IT is an indisputable fact the French know their way around a kitchen. To wit: “A gougère, in French cuisine, is a baked savoury choux pastry made of choux dough mixed with cheese. There are many variants. The cheese is commonly grated Gruyère, Comté, or Emmentaler, but there are many variants using other cheeses or other ingredients.”
I first tasted these cheesy delights at Rykaart’s when it was located in the town of Stellenbosch. Also, “I had pan con tomate – bread with tomato. It’s a piece of bread, rubbed with garlic, fried in olive oil with tomato grated on top, and anchovies. Love it.” I wrote this for Daily Maverick in February 2022. “It sounds simple but the sourdough must be perfect, you don’t need to put too much garlic on it, and my tomatoes are aged for at least a week,” said Alex Rykaart. I’ve subsequently made it many times at home.
A few months ago, Rykaart’s relocated to Longridge Wine Estate, up on a hill off the R44. There, I discovered an entirely new dining concept: a family-style menu for the table to share. Okay, that’s fine, I thought. The dishes all look good. But where are the gougères? For a while, I was sad but then I saw the waitress bringing out plates of them for other diners and I was happy again. Alex clearly knows they are too good not to serve, and people might possibly riot. There they are, pictured above.
The location for lunch is unrivalled. Tables are set outside under trees and umbrellas, and there is a view to gasp for. It’s like all those photographs you’ve ever seen of Italian and French long tables in dappled shade, weighed down with platters of delicious food that you’ll linger over all afternoon, with several bottles of chilled wine. There’s inside too, which is light, airy and spacious, with the same view over Stellenbosch.
If you went to Rykaart’s in its first incarnation, you’ll know it was a tiny place with an equally tiny kitchen. Intimate is the word. Alex now has masses of space to work, and best of all, access to a large garden from which he harvests as much as possible. Ella Rykaart handles the front of house with grace and charm.
“Alex has always had his eye on Longridge; he’s forever loved it as a location,” she told me. “It’s a great complement to his style of food which is very produce-driven. The idea of having the beautiful vegetable gardens here was a highlight for him and this had been on his mind for years.”
While they were in town, the Rykaarts got to know Longridge cellar master and general manager, Jasper Raats, very well. “We stocked a lot of his wine as we felt it was very beautiful with our food,” says Ella. “I think he and Alex share a very similar ethos to the way they make the wine and prepare the food.”
They enjoyed the professional working relationship, and then came to a point in their lives where Ella and Alex thought a move would be great; something a little bit bigger to expand and grow the business. “Knowing Jasper as well as we did by then, we approached him and it just happened to be the right time because they were looking for a change at their restaurant – something in line with the quality and style of they wine they produce and it just happened to be a good fit,” says Ella. “I think it was really meant to be, and the timing was right for everybody and things fell into place.”
The menu does change often, so what we had that day is not the same as what you’ll get today, but I do hope they’ll still bring you a plate of gougères because they make life so much better. Here’s what we had, so you have an idea of what to expect for R495 a person: bread with lemon and parsley butter; carrot risotto with roasted carrots, parmesan and carrot tops (using the whole vegetable); garden leaf salad with freshly plucked herbs; grass-fed beef sirloin in red wine sauce with chimichurri; triple-cooked potato chips with thyme salt and lemon aioli; corn on the cob with chipotle and onion ash salt; and slow-cooked leeks with cheese sauce, garlic breadcrumbs and crispy leek tops. For dessert, which I didn’t think I could manage but I couldn’t resist a few bites: almond cake with caramelised pineapple, coconut and almond crumb, and whipped cream.
Rykaart’s won an Eat Out star in 2022, and this year they did it again, testament to consistency of excellence. “We are excited to welcome our regular diners and new guests to our home on Longridge Wine Estate. Serving family style meals paired with beautiful wines we are proud to offer this very special culinary experience,” say Alex and Ella.
More information here.