When overseas visitors tell me they want to eat at the best restaurant in Cape Town, I send them to Rust en Vrede (with locals I check their budget first). I know there will be much debate about which is the best restaurant in Cape Town, but for me it is Rust en Vrede. I am well aware that places like La Colombe and Le Quartier Francais are higher on the World top 100 list, and there are several others above it on the Eat Out top 10 list, but in my experience, Rust en Vrede as a complete experience is the best.
The food is absolutely mind blowing, David Higgs is an incredibly talented chef. The venue has wonderful character and a beautiful setting. The service is excellent, with the waiter able to tell me everything about my dish, something I rarely find even in high end establishments. The kicker, which makes this the best dining experience in Cape Town is Neil Grant, the sommelier. Rust en Vrede does not limit their wine selection to Rust en Vrede wines, Neil is free to choose wines from all over and he is one of the few sommeliers that has the skill to pair things in a way which elevates the meal to another level. All of these things together make for a dining experience that is hard to beat.
Make no mistake, you will be paying a substantial sum of money for this experience. But any expectation your investment generates will be easily exceeded. If you have the opportunity to interact with David Higgs and Neil Grant, you will find them very friendly and easy going. Rust en Vrede is not filled with airs and graces, it has an elegant casualness about it. The service is attentive, efficient and highly competent. Many of the service interventions will escape your notice, unless you are paying specific attention.
The kitchen is open and from many of the tables you can watch what is going on. I was quite keen to watch a little more closely so I stopped for a while on my way to the toilets, which are awesome by the way. No shouting and swearing in this kitchen, instead a calm efficiency which ensures the various courses are ready at the appropriate times for the various tables. The kitchen is also marvelously clean.
Our meal was fantastic. I was a bit nervous that I had oversold it to my well travelled dining partner (as I might be doing for you right now), but her words as she tasted the first course indicated that this was the best food she had tasted in some time. There are two menu options, the four course at R440 and the six course at R585. The six course menu can be paired with wines, taking the price to R880.
We opted for the four course and Neil offered to pair wines with the courses for us. We accepted, because as I mentioned, his pairings really elevate the experience. Below is the list of dishes and wines we each enjoyed:
First course (Maastricht Sauvignon Blanc 2009)
Cauliflower and Lemon Soup, Almond and Ciabatta Crunch, “Olive Paint” and a Raclette Mousse
Confit Tuna with Apple and Sprout Salad, Truffle Poached Oyster with a Pea and Mint Purée
Second Course (De Trafford Chenin Blanc 2009 & Mullineux White Blend 2008)
Sole and Duck Confit, Lentils with Shimeji Mushroom and Horseradish
Tortellini of Artichoke and Kalahari Truffle, Hazelnut and Parmesan and a Tarragon Beurre Noisette
Third Course (Rust en Vrede Estate 2006)
Fillet of Beef, Carbonade of Beef Cheeks, Welsh Rarebit, Parsnips and Rosemary
Ash Rubbed Springbok Loin, Pickled Beetroot Purée, Glazed Turnips and Truffled Croquette Potatoes
Fourth Course (Mulderbosch Noble Late Harvest 2007)
Goat’s Cheese Soufflé, Fig Ice Cream and a Sesame Biscuit
Lemon Mousse with Pistachio Brittle, Rum Baba, Roasted Pineapple, Coconut Ice Cream and Basil Coulis
I’m not going to go into detail about each course. The food was amazing. When dishes of this caliber arrive before you, conversation stops. The dishes take all your attention because they look beautiful and the flavours combine wonderfully in each mouthful, before they are elevated higher by an excellently paired wine. We spoke about nothing except the food and the wine when the dishes were before us, alternate topics reserved for between courses.
I don’t want to say much more, I think I’ve made my point.I would like to mention that I enjoyed reading the menu notes on the provenance of the various ingredients. The restaurant tries to source local and organic produce as much as possible and they list many of their suppliers, with some information about them, at the back of the menu. This is something I think more restaurants should do. As consumers, we should be concerned with the provenance of the food we consume. Whilst I am very pleased with the focus on provenance, I have to say that only stocking imported bottled water is a major disappointment. We have good local options and the type of person that appreciates the efforts made in terms of provenance, would also appreciate being able to order local water as opposed to imported.
To be honest, I cannot afford to eat at Rust en Vrede. It’s a once in a very long while experience for me. On this occasion I was expecting to pay but was pleasantly surprised when our meal was comped. This was my third meal at Rust en Vrede, the other two occasions were for functions (Rossouw’s 3 star awards & Great Wine Capitals awards) and my experiences then were what convinced me I needed to have the full experience. I’m glad I did, and I hope to enjoy it again at some point.
Rust en Vrede restaurant
Rust en Vrede estate, Stellenbosch
Tel: 021 881 3881
Open Tues to Saturday from 7pm.