Review: Twist and shout
In a rustic setting in a winery, the chef allows the ingredients to speak for themselves
THE conversation started around the district's feral pigs - the result of a couple of escaped farm pigs having mated with the wild boar.
This was a roistering sort of anecdote to get us going, and one of many that we heard from our lunch companion, a local and compulsive researcher who also told us that Dunstone Winery was named after the place where owners Lee and Abbi Wallis first fell in love.
Apt, because with its mountain view, vineyard setting, veranda seating, designer-fabric lawn mats for lounging under umbrellas and keeping an eye on the kids on the jungle gym - not to mention the four-star guesthouse next door - The Stone Kitchen has a notable air of rustic romance.
The main part of the restaurant is inside the winery's cellar, still home to a row of shining steel tanks, "but the fermentation barrels have been moved out, and we moved in", says chef-owner Johan van Schalkwyk.
Van Schalkwyk went on to give us a verbal rendition of the blackboard menu, peppered with tasty processing detail.
Robust, full of health, energy and power, I just wanted to eat whatever he'd been eating, but stopped short at ordering the boar. Café food is how he describes the fare, with a regional twist. Ingredients, which he allows to "speak for themselves", are mostly from local producers - our day was spinach and beetroot. There is always cheese from Foxenberg and pork from Vrugbaar (said to be the oldest piggery in SA and antibiotic-free according to the resident researcher). The wild boar, when available, is from Bontebok Ridge Reserve in the Renosterveld Conservancy.
The twist is evidenced in dishes such as the local venison served sushi-style with capers and vodka from Wellington's Jorgensen distillers; and wild boar, apple and sage burger patty with coriander mayo. Vegetarians are also catered for and the calibre of the home-made bread and olive oil from neighbouring Hildebrand wine and olive estate set the tone.
Desserts are "anything seasonal": flambé fruits and nuts in summer months, and winter apple bakes. The sticky pumpkin and orange with toffee sauce and vanilla ice cream (R35) had some takers at a family table where some fortunate children were being introduced to real food.
You don't want to overdo it at lunch time, unless you plan to lounge on a lawn mat for the afternoon - so in the interests of sampling we shared a fig-and-goats-cheese salad with toasted soy-glazed seeds (R45).
And after all the talk of pork and related matters, there were two orders for Asian rashers with nectarine chutney, watercress and herbs on green beans with baby potatoes (R70). So delicious was this that the researcher's anecdotal flow was temporarily stopped.
My Mediterranean vegetable stack, layered with shredded courgette and buffalo mozzarella in a pool of chunky tomato salsa (R75), elevated the term "café food" considerably. Sadly no room for dessert, not even decadent chocolate fondant, but a glass (about R15) of Chenin Blanc from Nabygelegen, the neighbouring estate, went down well. And we all left still light enough to do some walking.
The total for three, including a couple of thirst-quenching beers, came to R368, which made up for the cost of the petrol for city visitors making the trek.
The hero sort, Van Schalkwyk has a seasoned career path. He studied at Elsa van der Nest culinary academy, interned at Buitenvervachting, then, following his wife Tessa, The Stone Kitchen co-proprietor, took up chefmanship at a holistic-retreat chateau with an organic culinary garden in Normandy. Back in SA, he was head chef at the Spaanschemat River Cafe, then Seasons at Diemersfontein. He also has a catering company, Twist ( www.twistsomemore.co.za) which produces organic plum jam and chutneys, biscotti and gourmet pies, available at The Stone Kitchen.
WHERE IT IS:
The Stone Kitchen at Dunstone's Winery, off Bovlei Road, Wellington. Open Wednesday to Sunday 8am-4pm for breakfast and lunch, and for dinner only Thursday. Tel: 021 864 2451