An historic building on Constantia Main Road has been transformed into a country-style café and deli for food lovers in the southern suburbs. We visit Chardonnay Deli to try their wares.
Equipped with a marketing and business management degree, owner Charmaine Lilje nevertheless knew her life’s passion lay in another area. She took a leap and started working for free at Olympia Café as a trainee chef, while waitressing to pay the bills. “After three months I earned the right to a salary; eight months in, Kenneth [McClarty] sent me to an interview at La Colombe under Franck Dangereux. I got the job as chef de partie and within six months was his junior sous chef.”
When Franck and Kerry Kilpin left La Colombe to open The Foodbarn, Charmaine was acting head chef until Luke Dale-Roberts (now of The Test Kitchen) arrived, staying to work as his sous chef for almost a year.
Charmaine opened catering business Chardonnay Chefs on 1 January 2009, and Chardonnay Deli is the natural next step. Charmaine is joined by economist-turned-baker Malik Mosia with his unusual flour blending and folding techniques; deli chef Janie Schnehage, who hails from 12 Apostles and Cassis; and the ‘backbone’ of the business, Anne Chen.
Chardonnay Deli has a back-to-basics approach to food. The blackboard menu is testament to this philosophy, with a handful of simple breakfast and lunch options, most of them utilising the bakery’s excellent breads.
The roast chicken salad is hearty, comforting and incredibly tasty, with generous portions of tender meat, gorgeous seed bread croutons, toasted nuts, sprouts, and grated courgette and cabbage for texture and colour. The delicious kicker was the homemade mayonnaise dolloped in the centre.
Other options on the day might include scrambled eggs and bacon, a roasted vegetable and brie sandwich, Waldorf salad, and platters of charcuterie and cheese. (The latter are bound to be good if the selection in the deli fridges is anything to go by.) We’ve also heard talk of a delicious gluten-free lasagne made with free-range and hormone-free beef mince.
For dessert, choose from the day’s bakes. On a really hot afternoon you might have the bright idea to pair a bakkie of homemade vanilla ice cream (freckled with seeds) from their freezer with a slice of lemon-poppyseed cheesecake. Delicious.
The deli stocks and serves top-drawer produce, including fantastic breads by award-winning baker Malik Mosia; Richard Bosman’s cured meats; charcuterie by Arno Janse van Rensburg (chef at The Kitchen @ Maison); Camphill’s ethical yoghurts and milk; Oude Raapkraal Honey; lamb from Wild Organics; Eureka Mills stoneground flour; cheese sourced by Valerie Elder at Get Stuffed; free-range chooks from Funky Chickens; and organic sprouts, fruit and vegetables.
Glass jugs of icy water infused with cucumber, buchu and lemon line the counter inside for you to help yourself. A separate Truth coffee station with a dedicated barista keeps the aficionados happy. They don’t currently serve chardonnay, but soon they will. (While it does, of course, refer to their favourite wine varietal, the deli’s name is actually derived from the names of owner Charmaine and her husband Donovan.) Once the liquor licence is in place, the deli will offer bottles of wine and craft beer, and wine from vats.
Peruse the blackboards, make your selection and then order at the counter and give your name. (Amusingly, one of my party is told Jennifer is already taken and has to choose a new moniker. We settle on Esmerelda.) The waiters are all smiles.
It’s utterly relaxed outside at tables under the trees. The mismatched chairs and benches add loads of farm-style charm. (Bring a hat in case you don’t get a spot under an umbrella or in the dappled shade.) Inside, shelves abound with all sorts of take-home goodies, and artfully arranged baskets and crates overflow with free-range eggs, and organic fruits and veggies. Grab some beautiful proteas from the flower seller on the stoep on your way out.
Charmaine promises that the menu will change daily with ‘unbelievably exciting’ ideas once they are settled in and all the staff trained up. The farm stall will have more seating inside once the bakery has moved to the cottage; they will also be expanding their bread-baking classes and offering ready-made dinners to take home.