Africa - August 28, 2012

Enjoyed an early breakfast of French toast while staring at Table Mountain from The Backpack's cafe, then rented a tiny Eggmobile to drive around the peninsula for a couple of days.

Klein Waterval estate
The view from our room in Franschhoek.
First stop on the driving tour: Franschhoek.* Upon arrival at the Klein Waterval estate, Kate decided we were actually eaten by lions several days ago, and this is our version of heaven, a la an episode of Lost. Brad's and my room is a suite with an upstairs bedroom loft, clawfoot tub in the ultra-clean bathroom, and French doors that open onto a brick patio overlooking a field of grapevines. The owners' adorable long-leg Jack Russell terriers frolic on the grounds, and black-headed herons hang out in nearby trees. And did I mention the babbling brook behind our room or the wild-growing calla lilies?

Following Toni's advice (co-owner of The Backpack), we lunched at Solm's Delta, the only wine farm here that allows its workers to be part-owners, and they source ingredients locally for the restaurant.** We started off lunch with a sampler of tapas -- bloukaas tert (bleu cheese tart), makataan konfit (melon jam), mini boerewors roll with chakalaka and koolslaai (sausage with veggie relish and cole slaw), marinated olives, mini bokkam salad (smoked, dried mullet) with dried pear and exotic baby leaves, Delta vegetable pancake, Droewors and bees biltong (jerky) with homemade blatjang (chutney).

Kate and Jenn at Solm's Delta.
For the main course, Brad and I each ordered Cape linefish topped with a suurlemoen pelargonium crust, served with a crushed potato and crab meat salad, enhanced with slow-roasted tomato and olive dressing. Kate's gorgeous meal was grilled calamari, shrimp & mullet paella with sauteed aubergine and tomato, served with a sitrus boegoe pesto sauce and tamatiekonfyt.

After lunch, we wandered over to the farm's museum, which had preserved the building's original foundation from the 1600s under a Plexiglas floor. We learned of a nearby cave with petroglyphs (not open to the public, dangit***), and interpretive signs explained how the lineage of a dominant local family is tied to the bastard children of one of their slaves.

Enjoyed a lovely wine tasting at a garden bistro table overlooking the mountains and vineyards. Highlight: bubbly Shiraz. Chatted with the maitre d' before leaving and found out the farm supports the education of ~100 kids, and the other landowners harbor resentment because Solms Delta is raising living standards for farm workers. So very glad we came here.

Back to the hotel to watch the sun set over the vineyards from our cozy living room. Then dinner at Le Quartier Francais****, a restaurant repeatedly voted one of the top 50 in the world. Hands down, this was the best meal I've ever had. EVER. The restaurant itself is completely unpretentious and eclectic, with textured walls, abstract art, and industrial lighting. On the menu:

*A whimsical appetizer in the shape of a campfire
*Beetroot, buttermilk labne, dill and cucumber granita
*Curry dusted cob, yellow dahl, kale, braised spices, confit tomato
*Klein karoo springbok loin, kamut, sorghum, rainbor carrots, celeriac
*Klein rivier gruyere, pressed rusk, mebos custard, currants, pickled onion
*Baobab, coconut, honeybush, caramel
*Cake and spook asem

I might have giggled with joy throughout the meal. Brad will tell you I teared up at the first bite of my coconut-honeybush-caramel dessert, but this can't be proven.***** It was, in a word, ridonkulous.

Waddled back to the car, trying not to explode all over the Eggmobile on the way back to the hotel. Crawled into bed under a down comforter, loosened the mosquito-net canopy, and drifted to sleep gazing at the thatched roof. Kate's right -- this is Fairyland.
Dessert at The Quartier Francais Tasting Room. What happened was this: They brought out what looked like a giant ball of ice cream. It was actually a delicate shell of some sort of coconut compote, which melted when the server poured hot caramel over it to reveal actual ice cream under the shell. Like Jenn said, ridonkulous.

Brad's footnotes:
* Dutch for "French Town," for a place in South Africa. It was the trifecta of confusion. The best beer we found in all three African nations was Windhoek, also a Dutch word and the name of the capital of Namibia.
** This "let the workers earn the land" mentality doesn't seem to be a universally popular direction, which we found an unsettling example of passive racism that's still present here and there, and more so in the countryside than in the cities.
*** We were totally going to go there, too.
**** Actually, most people know our venue as The Tasting Room, which is inside the Quartier Francais. It's got more limited seating and is spendier, but we found it completely comfortable and unpretentious. And yes, the best meal ever.
***** She and Kate both cried, and I have a photo. I did spontaneously burst into laughter once, too, and harbor no shame or regret for said action.

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