STELLENBOSCH has really upped its game over the past couple of years. I’m not talking about all the wine farms and estates on the Stellenbosch Wine Route, but the town itself, which has seen an explosion of fabulous restaurants – adding to the already-great ones – with more still to come.
Among the movers and shakers are Darren Badenhorst and Callan Austin, who opened Dusk in September last year. This month, it was awarded three stars at the Eat Out Woolworths Restaurant Awards. Bafana Zondo, Dusk wine sommelier, won the Eat Out Woolworths Wine Service Award. Obviously it’s not easy to get a table at short notice, but you might still be able to find a seat at the bar at Nocturne next door, also Darren and Callan’s baby, which opened this July.
“This innovative fusion of a restaurant and mixology bar aims to redefine the boundaries of gastronomy and mixology, setting the stage for a truly immersive dining and drinking experience like no other,” says the press release. “Nocturne breaks new ground by bringing together the extraordinary talents of some of the world’s foremost mixologists, who will showcase their skills in creating unique and captivating beverages.
“Collaborating with the Dusk test kitchen and fermentation lab, Nocturne offers patrons an opportunity to savour distinctive concoctions that push the boundaries of traditional mixology. Complemented by an exceptional selection of beverages crafted by esteemed local and international producers, Nocturne promises to transport guests on an extraordinary flavour journey in both food and liquid form.
“By linking the rich offerings of the region with the established culinary expertise of Dusk, and incorporating a one-of-a-kind mixology concept in Nocturne, they are taking a bold step towards unleashing the creative potential of their team.”
Nocturne has outdoor seating where you can watch the world go by while the world watches the fabulousness that is you; there are a few high tops inside the small, intimate space which is dominated by the bar, with the kitchen at the back. We took our seats at the bar itself, and we could not have had a better location. It meant we got to interact with the mixologists and watch them work their magic, and ask lots of questions. This in itself is quite the experience, to see them moving fluidly to some elegant choreography known only to themselves. Plus, within minutes, we realised that I knew two of them from their previous cocktail bar, so it was such a great vibe. As stated above: “extraordinary talents of some of the world’s foremost mixologists” – that is not hyperbole.
Cocktails are of course a major highlight, but the food is pretty amazing too. The menu is small but offers enough choices, and there is a section which has a “cocktail and a snack”, so your options are multiple: classic cocktails (me: what makes your porn star martini different? them: it has glitter), perfect serves, rotational riffs, and featured cocktails. Yes, there’s wine too, which is welcome. I’m all for the cocktail and snack, but when it comes to “proper” food, I prefer a glass of wine. Oh, and shooters, but unlikely to be in any way, shape or form, shooters you’ve had before. I’m pedantic about upper case letters that are grammatically incorrect, but the key word here is Creativity with a capital C, and I have to allow it.
I had the sparkly porn star martini of course, how could I not? It’s not only the glitter that sets it apart but the ingredients which are concocted and tweaked on-site, which goes for all the drinks. The Ugly Bourbon has brioche butter fat washed Jim Beam and mysterious “botanical liqueur”. Austin Flowers is Roku Japanese gin, floral elixir and pink tonic; Yorick’s Garden (that’s Yorick himself in the pic above, on the right, but he doesn’t look like that any more…) contains botanical liqueur, spirulina, bramble gin and berry cider. The descriptions are as enticing as the drinks, and the presentation is spectacular. The team behind the bar is a joy to watch at work, and even when a flurry of orders comes in all at the same time, they approach their task methodically and efficiently, sending forth drinks that would not look out of place in a fairy tale. What a delight.
When we got to our dinner, we had aged beef tataki with mushroom custard, tuna tartar, deboned and pressed lamb rib, line fish, and pork belly, finished off with miso caramel tart. The menu is subject to change.
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