WHEN we arrived at the gate of Vergelegen in Somerset West, the man approached the car and I opened the window, looking at him quizzically. “It’s R10 each entrance fee,” he said. “What?” I replied in surprise. That was unexpected.
But actually just dof, because I’ve published enough press releases for the estate that I should know it’s a standard charge, and honestly not a hardship. Even if you’re not going for lunch or wine tasting, the grounds are beautiful and you could wander around all day, quite happily. The estate is a provincial heritage site, with 18 exquisite gardens which include numerous ancient trees. It also houses Africa’s only International Camellia Garden of Excellence, whose winter-blooming pink, white and red camellia flowers are in bloom till early spring (been and gone this year, thank you global warming).
Also, the gate fees go towards a variety of good causes and environmental organisations, so smile and cough up.
We were there for lunch at Café Fleur, which is, they say, inspired by the floral beauty of the 322-year-old estate, as well as the classic cuisine, elegant ambience, excellent service and wine-making styles of France. Suzy Disco Pants, having been to Paris just the other day, assured me Cape Town would out-French the French any day of the week when it came to food. It’s been a lot longer since I was there, and my best meal was a supermarket baguette, wedge of Brie, and a bottle of red wine (all opened and sliced with my Swiss Army knife) in Tuileries on the first sunny day of my stay, and my last in the city.
The menu is classic French, and in French; I think I’ve learned more French and Italian from menus than Duolingo. In fact, I know I have because I don’t use Duolingo, although I mean to one day.
As we move into spring (the equinox is this Friday, the 23rd), the dishes are going to become lighter. The Boeuf Bourguignon, for example, is on its wintery way out. I hope they fight for the Soufflé aux Herbes et au Fromage (herb and cheese soufflé with a crisp apple and microgreen salad with a French vinaigrette) though, because it’s sublime, and it can certainly stand up to summer.
Suzy Disco Pants’s starter was Galette de Mini-Betteraves et oignons perlés au gorgonzola (baby beetroot and pearl onion galette with Gorgonzola and garnish with an apple and micro salad), which I seem to recall she said was “ridiculously good”. Or that could have been her main course, Poisson Antibes (pan fried fresh fillet of line fish – kingklip – with poached prawns served with a light velouté sauce and herb gratin), because she had a lot of positive things to say about that too.
We ended up with an extra starter: Escargot au Pernod et Beurre à l’ail (snails with creamed pernod and garlic butter served with brioche fingerlings) because of the wine (which can account for most things in life).
When we sat down, Suzy Disco Pants said she could not possibly make any decisions until she had a glass of wine. Thrown into a small panic, I quickly consulted the wine list and ordered a glass of the estate’s Reserve Semillon to assist her, and to speed up the progress of our luncheon. The waiter brought the bottle to the table to open it, and after tasting its deliciousness, we said we’d keep the whole thing, no regrets.
Sommelier Christo Deyzel lauded our choice and insisted we try it with the escargot. Of course, he was quite correct. It’s his job, after all, and we so appreciate him. He told us interesting stories about the farm, some of the wines, and plans for summer which include a swing and a champagne bucket hanging from a tree. There was also something about a kwagga but I’m hazy on the details. In any event, it all sounds like jolly good fun.
I had Canard Rôti Lentement à l’Orange (slow roasted confit duck a l’orange with Potato Anne served with a Grand Marnier and orange jus), which was flawless. I made it once, once upon a time, when I wasn’t even that experienced in the kitchen. To my everlasting amazement, it turned out perfectly, so I decided right there and then to quit while I was ahead, and never cooked it again.
For dessert, I ordered a saucy Paris Brest (choux pastry with praline cream) to share but Mizz Disco Pants claimed a nut allergy so I had to step up to the literal plate. Anaphylactic shock would have been a real downer to end the day, and I had to save her from that, because that’s what friends do.
Vergelegen is about an hour from Cape Town; next time I’m going to make sure we have time to walk around a bit.
Café Fleur is open for lunch Wednesdays to Sundays 12pm-5pm (kitchen closes at 2.30pm); dinner Fridays and Saturdays 6pm-11pm (kitchen closes at 8.30pm). Closed Mondays and Tuesdays. View the menu here.
PHOTO CREDIT: Bianca Coleman ©