It was a big Cabernet Sauvignon. Big enough to fill a bathtub. I'd come to South Africa to soak up the country's thriving wine and food scene and found myself soaking in it. Up to my nose in a cask-shaped hot tub in the vinotherapy room of the Santé Wellness Centre at the Winelands Hotel near Cape Town, I wondered at all the changes this country had seen. Five years ago, in the wake of apartheid, you wouldn't have found much in the way of culinary tourism here, even though the green hills and valleys of nearby Franschhoek and Stellenbosch are among the world's most beautiful wine-producing lands. The success of a revolution is probably best judged by more important factors than the quality of the meals (and spa treatments) on offer. But I'll take it as a good sign that the country is becoming a luxury-travel destination, that Franschhoekwhere dissident French Huguenots planted some of South Africa's first vines, in the late 1600sis attracting talented winemakers and chefs and that Cape Town's and Johannesburg's restaurants are packed.
It would be hard to find two people who better symbolize South Africa's culinary future than Barak Hirschowitz and Dylan Pritchard. Barak, who heads the kitchen at Tidesthe elegant ocean-view restaurant in Cape Town's Bay Hotelis one of the country's young rising-star chefs, ingeniously using local ingredients to create delicious modern South African dishes, such as kingklip, a halibut-like fish, topped with a tangy sauce made of green olives from the Cape. Dylan, Tides' sommelier, is responsible for the restaurant's outstanding South Africafocused wine list. The two are ludicrously well informed and patriotically enthusiastic about all things South African. Since it's impossible to get the word out about the massive transformation happening in South Africa by staying in the kitchen, the two have started a travel company, Gourmet African Tours, leading small groups on customized trips around the country. The aim is not just to eat and drink (although guests will be doing plenty of both) but also to meet and hang out with South Africa's most important chefs and winemakers.
- A South African Barbecue
- South Africa's Value Wines
- The World's Most Beautiful Wine Country
- Fact Sheet: South Africa
Just before the Gourmet African Tours launch, Barak and Dylan took me on a test run. Our plan was simple: Drive and eat, travel from restaurant to winery to game reserve and never let more than a few minutes go by between meals. In other words: a food lover's perfect African safari.