Avant Garde is the new Russian-inspired fine-dining restaurant at Hazendal Estate in Stellenbosch. It’s headed up by chef Michelle Theron, formerly of Pierneef à La Motte, who gives diners a taste of Russia by making fantastic use of local South African produce.
The menu is a la carte, with a few tempting choices offered for starters, mains and desserts. However, there’s also the option of ordering smaller-plate servings in order for you to share and try more of the menu items.
The meal begins with a presentation of a charcoal bread roll, served warm with a smear of butter adorned with colourful flower petals. For starters we enjoy the asparagus, fennel and pear salad served with blue cheese. The dish is fresh and uncomplicated, leaving ample opportunity for you to taste the delicate flavours of the asparagus. The octopus terrine with salsa verde is gorgeous – bright and cheerful, it just sings of summer. The octopus is tender and delicate, and the sweet pops of tomato on the plate with the herb sauce are a flavour delight. Don’t pass up the chance to sample the traditional borscht (beetroot soup) served with a quail egg – the iconic pairing of sweet beetroot and tangy sour cream is utterly delicious.
Next up is the smoked fish and pampushki (fried potato balls), which features the familiar flavours of pickled fish. The seared trout – a main course – comes with chilled okroshka (cold potato-and-veg soup). Though the most unexciting dish of the bunch, the fish is perfectly cooked with a crisp skin, and the contrast of the hot fish and cold soup is lovely. The pumpkin pelmeni (dumplings) are certainly a highlight, arriving surrounded by various cheesy components. One of the cheeses look like frilly oyster mushrooms, both gorgeous and moreish.
The savoury barley porridge with slow-braised lamb is a must-try dish that delivers an umami explosion from the very first bite. Rich lamb jus surrounds the tender lamb and the soft barley grains, all cut with an acidity from the pickled mushrooms and the scattering of chopped hazelnuts, making for a satisfyingly decadent and rich dish.
There’s no better description for the dessert offering than utterly spectacular. The seasonal Fabergé-inspired creation is a masterpiece of white chocolate filled with a light mousse and served with passion fruit sorbet. The Anna Pavlova looks like a volcano of meringue cylinders dusted with a red volcanic ash, and the combination of strawberry, matcha and meringue is dreamy.
The dining experience begins with a serving of crimson-coloured fruity iced tea, served with flower petals and berries as a garnish, as well as traditional Russian tea biscuits that have a rusk-like quality to them. The sweet iced tea acts as a type of palate cleanser to prepare you for the meal to come and arrives surrounded by a cloud of dry ice smoke. It’s definitely a fun way to start the meal and get patrons excited for the dining experience. The wine menu consists of a selection of Hazendal Estate wines, as well as a selection of wines from surrounding farms in the Bottelary area.
Excellent. You’re made to feel important from the moment you set foot in the restaurant. The service staff are elegantly dressed in suits and wear white gloves. They’re well-informed of the story or inspiration behind each menu item and are able to relay the story behind chef Michelle’s inspiration for the dish. They’re also eager to recommend wines that pair well with your choice of menu items. I love that you get to learn the different Russian word pronunciations on the menu, with your waitron explaining each term. The service is definitely a huge part of what makes the dining experience so memorable.
From the moment you drive into the estate, you’re treated with views of the vineyards and lush green lawns. The entrance to Avant Garde is through a beautiful lounge with a feature copper fireplace, where guests gather for wine tastings. The hand-painted roof adds brightness to the room, along with the glass walls that allow you to see into the wine-making facilities.
Hazendal offers a traditional Russian tea tasting experience that requires prior booking. It’s held in a beautifully quaint area of the farm, under trees decorated with a selection of custom-made Russian tea pots. The tea tasting comes with a number of sweet and savoury accompanying dishes.
Eat Out critics dine anonymously and pay for their meals in full. Read our editorial policy here.