We were always planning to “go French” this weekend! Heading out for the weekend at the Franschoek Literary Festival, the plan was always to find France, it just came a little closer to home than expected!
We had never visited Glenelly Estate but were told that one of the finest French chefs cooking in the Cape, Christophe Dehosse, was heading their new bistro, sold! It was almost on the way, a small detour was planned! We were already running late for our first slot at FLF, we had pages of tickets and dozens of talks booked – a busy weekend planned, derailed at the first opportunity! What are plans for if you refuse spontaneity?
This beautiful estate is on the edge of Stellenbosch, the suburb of Idas Valley is at their gate. Who would have imagined such beauty and tranquility right on the doorstep of the town? Doubting our directions and not believing where google maps were taking us, but always game for an adventure, we arrive at the gates. We are welcomed and take a beautiful winding drive through fynboss and vines and arrive at the rather imposing cellar, tasting room and bistro.
We were here for the food but the wine was a great additional discovery! Ably guided by a very enthusiastic host and trainee sommelier, Tanya, we began working on tasting the wonderful range. A fresh unwooded Chardonnay started the flight of 9 wines, with some wonderful single varietal reds to follow. Unusually the red flight began with a beautiful Syrah, followed by a bold gorgeous Merlot,. More special single varietals followed in the Cab Franc, Cab Sav and a show stopping estate blend made according to the old style when in Bordeaux in the 1700’s you were still allowed to buy in a little Syrah to add to the Cab Sav!
So, another “French Connection”… the Estate was bought in ’93 by Madame May de Lencquesaing, then owner of the iconic Bordeaux Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande. Seeing the opportunity to recreate a wine gem and build on her Franch roots, she found this beautiful spot with perfect soil, ideally suited to fulfilling her dream of bringing the best of France and building on the best local soils. The logo of the estate is a quirky picture of the intrepid old lady with a glass of wine riding in the back of a rhino! She is now 92 and still active at Glenelly, building the dream!
Now for the main event, the food!! The Bistro was opened last November and the brief of Mme May seems to have been something like “When our guests close their eyes they must breathe deep and be transported to a fine French Bistro!” And so it is!
Maybe food is the greatest way you transport you back to your favorite meals and places! Sometimes a familiar smell or taste is that magic that conjures memories of special family, holidays and friends, where does your mind take you when the air is full of a sticky slow roasted lamb with baby onions, rosemary and lemons??? Maybe Greece?
Well, the aromas of simmering wine and herbs took us back to gentle holidays in France. The food at The Vine Bistro was maybe best food we have had for ages!! Peter has a bigger appetite than I do so he had the autumn menu, 2 very generous courses for R195. His salad of warm duck giblets, garlic croutons and a soft, sticky, gooey, dreamy poached egg was perfectly cooked with an earthiness that took him back to Provence! This was followed by a baked fish “Grenoble” – think soft fish topped with fresh parsley, anchovies, capers and lemon – so typically french we wanted to weep!
I went for 2 starters, a generous delicious coarse duck and pistachio galantine, with baby greens and crunchy, briny baby cornichons served with a heavenly slice of toasted brioche! So glad weekends allow diets to be broken! My second starter was a magnificent pan fried pork trotter (almost like a trotter fritter) served with baby green salad and creamy garlic aioli! Next time I may just have this twice, it was that good!
So next time you become depressed at the weak rand and how far away the French Bistro’s and countryside are…you can find the best French food 30 minutes from Cape Town. No need to pack passports or battle with visas, just to google Glenelly, head to the bistro, close your eyes and ABRACADABRA ( or should that be VIOLA), there you are back at your favorite French Bistro, reliving those special holidays!