CHEF Garth Almazan has been cooking for me for close to a decade, many of those years during his time at Steenberg where he introduced me to the joys of offal among other things, and as of last weekend, at his new enterprise in Paternoster.
Garth and his wife Cecile embarked on this adventure quite some time ago already, but for various reasons that are not pertinent to this story, it was only this year that the media was invited to visit Leeto restaurant at the Strandloper Boutique Hotel.
Two hours from Cape Town is a bit of a stretch just for lunch, so being the resourceful person I am, I arranged to spend the night at Abalone House, where I have been a guest a few times and a very happy one at that. It was wonderful to be warmly welcomed back by the lovely Leigh Longden and her team, which includes a trio of cats.
I mention this because there are some people out there who do not take too kindly to Chelsea, Toffee and Roxy despite the hotel making it clear on its website that it has resident felines and a pet-friendly policy. I love cats and will encourage them to sleep on the bed with me if they want, and no doubt feeding Roxy the smoked salmon from the breakfast buffet did nothing to dissuade her from lurking under the table. Toffee is actually feral, but the sweetest wild cat I’ve met. He was quite my buddy by the time we checked out, but did make it quite clear with gentle nips on the hand if I was rubbing him the wrong way.
Paternoster is rugged and windswept, with wide open expanses of low fynbos and shrubbery fading into a long, white beach and – depending on the weather of course – glittering turquoise ocean. In less than 24 hours we had a variety of climates, from a scorching 30 degrees and clear skies upon arrival to waking up the next morning to the low mournful moan of the foghorn and shades of grey. By the time breakfast was over, it had lifted to reveal a crisp autumn day with the last shreds of mist rolling back over the horizon.
The five-star boutique Abalone is cosy and comfortable, boasting vibrant and eclectic décor favouring Tretchikoff prints… and ducks. There used to be real ducks too, but now there are only the cats. The ground floor has a lounge with plump couches you may never get out of, a huge rustic fireplace, and shelves filled with books. It’s just perfect for snuggling up with a glass – all right, a bottle – of good red wine as the winter chill sets in.
Which leads me neatly to the part where I tell you about the annual seasonal special here: from now until the end of August, guests will pay R5 995 for a two-night stay for two adults sharing, which includes canapés and a glass of sparkling wine upon arrival, two nights’ accommodation in a standard superior room, Healing Earth Spa products to the value of R500 a person, breakfast daily, and a three-course dinner at the acclaimed Reuben’s (as in Riffel).
A small beach bracketed by rocks is a short walk away, and the romantics will want to grab a bottle of bubbly and a blanket to watch the sunset – which, I am assured – are virtually always spectacular. After dinner at Reuben’s or one of the other eateries in the village, head for the lounge or choose a movie from the DVD library to watch in the comfort of your room. Toasty perks include thick fluffy robes, a ferocious heater in the bathroom and underfloor heating, which never ceases to please me when my bare feet unexpectedly come across it. Abalone definitely keeps lovers in mind; there is a Jacuzzi on the rooftop which can be reserved for a sexy steamy sundowner rendezvous…
The all-too-brief stay wrapped up with a stunning breakfast comprising a cold buffet and our choice of hot dishes happily made to order to accommodate dietary requirements, plenty of excellent Terbodore coffee, an ice bucket in which bubbly nestled, and self-service Bloody Marys. Very civilised.
As is Leeto, all the way on the other side of Paternoster which is to say, about a three-minute drive. The hotel sits close to the ocean’s edge with a pathway leading to the beach and the restaurant is open to the expansive view, with décor that is light and airy as befitting its location – lots of white and natural materials.
Being the West Coast, there is no other way to begin than with oysters and a glass of Pierre Jourdan MCC. For starters, I had the Malay spiced mussels – another West Coast must – with coconut cream, tomato, red onion and coriander in a riot of glorious colour, and a potato samoosa.
Main course options include sustainable fish, Chalmar beef sirloin, a wild mushroom tart for the vegetarians, and seafood linguini. For me, Almazan prepared the springbok loin with pulled springbok tart served with teeny tiny pickled shimeji mushrooms and asparagus, which he paired with a fine Tierhoek blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mouvedre.
Space for dessert? Not really, but I did manage a nice bit of cheese to finish while Almazan told me how he often sources his seafood from the water right outside.
“Here in Paternoster we live close to nature and in harmony with the ocean,” he says.
“The natural environment has been a great source of inspiration and it has greatly influenced my food concept at Leeto. I like to support our local producers, farming and fishing communities on a daily basis and promote the culinary highlights of the beautiful West Coast.”
Even if you don’t spend the night, Leeto is well worth the drive for fabulous food that is elegant yet hearty.
Abalone House & Spa
TELEPHONE: 022 752 2044
TELEPHONE: 060 927 0403
- This story first appeared in Independent Traveller on May 12/13, 2018