Waterkloof raises the bar to a dizzy new height!

The symphony of the senses starts with this stunning view!

Life’s made up of numerous experiences - bad ones, average ones, good ones and great ones. The latter stand out, not only because they are great, but also because they are rare. For example, I still remember very vividly the exceptional wines I’ve had the privilege of tasting over the past decade, and always will. I also remember vividly each and every exquisite dining experience we’ve had, we being my wife with her educated palate and I.

I try to avoid the question “What’s your favourite wine?” simply because over the past decade I’ve had very few bad experiences. Yes, I’ve tasted wines I did not like, but that does not make them bad, simply not my taste. I’ve enjoyed numerous wonderful wines, and still do, but there has been the odd occasion where a wine has really put the cat amongst the pidgeons as far as my taste buds are concerned. Truly outstanding wines. Great wines. WOW wines!

Food has given me the same experiences over the past few years I’ve been writing about it. We’ve been to restaurants that will never see us again, restaurants where the basics are done well and hearty food is served in an environment that makes you want to stay much longer than you originally planned and that see us often, and restaurants that take the whole experience to a new level, where food becomes an art form, to be enjoyed, appreciated and admired, no matter the price.

My first gastronomic experience at Waterkloof’s “restaurant in the sky” between Somerset West and Sir Lowry’s Pass village was last year when I visited four wine producers in that area for a wine travel article. The idea was that I would lunch at the restaurant with Waterkloof’s winemaker and viticulturist, Werner Engelbrecht, and Annareth Bolton of the Stellenbosch Wine Routes and then also do an article for Planet Wine’s Restaurant section.

Above: The restaurant and its equally stunning views of the surrounding vineyard covered hills and mountains in daytime.

I plead complete innocence and ignorance! I was simply not prepared for the delight that awaited my taste buds, and once I had finished my starter, I knew I could not deprive my wife of this gastronomic experience. So, earlier this year we booked a table for two one Friday evening as Werner suggested one should watch the sun go down over the horizon and the lights go on in Gordons Bay and the Strand from the balcony with a Waterkloof wine in one hand to make the experience extra special.

But before I forget, Honda gave me their new Civic to road test and this was our mode of transport to Waterkloof. While the new Ballade I road tested last year was a bit of a disappointment, the new Civic more than made up for its shortcomings and was a delight to drive. Honda has (nearly) always had the ability to combine quality with comfort and driveability, and the Civic is a prime example of that. Wanna find out more about this super little sedan? Then check out http://planeetwyn.co.za/node/3595.

Right, back to Waterkloof’s restaurant, exquisite food and fine wine. We were welcomed in the car park by a very friendly and helpful security guard. Through the sliding door and into the impressive cellar and restaurant complex we walked, feeling like high-flyers, to be welcomed with equal friendliness by Ierephaan Absolom, the Restaurant Manager, and our waiter, Atkins, and showed to our table next to the glass wall that, in daytime, gives you stunning views of the surrounding mountains and rolling hills covered in vineyards.

Right: My first ever Foie Gras ... and I'm hooked for life!

As we sat down, we were each handed a glass of bubbly. What a start! This was followed by fresh, warm bread and butter. As we were about to order starters, our waiter brought us pre-starters (I kid you not!) of cured duck with smoked baby beetroot, coriander soil and sweet wine gel. If the kitchen were out to impress us, they certainly succeeded! Only then did we order starters - Camembert Crème Brulée (with curried walnut, granny smith and celery sorbet – R55) for the love of my life (Waterkloof’s Sauvignon Blanc 2006 – yes, the 2006 vintage! - is recommended with it) and for me Foie Gras (with figs and sai sai radish, white pepper biscotti – R130) and a glass of the Circumstance Chenin Blanc 2011. Then we took our bubbly out onto the deck to see the lights of the Strand and Gordons Bay. We missed the sunset, but that’s just an excuse to go back!

Left: Beef that melts in your mouth and teases your taste buds ... with a red wine that adds a new dimension to the experience!

The starters were followed by Karan Beef Fillet with shallot tart tatin and tomatillo chutney (R150) for both of us. Sharon decided to stick to her favourite soft drink after also finishing my bubbly, but I ordered a glass of the recommended Waterkloof Circle of Life Red 2009. A true measure of a kitchen’s efficiency and professionalism is when you receive your beef exactly the way you ordered it, medium to well for Sharon and very rare for me. Soft and juicy, with a texture that dazzles your taste buds and simply melts in your mouth!

We finished this symphony of the senses with ... yes, believe it or not, another pre-dish! Our pre-dessert was lavender pannacotta with lemon verbena, which was followed by dessert, Cream of Ivoire White Chocolote with matcha tea and black sesame (R60) for Sharon and a Cheese Platter (R80) for me, with a glass of Waterkloof’s Sauvignon Blanc 2006, as suggested by Atkins, who just could not put a foot wrong all evening.

Right: Whether you have space in the old "pantry" or not, after having experienced the starter and main, you simply have to try the dessert as well. It's as simple as that! This is Sharon's finale to a decadent experience of note!

I can write columns about the experience. Suffice it to say that when a true master in the kitchen (and his staff, of course!) prepares everything with fresh and only the best ingredients, with great attention to detail, and then presents every dish like a Van Gogh or Picasso painting, you know you are treated to something extra special. And that’s what we experienced at Waterkloof!

The smells emanating from each dish, the texture of each ingredient and the taste sensation one’s taste buds are subjected to - not only by the food, but also by the wine - make Waterkloof’s restaurant a MUST for every person who truly enjoys and appreciates an exceptional dining experience, even if you have to stop feeding the kids for a week or two, or walk to work for a period of time, or bend your plastic out of shape just one more time!

Dining here is not a cheap experience, but few of the best things in life are free ... or cheap. And although it’s pricy, it still is good value for money. After all, a Porsche isn’t cheap, but boy o boy, what a ride ... and worth every cent!

Okay, let’s look at how we scored Waterkloof’s “restaurant in the sky”. We work on a scale of 0 – 10:

0 – 3:            Poor

4 – 6:           Average

7 – 8:           Good

9 – 10:          Excellent

In exceptional cases we will award 11 – 12 points, but this will only be in cases where the relevant item exceeds the norm.

As for atmosphere and ambience in the evening, Waterkloof scores an 11 with Sharon and a 10 with me. Service was excellent and received a well-deserved 10 from us both, but the presentation of the food and the food itself excelled to a deserving 11 points. The overall experience also received 11 points from us both.

What can I say? I’m a sucker fot the better things in life, and when I can afford it, only the best will do. Life’s just too short to settle for anything else!