There is a breath of fresh air running through Paarl at the moment and it’s sweeping away several decades of neglect and disinterest at this historic estate. If you had to give it a name, it would be Cobus van Graan, the general manager and viticulturist at Laborie, who told me more than 18 months ago of a whole raft of different plans, ideas, hopes and dreams – as long as he could get them past management.
For a time, it seemed touch and go between him and the bean-counters of KWV, but luckily for Laborie, Cobus has that vital and rare gift of doing what he says he’s going to do. When I last visited, changes were already underway with the guest rooms, and now it’s the turn of the restaurant to recieve Cobus’s attention. I went along as his guest to see the changes he’s made there.
If you drew a picture of the perfect Cape Dutch wine farm, you could label it as Laborie. Just off the main street in Paarl, a mere 45 mins from Cape Town, it’s got all the lovely lawns and pretty buildings you could wish for.
On my last visit, the restaurant was gloomy, lumpy and dire, but all that has changed thanks to Franschhoek-uber-chef, Matthew Gordon, previously at Haute Cabrière and French Connection.
The interior is much lighter and fresher with tables outside on the wide stoep under the shade of beautiful oak trees. The car park has been grassed over with a boule pit and jungle gym added discreetly to one side and Cobus tells me that sundowners are proving incredibly popular.
Without wishing to cast any aspersions, Matthew does admit to ‘Paarl-ising’ his menu somewhat! The portions are enormous – particularly the starters - and I noticed a couple of ‘ladies who lunch’ filling their tummies on those alone with a glass or two of wine. I had a huge piece of home-smoked local trout served with apple and celeriac ‘coleslaw’(R68) – a great partnership of rich and oily vs tangy and acidic. Again catering for local appetites, the menu is big on steak – all sourced from the Free State, aged for a decent amount of time and looking delicious.
I’m a sucker for pork belly (R115) so the special for the day was a no-brainer for me– served crispy with onion mash, little chipolatas and a great sticky reduction. If I had a criticism it was that I’d have preferred smaller pieces of onion in the mash – you either got it all in one forkful or nothing at all!
Lunch also includes salads and ciabattas whilst dinner is a little more sophisticated but still well-priced, with most starters being around the R50-60 mark, mains R100- 120 and desserts (if you can make it that far) mid R40’s. If you want to see pictures – click here.
A lot of wine estates only list their own wines and – as you may know from elsewhere, I have a problem with huge mark-ups on wine estate restaurants. Happily, Laborie haven’t done that –meaning that wines start at a good, honest R65 for a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. They’ve also listed more than just their own label as well - being part of KWV, they’ve obviously gone for lots of in-house options such as the Mentor’s range, Cathedral Cellars and Café Culture – but it was good to see other wineries featuring in areas where the KWV doesn’t have so much to show ie Pinot Noir. Best of all is their ‘By the Glass’ policy – a generous pour of their house wines, all of them at a ridiculous R20. That’s got to be one of the best-value policies I’ve come across.
Hungry families wanting a great, lazy, 4-hour lunch, intimate suppers on the stoep with your sweetheart, sundowner drinks and snacks with good friends.