A culinary great trek to Mpumalanga
Nelspruit - Most people when they’re escaping Nelspruit’s way, are going to the National Kruger Park or other game reserves in the area. There are also quite a few getaway resorts where golfing or family activities play a serious role.
When I was asked to check some of the restaurants in the area, I decided to try a kind of foodie weekend, travelling from one spot to the next following recommendations I’ been given about the area. I know there will be more, but here’s a few pointers from our cuisine trek.
Kavinga Guest House
I lost my heart to the Kavinga Guest House (R37, Nelspruit, 1201/082 255 5639), its young owners GT and Lizelle Lundie and what I found to be a most congenial spot with its rolling hills and bougainvilleas as far as the eye can see. Take time to relax with a book and a sundowner on the stoep of your bungalow before a fantastic dinner on the terrace of the restaurant, right next to your sleeping quarters.
The dinner menu stops you in your tracks, but because of Mpumalanga appetites, you’d better not eat before you go. Their portions are enormous. I could easily have stopped after the amuse bouche and starter. Managing only about three bites of my main, dessert wasn’t an option at all.
They started us off with an amuse bouche which had a selection of snacks. Then we opted for the crisp pork medallions in a tamarind panko crust, orange, beetroot and rocket salad with peanut and spring onion salsa and a citrus soy glaze (R50) and a Marsala flavoured quail stuffed with spinach and onion, Italian sausage and coconut carrot puree (R65).
The thing about chef GT’s food is the unusual combinations that work so well with flavours that complement one another. It might sound like an extravagant list, but with his background in food and years of training with the best, including a stint at Singita and as head chef at the celebrated Roots restaurant in the Cradle area, he balances it perfectly and subtly.
Then we skipped to mains which included curried lamb with potato mash, bean and pearl onion sauce (R145), and sticking to birds, a plum roasted duck with Asian noodles, shitake mushrooms and mange tout. It’s beautifully prepared and presented food, but for our Pretoria palates, simply too much. We wanted to try as much as we could to assess the food but in future, I’d probably go for a starter and a dessert which is more than enough.
Even though the portions were overwhelming, the special dish of veggies with our mains, including the most amazing pumpkin fritters and fresh wilted spinach, was irresistible
It’s also a magnificent place to stay.They will be renovating the bungalows in the not-too-distant future, yet I quite liked the un-fussiness of the rooms.
The next morning at breakfast, with two options of Eggs Benedict, the complimentary muesli with thick yogurt was simply the best. Again, it is the flavours and the knowledge that it shouldn’t send you into sugar shock first thing in the morning.
They have an adventurous wine list, many options by the glass and special children’s options for their lunch menu which is more informal than dinner.
The Lundies moved from Nelspruit city centre to the Kavinga Guesthouse property just more than a year ago.
There’s much they still want to achieve in the restaurant and guesthouse and they also have an event/catering side to the business. It’s a magical spot for weddings for example. “We’re both passionate about food,” says Lizelle -– and that’s part of the joy. It’s contagious.
Sabi River Sun Resort
The second night, we stayed over at the Sabi River Sun Resort (also on the R538 Sabi/Hazyview Road) which focuses on golfers and families in a big way.
Situated in a lush greenland that seems to stretch on forever, you can wander down to the watering hole to see the hippos enjoy their late afternoon tipple, catch a round of golf or laze in or at the pool and allow the kids to roam the grounds on bikes provided on the premises.
It’s the perfect setup, with a hotel and timeshare self-catering bungalows on the river, and while this might not be a food destination per se, with too much emphasis on family meals, the head chef Cindy Tomas is having a good time feeding the large numbers moving in and out of the resort.
They offer many options for those staying over to sample and enjoy from their Sesonke terrace menu to their evening a la carte choices.
She speaks enthusiastically about her staff and the rewards of training young chefs who have started low down in the ranks in the kitchen.
“I’d rather train a pot washer to become a chef than appoint one from outside,” she says. You can see her staff know that and they pull out all the stops.
While buffet breakfast isn’t my best, the young man making the omelet especially for those who can’t live without their own speciality eggs, served one of the best.
“We try to make everything from scratch,” explains Cindy. There’s no using pre-mixed packets or going the quicker yet more expensive and often nastier route.
“We do our own breads, muffins and cakes,” she says.
That includes sauces and stocks.
She’s been through the ranks and has run her own bed and breakfast as well as a small dining restaurant for many years.
Energy is not the least of her talents. She has introduced a herb and vegetable garden and is very active in keeping the kitchen environmentally friendly which all adds to the end product.
She loves working with people and it shows. Her staff sparkle and the food options are wide and many, even if you just want some time out to grab a burger or a pizza.
If you’re wondering, of course they make their own pizza bases!
After breakfast we had to navigate our day between two meals. The first was at a Tapas-driven restaurant called Saffron (56 Ferreira St, Nelspruit/013 744 0324) right in the heart of Nelspruit which is as wonderful as it is unexpected in this part of the world. It’s also attached to a guesthouse, Chez Vincent, should you need to stay over.
Tapas is trendy in different shapes and forms around the world but not something one would think of discovering in this rapidly expanding mass market (it feels) kind of town.
But with many travellers passing through, I thought the concept a brilliant one. They have a more formal inside seating area but also a lovely veranda-type balcony which is perfect for a late afternoon or evening meal. It allows the sounds of the city to penetrate the ambience of this contemporary meal.
The options and choices are wide and many. You can select a few Tapas starters and make a meal of that, or have a more traditional starter and main as you would in more traditional restaurants. The Tapas option allows for a wider variety and you’re going to need it here.
We picked a selection that included a grilled beef fillet with homemade pesto pasta with crispy Parma ham (R55) to Greek marinaded lamb loin with mediterranean vegetables and rosemary jus (R55), homemade cured bresaola with gnocchi and creamy Gorgonzola (R28), Basque seafood stew with tomato and chili and garlic toast (R42) and a mid Eastern Falafel with harissa and flat bread (R22). With a glass of wine and a colddrink, the bill was less than R300 – which is perfect for that kind of meal.
The food with many other items on the menu is imaginative, well prepared and well worth driving for. According to restaurateur, Steve Moore, he has fans driving from Gauteng. And having sampled his food, I’m not that surprised. This is good stuff. To add the cherry on top, you could indulge in a tapas dessert which could include crème brulee, yogurt panna cotta with fresh berry coulis, Spanish churros with chili chocolate dipping sauce and a trio of brownies with peanut butter ice cream.
Later that night, it was the turn of Summerfield’s Kitchen (R538 Sabi/Hazyview Road) which is part of a rose farm and a health spa. The restaurant itself is quite quaint with a kind of country-air architecture with interiors that marry the bush with fine dining as white linen and silver dress the tables.
The menus are small and fine dining reigns – if you want to have that kind of meal. The choices are determined by the produce (mostly grown in their gardens) on the day. We skipped starters and opted for a light fennel-infused risotto with tomato and beetroot and a fennel foam and a comfy Karoo lamb loin with celeriac, parsnip puree, cous cous, anchovy and roast garlic jus. Dessert was also sweet with hazelnut chocolate soufflé and Madagascan vanilla bean ice cream or a macadamia chocolate bar with praline shards, butterscotch and strawberry ice cream. Add a glass of wine and a colddrink and the bill amounted to R525 (with a tip) which I thought was slightly steep for what we had (two mains and a shared dessert) but it was a quality, if not extraordinary, meal.