by Matthew Sterne
on January 4, 2012
Floating on the heady prospect of a two week holiday, Daisy (my emasculated Jeep), Mark (my emasculated friend who kindly agreed to accompany me for the night) and I set off with the sort of vim that only a road trip to the Cape Winelands can muster.
It’s important to plan any trip to the winelands so as to arrive in time for the first tastings of the day. This is important for four reasons.
Firstly, if you’re thirsty like me, you will not have to wait for your wine.
Secondly your sommelier will not yet have exhausted his bonhomie and enthusiasm for amateur musings on the subject of tannins and terroir and will indulge the insights of your eager palate.
Thirdly, the human palate is at its most acute in the morning. I do hope there is some authority to back me up here, otherwise this will seem like a thinly veiled attempt to justify a tipple before noon. When not in the winelands one really should try and hold out until midday. Except of course on weekends and public holidays. And bad days.
Finally, you’ll be able to fit in as many wine estates as possible on your road trip.
On this particular occasion we were headed for the recently renovated Majeka House. A five star boutique hotel in Stellenbosch. With 22 rooms it achieves the Goldilocks balance between intimacy, service and facilities.
The Makaron restaurant and M-Lounge at Majeka won the Eat Out 2011 Boschendal Style Award and it’s easy to see why. Eclectic design combines modern and classical in ways that only the bravest of interior designers or most deluded of drag queens would imagine possible. But it works. A dark-leather, tufted Chesterfield sits cheek by jowl with a grand piano, an illuminated blue bar, golden pigs, a faux library and a model ship. The M-Lounge is the ideal spot for a pre-prandial margarita and a few wasabi nuts.
Across the hall is the Makaron restaurant which is an altogether less cluttered space incorporating lots of light wood and pastel colours. It’s a spectacular space which certainly enhances the sense of occasion. There’s also a gorgeous terrace for an al fresco lunch.
While the food itself was sensational, it was the presentation that really impressed. The attention to detail on the plating was magnificent with full marks for imagination and originality. The team must have spent an age sourcing the crockery and cutlery – from the ornate fine bone china to the modern interpretation of a tagine dish. Each vessel would be quite at home in the Tate Modern.
Novelty hot towels however would not go down so well in the Tate. I do hope they go out of fashion soon. You know those ones that start out as an innocent looking mint (this is the first flaw – if you eat it you will die) and which, with the cunning addition of hot water ‘magically’ expand into a teeny, tiny hot towel with all the absorptive enthusiasm of a maxi-pad?
Anyhow, where was I? Ah yes – the a la carte menu is excellent – each dish has an optional pairing of a wine or an artisanal beer from various local microbreweries. A rather novel pairing concept which allows you to mix and match as you go. Personally I find beer too filling with a large meal.
Chef Tanja Kruger is a talented winner of the Chaine de Rotisseurs Young Chef of the Year 2008, and a member of the South African Culinary Olympic Team. She moved to De Huguenot Restaurant early in 2011 from Hunter’s Country House in Plettenberg Bay, having previously worked at Lanzerac, the Radisson Hotel and Five Flies.
The highlight of my meal was the garden pea risotto with garlic froth and a smoked olive tapenade (this will set you back R80 and is recommended with a Dalla Cia Sauvignon Blanc ’10 at R36 or a Birkenhead Pilsener at R21). This is a starter that will gently rock your world.
The peppered beef carpaccio with parmesan mousse and a garden fennel salad was magnificent with a Morgenster ‘Caruso’ Rosé ’10. Mark had the duck confit, seared foie gras and a black berry vinaigrette served on a warm salad for R55 with a Johnny Gold Weiss Beer (R28). Taste bud tantalisingly soft and creamy foie gras. Part of the secret here is the fresh produce, much of which is grown on the property.
Pick of the main courses was Mark’s Asian pork belly (it’s odd that I have a friend with an Asian pork belly – very embarrassing by the poolside but beggars can’t be choosers) with scallops, pickled radish cucumber salad and a honey jus (R180). A work of art and seriously delicious. Recommended with a Middelvlei ‘Free Run’ Pinotage ’10 for R39 a glass. My duck egg ravioli with young artichoke, white asparagus and truffle (R95) was beautifully textured and delicate if a little light on flavour in comparison to the pork.
For pudding I went for the Valrhona chocolate tart with naartjie pears and grapefruit sorbet (R80). This was served with a fantastic Signal Hill ‘Straw Wine’ ’01 which I highly recommend. This was the only course I would have any real criticism about – the chocolate flavour was bang on, but the tart was a little undercooked and for me the cold grapefruit combination was as unnatural as a day without wine.
After dinner, you might want to head back to the M-Lounge, or better still, get stuck in to the cigars, Cognac and Armagnac in the glassed off cigar lounge before a short stumble back to your room (stay over if you can – definitely worth it).
I didn’t really know what to expect at Makaron but I can confidently say it was one of the best dining experiences I have had in South Africa. It needs a little time mature, but all the organic ingredients are in place. Slick service and one of those menus where every dish is an enticing contender. I’d be very surprised if it doesn’t find itself in the Top 20 for 2012.
Makaron Restaurant at Majeka House
26-32 Houtkapper Street, Paradyskloof,
Stellenbosch, 7600 Western Cape
Tel: +27 21 880 1549 | Fax: +27 21 880 1550