Cavalli: where peace reigns

Kerneels Breytenbach likens driving up to the restaurant on Cavalli Wine Estate to entering a different world, one that looks like the Western Cape we know so well yet has its own aura of calm.

Cavalli Restaurant looks out onto a dam, its reflections a constantly changing artwork.

Someone should have warned me. I went to Cavalli Wine Estate for lunch and a few hours later came away mesmerised, convinced I had found the ideal spot to forget about all that troubles our fair country. Having seen the neatly fenced paddocks for horses from the R44, on the way from Stellenbosch to Somerset West, I expected an equestrian delight.

But no, nothing horsey. On the contrary.

Chef Michael Deg conjures up tempting dishes with intriguing taste combinations.

Driving from the security gate to the restaurant, you get a sense of meticulous planning and order. Rows of trees and perfectly landscaped gardens line the road, with patches of indigenous undergrowth sepa­rating road, paddocks and vineyards. On arrival at the restaurant, it feels as if you have reached a previously unknown part of the Western Cape. 

You become aware of the silence. Your gaze is drawn to the weirdly wonderful vertical garden cladding one wall of the building. The variety of green hues colouring the garden makes you acutely aware of being in a unique environment. Then you notice the sounds of birds. When you trace the source of the chirping, it comes from purple lavender flowers some way off in the distance.

Through the enormous glass panels of the restaurant a terrace with dining tables is visible, a bit further away, a dam, and in the distance the mountains rising behind Stellenbosch. Music becomes discernible, but as you advance to the terrace, the sun warming your back, blessed silence once again envelops you. This is the essence of Cavalli Wine Estate: all-encompassing peacefulness.

It must be the view. Or the birds, or the rustling of leaves as a gentle breeze stirs through the vineyards. Stress flows from you. You have found nirvana. 

Beautifully plated dishes that deliver in the tasting are a signature of chef Michael Deg.

No wonder Cavalli is such a popular venue for wedding receptions and other festivities. Sitting inside the restaurant, with its high ceiling, abundance of natural light and endless views, creates an illusion of being enclosed within an entire district.

As you take your place at a table you register, with some reluctance, the sound of music and the chatter of other diners. Fortunately, the service is of such a standard that you happily sacrifice the tranquillity of the exterior for the temptations that chef Michael Deg offers. A choice of six items is offered for each of the starters, mains and desserts. Vegans and vegetarians will be accommodated on request. 

On the day of our visit we gave the four-course wine pairing menu some serious thought, but decided our appetites warranted a more substantial exploration of the à la carte menu. We never looked back!

It always amuses me to see the first course referred to as Starters, especially when it is patently obvious that much thought and skill went into the preparation; it might as well be called The Launch. I experienced such a taste explosion with the teriyaki-glazed octopus (served with green apple, lime, grilled baby cos and smoked chilli aioli) that I found myself in orbit on a wonderful new culinary trip.

The other starter items proved to be equally enticing: a trio of Saldanha oysters, tomato ragu tortellini, grass-fed beef cheek, wild Atlantic prawn ramen and pan-fried Franschhoek trout. Here’s the thing: each of them had a unique allure. Poached quail egg, soba noodles, bean sprouts, shiitake and sesame enriched the prawn ramen. The brilliant beef cheek was enhanced by an oxtail kromeski (croquette), pickled tongue, glazed vegetables and a white bean and truffle purée. The tortellini, already sumptuous in a refined manner, was accompanied by vichyssoise, confit garlic, celery and pumpkin seeds. Two of the guests opted for the oysters. One preferred them served in their natural state, while the other found great enjoyment in the trio of dressings: lime, mint and sorrel granita; citrus crème fraiche, green apple and caviar; and beer batter, soya and wasabi.

The sleek interior is warmed by the use of wood and leather, and keeps the focus firmly on the food.

By now our senses were reeling, but in a most pleasant way. While we waited for the main course to arrive, we amused our palates with little pork croquettes.

Then something strange happened. Two of our guests ordered grass-fed beef fillet, one opted for grilled springbok loin, another for the pork belly and one had broccoli steak. While I took delight in the mussel, turnip, waterblommetjie and chowder sauce that adorned the line-caught hake, I witnessed the utter relish with which the broccoli steak, served with tofu bacon, dried apricot, peanut, kale and vegan yoghurt was consumed. We were in no doubt as to which one of us enjoyed Michael Deg’s food philosophy most.

For the record, the pork belly came with butternut, gooseberries, crackling and juniper jus, and the springbok loin with fermented garlic mash, bok choy and celeriac purée. Bone marrow, heirloom carrots, toasted quinoa, orange and celery accompanied the beef fillet.

I must be clear about one thing: however much we enjoyed the main dishes, we were totally unprepared for the biggest surprise. Our host ordered all of the side dishes for our communal consumption and these proved to be the crowning glory of our lunch. They included triple-cooked hand-cut chips, roasted orange sweet potato, tender-stem broccoli, brown butter roasted cauliflower and a haloumi, pear and walnut salad.

Now, consider the impact made by the main courses, and then ponder the fact that not a morsel was left of the side dishes, apart from a few chips (for dignity’s sake, of course). If the main courses hadn’t been so sizable, we conceivably would have ordered seconds of the side dishes. 

Under the circumstances, there wasn’t much room left for dessert. Some of us soldiered on, ever willing to lay our bodies on the line. I made short shrift of the Dark Chocolate and Passion Fruit Fondant. Elsewhere, the Milk and Honey Sponge brought great joy, as did the Pistachio Soufflé.

In closing, it must be mentioned there is a speed limit of 30km/h on the road linking the restaurant and the security gate. Fortunately, there is no way that anyone who enjoyed the luncheon as much as we did would exceed that limit. You simply have neither the need nor the inclination to do so. You feel so at peace with the world that you wish the feeling would last forever.

The Bordeaux blend from the estate’s flagship range delivers concentrated fruit and soft tannins.

Sweet bloom of youth

– Chris Otto

The ‘youngest’ of the restaurant/wine estates in the Stellenbosch area, Cavalli is beautifully situated on the southern side of the famed golden triangle where the vines, being mostly youngish, present a challenge to the winemakers.

We started with a glass of Cavalli’s Capriole MCC 2017, which had the benefit of 24 months on the lees. At R330 per bottle this was good value. I should immediately say that the prices of all the Cavalli wines were quite reasonable.

Justin, our sommelier, was knowledgeable and very helpful, especially with the estate’s own wines. He recommended the 2015 Chardonnay (R460), easily the best of the offerings. This was followed by the 2016 Warlord (R350), a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot.

Our host spoiled us with a bottle of the newly released 2017 Saurwein, a hefty 14,5% Pinot Noir from Villiers­dorp. The BYO policy of R110 per four persons allowed for this.

There is also a wide choice of wine by the glass, as well as a substantial list of local and international wines. These are rather pricey.

The Spiegelau stemware does justice to the fine dining and drinking experience.

Cavalli Restaurant, Cavalli Wine Estate, R44, Somerset West.
021 855 3218, office@cavalliestate.com

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