Blessed with one of the most exquisite settings in the world, and deck tables that are perfectly positioned to capture the spectacle of soaring mountains and steep vales, Delaire Graff is also blessed with an owner (diamond magnate Laurence Graff) who desires only the best for his holdings. The architecture, interiors and fittings, therefore, are world-class – as is the selection of art – hence a rare Kentridge lords it over the quirky dining room with its feature orange bench seat.
Of course, there is usually an inverse relationship between food quality and beauty of setting. Here the menu has mitigated the accuracy of this maxim by choosing to offer a menu that explores comfort classics, plated prettily, (self)-proclaiming it “bistro-chic”. The likes of (to start) smoked salmon trout, Jerusalem artichokes, edamame; or chicken terrine with horseradish, smoked apple and roast aubergine. There is a good salad selection including a lentil salad as a heartier light meal – and on the next page sides include seasonal vegetables and mushy peas, for the fish and chips from the mains. Other mains include grass-fed sirloin with braised short rib dumplings and a mushroom ragout; or rock lobster with king oyster mushroom, Parisian gnocchi and lobster bisque.
The latter costs a princely R295 – not an unexpected price for the luxury ingredients – but it has to be said that the menu likes its fuller-figure prices: starters nearing R100 and mains around R170. Add a side and wine and the bill mounts, though you do have the value of the setting and service that is attentive to the point of being pesky (and not averse to upselling). A “how was your…” with every course is bordering on stalking, but they are so friendly it is difficult to be put out. Perhaps the style of service is informed by the luxury safari operators who clearly love this restaurant – on my last visit nearly half of all the tables were being hosted by a khaki-clad guide.
The kitchen was blazing quick, in keeping with the bistro style. My Caesar salad (R75) was very good, well-dressed in a piquant sauce. To note that there was too much parmesan cheese would be picky, since it was very good parmesan. For a main, the line-fish, kingklip (R155), was an appetisingly chunky piece but it arrived shedding water into the plate, a sure sign of poorly defrosted. The side of gnocchi was poor, dense and mealy, the “sauce vert” was in the form of a thin, flavourless foam. The celeriac purée was good, as was the avocado salsa, but I had nothing to eat it with except the remains of my salad.
But then, thankfully, the meal was redeemed by an outstanding pistachio nougat, with great rose geranium ice cream and Turkish delight (R60).
For: Superlative setting and innovative spaces, world-class
Against: High prices and service that doesn’t read the table well
Helshoogte Pass, Stellenbosch. 021 885-8160
Wednesdays to Saturdays: Lunch and Dinner. Lunch only Sundays to Tuesdays