It’s strange that this despatch has taken so long to write, because this foray into the heart of the lunch hour was one of the best that the Hungry Man and I have enjoyed. Now I’m reconstructing it from imperfect memory and in the meanwhile, the Hungry Man has eaten at Fat Duck in Bray, amongst other fine establishments. But more on this when he returns, no doubt.
Shortly before his departure to the northern kitchens, I sent him to eat at Manna Epicure on Kloof Street for a business lunch, and he was not impressed. “It’s a wank” could have been his words, though he is not usually one to employ such gutter language. I’ve just had breakfast there today, and I must say it is rather whimsical/feminine/frosted/pretentious – you take your pick. Basically, not for everyone, but definitely for groups of city femmes on coffee-party-with-gifts detail, and gay men. The breakfast was good, though the toasted coconut bread was too sweet for the eggs. The coffee was poor.
Which is a good link to Zanddrift. At the end of a three hour lunch, you ask for espresso at a country venue with some trepidation. If they have it, it’s probably the stove-top variety and hard and acidic. Ours arrived beautifully balanced, with a bouffant crema. So we ordered another to be sure. Then another. Then a double. By now we were standing at the counter of the used-to-be hotel where Edwina, the eccentric proprietor, has her till, telephone and various drinks, including buchu brandy and schnapps. It was the latter that suggested the double.
The Hungry Man had already visited Zanddrift on my recommendation and liked it due to Edwina’s relaxed acceptance of his two dogs. They moved over to the garden and looked around while the humans lunched. This garden also featured towards the end of our lunch, for Edwina took us on a short walk-about, looking for a suitable few roses that Hungry Man could present to his girlfriend. It’s that kind of place, set in a quaint hamlet off the roaring N2 highway. Stormsvlei is the name of the settlement, and it’s seen more reason for its existence in times gone by, when it had a Laird (who was gunned down, and other interesting stories). The restaurant is set in a hotel that was built in the early 20th century, and the other buildings include the old police station, goal, and manor house (still inhabited by the land-lord).
The hotel is now divided into three businesses. First a dried and fresh flower shop, then a small wine shop specialising in local bottles, then Edwina’s diner. The whole is very old school South African, those brown veneer, egg-shell wall and dark floor interiors that belong to old post offices, schools and government offices.
I say diner because Edwina’s menu is unchanging: It simply says “take it or leave it”. She cooks what’s fresh and what’s available, though I must say that I consistently get to eat kassler chops here, as well as a great liver pâté. And when porcinis are in season, this is the place for them. She loves this shroom, in a creamy sauce over beef. So, aside from a very Germanic salad (green leaves and vinaigrette) you get: bread and pâté, then a platter of meaty delights including a stew of some sort, all with sliced, fried potatoes. You can opt for a soup du jour. You can later also opt for the cheese cake (a very good option).
The food is home-cooking at its finest. Nothing flash, nothing nouvelle, all tasty. The ambience, helped in no small measure by Edwina’s erratic visits to drop a phrase or two in her smoker’s drawl (like “a dirty child is a happy child”), makes you want to linger on and on, which is what people do. This is one of those less-known country gems, the essence of a good restaurant, hospitality, not replaced by graspings at fancy food or pretentious service.
And you take your own wine, which saw us make the most of a Beaumont Hope Marguerite Chenin Blanc 2004 and a pre-release Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2004, both superb wines.
But I haven’t said much about us. We were smug, I recall, having the day to lunch so expansively. There was a power cut for the day on the farm where I live (the Beaumont wine farm), so there was no computer screen to pay homage to. The Hungry Man was still decompressing from the rigours of his recent work, so felt he owed himself this time. In the course of a four hour lunch, you cover considerable ground of course. But espressos can only recover so much of the finer detail that liberal glasses of wine softens and reshapes as monolithic memories of an immensely satisfying day.
Edwina’s place is open from nine to five every day except Saturdays.
Tel (028) 261-1167.