I recall when Bosman’s restaurant first opened at the exclusive Grande Roche hotel in Paarl in the 1990s it seemed to be setting a new standard for the country. The fact that you peed on a real, fresh flower floating in the toilet bowl (and replaced after every flush) caused a sensation. I think it was some kind of water lily and not just any old flower.
A good friend was in need of a special treat and we drove out one night from Cape Town to dine in style. It was all very impressive and a little intimidating. On the table was a small golden bird bibelot I had picked up to examine. When the waiter came to take the order he repositioned it exactly where it had been. I moved it a couple more times during the evening and each time the bird was re-orientated and the waiter’s eyebrow twitched. It was a bit like Kathy Bates in Misery, if you recall, my penguin “always faces due south”.
Next to us there was a large table of extremely formal Germans that made stilted conversation and left one feeling you were dining with the Hohenzollerns shortly after they abdicated. One man had a thick handlebar moustache with spectacular points that came up to his temples. He must have used a ring or mask at night and lavished many hours on its upkeep. I remember feeling some compassion for his fragile wife who had to sleep with the thing.
Twelve waiters arrived each with a silver cloche fitted tray which they lifted in unison when the head waiter gave a nod.
Fifteen years later, Bosman’s is no longer so precious or nearly as stuffy. It now runs as an efficient, well-oiled machine. Jacket and tie are no longer expected. The loo flowers and the bibelots are gone. Even the Germans are relaxed. The silver domes remain.
The 70-seater restaurant is in a gabled, white, thatched, T-shaped manor house dating back to 1707. The terrace, where guests enjoy Alfresco breakfasts and sundowners, faces out on to vineyards and the beautiful Du Toit’s Kloof mountain range which quickly drains any primness from the guests. A nice touch is the wooden box with rows of various strength spectacles for the guests to read the morning papers.
The gardens are formal, but beautifully sculpted with cycads and intense blues and purples, a testament to Anneke Sutherland’s green fingers. They make a perfect visual aperitif for Austrian chef Roland Gorgosilich’s (his surname is of Croatian origin) gourmet cuisine.
I was to be treated to their tasting menu (R660) so I greedily engaged sommelier Isabella Immenkamp to pair the courses. She does it with great skill and there is a good chance you will be introduced to wines you might never have discovered. Be aware though that seven good wines by the glass is not a cheap proposition and can easily add a further R600 to the bill. You may also find you need to take a room afterwards. The luxury accommodation is in well-appointed, charming, thatched cottages with Nguni skins on the floor and all the mod cons.
The Colmant Brut reserve cap classique was new to me and an effective stimulant to the appetite. A selection of breads are offered with duck fat spread, cottage cheese and butter.
The amuse bouche was a pan-fried disc of soft impala in vichyssoise.
First up – prawn tartare on a rectangle of firm cucumber jelly in apple-cucumber yoghurt. You will want to pop this titbit whole in your mouth. A glass of Paul Cluver’s dry Weisser Riesling extends its pleasure.
The next wine was also new to me, a Crios Bride sauvignon blanc 2008, of which only 471 cases were made. At first I was not convinced. It has an unusual pongy vegetable nose. But as the wine breathed it opened to reveal a real food wine. It was a perfect companion to the sweet white asparagus that came with the next course – delicate veal shank with asparagus scallop salad on white asparagus crème and truffle.
Immenkamp seems to like her farmyard noses; the Groote Post reserve pinot noir 2008 also has that earthy bouquet. It was just right for the soup – a quail drumstick with pea-sized vegetable ‘pearls’, a single delicate ravioli in an intense, flavourful, almost amber-coloured consommé.
The fish course was a jus glazed kingklip with a broad bean porcini mushroom cassoulet, a beurre noisette (hazelnut butter) foam that looked like it had been churned by the sea, with a shaving of foie gras. The hot and cold contrasts made this dance on the palette. A lightly wooded La Brie Chardonnay 2010 kept pace with it.
Instead of the usual sorbet break, the chef serves his interpretation of a cosmopolitan cocktail which is a deconstruction of the ingredients as a refreshing ice.
The dishes are tasting menu sized, but accumulate. You don’t find yourself wishing for the fillet mignon as you watch one of the skilled staff work his way from table to table providing a gueridon service. This bit of food theatre certainly keeps the place lively.
The meat course was two medallions of springbok loin cooked sous vide with broccoli purée, hazelnut gnocchi and juniper berry jus. The venison is on the rare side, but the best springbok I have ever had. Hard to beat with a glass or two of Thelema Merlot 2004 which has a weighty 15.1% alcohol.
By this stage I had to skip the dessert – a chocolate-sprayed strawberry mousse, greenpepper marinated rhubarb and white asparagus in ice cream.
After sampling a few artisanal cheeses with a flute of Graham Beck Bliss demi-sec one was ready to be tucked into a bed nearby.
Bosman’s Restaurant, Grande Roche Hotel, Plantasie Street, Paarl, 7646. Tel: 021 863 5100.