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GRAPE ESCAPE: PICNICS FOR GOURMETS

 

As everything goes bananas in Cape Town under the mountain, you can be sure it will be more peaceful in the rolling winelands. Hilary Prendini Toffoli visits top winelands picnic venues.

 

SPIERWARWICKSPIER

 

SPIER * WARWICK * SOLMS DELTA * 
BOSCHENDAL * VERGELEGEN 

 

Picnics are not what they used to be. They’re better. Chefs have moved into the territory and given the old hard-boiled-eggs-and-hard-drumsticks fare a gourmet tweak.    

 

WARWICKWARWICKWARWICK

 

 

No-one is more passionate about picnics than Judy Badenhorst. She and Spier executive chef Lorianne Heyns won’t put anything into a picnic basket they don’t believe belongs in a picnic basket. And what they believe belongs in each of their four different Spier picnic options are unsurpassed ingredients in irresistible combinations.

 

SPIER

Smoked trout with red onion salsa and fennel baby potatoes (Gourmet picnic.) Caramelised onion tarts with dried olives (Vegetarian). Salads in which they combine mango and basil with chilli and coconut (Raw picnic) or marinated mushrooms and gorgonzola with lentils and tomato, drizzled with walnut and tahini yoghurt (Vegetarian.) These are just a few of the treats you can tuck into on your blanket on the grass, and they’re as deliciously lavish as they sound.

 

We tried them all, lounging against a rock on the edge of the dam and tossing bits of home-made bread roll to the ducks. They range in price from the lowest, Relaxed Picnic at R125 per person, to Raw at R170, wine excluded – in our case Spier’s 21 Gables Chenin Blanc, a crisp new addition to the stable.

 

There are equally compelling reasons to try the picnics at Warwick, also in the Stellenbosch area. The lake setting is lovely, and former Showroom chef Bruce Robertson set the gourmet standard initially before vanishing north. His brandy and biltong pate is as compulsively edible as the deep orange smoked Norwegian salmon with pickled cucumber and dill dressing of current chef Mark Springhorn. So is the pairing with smoked cheddar and camembert of the fruit chutney made by Warwick’s Norma Ratcliffe, the brains behind this generous outdoor feast. 

 

WARWICKWARWICK

 

Some serious pampering goes with your R299 basket for two. (Price excludes your lightly wooded Warwick Chardonnay.) Discreet elegance reigns, even to a coiled wine glass holder you spike into the lawn. Everything is brought to you, whether you’re sprawled under an umbrella on the lawns by the water – with your back against a long fat comfy bolster-like cushion on a Warwick blanket - or at a table in the forest courtyard, or inside one of the eight bamboo pod structures around the lake. Total indulgence. 

 

SOLMS DELTA

At Solms Delta outside Franschhoek a shallow gurgling stream runs through the wooded picnic spots and there’s a lake with a tiny island. You don’t get more idyllically sylvan than this. No wonder wedding couples are inspired to hold picnic celebrations under the massive plane trees. An ideal setting for families, it’s excellent value at R135 a basket including a blanket and (only with two baskets) a bottle of Solms Delta Lekkerwijn Rose and a bottle of mineral water.

 

Chef Shaun Schoeman is a man who embraces comfort food. His chicken tandoori is tender and tasty, his kraakbrood a pleasantly chewy change of pace from baguettes, his potato mayo salad cunningly spiked with bacon and onion, and his lamb kofta with minted cream cheese a refreshing option for those who like frikkadelle on a stick. You won’t go hungry.

 

Anglo’s Boschendal, not far from Solms-Delta, was one of the first to do pre-packed picnics in wickerwork baskets. This vast and beautiful 400-year-old estate has endless shady lawns, but most people prefer to partake of what Boschendal quaintly calls its Pique Nique at tables under the trees. 

 

Just about all of them are tourists. They pour in, many with small children, adding a cheery holiday flavour to the proceedings. I suspect they’re the reason Boschendal’s R150 menu (without the Boschendal Lanoy we had) plays it safe with conventional food, lots of it, which even children can eat, like potato mayo, chicken in a piccalilli-style sauce and rather straightforward cold meats, pâtés and cheeses, all to be enjoyed with a metre of baguette. Isn’t it time a historic gem like this, with its exquisite manor house and glorious old rose garden, had a gourmet picnic option that was in the same class? 

 

Picnics are silver service at Anglo’s other celebrated piece of history, Vergelegen in Somerset West, where Charles and Camilla dined recently. More important, these picnics take place in a unique setting - an ancient camphor forest of giant trees, where tables are laid in fairytale glades, so far away from each other it feels as if you have the place all to yourself. 

 

It’s a magical David Attenborough scenario without the monkeys. Dappled light filters down as you sip your golden Vergelegen Chardonnay Reserve and tuck into your smoked salmon parfait and your honey-roasted pork and mustard-crusted beef fillet, all of it presented on  platters with a varied selection of other treats by a dimpled, discreetly informative charmer. 

 

The fare falls a little short of the gourmet standards set by the less majestic winelands venues, but at R170 a basket (without wine), this inimitable picnic in the forest is something to be experienced at least once in a lifetime.

 
 

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