96 Winery Road was a surprise. It is owned by winemaker and restaurateur Ken Forrester, whose green, luscious vineyards border Winery Road. Having dropped into the restaurant one afternoon to buy a half-bottle of Forrester’s magnificent but unhelpfully-named dessert wine, T (picture the scene: “I’d like some T, please.” “Sorry, sir; this is a wine merchant… you want the café next door.”), I flicked through the menu and was intrigued by the freshness and originality of the dishes, so we reappeared for lunch the following day.
It was a hot summer’s day so we sat outside in the shade of the trees, breathing in the scent of the lavender hedges that surround the restaurant. Our fellow guests were a well-heeled crowd: ladies who lunch (Ray-bans, diamonds and mineral water); a mob of elderly locals conversing in the piercing, crystalline accents of pre-war British public schools; and half-a-dozen Johannesburg businessmen halfway through a Cape Wine Route jolly, whose flushed complexions and loud voices indicated that they may have ignored their guide’s—and, possibly, their mothers’—advice to spit rather than swallow.
Despite the attraction of the starters (surely it would take a heart of stone to resist ostrich carpaccio with tuna dressing, deep-fried capers and Parmesan cheese; or butternut, rocket and feta salad with pine-nut brittle and lemon and black pepper dressing?) I eschewed them in favour of one of the main course specials described by our charming waitress: Cape salmon in a lemon sauce.
Me, I’ve got a heart of stone.
My companion was convinced by an earnest paragraph in 96 Winery Road’s menu proclaiming that the restaurant has built its own cold room in order to age its beef to perfection, and chose rump steak with Béarnaise sauce.
Both main courses were served with potato wedges, courgette, carrot and—unaccountably—beetroot. Why three root vegetables, and why beetroot? I hate the stuff, not only for the disconcerting way it combines piercing sweetness with a distinct aroma of mud, but also for the bright, fuschia smears it leaves when I drop it down my shirt front, as I invariably do. In any case, its brash and striking flavour and appearance do not merge easily with other foods; serving beetroot with Cape salmon is like inviting Dame Edna Everage to present a Monteverdi recital.
For a venue which lays such store by its beef, it is disappointing to report that the rump steak was tough, chewy and overcooked. The Cape salmon was delicious and perfectly cooked, but the plump, flaky fillet arrived swimming in a heart-stopping pool of melted butter. For pudding we enjoyed a perfect crème brûlée and the kitschly-named Lindt Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate, which turned out to be a rather damp but delicious chocolate brownie in a tuile basket.
Brilliantly, 96 Winery Road has a number of wine selections at a bargain price—each ‘flight’ is priced at between R50 and R60, changes regularly and gives you the opportunity to taste four different glasses of wine from local producers. My companion chose a selection including Longridge Merlot, Constantia Uitsig Unwooded Chardonnay (lemony and perfumed), Uwe Mira Sauvignon Blanc and silky, intense, Onderkloof Cabernet Sauvignon.
Forrester is a justly revered winemaker and a talented restaurateur—his Johannesburg restaurant, Gatrile’s, was legendary. The bill at 96 Winery Road including coffee came to R340; while the meal was perfectly enjoyable, it was disappointing that the much-trumpeted steak was not chosen and cooked with more care. And—please—lose the beetroot: if you won’t do it for me, at least do it for my dry-cleaner.
96 Winery Road
(Off the R44 road between Somerset West & Stellenbosch)
Telephone +27 (0)21 842 2020