There are so many reasons to visit Tokara, at the peak of the Helshoogte Pass between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek – a location which has incredible views across the valley to the ocean, which cannot be seen from lower down the slopes.
The farm produces award-winning olive oils, gathering medals across its range of cold pressed extra virgin olive oils at the 2019 SA Olive Awards earlier this year. Tokara makes two single variety olive oils and two blends, as well as an unfiltered extra virgin olive oil on tap.
Then there is the 20th vintage of formidable winemaking being celebrated this year. The first wines released under the Tokara label, the flagship Director’s Reserve Red and the Director’s Reserve White, enjoy wide international acclaim as a true reflection of everything the farm stands for – refinement, elegance and balance.
Since its maiden 2003 vintage, the Cabernet Sauvignon driven Director’s Reserve Red has grown in stature as a world class Bordeaux-style blend with a string of accolades in tow.
“After many years of focus Tokara identified Cabernet Sauvignon as our primary avenue of speciality. Our site is perfectly positioned to express the very best of Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon and to enhance this expression we deftly weave threads of added complexity of ancillary Bordeaux varieties. The Director’s Reserve Red is the spectacular result,” says Tokara GM Karl Lambour.
The newly released Director’s Reserve White 2017 is a classic Bordeaux-style Sauvignon blanc (69%) and Semillon (31%) blend with “rich layers of passion fruit and pink grapefruit intermingling with hints of lemon grass and freshly baked brioche” was included at the lunch we had there last week, but an older vintage. It was a celebration of the new spring menu created by executive chef, Carolize Coetzee, in which she reinterprets traditional South African cookery without falling back on things like bobotie.
The 2015 wine accompanied the third course, described as “bright light spinach with renosterbos and cured egg yolk”. Carolize uses the stalks of the spinach – or Swiss chard, as bright light is also known – to create thin, tender strips of yellow and red on the plate, with a pale green puree to contrast. This memorable dish was a highlight for me.
Of course it’s not possible to bring every ingredient to the table from Tokara’s organic vegetable garden, but many are unique to the Simonsberg area of Stellenbosch. The meal began with “snacks and bread”, which did use some goodies from the garden: ciabatta and kapokbos butter, savoury doughnuts, and springbok croquettes. These were followed by tempura oysters with viskop sop (broth) with Chinese cabbage, peach and salmon roe. Those of us not willing or able to have oysters had a medley of tomatoes.
For main course, Carolize served us lightly smoked duck breast with parsnip, whisky shiitake mushroom chips, and a touch of hazelnut puree used with restraint – those nuts can easily overpower. The mushroom chips were so good, we asked for more.
The final course was Spanish almond cake with hibiscus and lemon posset, almond streusel, hibiscus meringue and nougat ice cream. We’d earlier had a tour of the kitchen and I was captivated by the tray of olive focaccia, so was utterly delighted to be presented with one to take home. I devoured it later that night, in all its salty, crispy, herby, oily deliciousness.
Carolize has been inspired by spending three weeks at Cosme in New York, ranked 23rd in the world by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants this year, where she worked alongside chef Daniela Soto-Innes, the 2019 World’s Best Female Chef, who presents traditional Mexican produce, heirloom recipes and ancient techniques in a refined and modern context.
“We often tend to shy away from finding inspiration in revisiting our own culinary history and rather try to emulate what’s going on elsewhere in the world. As Daniela and her mentor Enrique Olvera remained steadfast in their pursuit of the essence of Mexican cookery, I’d like to remind our guests with each new menu of something they may have forgotten about our collective culinary memory.
“My aim is for my food to have a real sense of place and that our guests should leave with an indelible impression of our restaurant at the foot of the Simonsberg Mountain. That impression should not only concern the food, wine, views and architecture, but the joy and enthusiasm of all the people cooking, serving and cleaning behind the scenes,” says Carolize.
* Tokara Restaurant is open for lunch Tuesdays to Sundays (Mondays to Sundays from October 7) and for dinner from Tuesdays to Saturdays.
Chef Carolize’s a la carte menu will be available from Wednesday, September 18. For reservations call 021 885 2550; send an email to: email@example.com
More Mother City Fine Dining here