Cassia, meaning cinnamon, is the name of Nitida wine estate’s resident restaurant – you can’t miss it as you pull off Tygerberg Road into their gravel driveway – its rather portentous entrance a bit daunting when the description of their food is ‘contemporary, rustic cuisine’; somehow I was expecting more of a ‘country’ feel to the place.
This said, the glass and marble foyer is incredibly striking. And you get to look straight through huge glass panes into the kitchen, which gave credence to their byline that the food is ‘simple, real and honest’ – can’t get away with much when everyone can see what you’re doing.
Later, on our way out, we were entertained to one of the chef underlings, cardboard carefully placed underfoot, standing on the counters after lunch to clean the overhead extractor fans of the stoves, I think,. We can at least claim that their food is prepared in a scrupulously clean environment! And the grand entrance also allows the (very young) set of waitrons to meet and greet you and make sure that you’ve been attended to – they were particularly helpful as outside tables were pretty scarce and they made one up for us in minutes.
I had to have a quiet giggle. In reading a subsequent blog review, someone alluded to the fact that the waiters must all come from a modeling agency. Whilst I wouldn’t go that far, there wasn’t one even close to pushing thirty.
Cassia’s setting is gorgeous. At least half of the restaurant is seated on a large outside wooden deck that juts over a dam, complete with fountain, solid wooden beams overhead, sheltered from wind, sun and rain but warmer and less formal than the inner sanctum of the restaurant. Our son was entranced by the fact that if he lay on his tummy he could watch the water beneath the decking.
The views from the restaurant are beautiful and range right over the Durbanville Hills, the vineyards and the dam, the banks of which are home to the odd springbok and a fair number of water birds, when the fancy strikes them too roost on the wooden gangway.
The place was rocking. It was a Sunday and Sundays are live performance days obviously. The singer, who sang a range of bluesy songs that included one or two Eric Clapton numbers, was very capable, although after a while, the gravel and cigarettes sound he tried too hard to cultivate started to wear a little thin. Pity that he felt he couldn’t trust his own, true sound to touch people.
Nitida is the smallest wine farm in the Durbanville area, and no doubt, one of the youngest, having first started to make wine only in 1995. Their selling point is their emulation of the traditional hand method of making wine as closely as possible. They claim that their wines rely on fruit for impact rather than adding wood to produce showy wines. And certainly people seem to rate their wines.
Full marks to the restaurant too as they came to the party after my suggestion that instead of one glass of wine, they bring me tastes of three different wines, the equivalent of one glass, so that we could get an idea of the type of wine they offer (Moreson offers this ‘taster’ of three wines as part of their lunch menu, and it’s a great way to sample wine).
We tasted their sauvignon blanc, weiser riesling and pinotage. The sauvignon blanc, described as a crispy and full, zest and litchis, fresh hay finish won hands down. I’m not usually a sauvignon blanc fan, but this particular wine is worth taking note of as it’s the same price as the weiser riesling and yet far superior in my humble opinion. This particular wine valley is known as sauvignon blanc country, so it isn’t surprising.
The pinotage, described as outrageously impressive, luscious cherries in mocha choc was also wonderful and went down well particularly as the season was beginning to turn. This is not a hot day kind of wine. But open it around a fire and serve with winter victuals and you’ve got a winner.
I found their food very enjoyable. There have been mumblings about the quality of the fare at Cassia, but we certainly saw little evidence of this. I will let you into a little secret though. They list a cheese platter with chutney and preserves under their desserts menu that could easily serve the less hungry as a main meal, particularly if you’re there to sample the wines. It was delicious, but I was so full by the time it arrived, that I could not do it justice. My friend Sue should take particular note of this tip!
They’re also particularly child-friendly, serving a separate kiddies’ menu that includes the standard fish and chips or chicken strips and chips, and an ice cream for dessert.
The menu apparently changes on a daily basis, but the type of starter you can expect is soup of the day, rolled Camembert in its crust with Nitida grape chutney, rabbit salad with ruby grapefruit pancetta and sherry vinegar and squid, chorizo and tomato stew with flat bread.
Main courses included wood roast line fish with roasted aubergine and peppercorn fumet, slowly cooked pork belly with pancetta, creamed bean sauce and zucchini, Moroccan style lamb stew served with dates, almonds, onions and couscous and a Cassia burger served with bacon, brie, onion marmalade and potato wedges. Num, it all sounds inviting, doesn’t it?
We sampled a grilled chicken sandwich with grilled veges served on toasted foccaccia, polenta chips and aioli and the aubergine a la provencale, both of which were delicious and beautifully served, although the aubergine was not particularly filling, hence the cheese platter for dessert.
Whilst the food was a little slow in coming, the restaurant was very busy, and the food obviously a labour of love, if the dressing down someone received out back on a smoke break, as I was taking photos of the scenery, was anything to go by. And if you can, drive the whole of Tygerberg Road. It isn’t far before it meets the N7, and it takes one past numerous wine estates and wonderful scenery. All this just twenty minutes outside of Cape Town. We don’t know how lucky we are!
Nitida Wine Etate, Durbanville Hills, Cape Town North; Telephone: +27 (0)21 976-1467