Ilse van der Merwe
Known for its traditional boerekos with a restaurant history that dates back to the 1980s, De Volkskombuis remains essentially a South African restaurant with a Cape Dutch focus. Chef Daniël de Villiers heads up the kitchen, making a move from The Big Easy (recently closed) along with most of the other staff. On the menu you’ll find a sub-heading ‘Traditional Boerekos’ with options of Meraai se hoender pie, gesmoorde beesstert (oxtail) and Boland bobotie. Other main course options resemble bistro favourites like De Volkskombuis beef burger, grilled chicken supreme, pork belly, aubergine stack (the only vegetarian main course option), grilled linefish and Karoo lamb rack. When the chicken pie is not on the menu, it is substituted with a lamb pie served with mash and a creamy mushroom sauce – the lamb filling tender but under-seasoned, and the pastry unappetising in texture. The burger patty is large, basted and well cooked with a good char on the surface and pink centre. The homemade buns are perfectly toasted (not buttered, unfortunately) and a little heavy. A little relish or mayonnaise would have added some welcome wetness to the final mouthfeel. Shoestring fries are perfectly golden and, once again, can do with some sort of sauce or mayo for dipping.
Starters and salads are popular light lunch options, and these include a mussel pot, beef tartare, seared Franschhoek trout, exotic mushroom risotto, Caesar salad and home smoked chicken salad. The Caesar salad (single portion, not a table sharing portion) comes with generously dressed shredded leaves, more than a generous helping of shaved pecorino, golden croutons and a soft-poached egg on top – very good. The tartare is a huge portion of coarsely chopped raw beef with onion, orange, thyme and olives, topped with an egg yolk. It will do well with more considerate seasoning.
Steaks cuts are listed in weight and any sauces or sides must be ordered separately. A list of thin-crusted pizza options, named after Stellenbosch’s famous mountains and other landmarks (like Simonsberg, Paul Roos, Coetenburg and Libertas), include ingredients such as biltong, sweet and sour lamb, and smoked BBQ chicken.
For dessert, classics like vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce and crème brûlée are at the top of the list, with a traditional dessert platter with koeksisters, deconstructed milk tart, hertzoggie and Amarula bavoir certain to remain popular choices for visitors from abroad. The crème brûlée is large enough to share, impeccably presented, but unfortunately slightly curdled. A cheese platter for 2 is also a savoury option to end your meal.
The food is generously portioned, hearty, beautifully served on handmade white ceramic plates and bowls, but generally under-seasoned and underwhelming in flavour. There is no separate kids menu or kids area, but children should be able to find something from the pizza, burger or meat menu and will certainly enjoy the green lawn and shaded trees.
A generous wine list sporting the best of the Cape Winelands (with a Stellenbosch focus) is available, ranging in price from R110 (the Protea range from Anthonij Rupert) to R2250 (Rust en Vrede 1694 Classification). Limited by-the-glass options are available, ranging in price from R25 to R80. Coffees and cooldrinks are available on request.
Diners are welcomed in the parking area by a professional and friendly Volkskombuis representative, showing you to the entrance with warm hospitality. Service is warm, attentive and professional throughout. Waiters inform you of any menu items that are unavailable upon handing out menus, and any specials that are not on the menu. Paying the bill is a smooth experience.
The décor and ambience is De Volkskombuis’s strongest asset. This is an impressive space – large, spacious yet premium, with private dining areas for those who require it (you get a sense that the who’s who of Stellenbosch will frequent this restaurant). The historical building has been meticulously restored to a cleaner more contemporary space, still filled with natural yellowwood furniture (and flooring), antiques, fireplaces and beautiful tiles. It’s worth a visit just to see how beautifully old and new play off each other. The atmosphere is tranquil (especially outside on a sunny day), smart but not too formal, with a mixed-age group of settled locals in a chilled mood, business colleagues in suits, and families relaxing with old and young. Though the restaurant is situated right next to the busy R44, a cleverly landscaped wall hides most of the traffic. You will hear it, but that generally comes with venues that are situated in a town/city centre (easily forgiven because of the beautiful, historical, natural surrounds).
De Volkskombuis is perfect for a Stellenbosch central business lunch, showing off traditional Cape Dutch heritage cuisine and décor with visiting friends from abroad, or spending some relaxing time with family and friends under the massive shady oak trees within a premium environment.