Nestled in the verdant Wolseley hills between Tulbagh and Ceres in the Western Cape is a hidden little gem that is well worth the drive. After a picturesque meander some 90 minutes from Cape Town, Waverley Hills stands proudly on the slopes and though eye-catching it may be, it’s what’s inside that truly counts.
On all accounts a family-style wine farm and restaurant, there’s none of the stuffiness of age-old vineyards nor an excessive homeliness. Instead it strikes a delicate balance between the luxury of a sipping on truly outstanding, award winning wines while being able to enjoy fine dining with the whole family in a relaxed, casual and inviting space. Kids are welcome and encouraged to enjoy themselves both inside and outdoors, and even though it was a particularly chilly day, that’s exactly what all the kiddies were doing.
It was absolutely pouring when we arrived, and, after a thorough soaking, were invited in to a warm welcome with fireplace roaring. The hospitality was effortless and genuine – something I’m wary of as an ‘invited guest’, but looking at the attention given to other diners I could see it was heartfelt and consistently professional – and the winter menu by the very funny and charismatic Chef Francois is the perfect backdrop to a stunning spot and the most wonderful way to indulge in a winter feast.
Tim and I, sitting toasty by the fire and in the window overlooking the stunning view of the area, shared all of our dishes (I’ve mentioned before my penchant for food envy) and they were simply sublime.
From the most delicious pumpkin fritters with a savoury butterscotch sauce (genius!) and chilli prawns as well as an unctuous truffle mushroom soup for starters, to tikka chicken masala with all the trimmings like freshly made roti and tzatziki, as well as fried kabeljou and chips with corn for mains, it was all just pure decadence.
Each meal had its own selected wine pairing but we chose a crisp and fruity Waverley Hills Chardonnay. We finished off our enormous meal with (totally necessary) dessert (because research… and also gluttony) – warm spiced malva pudding with vanilla custard and crumbled praline. Heavenly! It was truly a winter feast with nary a crumb left on the plate!
Chef Francois, ever the gracious host (he was especially taken with our little baba, but who can blame him?), sat down to answer some of my questions about his restaurant, the farm and his inventive practices:
What makes Waverley Hills so special in your opinion as a chef?
Our location is awe inspiring! And for me the whole package of a restaurant is what makes it special. Food from the best restaurant in the world will never have the same taste if you eat it next to the N1 on your way to Joburg. And being located in one of the food baskets of SA makes it soo much easier. So our location and proximity to all kinds of extremes are one of our big draw cards. From the semi desert Tankwa Karoo to the Swiss-like snowy peaks in winter to the American-ish mountain log cabins. It’s all around us; beauty is all around us!
Please tell me the inspiration for your Waverley Hills menu? The flavour combinations are of particular interest – who would have thought that butterscotch could be savoury?! It just works!
Yes, our pampoenkoekies are a particular hit! I usually find my inspiration from things around me and what I find appealing, and then apply it to dishes from past menus or create a new dish around a particular protein, thereby we keep the basics the same, with a fish, a beef (usually steak), etc, but just change a sauce or accompaniment. A lot of people forget about balance of savoury and sweet and that is something that I try my best to get right. With the pampoenkoekies in particular I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel but just added a bit of spark, hence the reason for the Thyme Butterscotch and bacon bits, sweet (butterscotch) and savoury (thyme and bacon).
Tell me a bit about your choice of ingredients.
What pops into my thick skull is what I work with. You won’t necessarily find exotic ingredients in my food, perhaps here and there, but I like to take a basic ingredient such as beetroot for example and run with it and see where it ends up.
The wine pairing is so on point! Please could you tell me a bit more about your choice of wines with each dish and why?
I thankfully have quite extensive wine experience from way back when I worked as a student on wine farms during the holidays. I’ve gotten a bit rusty now, so I rely heavily on our winemaker, Johan Delport, to assist. Naturally we have a food and wine tasting and decide on specific pairings before we launch a new menu.
Could you tell me a bit about your sustainability practices on the farm and how that’s reflected in the menu?
Firstly, like with all restaurants, we have a food cost % to work towards so generally our waste is minimal. I also try my best to stick to the natural availability of ingredients, non-imported, low carbon footprint, sustainably farmed etc. All waste from all departments are also recycled and food waste goes to a local farmer’s pigs. Recently we also moved to biodegradable high quality paper napkins instead of cloth napkins to save on the water issue which is experienced by all in the Western Cape.
What are you hoping to leave your guests feeling when it comes to this menu?
Happiness and comfort!
Can’t argue there! If you’re looking for something different than the usual Stellenbosch wine route, I urge you to take the extra 45 minutes of driving to see this beautiful neck of the Western Cape woods. The drive itself is stunning – especially if you go through the Bain’s Kloof Pass – and the wonderful reception at Waverley Hills is the perfect place to end up.