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Quoin Rock Shakes Up Winter

Whether presenting world-class cuisine at Gåte or demonstrating mesmerising mixology at QBar in the heart of Stellenbosch, Quoin Rock has persuaded RICHARD HOLMES that there’s no reason to stay in this winter …

It’s a bright autumn day in the Stellenbosch Winelands and Quoin Rock estate is awash in crystalline sunlight. On the slopes of the Simonsberg, the vines are casting off their leaves before winter, storing energy for harvests to come.

But on the floor of Gåte restaurant there’s a flush of energy as chef Paul Prinsloo steps through to his state-of-the-art kitchens. Diners from around the world are settled in at tables of Scandi-chic blond wood, gazing out at the views through wrap-around glass walls or admiring the signature vine sculptures by Charles Haupt.

While Gåte – pronounced ‘gah-tey’ – is a word of Norwegian origin meaning the entrance to a labyrinth, or a riddle, here it’s understood more as a gateway, a portal into a world of fine food and remarkable wines, polished service and elegant hospitality.

And that is precisely what’s on offer this winter, as Paul unveils a new addition to the dining experience that has become one of the most sought-after gourmet destinations in the Winelands.

Alongside a newly focused tasting menu – now six courses, preceded by delicious bread and canapés – this winter Gåte has a new experience available in the ‘Choice’ menu. “We have definitely seen a change in the way people are dining,” says Paul. “Not everyone wants to sit for three or four hours over lunch or dinner. If they want to stay longer they might order another glass of wine, but many people want a more compact experience. The new Choice menu is perfect for that.”

Structured as a more à la carte offering, the menu begins with bread and canapés before offering a choice for starter, main and dessert. As these plates are all drawn from the tasting menu, diners opting for the shorter menu enjoy the same level of kitchen creativity.

Available for lunch only, the Choice menu also makes the Gåte experience more accessible, priced at R900 per person to offer exceptional value. “It’s ideal for those diners who don’t want to indulge in the full tasting menu,” says Paul. “The Choice menu makes it easy to return to Gåte more regularly, allowing guests to try different combinations of plates each time they visit.”

However, those looking to while away a wintry afternoon in the warm glow of Gåte’s striking Gyrofocus floating fireplace won’t be sorry if they set aside a few hours to delve into the tasting menu.

“The tasting menu really is the best way to discover the essence of Gåte,” Paul explains. “It encapsulates what we do and what we stand for. If the wines are there to showcase the estate, the tasting menu is a showcase of the kitchen.”

Whichever menu you choose, the experience begins – as all good meals should – with bread. Here that means slices of Paul’s own farm loaf, made using a mother dough that dates back to 2020. It’s served with umami butter – redolent with soya, rice vinegar and mustard “to offer a balance of salty and sweet” – alongside olive oil pressed from the estate’s own groves and filled with the heady scent of fynbos infusion.

Next come dainty canapés, artworks as much as amuse-bouches, before a string of inspired plates.

Although Paul champions local produce, he makes an exception for the superb Scottish salmon flown in from Loch Duart. Here it’s served simply to highlight the impeccable flavour and texture: pan-cooked and blowtorched, plated with round cuts of earthy roasted beetroot, a soy gel for tangy umami and a heady horseradish cream with tarragon.

A second fish dish follows in the plate of sea bass gently poached in pork fat and served on a rich base of chorizo, leeks and confit onion. The dollops of hollandaise spuma bring feather-light layers of flavour, dotted with paprika-forward chorizo oil that pairs remarkably easily with the full-bodied Quoin Rock Shiraz.

“Of all the dishes on the menu, this one probably made me the happiest,” admits Paul. “It was one of those moments when you have something in your mind and in the kitchen, and it came out just as I’d hoped on the plate.”

He also pays enormous attention to wine pairings across the menu. Building layers of flavour within each creation, he’ll fine-tune the dish being worked on before searching for a wine in the Quoin Rock portfolio that marries seamlessly with the components of the plate.

“It’s not enough for the wine and food just to work together,” he explains. “They each need to bring out something more in each other so that every sip or bite keeps on building on the flavour all the time.”

One of the most striking pairings comes early in the menu, where a kudu loin – marinated for 48 hours and packed with flavour – is served alongside the Quoin Rock Sauvignon Blanc. Pairing a fresh white wine with rich red meat is unconventional, to say the least, and yet the two elements come together effortlessly.

“Rules are not meant to be followed,” says Paul with a laugh. “Who said you have to pair red wine with meat? And why can’t you start a tasting menu with a red? If it works on the palate, it works!”

And there’s not a single plate that doesn’t ‘work’ on this menu, from the playful ‘Pap & Vleis’ paired with Quoin Rock’s Bordeaux- style Red Blend to the delicate dessert and cheese courses.

Alongside the Tasting and Choice menus, a customised vegetarian offering bears witness to the enormous effort given to championing meat-free plates.

The creativity Paul brings to the kitchens of Gåte is on equal display behind the counter at QBar in central Stellenbosch. Here mixologist and bar manager David Swing has developed the space from an elegant wine bar into a destination equally renowned for inventive cocktails and inspired plates.

For inspiration David often turns to the Quoin Rock estate, harvesting rose petals, lavender flowers and even lemon pelargonium to endow each cocktail with a sense of place. “It’s about capturing the essence of Stellenbosch, and our terroir,” he says.

Although banquette seats spill out onto the sheltered courtyard alongside the town’s historic millstream, the best experience is to sit up at the bar for a front-row seat watching David at work.

“We encourage people to sit up here with us, to open the pots, smell the spices, watch what we’re doing. It builds a sense of expectation and they really get to understand the techniques we use to create these cocktails.”

And there’s certainly no shortage of technique, from hand-shaved charcoal infusions and glasses chilled with liquid nitrogen to a perfectionist’s touch when it comes to garnishing. My Whisky Sour arrives sprouting micro-botanicals picked on the estate. The Consolation Negroni shimmers with the charcoal made from uprooted vines, topped with droplets of pistachio and peanut oil. A bright red gerbera sprouts from the glass pipe in which I discover the quirky ‘Smoking with the Siren’.

“I like a cocktail to have aroma before you even taste it. Because I used to be a chef, I include a lot of kitchen techniques and flavours you’d associate with cooking,” comments David. “In winter we’ll also look to do a lot more with foraged products, to really incorporate more of the farm into the cocktails we offer.”

Also look out for a new collection of cocktails that swap out the traditional spirit base entirely in favour of new creations using the Quoin Rock wines as the flavour foundation. They look set to be the perfect partner to David’s popular collection of cocktails created using Quoin Rock’s Cap Classique.

And although all eyes are on the cocktail menu, there’s an equally enticing food offering here too. As winter sets in, look no further than the ragu of slow-cooked rabbit tossed in fresh pasta, or opt for a light bite of a few starter plates. You won’t go wrong with the duck samoosas in an Earl Grey reduction, or the springbok tartare dressed with fynbos vinaigrette, says David.