Cape Town - There’s a sense of deep irony here. You’ve woken up, wiped the sleep from eyes that haven’t had enough shut-eye, made yourself a cup of Twinings English breakfast tea, opened the door to your Presidential suite’s deck, and stepped outside.
You’re greeted by dawnlight cast on the Sentinel and a still-sleeping Hangberg, beyond the bay. Between you and your luxury, and that struggling fishing community, lies a Titanic sea. A sea like a sheet of glass cut through by a ship en route to doom. Standing there, you may ponder the irony of some of the Cape’s poorest communities living on land which, though they may not own it, has views that the rich would, and do, pay vast amounts of money for. And there is some satisfaction in the knowledge that the rich cannot take away the views of the people of Hangberg and Imizamo Yethu.
If you’re like me, staying at places like Tintswalo Atlantic is unsettling. The more the comfort, the more uncomfortable you feel, especially when, opening those curtains in the morning, that beautiful view is in fact a view of deprivation. And I wonder what those people, who I cannot see but who surely lurk in those houses glinting in the dawn light, would think if they could see the opulence of this suite, and if they were told that breakfast – just breakfast – costs R250 a pop, lunch R350 and dinner R550 for five course (plus canapes) but not including wine. And that the winter special – special, note – is R6 000 a couple per night. But that’s in an ordinary suite.
It is quite a place, and all of the above is not to say there is no justification in charging a whack for the kind of luxury that’s been laid on. I had both breakfast and dinner, and they make excellent food, serve it with that personal style of the kind you’d expect in a bush lodge, and that, really, is the point.
There are other Tintswalos, way up north, and your hosts at Tintswalo Atlantic come from that milieu, and decided that they wanted to create a bush lodge at the sea.
The marketer of this establishment is Nicky Arthur. This was the first time I’d met her but she truly is a little dynamo, a bundle of out-there personality who is an asset to anybody needing something marketed with aplomb and attention to detail. Arthur was quick to tell me that no other such resort or hotel in the Western Cape has bedrooms this close to the sea. One would hope so… any closer and you’d need a life jacket.
It is, however, not difficult to put your discomfort aside, as the place takes you into its charms so that, especially after the third glass of wine that’s being matched with each course of your dinner, you find yourself forgetting the world out there while you feel the cooling sea air on your face and the wine enlivens the conversation at the long table of guests invited to taste Tintswalo’s charms.
The dinner the previous night had been an eight-course affair, which is three courses more than you’ll get if you book for dinner here. We began with a smoked clam chowder with bacon crumb and thyme biscotti, served with Protea chardonnay. Not having been concentrating properly, I had already consumed the pouring of chardonnay when the chowder was served, but I’m sure it would have gone perfectly well. This pairing thing can be a tad tiresome, anyway, because, quite frankly, wine goes with food and there is no need to get too complicated about it. I am supposed to be the last person to say something like that, but I’d much rather be the first food writer to speak what others only think.
When all the usual murmurings are going on about how the nuances of this enhance the ouvre of that, I’m more often than not thinking, “Get over yourselves and just enjoy it.”
Still, the Guardian Peak Frontier cabernet/ shiraz/merlot blend was delicious and very good with the confit duck forcemeat served with soubise and a spicy tomato smear. Oh dear. There’s that word again. Smear. I was to encounter it – and its sibling, Smudge – several more times that night, and at no point was there ever enough of it. Please, please, can we stop these smudges and serve a proper portion of sauce, especially with meat? Let us have brave chefs who stand up to this scourge and say, “No! No more! I will no longer countenance these silly smudges, on pain of death! I choose trial by sword!” But perhaps I am confusing this with Game of Thrones. The duck was the best course of the evening, but for me, duck often is.
We were served, next, kataifi prawn with lobster cream, fennel salad and tempura mussel, with Haute Cabrière chardonnay pinot noir, always one of my favourite wines. It was at this point that I began getting irritated with the minuscule pourings of wine and none too subtly requested a more generous hand, which was forthcoming. I’m sure it went very well with the lovely kataifi pastry.
The mussel was somewhat lost in its pale blond tempura batter, and the prawn lost the battle with the pastry, and was soon beheaded, but I liked it anyway.
The goji pear sorbet drew much debate. No one had ever hear of a goji pear, and the ring of dried pineapple quite clearly wasn’t, several people said, to their embarrassment when they told us that it was indeed pineapple. I was happy to have kept my mouth shut.
Villiera Brut Traditional Bush Vine sauvignon blanc was well figgy and flinty and stood up to the black pepper and lime kingklip. Here’s the one fish that is going to battle to survive despite the stock-preservation efforts of the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative. Restaurateurs need to come to this party or one day we will all no longer be able to enjoy this fine fish. Rather serve dorado, which is much like kingklip. So, never mind what that was like. Restaurateurs, please take note.
There were two meat courses, thank God. The first was lamb rump with pomegranate jus, butternut fondant and zucchini fritters. I’m still trying to find the jus, which was disguised as an almost indiscernible smudge, while the lamb was a tiny bit overdone.
Far better was the biltong-dusted springbok loin with black cherry and port jus. It was a beautiful piece of meat, perfectly cooked, but again, hardly any sauce to speak of. The sauce in the glass – Fairview pinotage for the lamb and Protea shiraz for the springbok – went some way to compensate. But hear us, chefs: the sauce is the essence that binds it all together, so do not deprive us of it.
The dessert was soft chilli chocolate cake with pine nut brittle, raspberry glaze (smudge), rose dust and espresso semifreddo. All excellent, and served with Mulderbosch noble late harvest.
OMG… I’ve just googled the rate for the Presidential Suite. R27 500 a night. It’s a good thing I didn’t know that at the time. I wouldn’t have been able to sleep a wink. - Tony Jackman, Sunday Independent
* Tony Jackman was a guest of Tintswalo Atlantic, Chapman’s Peak Drive, tel: 011 300 8888
* Read more of Jackman's writing at Sliver.