Ambience★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Service★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Food★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Chef Michael Cooke’s cooking continues to flourish in its surroundings. The menu at Camphors lets you explore Vergelegen through ingredients that the farm has to offer, as well as tastes of the surrounding areas. Meat and seafood are ethically raised and sourced locally, while nearly all the fresh produce is taken from the farm, making each mouthful a joy to eat.
Complete and utter care is taken, and attention to detail is one of Michael’s strongest skills and it all starts with bread. A beautiful beginning of butter infused with fennel pollen is presented before being drizzled with a gloss of lavender honey that’s been harvested on the estate. It’s hard not to spread it all on a slice of seed loaf.
The ‘cheese-and-wine pairing’ that follows is a playful plate offering a clever use of textures and flavours. Think Kleinrivier cheese croquette with smoked paprika cream cheese, a pastry pillow of pecorino with wine jelly, and a brandy snap filled with cheese catalan and port caviar. The little plate is topped off with homemade ‘Niknaks’ for a cheeky crunch.
From here the meal moves onto seasonal and beautiful flavours. The dish entitled Estate Chestnut features a creamy and indulgent chestnut hidden under a colourful sprinkling of garden leaves and wild herbs. It’s served in a bowl surrounded by dried leaves for that oh-so-pleasing rustle. Smooth smoked snoek is served in an oyster shell and complemented by a tart apricot teriyaki, radishes and a nori sago crisp for crunch. The dish is cool and collected and a delightful nod to the ocean.
Pine-roasted quail served with chicken of the woods comes in the form of a quail sausage and pine needle-smoked breast, which is brought to the table in its fragrant cocotte before being whisked away for plating. It’s autumn on a plate. The springbok tartare is as delicious as ever: the melt-in-your-mouth meat comes with pale dollops of avocado, horseradish and crisp kataifi pastry. Other seasonal dishes include a robust braaied Karoo lamb with harissa and tomato and a cheerfully colourful plate of perfectly cooked pasture-raised pork, with a rainbow of baby beetroots and sweet sultanas.
Endings bring the meal to a glorious close with comforting flavours of Granny Smith apple, burnt milk and golden hazelnut, or a completely decadent Fair Trade chocolate tart with coffee and brightly flavoured num num.
The Vergelegen wine list reads more like an encyclopaedia of the estate’s wines. Restaurant manager and sommelier Christo Deyzel’s knowledge is endless as he guides you through wine pairings and choices. The wine list is enough to make any wine-lover swoon with tasting notes and winemaker’s comments. Beautiful glassware completes the experience.
Expect to be greeted with a warm smile by the Camphors team. Swift and knowledgeable, the sommelier pays special attention to the wines, while wait staff are at the ready to fill water glasses and expertly explain the dishes.
The svelte and sophisticated interior – complete with a flickering fireplace – is great in cooler weather, while the sunny patio area surrounded by camphor trees provides the ideal backdrop for a luxurious lunch in the winelands.
A special occasion.
Eat Out critics dine unannounced and pay for their meals in full. Read our full editorial policy here.
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.