjoy the highlights of a typical wine farm experience.
It further goes to point out that Chefs Nic van Wyk and Westley Muller rely on classic French techniques to deliver bold South African cuisine that has stood the test of time – whilst also acknowledging the wine estate’s second generation cellar master, Takuan von Arnim, as aspiring to produce well-balanced wines from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, while still honouring the unique characteristics of these noble grape varietals.
Haute Cabrière’s food and wine philosophy centers around the concept of harmony and balance – it stated!
“Last year’s overwhelming response and support was humbling. We sold out within weeks of announcing the tour, a sign that our loyal followers outside the Western Cape are very eager to experience Haute Cabrière in their own cities,” commented Haute Cabrière’s marketing manager, Lientjie McLachlan.
And thus it became McLachlan’s consideration which enabled me to have a second bite at their estate’s grapes when I mentioned that I’d be touring the wine lands, a few days from the pop-up lunch.
The astute marketing manager wasted no time in arranging for a complimentary tasting on their premises – for me and three buddies.
Even better, as I were to discover on a decidedly grey and overcast Saturday afternoon in Franschhoek – McLachlan’s colleague, tasting room manager, Janine Snyder, had arranged for none other than the cellar master, Takuan von Arnim to conduct the tasting.
So, inside the main cellar buried in a modified cave situated just below the winding Franschhoek Pass with a name of the postcard town inscribed on the mountainside – did a philosophy-filled inspection of the inner sanctum of the estate commence for the four of us with the bespectacled winemaker.
First stop was a spot just below a hovering chandelier set curiously made up of 20 empty bottles of Dom Perignon bubbly – souvenir of von Arnim’s parents’ celebration of his birthday!
With a picture of a young member of the family, Harrison snapped at the moment of facial distortion in reaction to tasting a bunch of pinot noir grapes, I had earlier caught a glimpse of displayed at the tasting room just above us, still occupying my head – we proceeded in tow as the French-influenced craftsman took us past barrels lying on the floor space laden with maturing tipple, and onto a two floor section which could pass for a set of a period drama flick, replete with heraldry decoration adornments!
The low lying floor is dominated by a wooden table which evoked images of earlier century’s exclusive chambers where games of any imagination and fondue parties would play out. The upper floor houses a combination of metallic vats and wooden barrels – with the latter containers being shipped from a cooper works in France.
Hereat, von Arnim truly made it a complimentary tasting for us as he opted to bypass bottled offerings but rather drew from vat containing still maturing wonder fire!
My accomplices, African sophisticates in the employ of Iziko South African National Gallery in Cape Town and very discerning souls who appreciate the art of wining-and-dining, in addition to actually regularly supplying the galleries and other wine estates located around the dorpie with artworks – were now evidently won over by the cellar master’s antics as he continued plying us with select liquid and anecdotes of his tenure of the main operational arm of the family business.
By the time we emerged from the basement to join other visitors snuggly seated around fireplaces inside the tasting room above, hints of slight intoxication from exclusive sampling and von Arnim’s wise tales, must have registered upon our very persons as we excitedly gathered around a fireplace where yet more glasses and still un-labeled bottles awaited our curiosity.
My trio of Mother City hosts mused at the fact that in addition from tasting straight from still maturing vat contents, we also got to be recipients of un-labeled bottles of wine – courtesy of the cellar master of the home of Pierre Jourdan!
We rounded of our visit by having a group picture snapped with the winemaker against the backdrop of the magnificent and picturesque surroundings.
Pop-Up dinner dates and booking information
Reservations should be made directly with the venue and all dinners are priced at R595 per person which includes a six course menu paired with wine. The same menu will be served at each venue with the exception of Osa Restaurant, which will have an Indian inspired menu.
7 & 13 July: Osa Restaurant at Fairmont Zimbali Resort, Ballito (Indian Inspired Menu)
Bookings: firstname.lastname@example.org or 032 538 5000
10-12 July: Fairmont Zimbali Lodge, Ballito
Bookings: email@example.com or 032 538 5000
20-21 July: Oubaai Hotel Golf and Spa, Herolds Bay, George
Bookings: firstname.lastname@example.org or 044 851 1234
23-27 July: Randpark Golf Club, Randburg, Johannesburg
Bookings: email@example.com or 011 215 8600
31 July – 4 August: The Peech Boutique Hotel, Melrose, Johannesburg
Bookings: firstname.lastname@example.org or 011 537 9797
17-18 August: Bryanston Country Club, Sandton, Johannesburg
Bookings: email@example.com or 011 706 1361
21-24 August: Moonshot, Menlyn, Pretoria