Thursday, February 03, 2011

Heston Blumenthal sings the praises of the world-class cosmopolitan dining offered in South Africa’s restaurants.

I first went to South Africa as a teenager. My father was born in Zimbabwe and was educated in the Cape, so my first trip was to visit my relatives.

I have been back many times since. There are so many facets to the beauty of South Africa, from driving up The Garden Route and the amazing experience of the game reserves to the natural beauty of the Drakensberg mountains and other wonders of nature, such as God’s Window in Mpumalanga, so called for its panoramic view of the Lowveld with the Kruger National Park and Mozambique in the distance.

The extreme natural beauty of South Africa is so breathtaking. Cape Town is the most beautiful city in the world and the vineyards are only 45 minutes away.

Abundant delicacies

As for the produce, the beef is as good as you will find anywhere in the world and the lamb from the Karoo is excellent – you will occasionally even find truffles.

There is an abundance of fruit and an outstanding selection of incredible seafood – gloriously rich butterfish, oysters from Knysna and of course the crayfish.

So the restaurants have a huge abundance of outstanding produce to choose from, often inspired by the multicultural population. In the Cape, there are cuisines influenced by countries ranging from Portugal to Malaysia, represented in dishes such as Bobotie and Waterblommetjie.

There is a culinary explosion in South Africa at the moment with an amazing new energy. It is testament to the perseverance of South Africa’s chefs – 20 years ago you couldn’t even import basics such as gelatin. They have so much passion and drive and now South Africa is a great location for a culinary holiday.

La Colombe, one of Cape Town’s most well-loved fine-dining restaurants, has achieved an impressive 12th place in the San Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurants of the World Awards 2010 under its executive chef Luke Dale-Roberts.

The Tasting Room restaurant at Le Quartier Francais hotel in Franschhoek in the Cape Winelands is also in the top 50, where its executive chef Margot Janse and her team serve course after course of exquisite culinary delights with ingredients sourced from Le Quartier’s own organic garden or from small local producers.

Luke Dale-Roberts and Margot Janse are perfect examples of the energy and drive currently being exhibited by chefs in South Africa and it would be great to see more of the country’s restaurants on that list.

Boutique wines

I love South African wines – from the great Burgundian chardonnays like Hamilton Russell to the new breed of boutique wine makers who have taken the original South African grape, chenin blanc, to a new height. Reds also range from the traditional Meerlust through to classics such as Warwick Estate and new breed boutiques such as Eben Sadie.

You could spend a month in the wine regions and just scratch the surface of the density and quality of the wines produced. What’s more, the setting is one of the most beautiful in the world.

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