Delicious food from the farm to your table
Werf restaurant and garden is a sumptuous and rustic space filled with soul food, writes Tarah Darge
In the hypothetical race for Cape Town’s most Instagrammable food garden, Babylonstoren in the Franschhoek Valley certainly comes out tops. The acres of organic wonders, iconic prickly pear orchard and meticulously landscaped squares of herbs, berries and veggies are the stuff of bucolic fantasies.
But much like the bees that populate the beds of thyme, Babylonstoren is abuzz with activity — so much so that one would often find it difficult to get into the paid attraction, let alone an unpopulated footpath from where to enjoy the earth’s bounty. And what of Babel, the farm’s famed restaurant? Glorious to be sure, but you’ll have to form a line behind the booked-up list of locavores eager to earn their farm-to-table stripes.
Not too far off though is another garden, less hashtagged but no less beautiful. Ensconced by the purple-tinged Drakenstein and Simonsberg mountains, Boschendal’s own Eden-like plot is flourishing, providing its flagship restaurant, The Werf, with delicate fronds of herbs, bright-green shoots and organic root veggies plucked just minutes before they grace the plates of eager patrons.
The reason for the establishment of the garden was a simple one: catering. The historic wine estate is home to two restaurants, a deli as well as two picnic spots, all of which require a huge amount of produce. With new investors and an environmentally friendly philosophy, The Werf garden was born in 2015, growing ever bigger and better under the green fingers of horticulturist Megan McCarthy.
While the reasoning behind the sprouts, tubers and brassicas may be practical, the effect of the self-sufficient, organic environment is one of continual awe.
"There is divinity in creating and supporting life in and from the soil. I will never grow tired of watching seeds germinate. Teeny shrivelled little bits of magic exploding into massive, living, flourishing green things," McCarthy said. Not only is it a "highly productive food growing space, it is also a space filled with soul food. I love seeing how children come alive in the garden. How the birds and beneficial insects and animals have made it their home too."
The sentiment is echoed by the head chef, Christiaan Campbell, who works closely with McCarthy to plan The Werf restaurant’s menus.
"The produce coming from the vegetable gardens is our ultimate source of inspiration," Campbell said.
The strict policy of using only what’s seasonal, sustainable and ethically sourced means that the menu changes accordingly, the day’s offering to be pored over while enjoying the complimentary sourdough fresh from the Boschendal bakery.
Starters might include the likes of butter-poached chicken (courtesy of the free-range chooks who roam the pastures), oyster mushrooms and poached egg, or grilled katonkel with charred beetroots and homemade yoghurt.
In true convivial style, mains can be ordered "to share" — the steady supply of brisket, short rib, smoked bangers and marbled steak (in various iterations like Picanha or Chateaubriand) sourced from Boschendal’s famed herd of Black Angus. While the groaning beef platters prove popular, divergent taste buds might opt instead for the hake and sorrel, pork cheek and homemade pasta or 16-hour sous vide lamb leg.
Sides should not be ignored, the tallow-fried crispy potatoes a fluffy, crispy triumph and the cumin-roasted carrots elevated by the crunchy topping of a savoury honeycomb. The Werf food garden salad, in particular, provides the visual link between the table and farm that stretches out from below the bright conservatory that also underwent a much-needed transformation.
Desserts are accomplished, the guavas with custard and a spiced milk ice-cream, roasted white chocolate ice-cream sandwich and turmeric-infused brûlée testament to the team’s creativity and passion.
Of course, Boschendal’s own award-winning wines dominate the drinks list. A glass of the acclaimed cap classique brut is a recommended start before pairing mains with the dominant reds, whites or new pinot noir chardonnay. On summery days they offer cocktails, best sipped on the cool deck shaded by the ancient oak trees overhead.
Found in the expansive grounds of the Western Cape’s second-oldest vineyard, The Werf is in the recently revamped original cellar of The Manor House. The traditional exterior of the Cape Dutch cottage hides an interior detailed with hand-painted wall tiles that lead the way to an open and bright chamber — a seamless blend of heritage and contemporary quirk. Pumpkins, baskets of fruit and fermenting cordials gather on wooden tables, coppery pots gleam from shelves and hanging plants adorn the ceiling of the light conservatory, where wooden tables commingle with comfy mismatched chairs; a fireplace ready to be lit.
While diners might admire the wrought-iron light fittings and Delft-inspired portraits, the real star will always remain the outdoors. With an all-glass front that spills out onto the terrace overlooking the hectares of vegetables thriving in The Werf food garden, the overall effect is one of an unending visual feast.
The Werf garden and the excellent restaurant provide diners with an opportunity to eat with virtue.
But for McCarthy, the concept of farm-to-table means getting stuck in and taking something of the environmental awareness home for continued practice. "My hope is that the garden continues to grow into a space of inspiration and awe. I want everyone who leaves here to rush home and start growing their own food, raising chooks, and making compost if they can," she enthused.
Campbell added: "We’re on a journey to constantly define and interrogate what ‘from soil-to-plate’ dining is. Thankfully, this journey knows no final destination, and we invite our guests to enjoy it along with us."
• Boschendal is situated on Pniel Road in Groot Drakenstein outside Franschhoek. The Werf is open for lunch from Wednesday to Sunday, from 12 -3 pm and for dinner from 6-9pm. Reservations are essential and can be made by calling +27 (0)21 870 4206 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org