A Fynbos Disciple

A Cape Town hotel’s passion for indigenous flora creates indulgent treats for guests and visitors.

The sea glimmers and shines on my right.  The towering mountains march along the coast to my left.  The day is hot and the backs of my legs stick to the leather of the car seats.  I can taste coconut suntan lotion and cherry fizz pops.  And underneath it all, I smell the loamy green perfume of hot fynbos.

These are the childhood memories of summer, driving along Victoria Road to Llandudno beach.  It’s along this stretch of Cape Town shoreline that the 12 Apostles Hotel and Spa was controversially developed around 1995, much to the frustration of locals, who feared it would open the pristine mountain to rampant development. Named for the range that curves behind it, the Hotel takes full advantage of those elements that make my childhood memories so vivid; sun, sea and, most recently; fynbos. The restaurant, Azure, and hotel Spa have both capitalised on the over 6000 species of indigenous plants that are found on these mountains alone, just a small part of the Cape Floral kingdom.

Executive Chef Robert de Carvalho, a first generation South African with strong Portuguese roots, is still very much hands on in the 12 Apostles kitchen.  He tells me the idea for his “Cooking with Fynbos” menu came from walking the rocky heath-land of the mountain and wondering whether the fragrant local plants that grow there could be used in the hotel kitchens.  He started to investigate and experiment and subsequently worked closely with a Stellenbosch University botanist to discover which plants would work best and how to prepare them.

The result is a three course seasonal feast, featuring dishes infused with the wild flavours of some 20 fynbos varieties, all tended and harvested responsibility from the slopes of the mountain which make up the hotel’s grounds.  De Carvalho completes the local theme by ensuring that the other ingredients he uses are either local delicacies or sourced from local suppliers.  Naturally, each course is matched with local wines.

I was lucky enough to enjoy the menu at the nautically themed Azure, overlooking the Atlantic in another of its iconic states; a typical stormy winter evening.  On Chef’s suggestion, I started with the sweet potato, corn, wild garlic (Tulbughia capensis) and pepperdew fritters, served with baby marrow, mango chutney and a pineapple,  red onion and geranium (Pelargonium betulinum) salsa.  The sweet, tart salsa was a perfect match to the crunchy and delicately flavoured fritters.

For mains, I (over) indulged in the Springbok shank, wrapped in Morogo (Amaranthus hybridus) and smoked bacon served with stywepap and roasted butternut, with a wild rosemary (Eriocephalus africanus) Namaqua brandy sauce. The meal was finished with delicious Melktert Phyllo Parcels, lightly baked and served with a honeybush (Cyclopia intermedia) and buchu (Agathosma-crenata) ice cream and fresh strawberries.

What made the evening really special was the arrival of the sorbet between the first and second courses.  The palette cleansing ice was served on a platter overflowing with foaming, rolling mist, turning our table into a corner of magic.  I actually clapped my hands with delight. (I’m such a sucker for dry ice).

De Carvalho says his menu is equally popular with local and international guests, but he says the later are more inquisitive about the ingredients.  In response to numerous requests, he now hosts a cooking course for guests interested in finding, preparing and using fynbos in cooking, although this apparently needs to be arranged with the banqueting manager well in advance.

The Spa, part of The Sanctuary Group, has also included fynbos in its treatments.  Built as though carved from the mountain itself, the soothing subterranean retreat uses Moya products as one of the staples of their offer.

I was pampered with a bone-melting, full body massage using a Cape Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) based treatment, apparently known for its detoxifying and calming properties.  The massage, which included a hair mask and facial treatment, left me feeling like some kind of chilled out scented goddess.  Although I had to deal with the amusement of friends when I then headed out to dins with my heavily oiled coiffeur, unwilling to sacrifice the benefits of the oils for an early shower.

I’m most definitely a fynbos disciple.

12 Apostles Hotel & Spa
Tel: +27 (0) 21 437 9029
Azure: email azure@rchmail.co.za

The three course “Cooking with Fynbos” menu is R245 per person for excluding beverages.

The Sanctuary Spa
Tel: +27 (0)21 437 0677

Written for Moneyweb Life in October 08

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