Although I’m a West Coast girl at heart, if there was one town I’d be quite content to escape to, it would be Stanford.
This little riverside hamlet is – in my opinion – the jewel of the Overberg region. Settled on the banks of the Klein River, Stanford marks the halfway point between the rolling farmland of Tesselaarsdal and the briny expanse of Walker Bay and Hermanus. Home to a small convenience store, a handful of excellent eateries and enough antiques dealers to have me scouring the property pages, Stanford is a town that appeals to those after the little happinesses of life. As a guest of the famed Stanford Hotel – the only hotel in the village – I was in an optimal position to explore the town over a snoozy midwinter weekend. Centrally located, the hotel features 5 rooms and two cosy self-catering cottages, with Bambi playing host to us for two evenings. Sleeping two people or two couples in two rooms, Bambi is situated at the rear of the hotel and offers absolute peace and quiet. A private garden with braai and sun-splashed stoep means that sundowners are a must – no matter the season. The proximity of a cheerful Cape lemon tree lends inspiration for the perfect G&T or juicy marinaded lamb chops to be cooked over the coals. A functionally stocked kitchen, bright bathroom with bath and shower and a lounge filled with temptingly squashy sofas makes Bambi the ideal location for a relaxed getaway with all the comforts of home.
Built in 1920, the hotel has had a colourful history – including that of a general dealer and a rather dubious watering hole replete with swinging saloon doors. Now as genteel as the town it’s named for, the Stanford Hotel is cared for by proprietor Penny van den Berg. After purchasing the hotel in 2002, Penny began lovingly restoring the hotel to its former glory a year later, with the final renovations completed in 2008. Instead of serving Scotch, the saloon bar has since been transformed into a museum featuring fashion, memorabilia and kitchenalia from a bygone era. An avid collector, the museum showcases Penny’s finds from thrift stores, church bazaars and private sales around South Africa. At the time of my visit, the museum held a range of bridal fashion from the early Twenties to the Seventies but will soon be changed to celebrate the hotel’s centenary in 2020.
Since the hotel doesn’t as such have a restaurant (breakfast and meals can be organised for larger groups) it’s much advised to make a booking at Graze Slow Food Café across the road. Owned and run by partners Alex and Tabby who handle the front-of-house and cooking respectively, Graze specialises in unpretentious farm to table cuisine, as each ingredient used in Tabby’s kitchen has been meticulously sourced or cultivated by the couple. Expect organic produce, ethically-reared protein and local wines. Open for breakfast and lunch almost daily, Graze Slow Food Café only caters to dinnertime diners on Friday nights. Although featuring a three course menu, we opted to go for mains and dessert with a bottle of Springfontein Cape Moby blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Merlot and Pinotage. Having never before sampled rabbit (images of fluffy bunnies dancing through my mind) I had Tabby’s famed rabbit ravioli and have subsequently been craving it ever since. Tender meat not far in flavour to chicken is encased in a light pasta dough and fried in butter – a method similar to the Chinese potsticker dumpling – before settling into a bath of sauce made from stock, cream and sautéed vegetables. Generously portioned, the dish is a delight; comforting, hearty and yet full of delicate flavour and contrasting texture. A slice of Tabby’s homemade pear, ginger and dark chocolate loaf provided a decadent end to one of the most delicious meals I’ve enjoyed of late.
While it might be tempting to sleep in after such a hedonistic Friday evening, the Stanford Village Market is a weekly event that no visitor wants to miss. Taking place on the wide verandah of the hotel, the market brings together various local artisans and home cooks from the village and surrounds. Expect to find freshly-baked cakes, pies, slices and scones as well as organically grown produce and German-style charcuterie. Favourite finds of mine included red wine-infused salami by Erwin’s, chicken pies by Elsa Gebhard and Brydon Havercroft’s tempting chocolate eclairs and carrot cake.
