A night at Vineyard Hotel

A little while ago we were invited to spend a night at the luxurious Vineyard Hotel in Claremont. I was expecting a quiet dinner and early turn-in. Instead we got our fill of fine dining, a generous amount of wine, and a little whisky to round things off.

This year the Vineyard Hotel has teamed up with some stellar wineries for the Tastes of 2016 dinner series. Now in its tenth year, this series is all about knowledge sharing. The Vinyard’s chef and staff have had the chance to visit the kitchen’s at top wine estates to see how things are done, and to pick up tips on everything from foraging, wine, olive oil making and sustainable farming.

The Tastes of 2016 kicked off in March and will continue until the end of October. The next dinner takes place on 9 September in collaboration with Ken Forrester Wines, and you can also look forward to an evening with La Motte and with Babylonstoren – both known for their stellar dining experiences.

We were lucky enough to attend a dinner done in collaboration with Delaire Graff, one of my favourite restaurants in the Stellenbosch winelands. In preparation for this evening Chef Carl van Rooyen spent a few days at Delaire Graff restaurant to learn more about their philosophy and techniques. Naturally he returned home inspired, and set out to create a menu that heroes individual ingredients.

The Vinyard’s chef and staff have had the chance to visit the kitchen’s at top wine estates to see how things are done, and to pick up tips on everything from foraging, wine, olive oil making and sustainable farming

Dinner was served at The Square (a separate restaurant from Myoga), right at the heart of the hotel. I love this space. The tall glass panels on all sides and high ceiling lends a greenhouse or sun room feel to it.

We started with The Aubergine, a dish that celebrated this simple vegetable, showcasing it in various ways. This was by far my favourite dish of the evening, partly because it was so innovative in its simplicity, but also because it was absolutely delicious. You had various textures and flavours from each element, from a purée and pancakes to crumbed aubergine that tasted deceptively like grilled mushroom.

The Aubergine was paired with the Delaire Graff White Reserve 2013, which is a delicious and fruity wine that went well with the dish. I got stewed fruit on the nose, with nice acidity on the palette to provide balance.

Next up was a seafood risotto, with a prominent but tasty fish flavour, and a few textural elements that helped create interest. I particularly loved the theater of the dish, with a soft egg that oozes into the rice, bringing all the other elements together.

I thought the dish matched well with the Chardonnay Banghoek Reserve 2014. When paired with the food the acidity in the wine softened and mellowed.

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The third course was Springbok. I get that the meat was suppose to be the hero of this dish, and it was superb, but what really got me here was the potato gratin. Honestly, potato gratin is just about one of the best things mankind ever invented, more significant than the internet or the iPhone. Kidding, not kidding. You get layers of potato cooked in butter until everything kind of binds together and you have an oh-so-guilty treat. Yes, pure brilliance.

I admit that a generosity of wine might have influenced my opinions and palette at this point, but Tahlia from toomuchloveliness.com and I were so taken by the potato that we flirted and begged and pleaded with the Chef to share his recipe. He promised to send it to us, and I intend to hold him to that.

Okay so let me think… there was the potato (refer back to the above rant) and then the perfectly cooked springbok with a hanepoot jus that gave just the right hit of sweetness and acidity to lift the dish. The course was paired with the Delaire Graff Merlot 2014, which also worked really well. I though the wine developed lovely coffee flavours when sipped alongside the food.

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At this point I’m pretty sure we had worked our way through several bottles of wine. I make no apologies, though. Firstly, it’s not every day people pour Delaire Graff with such a generous hand and secondly the winemaker at Delaire Graff, Morné Vrey, was sitting next to my husband. It would have been very rude to turn away a sip.

The point is that I really enjoyed dessert but I do think I would have found it lovely even without the third glass of Merlot. Our final course was an ode to coconut, presenting this ingredient in several ways. The coconut cake was light, with layers of creamy filling between delicate sponge, and on the side we had silky ice cream, crispy coconut flakes and a delicate coconut tuile.

The dessert was paired with the Delaire Graff Coastal Cuveé, which was a delicious wine on it’s own. I got prominent granadilla on the nose, with a lemon-zest palette. While I enjoyed the wine alone, I found it a little acidic with the dessert. So that was my only miss for the night.

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After dinner Morné, the persuasive winemaker I referred to earlier, convinced us to have a night cap in the hotel’s bar. It really would have been very impolite to refuse. The lounge at Vineyard Hotel feels like the type of spot where the gentleman would gather to discuss politics and smoke cigars. It has an old-world, boys-club atmosphere to it, and my mild (to strong) obsession with Victorian English culture had me imagining myself in another time, sipping delicious, peaty whisky and solving life’s problems.

The next morning we woke up cuddling under a thick duvet, with a chilly but glorious Cape Town day waiting outside our window. Ours was a deluxe mountain room, leading out to a small patio with stellar views of Table Mountain and the gardens to greet us.

So I do need to be honest here. I thought our room was comfortable and luxurious. One thing that really bothered me, though, was finding a lot (and I mean a lot) of cigarette butts lying outside our room on the patio. It’s such a simple thing to clean up after guests leave that I really don’t think they have an excuse to leave it there. I also noticed a few when we were walking along the garden path by the breakfast room. You pay a pretty penny to stay at Vineyard Hotel, and cigarette butts just scream motel.

That was really the only spot of bother. We had a delicious breakfast on the porch overlooking the gardens, and everything was perfectly prepared. I had eggs Benedict, with a perfect hollandaise, and the husband had the classic English breakfast. The buffet also had a nice selection of fresh fruits and pastries, as well as the standard cereals and yogurt.

The Tastes of 2016 dinners range from R345, including wine. The prices of the dinners vary, so this is just an estimate. Click here for the schedule of upcoming dinners.

If you are keen to stay over at vineyard Hotel, head over here.

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