A cave of secrets at Haute Cabriere
By Janine Papendorf
Cape Town - “Babe, you’ve got something in your teeth,” says my husband, the king of small talk. We’re sitting at Haute Cabriere’s Cellar Restaurant in Franschhoek, getting ready to sample the new winter menu on a windy Saturday.
I’ve just gobbled up my second piece of bread with parsley butter. “Is it a piece of parsley?” I ask him. He nods. I grab my glass of water and take a big gulp, then swoosh the liquid around my mouth like I’m in a toothpaste advert. It’s at this precise moment that I notice Cellar Master Takuan von Arnim making his way towards our table. I half-snort, half-swallow my mouthful of water and hope the offensive piece of greenery has disappeared down my throat.
If Takuan notices anything amiss, he’s diplomatically quiet about it (good man), and shakes hands with both of us before sitting down for a quick chat. He’s keen to find out what we’ll be eating and wants to make a few recommendations from the menu.
“Now what did I have the other day that was so good,” he muses. “The lamb.” He calls over a nearby waiter and asks for details. He gets confirmation that it was indeed the lamb. “Yes, yes, I highly recommend that!” He’s referring to the mustard-crusted rack of lamb, served with honey and rosemary sweet potato, apple puree and lamb jus – a main-course item on the a la carte menu. It sounds wonderful, but today we’ve signed up for The Marriage of Food and Wine – a three-course meal paired with, and designed to showcase, Haute Cabriere’s famed wines.
Moments earlier, Takuan had been leading us and a handful of other people through the estate’s underground cellar, which is reached by descending a low-roofed and tunnel-like staircase that winds downward into what feels a bit like Aladdin’s cave. “Wow, it’s beautiful,” says a woman next to me. She’s not wrong. Gently illuminated by chandeliers and wall-mounted globes, the cellar has a warm, welcoming atmosphere in spite of its size and location. Large artworks give it colour, glamour and a quirky kind of charm. A particularly eye-catching chandelier is made of empty Dom Perignon bottles. The green glass projects a starry shape on to the cement ceiling above us. It’s quite striking – and photo-worthy – and there’s a story behind it, too: Takuan’s birth prompted much celebration and Dom Perignon was consumed in copious amounts in honour of his arrival.
Keeping it in the family
Haute Cabriere is the epitome of a family business. Takuan’s father, Achim von Arnim, founded the farm in 1982 and is widely regarded as a pioneer in the South African wine industry. Takuan’s mother, Hildegard, is the estate’s public relations manager. As the couple’s eldest son, Takuan himself was perhaps destined to follow in their footsteps, but he has an innate passion for the farm, the wine and the industry that leaves no doubt about his true calling. He’s a son of the soil as much as he is a guardian of the vines and a champion of Haute Cabriere’s products.
A champion who wields a sword. Or rather, a sabre. For what purpose, you might wonder? Well, who needs a bottle opener when you have a blade? Takuan gathers the tour group for a wine-tasting session and asks for a volunteer to help with his sabrage demonstration. A courageous lady steps forward and is given step-by-step instructions on how to slide the sabre along the bottle of bubbly to slice off the neck in one smooth motion. It looks fairly simple, but I wouldn’t try it at home without expert guidance!
Soon, our glasses are fizzing with Pierre Jourdan Blanc de Blancs and Takuan is explaining one of the “rules” of the tasting room. “Don’t waste any,” he says. “The spittoons are there to look nice, to add to the decor, not to use.” There are a few giggles, but not a drop is surrendered to the silver receptacles. I look at my watch and note the time: 11h40. Technically, it’s morning, but hey, I had a big breakfast! A good thing, too, because after several more tastings – including the Pierre Jourdan Brut and the Haute Cabriere Chardonnay Pinot Noir 2015 – I’m a little tipsy. Navigating my way back up the stairs, in heels, proves to be a fun experience.
Takuan had us enthralled with his anecdotes in the cellar, so we’re 15 minutes late for our lunch reservation, but restaurant manager Thobeka Mfazwe is unperturbed and we are guided to a table by the fire. Although it sits above the cellar, the restaurant shares the same vault-like architecture. The ceiling is low, the lighting is dim and unpretentious, and at the rear, a large “window” provides a grand overview of the barrels below.
The Marriage of Food and Wine menu offers two choices for each course, which makes things easy for me and my husband. We’re going to have one of each, and share to compare.
French onion soup with gratinated chevre crostini (served with Pierre Jourdan Tranquille)
The earthy, mild flavour of the goat’s cheese is well balanced against the rich, velvety broth. The portion size is quite generous for an appetiser.
Mushroom, thyme and phantom ravioli, Provencal crème, parmesan crisp (served with Pierre Jourdan Brut)
Being a great lover of pasta, my husband wolfs this down! The Brut makes a wonderful companion here – crisp, with lots of bubbles, and an elegant dryness that cuts through the intensity of the crème.
Vegetable bourguignon, pearled barley, tapenade (served with Haute Cabriere Chardonnay Pinot Noir)
Bourguignon is a French dish, traditionally prepared with beef braised in red wine. This meatless creation is a riot of colour on the plate – carrots, courgettes, mushrooms, red peppers and snow peas adorn a bed of barley. The Chardonnay Pinot Noir has a lovely fruitiness and a tender acidity that doesn’t overwhelm you, and it pairs well with this surprisingly robust dish.
Braised springbok shank, panko crusted pumpkin fritter, port wine reduction (served with Haute Cabriere Pinot Noir Reserve)
The shank is the highlight of my husband’s meal. I am given one (small) mouthful to taste as part of our “sharing” pact. He will not give up another bite! The meat is succulent and bursting with flavour, the fritters have just the right amount of crispiness, and the jus is a taste sensation on the tongue. The Pinot Noir Reserve is very nicely oaked and goes down a treat.
Feta cheese tart, dried fruit chutney, candied citrus peel (served with Pierre Jourdan Belle Rose)
This is a good option if your sweet tooth isn’t fully developed! It’s mostly savoury, with hints of sweetness from the chutney and citrus peel to remind you that it’s a dessert. The fresh berry flavours from the Belle Rose shine through.
Chocolate malva, espresso crème anglaise, berry leather, orange ice-cream (served with Pierre Jourdan Blanc de Blancs)
I’ve always liked the combination of chocolate and oranges, and that blessed union is further enhanced here by the addition of the espresso crème. Personally, I would have preferred the Pierre Jourdan Ratafia with this dish, because I adore fortified wines, but the Blanc de Blancs has a subtlety and creaminess that complements these flavours beautifully.
A special thank you to our waitress, Sunè. “Service with a smile” isn’t quite enough to sum up her enthusiasm and efficiency. And also to sous chef Claire, who took the time to say hello and share some of the highlights of her culinary journey. Thobeka had her finger on the pulse of the restaurant and took great care of us. And Rose, in the tasting room, was a gentle and graceful attendant.
Go to eat. Go to drink. Go to discover – and arrive brave!
The Marriage of Food and Wine
R395 for 3 courses, including a glass of the recommended wine with each course.
R515 for 6 courses, including a glass of the recommended wine with each course.
Haute Cabriere is located on Lambrechts Road (R45/Franschhoek Pass) in Franschhoek.
Haute Cabriere Tasting Room
Telephone: +27 (0)21 876 8500
Email: [email protected]
Haute Cabriere Cellar Restaurant & Terrace
Telephone: +27 (0)21 876 3688
Email: [email protected]