Made for sharing at Stellenbosch’s Post & Pepper

Kerneels Breytenbach was sceptical about the location of a new restaurant in the old post office, but he tried it anyway. And was he glad he did. Sharing took on a whole new meaning at Stellenbosch’s Post & Pepper.

Never a town to stand still, Stellenbosch is constantly adapting and evolving, and nowhere is this more evident than in the restaurant industry. The change is quite remarkable when you consider that in the 1960s the town seldom hosted more than five consistent eateries.

Nowadays diners are spoilt for choice, with more than 30 top venues in the immediate area. Pre-Covid-19, if anyone had suggested the old post office as a potential contender for a new restaurant locale, I would have laughed off the idea as far-fetched. It’s a crazy location: too busy, too noisy and there’s not enough parking – all irrefutably negative aspects. So whoever came up with this preposterous scheme gets a Noddy badge. What a brilliant concept.

Not once during our lunch at Post & Pepper were we aware of the traffic, even though it was the middle of a busy work week. It just goes to show how solidly the buildings of yesteryear were constructed, their thick walls and sturdy doors and windows keeping the noise at bay.

Here the concept of sharing reigns supreme. That’s probably disheartening for the conventional lover of a good steak or a generous plate of pasta, but Post & Pepper is not that kind of restaurant. For me, as the unfortunate type who invariably regrets his choice and lusts after everyone else’s meal, it’s the answer to my prayers. You are actively encouraged to choose several dishes and, as when dining at Bertus Basson’s Geuwels, the whole idea is to share your selections.

The Post & Pepper menu recommends that seven dishes should be sufficient for two. But, you say, one man’s idea of adequate could well leave another man hungry. Fortunately, after a meal here you won’t be dashing off to buy a takeaway burger; chances are you’ll be strolling very slowly back to where your car is parked. Chef Jess believes in tasteful abundance and according to her, seven dishes would be more than sufficient for four…

Chef and owner Jessica van Dyk cooks up fresh takes on classic dishes. Ssamjang oysters with green apple, lime and curry leaf. The old Stellenbosch post office situated in a heritage building has been transformed by SKEP Studio to an elegant fine-dining space with innovative lighting design by Lienka Kühn.

We had lunch there on a cold winter’s day and the menu befitted the season, with a variety of warm dishes. A glance at a neighbouring table suggested fine dining at its best, yet the festive atmosphere clearly indicated that the experience Post & Pepper was aiming for – and achieving – was one of making merry.

Chef Jess divides the menu simply into savoury (main courses) and sweet (desserts). It was easy to select a sweet as there were only two options, but choosing main courses was more complicated. Ten dishes vied for our attention: four of wholly vegetarian origin, the other six featuring lamb, fish, pork or oysters.

Let’s cut to the chase. Whatever you do, the Crispy & Sticky Pork, served with a charred spring onion dip, has to be the end goal of your meal and because this dish consists of two pieces of pork on a skewer, it would be wise to inform the kitchen immediately to be ready for a repeat order. The taste is utterly sublime.

LEFT: Scrumptious smoked springbok loin with chicken liver parfait, adorned with onion marmalade, beetroot and hazelnut. RIGHT: Pork dumplings served with hoisin, spring onion, daikon and peanut chilli crisp.

From the outset, keep in mind that Post & Pepper isn’t a place to go for a quick spot of lunch; you have to allow for at least two hours of blissful eating. So let me provide a guide on how to approach the meal, ending up with the Crispy & Sticky Pork as its climax…

Good to know

You may choose to begin with the Potato Roosterkoek and accompanying whipped butter, sage oil and pickles, but the Ssamjang Oysters would be a much more adventurous starting point. Then perhaps the Furikake Tuna – served with sushi rice, sesame, miso, aubergine and dashi broth – and you’ll find that the ssamjang dressing with the oysters has prepared your palate for something as substantial as this. I can also recommend the Smoked Kudu, served with a stupendous chicken liver parfait, onion marmalade, beetroot and hazelnut.

Only one pasta dish is on offer – Fried Mac ’n’ Cheese with mush- room, celeriac and a truffle parmesan velouté. None of us had a desire for pasta, but rest assured, Chef Jess would never make this a disappointing option.

Our choice turned instead to the Beef Dumpling and Butter Lamb Curry. The dumpling – the Chinese Szechuan variety of course – was miraculously subtle, with exquisitely delicate pastry and an understated ingenious flavour to the filling, which is tossed in a dressing made from soy sauce, chilli oil, rice vinegar, sesame oil and garlic. The lamb curry – rolled lamb shoulder served with chickpea dahl, curried carrot and poppadums – is more robustly flavoured. I could have easily had another round of this.

And then, at last, the Crispy & Sticky Pork. Don’t be misled by its ‘Haagen-Daz ice cream dipped in chocolate’ look; the exterior is sticky and crispy and the meat breathtakingly tasty. It takes only one bite to realise that the charred spring onion dip is there merely to help the palate regain its composure. You can imagine what kind of buzz these skewered meat sensations caused.

For dessert we opted for the Double Chocolate: salted chocolate crémeux and triple vanilla ice cream. Force of habit, maybe, but no one complained. In fact, the chocolate crémeux alone was a worthy conclusion to an excellent meal.

What did we not have? Mediterranean Salad (tomatoes, white anchovy, herb crumb and fior di latte), Pan-fried Gnocchi (potato gnocchi, Jerusalem artichoke, chestnut chutney and roasted cauliflower) and the Sago Pudding dessert. The last elicited recollections of days spent in boarding school and varsity res.

And was it enough? We had no desire for more and weren’t even capable of eating more. The discussion around the table was animated and joyous, and when we eventually took our leave the essence of Post & Pepper dawned on us: the restaurant forces you to companionably rediscover the magic of table talk. You simply leave the restaurant feeling like a different person from the one who’d entered a couple of hours earlier.

What about the wine?

Chris Otto writes:

I love fine dining and Post & Pepper is made for this. We started early for lunch so as to fit in the total experience before being kicked out, which turned out to be a wise decision. Post & Pepper is obviously aware of this predicament and has introduced serving fine wines in a 250ml (two-glass) carafe.

We availed ourselves of the Miles Mossop Chenin Blanc 2021 (R90) and the Domaine des Dieux Rosé 2021 (R85) per carafe. I, for one, was curious about these wines and was not disappointed. But one thing leads to another and I was again curious, so we tried the Migliarina Chardonnay 2016 (R420) from Elgin, which was new to me. A pleasant surprise, it was well oaked and aged. Being on a roll, we ordered the Oldenberg Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 (R595) from Stellenbosch next. It proved to be another winner from the Banghoek Valley.

The service by Mercia and Ernest was friendly and prompt. Fresh glasses, quite classy and in line with fine dining, were offered with each new wine. BYO is quite hefty at R100 per bottle per table of four, but that’s probably to be expected at a fine dining establishment.

Next time we’ll go for dinner and really make an evening of it.

To make a booking, call 021 203 5165.