A visit to Pierneef during harvest season
February doesn’t only mark the month of love, but also the month of the harvest, and if you’re more in love with your wine, then this is a very special time for you. This certainly was the case at La Motte in Franschhoek last week when Food24 was invited to the harvest talk, tasting and tour.
The prestigious and perfectly manicured surroundings welcomed the warm evening, where the group stood listening intently to viticulturist Pietie le Roux. Later we moved on to the cellar where we were given insight into the post-harvest process by cellarmaster Edmund Terblanche.Of course one cannot visit La Motte without dining at Pierneef, and on this night Chef Michelle Theron really outdid herself with a harvest inspired menu.
After tasting Chardonnay, and Shiraz at different stages before its finally bottled, I was nicely hungry for dinner. My partner and I were welcomed inside Pierneef to our cozy table and sink-in arm chairs, both perfectly angled so that we could watch the flow of the restaurant. This is needed in a restaurant with much open space and a long exposed kitchen with its entire operations on display.
The natural coloured interior, with soft lighting that balances the room, creates a tranquil atmosphere which keeps any unwelcomed noise at a minimum. The room is centred by striking chandeliers made from hanging items of painted crockery, paying homage to the landscapes created by South African artist Jacob Hendrik Pierneef. The spirit of Pierneef himself runs right through the restaurant from the printed chairs to wall hangings of the artist.
Bread was the first thing brought to our table, keeping with the country theme of the restaurant, Mosbolletjie bread being the specialty. With Syrah butter celebrating the harvest and a homemade farm butter, I eagerly wolfed down the different breads layed out. It’s always a silent battle when it comes to homemade bread and saving space, but unfortunately a mere bite cannot coax me out of the desire for more.
Next a surprise starter landed in front of us, a savoury blancmange infused with almond and thyme, topped with goats cheese, passion fruit and apple, and drizzled with an Asian dressing. The Asian dressing and the goats cheese turned the dish into something far more interesting than a simple creamy blancmange. It took over the softer sweet elements making it an overall savoury dish with a salty undertone.
The menu offered two mains and two desserts to choose from making it easy to taste everything although I was not up for sharing after I tasted my risotto: a Snoek risotto with fresh fennel, harvest grape, celery, topped with pea shoot leaves and must dressing. The risotto was so good, without a doubt one of the best meals I’ve had in quite a while, and that’s including my visit to Pot Luck a couple weeks ago. It had that rich Snoek flavour we’re familiar with in a pate, and a creaminess that held the rice sturdily together. This with the sharp sweetness of the grapes and the fresh crunch of the celery and fennel made the dish a flavour sensation – a combination I hadn’t experienced before.
My partner, who loves lamb, sang the praises of his dish due to the soft flaky texture of the grilled Laingsburg lamb. It sat beside barley, coconut, rocket, poached pear, pickled onion, and a dollop of home-made jersey ricotta. Again the cheese and sweet fruit combination was a sure success.
My dessert was the “smokey and plum bits” consisting of smoked Dulcey ice cream, caramalised Dulcey cake, Guanaja cremeaux, spice roasted plums and cinnamon Chantilly. The other dessert was “it’s a trifle rosy” made up of vanilla custard, raspberry, litchi, rose ice cream, raspberry jelly, and rose meringue. Thankfully we both enjoyed our own desserts more the others’.
If you like it sweet, then my dessert came first with its toasted caramel flavours and little hits of sour plum to break the sweetness. The Dulcey ice cream paired well with the dark, bitter flavour of the cremeaux. Needless to say it was polished off.