“Here are your bay leaves,” says a woman peering over a mass of dark green leaves and twigs. “I harvested them this morning,” she adds as she hands them over to Tracy Polea who’s manning her organic vegetable stall in the Hermanus Country Market.
Tracy’s stall is heaving with fresh produce. There are bowls of green and orange mangos, glass bottles of homemade ginger beer and five different types of tomatoes—from the plump and juicy to the small and sweet. “I supply a lot of restaurants in the area,” says Tracy and quickly recommends that I visit Mogg’s Country Cookhouse.
Hermanus is experiencing an organic revival, and the not-so-sleepy town on Walker Bay in the Overberg is fast becoming a foodie destination. The Hermanus Country Market is but one of the many buzzing spots that makes a trip there worthwhile.
At the market, blackboard menus announce a variety of eats – from white asparagus tart and bokwurst, to potato laknas and seared salmon. There’s also freshly baked bread, organic yogurt and cheese. Not to mention the hot breakfasts of pancetta and scrambled eggs – best washed down with moer koffie. Wooden tables stretch right down the length of the market. The idea is to walk around, find something yummy, sit at one of the tables to eat it – and then do it all over again.
Next on the itinerary is the market at Hermanuspietersfontein winery. On the day I visit, harvest is in full swing and the crusher drones along with the busy chatter of the market folk. This market is more intimate, but as jolly, and it is a wonderful setting to enjoy gourmet coffee with delicate pastries or artisanal chocolate. But it is a winery afterall, so one has to do a tasting of their wines. And the best accompaniment? A selection of locally produced cheeses.
Leaving Hermanuspietersfontein and driving up the Hemel en Aarde valley, I find some of the region’s best wineries, farms and restaurants. And killer views. I kept going until I hit a dirt road, drive on for a dusty kilometer, and land at Mogg’s Country Cookhouse, run by mother and daughter team Jenny and Julia Moggs.
The cottage-like restaurant is serenity itself. The tables outside are in dappled sunlight and they overlook the farm’s dam, chicks nest under nearby bushes and the only sound is the low hum of a dragon fly.
The ever-changing blackboard menu is fresh and seasonal and the ingredients are plucked and picked from the vegetable and herb gardens flanking the property. Menu favourites include green asparagus with hollandaise, and roasted lamb shank on smoked garlic mash. Patrons are encouraged to bring their own wine, and there’s no corkage charge.
Back down the dirt road at the Newton Johnson wine estate is a restaurant called Heaven. Owners/chefs Bruce Henderson and Yolande Steenkamp change their menu weekly in accordance to what’s seasonal. Neighbouring farms supply them with organic eggs, wild mushrooms, salad leaves and cheese amongst other produce. My favourite discovery? The handcrafted cheese sourced from nearby Hemel en Aarde Organics on Sandford farm. The aged pecorino is simple delectable.
If it’s seafood you’re after, it doesn’t get any fresher than at the Quayside Cabin in the new Hermanus harbour. Fish is delivered daily – sometimes even twice a day. Kabeljou, kingklip, tuna, and salmon– it’s all there. Feast on platefuls of prawns, mussels and calamari, while soaking up the working harbour atmosphere. Or, pop into Lusitania Seafoods at the entrance to the harbour, for fresh fish to take home.
My final surprise discovery is The Italian Deli in the centre of town. Although it doesn’t look like much from the outside, its inside can definitely rival your local deli. Stock up on butter croissants, Parma ham, fresh pasta, truffles, wine, cheese, grappa and much more. Or sit down in the leafy courtyard and enjoy a light lunch of three-cheese soufflé or cherry tomato gazpacho.
As delicious and inventive as all these places have been, there’s also practical and budgetary reasons for them using seasonal and local produce. Tracy concurs, “A restaurant will normally pay R15 for a box of baby marrows. Out of season, they’ll pay R100. Seasonal menus are just better. It enables you to source locally and this brings your cost down. Crops grown out of season also require pesticides and special care. When it’s in season it can be grown naturally. The produce also doesn’t have to travel far, which means it arrives fresh and in good condition.”