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Handsome country hospitality at Overgaauw Restaurant in Stellenbosch

The people

Camilla Comins and Russel Wasserfall first won our attention when their eatery The Table at De Meye was named the best country-style restaurant in 2011. They’re now bringing a restaurant to life on the family-run Overgaauw Wine Farm just outside Stellenbosch. Camilla cooks in what used to be the farm’s vinegar room in the circa-1905 stable, while her husband, Russel, plays a most amiable host.

Photograph by Sam Linsell

Photograph by Sam Linsell

The food

Looking around for local, seasonal ingredients and phoning suppliers to see what’s available from her network allows Camilla to conjure up Friday, Saturday and Sunday lunch menus that show off the region’s bounty.

For our Saturday visit, starters arrive on multiple platters. The poor-man’s caviar – luminous lumpfish roe on a bed of cream and eggs – is unusual and surprisingly tasty. We are invited to scoop it onto fresh ‘slipper bread’ spread with farm butter from a cool terracotta pot. (Camilla’s brother and baker, Jason, uses half bread flour and half cake flour for a sweeter crumb in this ciabatta-style loaf.) This dish’s richness is deftly played down with a plate of earthy, roasted aubergine slices, caramelised on the edges and tender in the centre. Russel tells us they’re dressed in olive oil from the grove of remarkably tall and luscious looking olive trees up the hill on the farm.

For mains, an intriguing side dish of cauliflower florets, sunflower sprouts, currants and capers is served with a fresh salad of artichokes, tender beans and baby greens from 2013 Eat Out Produce Awards winner Steve the Magic Man. Spoonfuls of slow-cooked tomatoey borlotti beans (with a kick of chilli) taste like warm, hearty home.

But the centrepiece of it all is the flawlessly cooked and seasoned lamb, reared by Charles Back. Everything is so well dressed and flavoured, in fact, that the black pepper grinder and bowl of salt flakes are relegated to mere table ornaments.

After a welcome digestive interlude, in which two baby praying mantises come to pay their respects, our deceptively light ‘mallowtofs’ arrive. To make this dessert, Camilla whipped up a soft meringue and, just before popping it into the oven, swirled in some hot caramel. (Mercy!) This marshmallow-meringue-mousse confection is served with vanilla crème anglaise and tart granadilla ice cream made from bags of spare fruit donated by a kind neighbour.

Photograph by Sam Linsell

Photograph by Sam Linsell

The service

Russel is the epitome of charm and consideration. His ready wit is offset by his gentle speech and a generosity of spirit that sets you quite at ease. The other servers are unfailingly polite and sweet, too. You can lose all sense of time while sitting under the trees admiring the view, but dishes seem to arrive just when they should and the drinks appear within seconds of being ordered. You serve yourself from platters and it really feels like a family affair: nobody minds if you pick at the salad with your fingers or reach across to spear the last sliver of lamb.

The drinks

A handful of craft beers and estate wines are on offer, with pairing suggestions made to match the menu. We find refreshment in the crisp, citrusy Overgaauw Sauvignon Blanc to accompany our starters and the beautifully smooth Overgaauw Shepherd’s Cottage red blend to complement the lamb.

Photograph by Sam Linsell

Photograph by Sam Linsell

The ambience

A relaxed country atmosphere prevails, so if you prefer your restaurants sleek, slick and chic then Overgaauw is not for you. It’s near 40 degrees on the day we visit, but the wooden tables dotted on the slightly raised ground under the trees gives diners access to a very welcome zephyr (as Russel describes it) and the most spectacular mountain vista. In keeping with the understated and unfussy food, the tables are bare but for a vase of roses and the essential cutlery and crockery. Little potted flowers dot the edge of the outdoor ‘dining room’ formed with old railway sleepers on one side and wooden wine crates at the back. Everything is charmingly farmy.

The verdict

I had to think hard to find something – anything – not overwhelmingly positive to say, but all I’ve got is the paper napkins. Yes, they were slightly better than tissue serviettes, but some proper linen might suit the setting better and be less prone to floating away on a breeze. (Note: I have since heard from the restaurant that these napkins are chosen because they’re bio-degradeable and compostible, and use less water and fewer chemicals than laundering traditional linen.) But as for the rest, it’s difficult to fault the Overgaauw experience for a beautiful and eminently satisfying country lunch.

Overgaauw

Photograph by Sam Linsell

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