Bread and wine in the presence of lemons
The Franschhoek valley is a veritable patchwork quilt of wine estates. Well, obviously you might say, but really, there is a smorgasbord from which to choose, and making a selection for a luncheon is something of an undertaking. I am in no way complaining, you understand…
Franschhoek is without doubt one of the most gorgeous destinations in the country. Poets, writers and critics have all waxed lyrical about the valley’s charms. It is the food and wine Mecca of the Western Cape and attracts people from all over the world for this reason, that and the beauty of the valley, which never fails to move me. The combination of looming mountains, fields of lavender, grapevines and quaint, freshly painted Cape Dutch homes combine to make it exquisite. And on an autumn day, as the vine leaves turn from green through brown to burgundy, make no mistake, Franschhoek is close to heaven.
Bread and Wine is the old-world style restaurant at Môreson wine estate, just off the R45 on the approach to the town of Franschhoek, in Happy Valley Road. Part of the reason for choosing the restaurant was its unpretentious name, the allure of some incredible sounding loaves of artisan bread, and the mention of chef Neil Jewell’s playful approach to food combining – and we’re not talking ‘food combining’ in the traditional sense here at all!
A reservation secured (you might want to follow suit as arriving here without one might see you without a seat on the sunlit verandah with its pretty Provence-style décor and overhead vines) we arrived a little late but in time not to have lost our table from where we looked out on lemon orchards and a trickling stream, interwoven with delightful stepping stones and old trees that kept children entertained for hours. Overhead the blue of the sky, and the wonderful warmth of a typical autumn day, made for the most perfect lunch time weather.
The restaurant is a combination of indoor/outdoor seating, although the indoor tables are largely ignored until the weather drives one thither. Seated next to a delightful little fountain, we poured over the menu. And continued to ponder for some time. It isn’t that there was a huge selection. On the contrary, there were only a few options for starters, mains and dessert. But the unusualness of the French-inspired dishes meant we were spoilt for choice, and stumped when it came to making a selection.
Starters such as watermelon, smoked feta and curried shrimp sauce; Cape Malay spiced lamb confit, baba ganoush, Alpine cheese and pepperdew pizza; mains that included: pan roasted quail, caramelised gnocci and cherry reduction; tarragon roasted hake, baba ganoush, fennel and tomato, or seared tuna, polenta, onion and olive. You get the picture. Add to this the distraction of dishes borne overhead by waiters, their wooden plates brimming over with antipasto, rocket salad set jauntily to the side of farm cured meats, olives, yoghurt cheese balls and crostini.
At this particular luncheon, we were in the good company of a young foodie and writer, who in his turn, put pen to paper about the meal, which he thoroughly enjoyed. He had this to say: ‘Eschewing starters, we headed straight for mains. However, here we encountered a problem. The starters looked too good to pass up. After much dithering, deliberating and decision-making that changed moments later, we finally settled on our choices with some reluctance, for is there not as much joy in the choosing and anticipation as in the actual meal?’
His presence at the table meant that the meal took on an added dimension that involved a great deal more than simply eating. We savoured our food. And our selection eventually included a couple of starters and two mains to share amongst us. The portions, when they arrived, were generous – as Michael so aptly put it – these were not scrooge like Novelle Cuisine.
In particular the starters, two of which easily satisfy as a main course. Whilst the potato and fontina cheese gnocchi, smoked mushroom vinaigrette and leek dish was incredible melt-in-the-mouth cheese filled potato, it was the smoked chicken croquette, marinated aubergine, parmesan and grapefruit reduction dish that delighted the palate most, due in no small part to the power of the unusual food assemblage. Stealing titbits from one another’s plates and comparing notes was half the fun, particularly as this was done whilst sipping from three of the estate’s premium wines.
‘Môreson Flight’ also known as a ‘tasting portion’ meant that we could select three wines from a list and combine these taster portions with our meal. The Môreson Chenin Blanc, Pinehurst Chardonnay and Môreson Pinotage were three beautiful wines that adhered to the estate’s ideology that ‘after taking your first sip of Môreson wine you’ll find yourself standing taller, walking slower and smiling a lot more’. The wines and the house bread – slices of olive ciabatta and thick chunks of rough whole wheat – arrived at more or less the same time, which meant we relished the true meaning of bread and wine before our meal.
The main meals did not disappoint either. The risotto of truffle, cap classique, pea and Auriccho cheese, whilst pretty traditional (by comparison to the other dishes), was rather heady stuff. And considering that I’d never had truffles before, quite an introduction to this particular delicacy. The peas were still crisp and the cheese absolutely beautiful. The unusual combination of char grilled octopus, served on a bed of roast tomato risotto with a smattering of chorizo chips was another heady experience, or was it the wine talking?
As our foodie was heard to comment, the proof is in the pudding. And Bread and Wine is no exception to the rule. We ordered two of the most impressive tasting and looking desserts. The chocolate nemesis was without doubt worth visiting Môreson for alone – a chocoholic’s delight with a brownie-type dessert dressed with a generous dollop of mascarpone ice-cream and raspberry coulis. No surprise that the child-in-tow enjoyed this with something close to rapture. The other dessert was a pear tart tatin, accompanied by a buchu sorbet. Whilst the tart tatin was a little sweet, the sorbet was heavenly.
The service is slick and friendly, you need but ask for alternatives for children that include fish and chips, and pizza, and the experience all round was one of sheer enjoyment. This is a restaurant and wine cellar that delight the senses, and well worth a visit.