“Stellenbosch is a little like an Afrikaner Disneyland,” my companion said thoughtfully over pre-dinner drinks at Die Volkskombuis. “You expect to see a parade going down Main Street every afternoon, with drum majorettes, dancing slaves and a giant, inflatable Simon van der Stel…”
One of the main differences, I argue, is that the catering is startlingly better at Stellenbosch—and Die Volkskombuis provides excellent support for my thesis. The traditional Cape restaurant has been going for nearly 30 years, and has recently expanded to include a deli and traîteur and fine wine shop. On the evening we ate in the courtyard—secluded enough to feel like somebody’s private garden—the weather was just cool enough to make us thankful for the huge brazier burning nearby, filling the air with the sweet scent of wood smoke.
I was expecting a fiercely formal set-up, and was reassured to see customers of all ages: ranging from a student pair in shorts and T-shirts, to a staid, British couple being entertained by a real estate agent intent on selling them a little slice of South African heaven. The informality was underlined by the professionalism of the friendly staff: solicitous and helpful.
Our main courses were superb; I was tempted by the thoughtfully composed vegetarian option: baked butternut with spinach, mushrooms and feta cheese, served with oven roasted vegetables and risotto balls flavoured with the South African delicacy waterblommetjie—a pond flower that tastes a little like asparagus. However, I eventually chose a soft, lemony risotto topped with prawns and seared scallops and enveloped in an aromatic saffron sauce.
On the other side of the table my companion sliced a huge rib of pink, juicy Karoo lamb into neat chops, nodding approvingly at the crunchy roast potatoes and scents of rosemary and sweet, caramelised garlic. I enjoyed a dessert platter bearing three sweets: malva pudding, koeksister and—breaking with the theme of Cape Dutch cuisine—sherry trifle. With the exception of the delicious koeksister, these did not quite match up to the perfection of the main course—the malva was a little too moist and spongy for my taste, and the sherry trifle was served in a little sherry schooner whose waist was too narrow for my teaspoon to scrape out the sherry-soaked sponge.
My companion chose white chocolate pudding—a baked confection somewhere between a mousse and a cake. I snatched a spoonful and spent the next twenty minutes grinning foolishly, on a sugar high induced at least partly by the condensed milk with which the pudding had been generously basted before cooking.
One of the pleasures of Die Volkskombuis—in common with most Stellenbosch restaurants—is a brilliant wine list featuring wines difficult to find in the rest of South Africa, let alone overseas. We enjoyed a bottle of Vergelegen Merlot 2003, which matched the Karoo lamb brilliantly and went surprisingly well with the risotto.
The bill, including mineral water and tea after dinner, came to R404 plus tip—a bargain by anyone’s standards.
Aan de Wagen Road
Telephone: +27 (0)21 887 2121