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South Africa's Farm-to-Table Movement

White stucco landhuisies at Babylonstoren.

Photo: DOOK

In a state-of-the-art open-plan kitchen at the entrance, chef Chris Erasmus executes modern twists on traditional Boerekos—Boer food that dates back 350 years. Indeed, just as Taravella was inspired by the Company’s Garden, Erasmus spent months sifting through settlers’ diaries, cookbooks, letters, and manuscripts, finding original recipes and ingredients that had been lost over time. The result is extraordinary: a menu that’s a culinary archive of a people. A saffron fish curry recalls the food of the Malay slaves shipped to the Cape; a Huguenot fish pie was a favorite of those 17th-century refugees; and meaty dishes such as pomegranate-glazed pork belly and braised veal knuckle reflect the Dutch, German, and Flemish roots of Afrikaner food. “You can’t eat history, but you can be inspired by it,” Erasmus says.

At around the same time Babylonstoren and La Motte were opening, another property was unveiled in the area: Delaire Graff Lodges & Spa, a 55-acre estate located on the crest of Helshoogte Pass, a soaring mountain traverse that links Franschhoek with the more commercial wine and farming region of Stellenbosch. At first glance, the estate seems like a cosmopolitan mash-up. Billionaire British diamond jeweler and art collector Laurence Graff bought the estate in 2003 and spent six years building Delaire, hiring celebrated London designer David Collins (of Blue Bar at the Berkeley Hotel fame) to do the interiors. There are 10 lodge suites on the western flank of the property, each with an infinity plunge pool and a timber deck overlooking the Winelands. Stunning though they are, there’s nothing particularly South African about the suites’ aesthetic. Indeed, the estate’s Indochine restaurant indicates a certain Eastern sensibility at work.

But at its heart, the property is as grounded in the Winelands as those earthy Afrikaner properties in the valley below. The main restaurant-winery, at the end of the long, oak-shaded drive, has giant wooden doors that swing open onto a soaring reception area backed by the glass walls of a winery holding two floors of stainless-steel vats and oak barrels. Underfoot is a smooth, dimpled floor made of peach pips and red resin—a contemporary take on the peach-pip, cow-dung, and oxblood floors once used in Cape Afrikaner homes. The restaurant is a mirrored space with orange banquettes that recalls a New York City supper club, but the walls are lined with paintings by South African artists, among them a stunning William Kentridge portrait that’s as imposing as that bull at Babylonstoren.

The menu combines modern with traditional as well: a quail with zucchini and sun-dried olives has been roasted, old Cape style, in a wood-fired oven, and a grilled squid and prawn entrée is paired with a ragoût of white beans and bokkom—dried, salted sardines, which are a delicacy in the area. When I ask where my quail comes from, I’m directed to a farm in the valley; the oysters and mussels were harvested from Cape waters. As for the vegetables, they are very local: from Delaire Graff’s own garden. These days, it’s not just self-respecting Afrikaner farms that need vegetable patches. It seems any new property in the Winelands requires one.

Douglas Rogers is the author of The Last Resort: A Memoir of Zimbabwe.

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