This venerable wine estate holds a special place in the hearts of many a South African. Countless people have celebrated major events in their lives – from matric photos to wedding anniversaries – within these historic rooms. But I have to confess that when I was invited to visit it a few years ago, it completely failed to wow, so it was with some trepidation that I accepted a further offer to dine and spend the night there recently. Trepidation unfounded – this was a really, really good night.
There are some lovely spaces in Lanzerac – I’m particularly fond of the Taphuis Bar with its swathes of history – and the main dining room is out to impress. It makes you use words like ‘swaggered’ and ‘festooned’ and creates a fairly formal environment with a feeling of opulence.
To steal a phrase - you quiver with anticipation, which is surely how they want you to feel. The table was a little small for all the glassware, cutlery and plates and I’d have liked to lose the side plate after the bread was eaten, but overall, a very promising start.
The chef is Stephen Fraser, a Welshman who’s been at Lanzerac for several years. According to hotel management, there has been a change of ownership not so long ago and there has been a process of weaning regulars away from the big portions/cheap prices philosophy in the past to something more sophisticated and modern.
Stephen is now serving much more focussed food than before and his plating is beautiful. Both fishy starters – beetroot and rosemary cured seabass and sesame-seared yellowfin tuna - were excellent. Joined on the plate by imaginative but well-matched accompaniments, they may have been the highlight of the meal.
Mains offered well-thought-out tweaks to familiar cuts of meat and fish and the shiitake-crusted springbok with stone fruit and citrus elements, in particular, was wonderfully-balanced.
Desserts were mixed – I wasn’t keen on their version of lemon meringue but it probably serves me right for choosing anything with ‘deconstructed’ in the title! But the bitter chocolate Marquise with a wonderful raspberry sorbet was a triumph and definitely worth ordering on my next visit.
Mainly Lanzerac as you would expect and with just-about-okay mark-ups which is accounted for by the style of the restaurant. Otherwise, it’s focussed on Stellenbosch – quite rightly – and offers the ‘Best of the Rest’ from other regions.
I had a tasting with cellar master Wynand Lategan the following day and he has some very exciting tricks up his sleeve like a fabulous Malbec and possibly the only SA bottling of Pinot Blanc on their way soon. But a good range of wines, fairly-priced and very food-friendly is my overall verdict.
Great! A fair sprinkling of Stellenbosch students mixed with seasoned professionals made the evening hum along at a good pace without feeling rushed. Breakfast the following day was also good although a little more managerial-attention would have been better with some items running out on the buffet and not being replaced. But hey – they had oysters and MCC – it wasn’t that much of a problem!
A massive improvement on my last visit and what I had been viewing gloomily as a slightly unwelcome chore turned out to be a truly lovely experience. If you can, you should stay over in the newly-refurbed rooms which were completely gorgeous and some of the best-appointed I’ve ever seen.
There are more improvements happening all the time but don’t wait for it to be finished. Go now and see how this beautiful old lady is gradually being restored to her rightful place as Stellenbosch royalty, offering an experience fit for a king.
*Disclaimer – my husband and I were guests of Lanzerac