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.
This 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.
Eat Out critics dine unannounced and pay their own way. Read our full editorial policy here.
The Tour menu at Camphors showcases chef Michael Cooke’s way with farm-fresh ingredients. Incorporating ingredients from the surrounding Vergelegen farm wherever possible, he delights diners with seasonal dishes that are playfully plated and expertly paired with the estate’s fine wines. Homemade breads and interesting butters are served as a precursor, with highlights of mini braaibroodjies and scones, wine-infused butter and a delightful malted cream cheese.
To follow, there’s the cheese-and-wine course, which is as heavenly as it sounds. The playful cheese dish is presented in different textures and tastes: a crunchy pastry pillow stuffed with pecorino, a golden croquette of cream cheese and paprika, and a miniature cupcake made up of creamy gruyère custard and slightly sweet brittle are brought together by home-made Niknaks, toasted cheese dust and port caviar. Served with the chardonnay reserve, the dish works beautifully with the buttery notes of the wine.
The wonderfully textured green sunflower-seed-and-sunchoke risotto follows, which is inventively made with an entire sunflower. The Jerusalem-artichoke purée and a bright taste of quince lift the sunny dish to new heights.
On the seafood front, a potjie is given a French twist and served in a miniature cocotte with a heavenly velouté. The pot is filled with a perfectly cooked piece of kingklip, mussel and scallop, and lifted with the addition of succulent samphire and salty nori. It’s magic when paired with the G.V.B. Flagship White.
A venison dish comes in the form of springbok tataki. Plated beautifully, the meat leaves a salty finish that's offset by the sweet rainbow beetroot accompaniments.
Then a wonderful palate cleanser plays on sweet ice wine, refreshing the taste buds with glorious pops of frozen grapes. Following this is the Forest Floor, a stylishly plated dish comprised of beautifully cooked quail, ham and an earthy umami broth. It’s quirkily served with a chestnut plant with perfect bites of bitterballen-like quail bites that are made to look like chestnuts.
The main meat dish is the Karoo lamb. This intensely colourful dish boasts perfectly cooked lamb, golden crumbed sweetbreads and a succulent piece of lamb neck that is unctuous in every bite. The richness is balanced by salt-baked onions and delicate fynbos. The three-wine flight to pair with this is interesting and delivers in bold flavours.
For pre-dessert, there’s a dish that will transport you back to childhood, with Horlicks flavours and comforting textures. The drops of lemon verbena and flurry of fennel pollen brighten the malt-like dehydrated milk and honeycomb. It’s served with homemade honey mead and it’s completely satisfying.
To round off the Tour menu, there’s a vibrant and rich take on cheesecake with apricot, praline and a cacao crumb. The tonka-bean cheesecake mixture is enrobed in a gleaming orange coating that transforms its appearance into a juicy apricot. Served alongside it are cinnamon churros and a fresh apricot sorbet that has a velvety mouthfeel. It’s a dessert that sings.
The Vergelegen wine list offers an abundance of varietals and vintages – 11 pages, to be exact. Novices may feel overwhelmed, but sommelier Christo Deyzel is more than happy to suggest pairings. For wine lovers, the wine list is a dream: tasting notes and winemaker’s comments make this a pleasure for pairing with food. For the indecisive, there’s a selection of flights, which offer diners a chance to taste small portions of several Vergelegen wines with different varietals and styles.
The service here is swift, knowledgeable and friendly. The sommelier pays special attention to the wines, while wait staff are at the ready to fill water glasses and expertly explain the dishes.
On warmer days, nab a spot on the sunned patio that’s surrounded by camphor trees and peacocks. In cooler weather, fireplaces are lit and the elegant interior offers a warm and luxurious place to enjoy a special lunch.
The experience is completed by wine gums made from Vergelegen wines and a box of cherry-tobacco tempered chocolates.
Eat Out critics dine anonymously and pay for their meals in full. Read our editorial policy here.
Young chef Michael Cooke is turning out delicious food to complement both the estate’s award-winning wines and the historic location’s natural surroundings. Before the tour menu even begins, you’re served paper-thin madumbi crisps, which aren’t structurally capable of carrying as much of the delicious aubergine and chorizo dip you’re going to want on them. Fortunately, there’s homemade bread too, so spread some on there instead of the slightly gritty leek-ash butter.
Next up is a cheese-and-wine inspired appetiser: cheese beignets and red-onion cheese puffs sit beneath tuille-like slivers of toasted cheese dotted with vanilla purée. The beetroot dish is a thing of beauty: golden, candy-striped and purple beets appear twisted and twirled, in ravioli form, as a terrine, and in their roasting juices, which pool in organic shapes on the white plate. Flavourwise it’s a fairly clean and beetrooty throughout – although the quenelle of goat’s cheese panna cotta, hibiscus jelly, and small drizzle of thyme oil go some way in bringing the flavour impact up to the dish’s visual one.
The scallop potjie is not really a potjie at all, but a stylish dish with a slightly Scandinavian look. Sweet, tender slices of scallop lie beneath a dusting of almonds and nori and on top of green apple strips. It’s simple, clean and delicious – designed to complement the honeyed Semillon. In the venison dish, succulent rolls of slightly smoky springbok nestle beneath a clever crispy puff – actually a piece of beef tendon that has been fried until it resembles puffed corn chips. The savoury and meaty flavours marry beautifully with sweet, tart naartjie segments and a black garlic aioli.
