It was one of those perfectly clear, crisp days in Cape Town when we set off to try the new winter menu at Hartenberg Estate just outside of Stellenbosch. If you follow me regularly you’ll know I have quite a soft spot for this wine farm. I think it might be their focus on Shiraz (my weakness), or maybe all the happy memories I’ve had there, tasting great wines at festivals, spending a Sunday afternoon lounging under the trees and having a picnic, or playing blues on their little hillside for a day when I was still a student in a band.
With all this in the background I was naturally excited when the InstaEats team organised a little gettogether for a few foodies at the farm to sample a couple of the dishes Hartenberg will serve during the chilly months, and to taste a selection of their top wines. I am unashamed to say that I will happily drive all the way from town if they are willing to pour me some Gravel Hill.
We arrived early afternoon and were greeted by a long table by their large fireplace, and I was instantly overcome by complete bliss. At that point a crackling fire, plenty of red wine and good food seemed like the ideal way to spend a Friday.
Hartenberg has quite a heartwarming philosophy when it comes to their restaurant. Instead of appointing a chef and trained team in their kitchen, they have decided to employ keen people out of their farming community in order to grow their skill set. I reviewed their restaurant a couple of years back and this time round I could actually see growth from their cooks, with more complicated culinary processes in their dishes compared to the previous visit. Look, you’re not going to get haute cuisine like you might find at neighbouring venues, but this isn’t what they are going for either. Think homely, wholesome, and simply tasty.
For our visit they had prepared a sample plate where each of us could try a variety of dishes from their menu. We got to taste their fish phyllo parcels, some spinach and ricotta Malfatti, a quarter of their home-made hamburger, and some of their pulled lamb bobotie. And then we ended it all with a generous portion of malva pudding. Yup, heaven.
Before we kicked off the main courses we were served some of Hartenberg’s famous snoek paté with thick slices of seeded loaf. As soon as the boards arrived at the table, those familiar with the farm instantly gave little sighs of joy. Apparently it’s made according to a secret recipe and one day I am determined to get one of their cooks tipsy enough to write it down for me. I speculate fish, maybe some mayonnaise, and perhaps acidic elements like onions, gherkins or capers. I might be wrong but that is the type of taste you can expect.
On to the mains and I’m going to talk about my favourite dish first. I had never tasted Malfatti before our lunch at Hartenberg and I honestly feel my life has become a little better since then. These pasta balls were stuffed with ricotta and spinach and served with crispy sage, a burnt butter sauce and a generous grating of Parmesan.
Let’s use this opportunity to quickly divert into the magic that is crispy sage. You create it by frying the slightly bitter leaf in butter until it resembles a herb chip. For me the Malfatti dish reached a new level of yum with the addition of the sage, with contributes freshness and complexity to the otherwise creamy, buttery tastes while also adding texture. If, like Danilo, you think that I am messing with you, I promise that you’ll love it. Quite a few of the fellow foodies scraped the leaves aside but they make all the difference. Just trust me here.
Another win for the day was the fish phyllo parcels, served in a creamy coconut curry sauce. It was a nice twist on the typical samoosa, where you still got those curry flavours but of course had a fish filling instead of the standard mince or potato.
I also really enjoyed their Cape Malay bobotie. which they made with pulled lamb instead of mince, served with coconut rice and sambal. The pulled lamb apparently throws a few people for a curve ball but I thought it was a nice take on the classic.
I think the burger was fine but the patty could have done with a little more seasoning. I think burgers have come such a long way from the standard cheese and bacon toppings, and a great relish makes a world of difference to me. I think they can add something unique to spice it up. The quality of the meat is stunning so it should be a winning dish.
To end it all off we were served a portion of malva pudding, which they say includes a generous amount of their Riesling. I don’t know if I picked up on the wine but the baked pudding was pretty damn delicious. Look, I have great control over my sweet tooth in general and I can ignore a bar of chocolate or a bag of sweets in my cupboard for months. I can not, however, resist baked puddings. Leave the dish in front of me and I can keep going until I roll onto the floor. In this case I really enjoyed the crème anglaise (light custard) and the addition of zest to liven up the syrup flavours.
After dinner I think we were all a little reluctant to leave and we spent a good hour feigning goodbyes until we finally dragged ourselves out. If you are heading in that direction it is absolutely worth visiting. While you are there I recommend you try their Gravel Hill and The Stork as well as The Eleanor Chardonnay. I also loved their Riesling Noble Late Harvest, which was a deliciously sweet end to our meal.
Thanks to the InstaEats team for organising the lunch, and of course to Hartenberg for hosting us. If you want more info, head over to their website.