“You’re in the heart of rooibos country,” says our guide Daniel Bouic, gesturing across the open veld. We’re at Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve and the silence is thick. The Cederberg is an ancient area; all around us are primordial rock formations dating back hundreds of millions of years.
This tactile, herbaceous landscape is the inspiration behind many of executive chef Floris Smith’s creations. The Reserve’s restaurant serves up “Cape contemporary cuisine” and Floris has tapped into the fynbos to create a menu that’s simple and true to the area.
And I’m lucky enough to experience a whole weekend of it, with the first in a series of Gourmet Food and Wine weekends.
The weekend kicks off with a spectacular afternoon tea, followed by a game drive with sundowners. Then we’re left to relax in our rooms before dinner. And what a room it is – more of a separate wing of a large house, and absolutely luxurious. The front verandah overlooks rocky outcrops and a tranquil dam covered in water lilies.
Later at the restaurant in The Homestead building, a waitress brings over a basket of hot bread. “Freshly baked,” she says. The remoteness of the reserve makes sure of that. We left Clanwilliam behind 50km before we reached the lodge, and there’s nothing for at least 100km in the opposite direction. Bread and pastries are baked on the premises, the dairy is sourced from local farms, and some of the produce is grown in the Reserve’s own vegetable and herb gardens.
The fynbos influence is immediately obvious on the menu. Next to some of the dishes are the letters F and R, which denote “fynbos” and “rooibos” respectively.
To start, I have Punjabi seared prawns with sweetcorn blinis and a rooibos and chilli syrup. For the main course, I order the Karoo rack of lamb, which has an almond and fynbos crust. The lamb is the uniquely fragrant Hantam Karoo lamb. Served medium rare, it’s beautifully soft and full of flavour.
Then the dessert menus arrive. Almost all the desserts have a savoury element – liquorice ice cream sandwich, carrot halva samoosa and balsamic ice cream with almond berry shortcake.
When quizzed about his unusual menu, Floris explains. “I wanted to do something a little different. I eat out a lot, and dessert menus often disappoint me. It’s always the same thing, crème brûlées, brownies…”
The next day starts with a mountain of a breakfast. Freshly baked, sticky blueberry muffins, slabs of cheese, salmon and eggs, crispy bacon and many other breakfast treats are on offer. With eyes bigger than my belly, I tuck in eagerly.
After breakfast we’re off on a guided rock art excursion. We head into the bush and Daniel walks ahead. He points to holes carved into the sandstone and explains their significance. “These were very important to the Bushmen people. They believed the rain beast lived in these holes, that they were the spiritual portal to his world,” he says.
The rock art is unfettered by the usual touristy gimmicks. There are no plaques explaining or proclaiming, and no velvet rope between us and the rock face.
Daniel is clearly passionate about his job. He launches into story after story as we take in the red, black and white stained shamans, dogs, eland, and the rain beast, among many other depictions. I leave the excursion feeling suitably awed.
Afternoon tea soon rolls round. We tuck into scones with cream, Parma ham sandwiches, profiteroles and Earl Grey tea – a food coma is fast approaching.
That evening we set off on a game drive. The sky dramatically (and spectacularly) turns hot pink and orange. Daniel points to a distant mountaintop. “That’s the highest vineyard in the country,” he says. “It’s Cederberg Vineyards; you’ll be drinking wine from the estate tonight.”
Later on we meet wine-maker and viticulturist David Nieuwoudt. He’s a strapping man and commands attention in the centre of the restaurant as he explains the first wine and food pairing – field mushroom pie with an asparagus espresso paired with Cederberg Sauvignon Blanc.
The six courses go by in a relaxed fashion, with Floris and David telling us about the food and wine. A stand-out is the third dish of pork belly, served with a lightly curried pear and bean salad paired with David Nieuwoudt Ghost Corner Semillon.
Dessert is made using my favourite tea – it’s Earl Grey bread and butter pudding served with an Earl Grey panna cotta and a honeycomb and chai parfait. It’s absolutely delicious.
My food coma is now in full swing. We skip breakfast the next day and roll home.
Bushmans Kloof is hosting three more Gourmet Food and Wine weekends this year: Bouchard Finlayson, Tierhoek and Steenberg Vineyards. The weekends cost R1 750 per person sharing per night (two-night package). Rates include five-star luxury accommodation, all meals and wine tasting, as well as lodge activities such as daily rock art walks and evening nature drives. Call 021 481 1860 to reserve your spot.