The forest floor is another stylish plate of food: a pine-needle-infused kombu broth is loaded with slivers of heady, exotic mushrooms, pine nuts, slivers of home-cured chicken ham and a crispy piece of chicken skin studded with thyme. Inspired by the camphor forests of the estate, it may look rustic and muted, but it packs an umami punch.
The pièce de résistance is the lamb. Lamb loin, herb-crusted lamb saddle, tongue, sweetbreads and a gloriously juicy round of lamb neck form a ring on a plate of rich flavour. The succulent piece of neck might be the best piece of lamb you’ve ever eaten.
The pre-dessert is titled ‘milk and honey’ – an apt dish for this fertile estate – and almost eclipses the main event. It’s presented with a sliver of dulce de leche chocolate made to resemble honeycomb. The rich, caramelised flavour of the shards pairs beautifully with the custard, yogurt foam and honeycomb sprinkled atop. There’s even fennel pollen from the estate, harvested in the early hours of the morning, before the protective bees wake.
All in all, the tour menu really feels like a tour of the estate. It’s a big, historic burden to carry, and Cooke’s food is subtle. However, when the flavours come out bold and brave, as with the lamb and pre-dessert – these moments really do sing.
The wine list contains only Vergelegen wines, but given the range and breadth of the collection and vintages, this still runs to over 90 options. Pairing is smart and carefully considered. A housemade honeybush mead served with the milk and honey pre-dessert is a fun and subtle deviation from the standard pairing. This is a pairing for wine enthusiasts, though – some might find the pairing of three wines with the lamb dish a little exhausting – especially when one is given instructions about which part of the dish to pair with which of the three wines. If that sounds like a little too much for your alfresco lunch, try one of the wine flights, which offer diners a chance to taste small portions of several Vergelegen wines.
Fine dining service with a lot of attention to detail. Waiters are well-trained and are starting to gain the confidence to be themselves on the floor.
Summer days were made for the tables out on the patio, overlooking the lawn and surrounding camphors in this part of the estate. The restaurant also takes care never to over-book – so should the weather change, you’ll also be offered a table in the plush interior.
You have to admire their do-it-yourself attitude: Almonds are harvested from the estate’s trees; chorizo is cured at the on-site butchery; honey is sourced from the estate’s hives; and even the cooking wine hails from the estate’s esteemed vines.
The food at this upmarket venue has always been interesting and innovative without being precious, and never too fussy for its own good. They rely on the freshest local ingredients presented in an attractive way, with delicious flavours as the main objective. You can choose to eat two, three, or five tasting courses, with or without wine pairings. The chopped beef tartare is one of the best around, as fresh as can be, served with a seared beef and potato croquette, pickled baby shallots and crispy onions for textural interest.
The Saldanha Bay oysters, encased in kataifi pastry and flash fried, are served with lightly smoked avocado (how do they do that?) yoghurt and pickled cucumber – a delicious mixture of flavours and textures. Meat options include superb roast Bankfontein lamb from a farm in the Karoo, served with lentils, sweet potato and quince purée, and the ubiquitous slow-roasted pork belly, the richness offset by apple-cider jus. The standout dessert is the guava cheesecake with white chocolate and ginger parfait – it’s irresistible.
The wines of this famous and much-awarded estate are the stars of the show, with an excellent sommelier on hand to guide you through its complexities and to suggest suitable pairings.
Smooth and professional, with a nice friendly and unintimidating manner, as befits an establishment of this calibre.
The restaurant is named for the famous camphor trees planted by Simon van der Stel at this historic wine estate. The interior is elegantly furnished with shiny surfaces and mirrors to bring the bling factor. Plenty of dark wood, large crystal chandeliers and plush carpeting add to the feeling of elegance and luxury.
If the weather allows, eating outside is first prize.
The venue is great, decor a little old school, but a great improvement on the old restaurant. For the rest I was so disappointed. I had high expectations, but the food was bland and some of the dishes at the table were really not very nice. The service was fine, but even after someone at the table said a dish was horrible, not even an apology was made. PS. remember to take R10 per person cash for entrance at the gate...which I found slightly rediculous if you are just going to the restaurant.
The build up to the day of the booking... Until you get to the gate and have to pay a fee to enter the Estate... Really, about to spend R500 to R800 per head and you have to pay an entrance fee "to keep the upkeep of the road" we were told by the manageress/hostess.
The bread was amazing (tasted like Oude Bank Baikereij's Stellenbosch bread), the snack/amuse also interesting but the tapioca cracker super-salty.
Bone marrow on my starter was inedible, delicious coriander, fresh seeds on the starter, made the dish. The lamb dish was so undercooked (I did ask for rare, not raw) I could hardly cut through, risotto was bitter.
Duck confit was delicious.
The worst was the cheese dish - toasties.... Really? Have you ever eaten cold gratinated cheese?Garden and outside area was lovely, service was professional.
Amazing food, excellent service, can only recommend.
A superb evening in a magical garden. Delicate, delicious cuisine presented beautifully. Perfection complete with two baby owls in the camphor trees. Walked through the magnificent gardens and had drinks on the terrace before dinner. What a memorable evening! Thank you.
We are so lucky to have Camphors on our doorstep. Food, service and interior excellent. Well done. Keep up the good work.
What an outstanding experience! The setting is breathtaking and the service exceptional. The food was the best I had on this trip to CT, and far better than some of CT's supposed finest chefs. PJ and team what a treat - the afternoon was thoroughly enjoyed by all. I have no doubt this restaurant will be one of SA's top ones very soon.