Diemersdal opens stable door to new farm eatery
What is it about the notion of taking time off for lunch that we love? Is it the sense of comfort that the table brings; the small rituals of unfolding the napkin and buttering the bread? Perhaps it’s all those things wrapped up in one feeling.
The lunch hour has always been a special time for the Louws of Diemersdal. The historic and highly acclaimed wine estate in the Durbanville Wine Valley embraces change and tradition by opening a new farm eatery in an old stable.
“Farming is hard work, and while lunch is about refueling, it’s also about connecting. The table is where we share our dreams, talk about things that need to be done around the farm; where new ideas and solutions are hatched.” So says Thys, sixth generation farmer, who lives on the farm with wife Ladine and their young son Tienie (1), torchbearer for the 7th generation. At the head of the table is father Tienie and mom Joanita. For quite some time their talk over lunch was about turning the old gabled stable (built in 1928) into a place where visitors can taste the ‘platteland’ at a slower pace of life.
Spearheaded by Joanita, the decision was made to turn the stable into an eatery, but keeping the character of the old stable intact with the minimum of restoration. The decorative gable is a legacy from Tienie’s grandfather. “Oupa Louw’s soft spot for gables can be seen in the 29 gables in nine different styles on the farm” explains Joanita. “The stable also stands as a reminder of time when horses were used in the vineyards. Horses were stabled there until 1975, after which it was used for wine storage.”
This dream of transforming the stable, together with their love for the uncomplicated flavours of Provence and local kontreikos, lead to a culinary collaboration with chef Nic van Wyk.
Nic is known for his gutsy flavours and penchant for peasant food to which he brings a modern sensibility. “The food at the stable is comforting, convivial and packed with flavour – and never boring. It’s about food you want to share and enjoy with people you care about.”
Classically trained at the Institute of Culinary Arts in Stellenbosch, Nic’s accolades and experience further fuels the culinary growth of the Durbanville region. He co-founded Terroir in 2006, then voted Eat Out Best Restaurant in South Africa. Nic also proved his mettle at La Colombe with Franck Dangereux, and travelled overseas before returning to Kleine Zalze Lodge where he spent the past four years.
He consulted for well-known restaurants in Cape Town and the Winelands and was inaugurated as SA Brandy Guild member for his special contribution. Serving as cheese ambassador for Simonsberg, it was his blue cheese risotto with honeycomb that first caught Joanita Louw’s eye. Nic will also be main judge with Hetta Van Deventer Terblanche for Kokkedoor, a new culinary competition to air on Kyknet from April 2013.
Sous chef Martin de Kock trained at the Institute of Culinary Arts and honed his skills at Greenhouse, Cellars Hohenort and Jordan. He says he adds to the mix tender love, care and consideration. A budding charcutier, Martin is building a smoker behind the restaurant and will soon cure his first pork leg. “Then also duck ham to serve with pickled blueberry dressing.”
Anja Smit is the front-of-house-manager. The interior is calm, soothing with old wooden tables, hand-polished to a sheen. The water cribs; thick, raw clay brick walls and farm paraphernalia nod to the stable’s hard-working past; the fresh flowers and quirky collection of deer figurines point to Joanita Louw and her daughters’ eye for beautiful things. For those preferring to eat alfresco, the reward is the vistas over softly sloped hills, vineyards, the garden, fields with grazing sheep, ducks at the dam and Big Boy, the white horse saved from a life of misery by the Louws, now grazing in the paddock.
On the blackboard:
The menu is a natural display of produce grown on the farm: the glut of artichokes find themselves pickled, the herbs are picked fresh from the kitchen garden and as the seasons change, quinces will be preserved; stone-fruit turned to jam and figs into conserve.
“We don’t have to look beyond the farm for inspiration”, says chef Nic. “It’s everywhere – in the views, the wines, the people, the gardens and the fields; the heritage and the forward thinking. The approach here is to keep things natural, to make a plan.” Written by hand (“that’s how we do things here, hand-made) the blackboard shows the plat du jour menu: the starter, main and dessert of the day – each dish reflecting Diemersdal’s no-fuss, farm-friendly approach with full-on commitment to quality.
The menu changes daily, perhaps brandade for starters – lightly smoked, crisp little fish cakes with lemon cream. Then on to pulled lamb shoulder on buttery mash with white bean and truffle sauce. Fresh strawberries are served with vanilla biscuits; stewed guava with Italian meringue or poached peaches with nutty streusel.
Tapas: miniature feast on a platter
Tapas platters (for one or two) showcase Nic’s imaginative take on these famed little dishes.
Changing twice a week, it features several savoury dishes with something sweet at the end: chorizo, paprika-flavoured Patagonia calamari and harissa mayo, pulled pork bruschetta, chicken croquettes in a crispy crumb coating with aioli; farm bread, boerenkaas and house-made tomato jam. Poached nectarines with marzipan ice cream is an example of the snack sized dessert.
Weekends at the stable
Friday lunch belongs to a classic bistro combination of steak and chips. Firm favourites are sirloin steak with béarnaise sauce and green beans tossed in garlicky butter, with salad from the kitchen garden. For dessert: half a dozen madeleines. “We serve the madeleines still warm from the oven,” says Nic. “There’s no other way.
Tapas are also served on Fridays, way beyond sunset aperitivi style.
On Saturdays the living is easy with Diemersdal’s creative burgers, sandwiches and salads; tapas and winelands platters.
Sunday lunch is prepared and served with a special sense of care and generosity. “What people love is how the dishes are served on large platters and ‘opskepskottels’, very much like their Oumas did it”, says Nic.
The Sunday menu changes weekly. It always starts with freshly baked breads and home-made spreads, followed by a plated starter (last Sunday it was classic Cape pickled fish with asparagus). Then it’s on to the Sunday Roast with all the trimmings, from pork belly and crackling to chicken roasted in a clay tiled oven or sirloin and wild mushroom cream.
“There must be roast potatoes (we love it with rosemary butter); veggies may include pumpkin, made into pampoenkoekies (fritters) or roasted to intensify the flavour; green beans or courgettes in butter, chilli and garlic; fresh asparagus; carrot salad with cumin and honey dressing and rustic pearl barley to soak up the gravy.”
“If we have a good harvest of aubergine, we’ll turn that into melanzane,” adds Martin. Pudding is fresh and fruity in the summer months – stone fruit and almond tart; lemon curd foam with fresh berries or a rich chocolate tart when there’s a nip in the air.
A feast it is, so the wise ones book beforehand.
Wine at Cellar prices
Diemersdal’s top drawer wines are available in the restaurant at cellar prices.
Diemersdal’s achievements in the 2012 medal stakes include the Pinotage Reserve 2011 taking the Grand Prix Trophy (‘Best Wine on Show’) the Sue van Wyk Pinotage Trophy and Gran d’Or at the Michelangelo International Awards. The Pinotage 2011 is in the ABSA Pinotage Top Ten; the MM Louw Sauvignon Blanc 2011 is rated in the Top 100 SA Wines and listed in the FNB Sauvignon Blanc Top 10. Diemersdal also excelled at the China Wine Awards as the Best SA Wine Producer or 2012.
Lunch and Tapas Platters: Wednesday-Saturday 12:00-15:00
Sunday Lunch: 12:00-15:00 (Reservations only)
Sunset Tapas: Friday 16:00-21:00
Closed Mondays and Tuesdays to source fresh produce and fill the pantry.