Baby it’s cold outside: Fireplace restaurants in Stellenbosch

It’s winter in the Cape Winelands and there’s no better way to while away a rainy day than with a memorable meal by the fireplace. RICHARD HOLMES selects some of the best fireplace restaurants in Stellenbosch that offer a crackling hearth and fine winter fare.

Local Favourite: De Warenmarkt

‘Kos & Wyn’ promises the sign at the entrance to De Warenmarkt and, as any of the many regulars will attest, there’s certainly no shortage of fine food and wonderful wine on offer at this much-loved local.

“We want De Warenmarkt to be the local kuierplek,” explains owner Daniël Kriel. “Like your local bistro in France, the trattoria in Italy or the pub in the United Kingdom. We want to offer a decent plate of food and great wines from Stellenbosch in a relaxed atmosphere with excellent service and a bit of a vibe.”

There’s certainly a welcoming bustle to this airy space, with exposed beams and wide picture windows looking out onto busy Ryneveld Street. The towering chimney of the central brick fireplace provides welcome warmth to long tables with padded benches that are ideal for convivial get-togethers and the cosy booths that offer a more intimate experience.

That sense of catering for everyone extends to the menu, where Daniël has put the emphasis firmly on celebrating local flavours, suppliers and wine estates. While there are larger dishes ‘For the Hungry’, the heart of the menu is the selection of small plates that runs from fresh mussels in white wine to snoek fishcakes with rooibos-infused grape jam. The lamb samoosas in herbed yoghurt are another standout.

But when the mercury falls, the menu evolves again, catering for those searching for something to warm the soul. Much of the fresh produce comes from Kriel’s own small farm in the Banhoek Valley, informing the seasonality of the menu.

“What’s so lekker about the winter menu is that we’ll have two soups on a daily basis,” says Daniël. “And every day there will be a curry and a bredie that will change according to what the chef feels like preparing. I’m also going to introduce a traditional eisbein onto the menu, as well as slow braises like lamb neck.”

That wide-ranging menu makes it truly an all-day space. You’ll find students sneaking in for Terbodore coffee and waffles, laid- back business lunches in the booths and relaxed dinners at the larger tables. The Kaapse Vonkel Cap Classique and Oyster Bar at one end of the space is ideal for date night or a midweek indulgence, while the Simon wine bar next door offers the same menu in a more formal setting.

Stylish Escape: Gåte at Quoin Rock

Since first opening in 2018, Gåte at Quoin Rock has caused a stir in the Winelands, as much for its striking design as its multi-course dining experience. Today it’s chef Paul Prinsloo dishing up an unashamedly contemporary fine-dining experience that draws on his own roots, family recipes and the produce of the surrounding land.

Paul cut his teeth in Johannesburg, working under chefs like David Higgs and Candice Philip before moving to the Cape in 2016. He’s never looked back, spending four years at The Restaurant at Waterkloof before taking the reins at Gåte, where he has put his own inimitable stamp on this sleek fine-dining space.

And what a space! Ivory leather banquettes contrast with the solid wood tables by craftsman Pierre Cronje, while bronze vine-inspired artworks by designer Charles Haupt grace the walls and entrance. And while soaring glass walls offer spectacular views of the Simonsberg, your eye is just as likely to be drawn to the sleek Gyrofocus floating fireplace.

But bring your eyes back to the tasting menu: an eight-course offering of finely honed plates that speak of traditional flavours and textures, reinvented. “It’s a very comforting menu geared to autumn and winter,” says Paul. “The inspiration was to cook as I would at home, creating my own style as I went along. And although we always want the food to taste great, at the back of my mind is also how to make it look beautiful. So the concept for the plate needs to be created as we work on the actual dish.”

And there is both familiarity and surprise to be found on the menu. The slow-braised beef shin, lifted by a flavour-packed crème de boeuf and pumpkin gel, entirely reimagines a hearty winter pasta. There’s a lamb dish on the menu, and confit duck leg, but the rich- ness of these plates is balanced by freshness too. Look out for the bream, sourced from a local aquaculture project, that makes the perfect pairing for the Quoin Rock Chardonnay. “This is one of my favourite dishes on the menu at the moment,” says Paul.

