A Garden Route mink-and-manure success story
In my book, any eatery that can cook cauliflower pretty has to be something special.
The Bitou Vineyards Restaurant on the Garden Route opened its doors the weekend before Easter and it was busy, then over the holidays they had a full turnout — and though it has a seating capacity for 150 people, it is already advisable to book.
The day I visited, one of the first things that caught my attention (and here I admit to eavesdropping with my journalist “bak ore”) was the conversation among what looked like a family of several generations.
They were raving about cauliflower, literally oohing and aahing, and ordering more.
This is a fascinating right, because how on earth does anybody make this white vegetable sexy?
Try Bitou Vineyards Restaurant crispy coconut cauliflower served with chimichurri and fire-charred cos lettuce with a magic emulsion, and there’s no going back!
We are quite spoilt for wine farms in the greater Plettenberg Bay area, but Bitou Vineyards has an edge as its location, between Kurland and Plettenberg Bay, makes it the closest wine farm to Plettenberg Bay — a mere five-minute hop and skip from town.
It’s also incredibly beautiful with a huge restaurant and deck area all open to the vineyards.
Formerly known as Bitou Polo House, in its horsey days it hosted international polo games and players on top-notch fields housing up to 60 horses.
Then in 2008, polo-playing fields were converted into vineyards and so started the story of soil profiling, choosing grape varieties that would thrive in this terroir.
In the spring of 2009, soil preparations, trellises and vineyards went in.
The first sauvignon blanc was harvested in 2012 and in 2014 an Irishman called Ron Leacy bought the property with existing vineyards, a cellar and an old stable block which he dreamt of someday turning into a restaurant.
Since then, Leacy has harvested the best of local talent to do just this.
Matuschka Sinclair is a local girl, having lived in Plettenberg Bay since she was seven — and she manages the restaurant.
Her parents ran a hotel in the area and so from a young age she has been exposed to the hospitality industry.
Head chef here Bianca Barnard is also a Plett girl who was chef at the prestigious Cape Boschendal Wine Estate’s kitchen.
Anton Smal is the vintner who weaves his magic here, but he also tends vines at Kay and Monty Vineyards and at Newstead Wine Estate in The Crags outside Plett.
Smal can take credit for the flight of sauvignon blanc wines and an MCC all made with grapes from their own vineyards.
The Sassy wine name and label is named after a polo pony that lived on this farm and though she had been badly injured, she went on to represent four countries on the Bitou polo field.
A surprise on this menu is the Bitou Malbec 2020, made from an Argentine varietal, which packs an expression of red plums, mulberry and oak.
It is totally impossible to go home and drink plonk after this.
Smal has planted crimson clover and lucerne between rows of vines so that irrespective of the time of the year, the natural vista of the vineyards is always just lovely in all its hues.
Chef Barnard was given carte blanche with the menu and has come up with all sorts of surprises.
The customary breadboard, meat and cheese board is on the menu (what you would expect at any self-respecting wine farm), but there are some twists here.
One of her signature dishes is the steak and gnocchi made with crispy onions and button mushrooms.
The lamb flatbread with tzatziki, hummus, pickled carrot, coriander and mint is heavenly and gurnard is served with, who would have thought, corn salsa, orange and lemon cream sauce.
There are vegan options and meals for children.
So far, the only real marketing done for the Bitou Vineyards Restaurant has been word of mouth and locals are loving it.
Some who live in Goose Valley even tootle along a back road on golf carts.
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