|Andries Stockenström Guest House|
Springtime in the Karoo - Andries Stockenstrom, Graaff-Reinet
'As you will see, I have been hunting.' Mine host was about to advise us of our options for the evening's repast, albeit not quite in the booming tones we might have expected of Andries Stockenström, Lieutenant-Governor of British Kaffraria.
But this was not the voice of the eponymous Oom Andries, who was hanging, rather grimly, on the wall outside in the hallway. It belonged, instead, to Gordon Wright, owner of one of the Karoo's most popular hostelries, the Andries Stockenström Guest House in Graaff-Reinet, and we were seated at a spacious table in his high-ceilinged and painting-strewn dining room.
The lodge has long been a haunt for foodies but has only recently opened its dinner doors to non-residents. The menu offers two choices for each course and although portions err on the small side, there is no error in the imagination or the presentation. The wine list is enjoying a revamp and so, evidently from the eclectic art, is the dining room. Gordon says he will concentrate on small and boutique vineyards and local artists.
While we choose, he presents us with an amuse gueule - I always thought amuse bouche was the more polite version, but let it go. He calls it "pap, wors en sous in a spoon", but he was understating the subtle flavours and probably deviating from the Karoo vernacular rather dramatically by serving it in a Chinese soup spoon.
I made the wrong choices in both the following courses. It's not that mine were poor. Far from it, but when I delved into the plates of my fellows, theirs were better. The baked spring roll of wild hare in whisky and honey with rocket, raisins and muscadel was very fine - and yes, this descriptive mouthful really was a springhare spring roll (at the beginning of spring, nogal) - but the tomato and basil soup, served with a yellow pepper and rosemary soup at its centre in the same bowl was utterly delicious. A case of "mix at will" - and it really worked.
My leg of Karoo lamb was good, but everybody else's springbok fillet with the light infusions of garlic and the ginger in the vegetables was even springier. Luckily I got the pudding right - a deliciously crunchy, springy almond cream - but the frozen nougat on a granadilla sauce was also exemplary.
There followed a Muscadel with citrus zest. The beady eye of Andries's portrait caught mine. He knew that I had overindulged but then I didn't have a colony to run. I merely had to make it to bed unscathed - and without making too much of a dent in the springs.
Andries Stockenström Guest House
100 Cradock St, Graaff-Reinet
- First impressions: The smell of floor polish and age-old wood
- The menu: Unashamedly nouvelle cuisine, Gordon calls it "Slow Karoo food at its best". It's certainly very local, gamey and delicious, but we felt that a game spread with the bread and a game amuse-bouche, followed by three red meats out of four choices (two of them game) might indicate overkill. And there were nuts in both puddings
- The bill: A not inexpensive R250 per person for the full table d'hôte menu
- Service charge: Not included
- Wine list: Under refurbishment but fairly-priced
- Service: 9/10
- Noise level: 8/10. The tables are set well apart from one another
- Décor and lighting: Old Karoo with fine tableware and loads of linen. Outside dining in summer
- Booking: Yes - essential
- Parking: In the safe streets of Graaff-Reinet
- Child friendly: No
- Overall rating out of five: ***½
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