Tuesday, October 21, 2008

In a country where the professional sommelier is a rare beast indeed,


The Cellars-Hohenhort, Relais & Chateaux
A series reviewing places that deeply please the senses. By Christian Eedes.

However sprawling the gardens at the Cellars-Hohenort in Constantia, they are immaculately kept. The hotel is set against the slopes of Table Mountain and as you walk the grounds, you encounter a carefully cultivated herb garden, a colourful and abundant rose garden and even a politically correct indigenous garden.

Perhaps the most extraordinary of anything under cultivation are the eight camphor trees dating from 1690 that were bought in by the Dutch East India Company to decorate the supply road from Constantia to the Castle. It was a good thing that I walked down to see these trees at the bottom of the property not once but twice on the afternoon of my stay as, when it came to dinner, the staff at fine dining restaurant The Greenhouse were politely insistent that the brunette and I were to have the seven-course, R450-a-head gourmand menu.

Before our meal, we took up position in The Martini, the plush hotel bar that offers a range of 152 novelty martinis. As much to steel my nerves to face the impending bill I was sure to ring up as to whet my appetite, I had a Negroni, the well-known Italian cocktail consisting of gin, Campari and Martini Rosso. Once that was down the hatch, I felt much more the Latin lover…The Greenhouse is aptly named with floor-to-ceiling plate glass windows that have the effect of bringing some of the garden into the restaurant. Our table was immediately adjacent to a flood-lit oak tree thought to date from the mid 18th century. There can be few more dramatic backdrops to a meal anywhere. By this time hunger (and thirst) were starting to outweigh budgetary constraints. Enter Miguel Chan. In a country where the professional sommelier is a rare beast indeed, this hotel has a remarkable asset in this Mauritian-born and South African naturalised beverage manager-cum-irrepressible wine enthusiast. In ordering the gourmand menu, he was able to surprise and delight us with some unusual and inspired food-and-wine combinations. Who’s up for Semillon-Chardonnay-Vigonier De Grendel Winifred 2006 with pan-seared foie gras, rhubarb compote and black truffle jus?

The meal ended with a glass of Vin de Hohenort 2006 matched to a dark and white chocolate plate. In addition to everything else planted on the property is a tiny 0.6ha of Muscat de Frontignan that is now 17 years old. With the sweet wines of Constantia the stuff of legend, management couldn’t resist making their own version. The 2006 was a combination of late harvest and botyritis-infected grapes vinified at Stellenbosch farm Waterford. Total yield was less than a ton and in the end there were a mere 588 bottles. The wine is not available for purchase and is served only at management’s discretion – so ask nicely. The yet-to-be-released 2007 has even more sex appeal as romantic comedy movie star Meg Ryan helped pick the grapes…

More than replete, it was time for the brunette and me to enjoy the delights of our R5 900-a-night premier suite. Though the main Hohenort manor house and various other buildings all look very Country Living magazine from the outside, the interior of our suite is distinctly more edgy Wallpaper. The open-plan room is decorated in earth tones offset by snatches of bright pink and purple while furniture sees faux-antique table and chairs next to some very contemporary pieces. The bathroom is ultra-modern with a free-standing, big volume bath, his ’n hers basins and a large shower.

With the hour late, it was the comfy bed that interested me most. After the indulgences of dinner, I had no need for the pamper menu which offered bedtime treats such as hot chocolate, camomile tea or even a J├Ągermeister to settle the tum. Instead, I reflected that I probably needed yet another walk to the camphor trees the following morning as I buried my head in the down-filled pillows.

The Cellars-Hohenhort,Relais & Chareaux93 Brommersvlei RoadConstantiaTel: 021 794