Camphors at Vergelegen was named the number 6 restaurant in the Top 10 at the 2017 Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Restaurant Awards. Chef Michael Cooke’s restaurant also took home the Eat Out Woolworths Sustainability Award. Watch the video and read the review to find out more.
Beneath the simplicity of the seasonally inspired menu from executive chef Michael Cooke hides one of the most enjoyable culinary adventures in the Cape winelands. The restaurant climbed to number six in the Top 10 in 2017.
You’ll know you’re in for a treat when the meal begins with an entire experience built around bread. On a winter’s visit that means butter infused with fennel pollen, presented at the table then drizzled with lavender honey harvested on the estate. Spread it liberally on either the lavender brioche or gluten-free seed loaf; both are delicious.
Before the first course arrives, an amuse-bouche sets the scene for the creativity to come. Here the ‘cheese and wine pairing’ offers a delightful interplay of texture and flavour, courtesy of a gruyère-custard cupcake, crispy croquette of cream cheese and a pillow of pecorino. To top it all off? Homemade ‘Niknaks’ that put the moreish originals in their place. Paired with a complimentary taste of the Reserve Chardonnay, it’s a superb introduction to the menu.
The menu is divided into four courses, with a clever design that aligns each dish on a flavour spectrum moving from ‘light and delicate’ to ‘full and richer’.
While the menu changes with the seasons, hold thumbs for the simply titled ‘Free-Range Pork’. Humble on the menu, the plate delivers a delicious ‘sausage’ of ham hock and pork loin embraced by pancetta. Plated with candied baby beetroot, horseradish cream and pear purée, and topped by feather-light crackling, it’s a superb contrast between salty and sweet.
Other first and second courses delve into authentic South African flavours, the likes of which include Malay-pickled kabeljou with amasi and sultanas. Cooke incorporates that local inspiration into the mains offerings too: think coffee-roasted springbok with on-trend celeriac, or East Coast hake with piquant piccalilli. The standout, though, is the duck: the breast is cured and dry-aged, its flesh roasted perfectly pink and its fine-diced skin suitably crisped. On the side come delicious duck sausage, caramelised shallots and a hint of salt from the parsnip chips.
Desserts are just as creative. It’s hard to pass up the chocolate offering here, with a mousse of Ethiopian chocolate paired with sweet potato ice cream and cubes of sweet potato poached in sugar syrup. Malva pudding and a peanut crumble complete the dish.
These are just the highlights; if you have the time and appetite, the 10-course ‘Tour’ offers a taste of all that the kitchen can conjure up.
There’s certainly no shortage of skill and creativity on the plate at Camphors, but perhaps most memorable is that this inspired take on fine dining is done without resorting to parlour tricks: no foams or gelatinous orbs; no smoke and mirrors. In their place are simply intense flavours, the finest produce and a deft touch of artistry on the plate.
Limited to wines from the Vergelegen estate, but with an impressive library of vintages dating back more than a decade. Wine-tasting notes are in-depth and informative, although sommelier and restaurant manager Christo Deyzel is usually on hand to assist with pairings anyhow. One vintage of each release is available by the glass and, happily, even the youngest wines are poured into delicate Luigi Bormioli stemware. Don’t miss out on a glass of the delicious straw wine with dessert.
Expect impeccable service from smartly turned-out wait staff. Formal yet friendly, waiters are adept at explaining the finer points of the edible artistry flowing from the kitchen.
Camphors is a restaurant of two faces. On a fine day the relaxed terrace tables look over the estate’s remarkable gardens and the eponymous 300-year-old camphor trees. Indoors, a brace of fireplaces warm the decidedly formal L-shaped dining room where velvet banquettes and deep couches frame the larger tables.
Remember that all visitors, even those with restaurant bookings, are charged a nominal R10 fee, payable in cash, to enter the Vergelegen estate.