Camphors may only be 40 minutes from Cape Town, but it is truly a destination restaurant. Situated in a vast and lush property, the Vergelegen grounds are a thriving well of inspiration for chef Michael Cooke, whose menu mainly comprises ingredients and fresh produce sourced or inspired by those surroundings.
Split between a ‘half’ or ‘full’ Tasting Tour, the menu is Michael’s endearing ode to seasonal produce. A freshly baked selection of bread is swiftly followed by a selection of seasonal ingredients from the estate, which showcases some of chef Cooke’s forages from the estate. But dishes such as the atchar-glazed East Coast hake with sweetcorn and pak choi (paired with the estate’s award-winning Chardonnay Reserve 2017) give patrons a glimpse into Michael’s genius mind. The dish is at once punchy and restrained so as to not overpower the delicate fish – perhaps a feat to be expected from chef Michael. After all, he has worked under Heston Blumenthal and Peter Tempelhoff, but the almost maniacal obsession with seasonality and provenance is all him. No dish exemplifies this better than the braaied Karoo lamb with savoy cabbage and fennel paired with the estate’s Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2013 – a flavour profusion that feels decidedly South African.
Although the dishes are perfectly proportioned, after nine courses (the Full Tour Menu) one does start to feel stuffed, and chef Michael cleverly ends off with very light desserts that still showcase his knack for unorthodox flavour combinations.
The triple-volume thick wine list is filled with an incredible variety, including auction collector level bottles of wine. Wine-lovers will be elated.
Camphors offers expert service without compromising on congeniality. Everyone has very clearly defined roles and the ball never drops, from the sommelier keeping the glasses topped up, to your waiter never forgetting any minute allergy you may have noted, and the stellar restaurant manager acting as the charismatic go-between.
Three of the four seasons of the year should be spent outdoors, the manicured grounds and towering camphor trees offer a beautifully lush view from the patio seating. In winter, diners will appreciate the fireplace inside the neo-baroque dining room.
Long lazy lunches or special occasions.
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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.