I love the concept of date night, and I know what you are thinking… Elené, you have been married for all of five minutes and already you are looking for a change of scenery. To me, that is not exactly what date night is about, or why we decided to go on an adventure to Leeu Estate Franschhoek. Spending time away from the mundane routine of your home is both necessary and exciting, and my absolute favourite thing about being married at the moment.
Don’t get me wrong, our small two-bedroom home just outside of Stellenbosch is my happy place. It’s an absolute sanctuary and I would not trade it for anything in the world. That being said, nothing beats changing out of your sweats, dressing up and heading out on an adventure with your SO. It’s a thrilling change of scenery that will have you falling in love all over again. So, there we were, all dressed up and ready to hit the road to the breathtaking Franschhoek valley.
If you are unfamiliar with Leeu Estates, don’t fear, so were we. Heading into Franschhoek from the Stellenbosch / Paarl side, you drive past Monneaux on your right-hand side and past Big Dog Café, and just before you enter the village, you turn right onto a single road surrounded by vineyards. As you ascend past the vineyards to the impressive entrance, you’ll know why the team chose this location for their award-winning estate.
First off, we headed for some wine tasting at the wine centre, managed by the Mullineaux family in conjunction with Leeu Estate and their Leeu Passant range. Booking is definitely essential if you are thinking of joining them in the near future and their offering ranges from a selection of their most well-known wines (R50), to their more high-end Leeu Passant wines (R250) and their unique Mullineaux Terroir Tasting experience (R300).
We opted for the terroir experience which includes two 2019 Chenin Blancs and three 2018 Syrahs. All of the grapes are grown in the Swartland region, which includes popular wine-producing regions such as the Piekenierskloof and the Riebeek valleys. Both the Chenins are produced in the exact same way, with the only difference being the terroir – one produced in granite soil and the other in quartz soil. The rockier quartz soil places the vines under pressure, increasing flavour and intensity in the fruit. While I preferred the smoother, more rounded quartz Chenin Blanc, hubby enjoyed the more acidic Chenin produced in the granite soil.
The Syrah tasting followed the same logic, with the three wines produced in the exact same way, aged on second fill French oak, with only a difference in the grape-producing terroir. Three different terroirs from the Swartland were chosen for these wines: granite, scythe and iron. The iron soil produces a wine with a sharp, liquorice taste that will definitely soften with ageing. I enjoyed the lighter granite Syrah, while hubby enjoyed the scythe, which really brought the traditional Syrah berry notes to the fore.
*Expert tip: You cannot miss tasting the 2018 Leeu Passant Stellenbosch Chardonnay. We added it to our terroir tasting (for only R50) and we absolutely loved this unique wooded, deliciously smooth Chardonnay with hints of butterscotch and vanilla. This wine also comes highly recommended by the sommelier and is definitely not to be missed.
Sit back and relax
Next, we headed to the Leeu Estate Spa, just a stone’s throw from the tasting room. The spa, in partnership with Healing Earth, is a cleverly laid out sanctuary of zen. Once greeted by the reception staff, they whisk you off to complete your documentation (fear not, all necessary C-19 precautions are adhered to at all times) with a glass of chilled rooibos tea.
We decided to opt for the Muscle Relax Massage (R1 250) performed in the couple’s room. After we were shown to our respective cloak rooms, we changed into gowns and headed to the therapy room, which is a small, functional space that opens up onto a private stoep overlooking the Franschhoek mountains and a serene lily pond.
I always enjoy clear communication from therapists. One can often feel a bit awkward or left in the dark and therefore I really have to commend the Leeu Estates Spa team on their professional, accommodating service and their dedication to the entire spa experience. Even though I always choose a deep tissue massage, I felt relaxed and pampered, while still feeling that my problem areas were attended to.
Following the treatment, we relaxed on the stoep with a glass of ice water, enjoying the serenity. We still had some time left before dinner, so we headed for the heated plunge pool that is open to guests after their treatment. I finally got to wear my honeymoon bikini (thanks worldwide pandemic!) and we spent time relaxing and catching up.
Wine and Dine
The definite highlight of our trip was our visit to the recently relocated La Petite Colombe. Heading up the Leeu Estate entrance, you turn right and venture past the spa, hotel and cottages until you see the brand-new home of this award-winning restaurant to your right. From this new spot, the Franschhoek mountains serve as dramatic backdrop to the glass-paned structure overlooking some newly established vineyard, rounded off by beautiful bougainvillea trellises that greet patrons at the front door.
Aperitifs and snacks are served in the lounge and we grabbed a spot right by the window to watch the sunset as we sipped our favourite Inverroche Verdant Gin and tonic. Head chef, John Norris Rogers, headed to our table with three levels of snacks served on a bed of fresh microgreens. My favourite was their take on bone marrow on toast, while hubby enjoyed the Purdon wagyu and pickled fish served with truffle and aubergine.
After the snacks, we made our way to our table. The inner part of the restaurant is beautifully minimalistic with neutral tones all round and clever light plays. One entire wall is made up of terra cotta pieces, styled with soft, golden light. The tables are fitted with a single light, shining downwards, adding to the simplistic romanticism that makes this spot quite unique. The tables are spaced to support social distancing which gives every table a bit more privacy as well – perfect for a date night!
The bread course, a delicious lavender brioche served with foie gras topped with caviar, was without a doubt my favourite. I’ve had foie gras before, but this smooth, silky version served in a customised LPC tin was spectacular. The dish is paired with a Morena Brut Rosé, a slightly pink MCC that plays well with the sweetness of the foie grass and lavender.
Next up, we had a taste of the dry-aged duck and prawn starter, paired with the Kara Tara Pinot Noir 2019 by Stark-Condé, which is a light, refreshing wine with notes of strawberry and red cherry, that plays well with both the aged duck and the prawn. Just before we headed on to the main course, a palate cleanser was served – a mezcal and lime sorbet presented on a bed of fynbos.
One of the most interesting wines that I have had the pleasure of tasting was the Hilton Probus Viognier 2017. This wine is lightly wooded, with cream and peach on the nose and a lychee finish. But it was really the confit salmon dish, prepared at the table, that opened up the wine. Served with an asparagus mousse, bacon sambal and quail egg, this salmon and viognier pairing is the stuff of dreams, a delicately balanced flavour explosion. We finished off mains with some perfectly prepared Karoo lamb and a Leeu Passant Cabernet Sauvignon 2018.
Another firm favourite of ours was the cheese course, paired with the 2017 Maison Straw Wine. The beautiful Stanford cheddar tartlet was served with rhubarb jelly and sherry cream, and the addition of the straw wine ensured that the sweet notes were elevated to balance the saltiness of the cheese. For dessert, they served a strawberry, bergamot and earl grey panna cotta with a touch of lime, paired with the Rickety Bridge Noble Late Harvest 2017.
It was a day we’ll not soon forget, and we headed home relaxed and revived, having shared this amazing experience on a cloudy early summer’s day.