Bodyboard down the Olifants, sleep in a bedouin tent, hike a pristine trail
Glen Carlou Winery’s Restaurant
The Winelands eatery that marries magnificent vistas with classic bistro cuisine
“Coming up the driveway here is very deceiving,” Arco Laarman, esteemed winemaker at Glen Carlou, tells me, “you don’t expect to have this amazing panoramic view.”
We’re lazing by a glowing hearth in the open-plan thatched visitor centre that houses both the estate’s tasting room and its on-site eatery, looking out over a breathtaking valley unravelling below. While many local wine farm restaurants boast splendid scenic beauty, few can claim the sweeping vistas over vineyards, dams and mountain ranges that this charming bistro and winery afford.
With such spectacular panoramas – accessible both from the outdoor terrace and from the interior through floor-to-ceiling windows – you’d be forgiven for assuming the space was designed solely and specifically as a spot to lunch and lap up the sights.
Though, originally serviced out of a kitchen no larger than that of a submarine’s (it enjoyed a complete renovation in December 2010), the estate’s restaurant, in fact, evolved principally to support and supplement the flavours of their exceptional wines, a point reflected in their rigorous effort to couple each dish with a suggested vintage from their wide, world-class selection.
“We are first and foremost a winery, and the food is there to accompany the wines,” explains Arco, as we continue to while away the day in the private cellar’s visitor centre, a relaxed space that harmoniously blends clean lines and African touches, zen and warmth.
Though, despite the eatery’s focus on glasses of Glen Carlou reds and whites – and at cellar door prices, to boot – one glance at the menu is enough to convince even the staunchest food critic that here, fine cuisine also takes centre stage.
The winery's passionate culinary team marries casual bistro-style fare with a prominent French influence with touches of international elegance, and twists of local tastes and textures. Fresh ingredients take centre stage and the philosophy is about keeping things simple, but doing things right and not forcing too many flavours on one plate.
My Venison Shank with Potato Puree and Curried Shallots is a sterling example of the skill in simplicity and the kitchen team's aptitude for creating heavenly yet hearty combinations from basic, well-presented elements.
Following on the tail of a supremely satisfying (and quite sizeable) Lamb Spring Roll and Cucumber Spaghetti starter, my generous main and its accompanying sides are a welcomed blend of uncomplicated, complementary tastes. The tender meat falls cleanly off the bone and its depth of succulent flavour is offset superbly by the soft, creamy subtlety of the mashed potato.
Sourcing produce locally is also a core part of the restaurant’s approach, and most ingredients are bought directly from specific trusted suppliers – the meat from Riebeek Kasteel, the vegetables from surrounding farms, and the buffalo mozzarella from Wellington farmer Wayne Rademeyer. What’s more, as authenticity and originality are held in high regard, many of the eatery’s items and sauces are created on-site from scratch.
“From the bread to the ice cream,” says Arco, “almost everything is made on the premises; we don’t buy much in.”
Lured in by the promise of organic homemade pasta, my colleague decides to marry her Glen Carlou Quartz Stone Chardonnay – a premium, buttery, single vineyard vintage – with a main of Poached Gnocchi with Gruyere Cheese Sauce, Sautéed Garlic and Thyme Mushrooms and Buffalo Mozzarella, a popular favourite amongst vegetarians, especially as a rich, hearty option during the colder winter months.
In fact, ensuring fare is fresh and relevant is one of Glen Carlou's specialties, and thus the menu is modified seasonally (bar the signature slow-roasted pork belly main, which, being simply too mouth-watering, is available all year round). Aside from an emphasis on innovation and an effort to keep changing things up, though, the eatery also values consistency in terms of offering a reliably comfortable dining experience. The atmosphere lacks the sense of exclusivity that prevails in many Winelands restaurants, and is rather relatively informal, open and family friendly (they’ve even included a small kids’ menu).
And our personal experience certainly leaves us feeling wholly satisfied. Having reached the end of our meal and now boasting bulging bellies, we decline the enticing offer of dessert, content to just sit back and soak up the sweetness of the magnificent sweeping scenery that, along with good food and wine, makes this spot so endearingly unique.
Tip: From Wednesday to Friday during the summer season (November to March), the Glen Carlou restaurant serves tapas from 4pm to 7pm – a prime opportunity to dine outside on the terrace and enjoy the late afternoon light that paints the surrounding mountains in soft shades of mauve and blue. Also, while lunching, be sure to take advantage of the chance to taste premium international vintages from the three other wineries in the Hess Family Estates collective.
Bill: Prices reflect the location and quality of fare on offer. The sizeable starters go for between R55 and R75, mains are priced from R95 to R150, and the decadent desserts on offer cost anything between R15 and R90.
Eager to squeeze in a formal wine sampling session too? Read more about Glen Carlou winery and its broad array of offerings.