For the cheese course there’s goat’s cheese infused with buchu from the estate – “We have so much growing here on the farm, supplied by nature, and the flavour is so amazing,” – before a typically inventive take on malva pudding. Across the menus, which include vegan and reduced tasting options, expect skilful cuisine in an elegant setting that lends itself to a languid, leisurely lunch.

Valley Vibes: Postcard Café

The scent of wood smoke carried over resting vineyards on the breeze of a crisp, clear Winelands day is a wonderful thing, promising a cosy convivial lunch in the near future. And that’s precisely what’s on offer at the charming Postcard Café, cradled by the mountains of the Jonkershoek Valley.

Situated on the Stark-Condé estate just a few minutes’ drive from town, the Postcard Café is a much-loved local favourite, which means you’ll need to book ahead just about any day of the week. It’s an unpretentious space of rustic floor tiles and simple table settings matched by warm and friendly country-style service. Picture windows overlook the farm reservoir and soaring Jonkershoek peaks, often dusted with snow as wintry cold fronts roll through, while the central fire-place adds a contemporary touch and a welcome warmth to the space.

On the menu? Start with an antipasti plate to share, filled with wonderful charcuterie, Levantine dips and local fior di latte. The main courses are international in scope, from butter chicken with jasmine rice to an Italian-inspired hake plate, lightly cured and served with a piquant puttanesca sauce. For a taste of the Cape, look no further than the pork mince bobotie, plated here with traditional tomato and onion salad and home- made chutney. Or dive into the generous springbok shank; slow-braised and served with seasonal vegetables, it’s the perfect pairing with Stark-Condé’s acclaimed Cabernet Sauvignon.

Fairway Fare: The Kleine Zalze Restaurant

Since taking over the old Terroir restaurant space in 2020, chef Nic van Wyk has built a loyal following for his upscale bistro cuisine. And with views through the oak trees onto the second tee of the De Zalze golf course, this unpretentious country restaurant is a fine spot for relaxed winter lunches.

“The food I like to cook is quite timeless,” says Nic. “My approach has always been about being honest, authentic and generous in my cooking.”

There’s also wonderful flexibility on offer; plates available in three portion sizes (‘Taste’, ‘Explore’ or ‘Relax’) allow diners to delve into an array of tapas and starter-sized dishes or to enjoy a heartier plate of their favourite flavours. This winter, think creamy pumpkin and barley soup or celeriac soup with smoked cheese toast. The venison arancini with classic soubise sauce is the perfect way to chase away any winter chills. And an excellent selection of Kleine Zalze wines is available by the glass or bottle.

Characterful Classic: Muratie Farm Kitchen

There is a palpable sense of history as you walk up the brick path that meanders beneath ancient trees and leads you to the doorstep of Muratie. The shady terrace is a delight in summer, but with wintry chills you’ll want to head indoors to the cosy original cellar.

Before lunch, settle in for a wine tasting in what was once the cellar’s cement fermentation tanks. With tartaric crystals still seeping from the corners and paintings by former owner GP Canitz adorning the walls, it’s a wonderfully atmospheric space. Of course, there is a fire crackling in a rustic Dover stove too, framed by Muratie’s near-legendary cobwebs.

The main dining room is a little more formal, with vintage rugs on screed floors, a Bullerjam fireplace keeping things cosy, and a revamped winter menu to peruse. “We’re very seasonal in our menu, so there are always changes as we move into winter,” says chef Riaan van Schalkwyk, who regards the seafood risotto a highlight of the new winter menu. “It combines Italian influences with lots of lekker Weskus flavours!” It’s also the perfect pairing for the Laurens Campher, the estate’s flagship white wine blend of Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Verdelho.

There’s plenty to pique your interest in the winter offering but, adds Riaan, “there are some favourites we never take off.” A perfect example is the Karoo lamb afval served with pickled carrots, beetroot and basmati rice. “It’s very traditional, made to a recipe from the mother of owner Rijk Melck. And of course, the one dessert everybody loves is the baked camembert served with figs. It’s a lovely hearty dish for winter.”