No visit to Stanford would be complete without a Saturday morning spent hunting down antiques. From the beautifully curated Stanford Trading Store and TAT to the Aladdin’s cave of treasures housed in The New Junk Shop, Stanford is a thrifting paradise. If one takes a mid-morning meander along to nearby Hermanus, Romantique is also notable for it’s vast collection of kitchenalia. From weathered wooden boards, rusty cutlery, chipped ceramics and battered enamel bowls to fine china, polished silverware and cut crystal, Romantique is somewhere I could easily lose myself for a few joyful hours.
Drive a little further and one finds oneself in the Hemel en Aarde Valley. Living up to its name, this sprawling biosphere is home to some of the most celebrated wine estates in South Africa. I had had the good fortune to be invited to lunch at Creation Wines and was eager to sample their celebrated cultivars. Joining the estate’s owners Carolyn and Jean-Claude Martin, I was taken through a sensory tasting and food pairing with each varietal. Recently known to me, the Hemel en Aarde Valley is renowned for their Pinot Noir and Creation’s offering is no exception. Sipping on their 2018 Reserve Pinot Noir as it was served alongside my personal favourite dish – sustainably caught hake with beetroot, beurre rouge, radish, purple laver and a herbed oil – one could taste the subtle earthiness and understated spice. This comes courtesy of the estate’s 450 million year-old Bokkeveld shale terroir in which the Pinot Noir is cultivated. And just like precious metal emerging from the earth, each sip needs to be appreciated.
My appreciation continued into the evening as I was the guest of The Marine Hotel in Hermanus for their special gourmet dinner paired with Creation Wines. My first time experiencing this unparalleled accommodation, The Marine is the epitome of luxury living. Settled on the clifftops overlooking Walker Bay, guests dined in the hotel’s arched dining room. While winter’s early dusk meant that I wasn’t able to admire the view, I was treated to four courses of locally-sourced cuisine expertly prepared by Chef Tronette Dippenaar and beautifully paired with Creation wines. I had fallen in love with Creation’s 2018 Reserve Chardonnay at the tasting earlier and so I particularly enjoyed the wine’s buttery richness and underlying minerality when paired with Chef Tronette’s Bouillabaisse with basil caviar, samphire and charred cauliflower.
Feeling as though I’d somewhat neglected Stanford (one really requires more than two nights to explore) I was particularly pleased when Penny of The Stanford Hotel managed to book us a table at Havercroft’s Restaurant for Sunday lunch. Having previously met chef-patron Brydon at the Saturday market, I was keen to enjoy a lengthy lunch in the winter sunshine. Located just outside the village, Havercroft’s shares the land with a vet and boarding kennel. Sheep, dogs and the occasional turkey wander over so take care when coming up the dirt driveway. Greeted at the cheerfully painted red front door by Innes – the self-confessed “rude wife” to Brydon’s “good-looking cook” – we were led through the charming farmhouse eatery to a sun-splashed verandah overlooking neighbouring farmland. Simple wooden chairs and tables are set with wine glasses and pleasingly rustic ceramics and fragrantly herby bread arrives with farm butter. What with the winter vines clinging to the pergola overhead and small succulent plants dotted amongst the diners, it’s not impossible to imagine Havercroft’s as a sort of Mediterranean taverna straight out of Shirley Valentine.
But the food served here is far from homely. Changed to suit the seasons as well as local demand, the menu features a choice of two starters, three mains and three desserts. A wine list comprised of local estates gives diners an overview of the cultivars produced in the area – I opted for a glass of Lomond Sauvignon Blanc. For starters, we shared a perfectly puffy Gruyere soufflé and Brydon’s famed devilled lamb’s liver – the latter bathed in an almost indecently rich sauce of butter, cream, garlic and fiendishly delicious chilli. Few dining experiences see me casting a glance around at my fellow patrons and wondering if they’d mind if I licked the plate – this was one one of them! Mains consisted of Chicken Ballotine – tender breast deboned and stuffed with minced thigh meat, prunes, toasted almonds, herbs and lemon and served in a Dijon gravy with crispy fried duchess potatoes and steamed greens. Exquisite down to the last bite, each mouthful yielded first sighs of contentment and then of sadness once the plate was clean. Dessert was a retro sundae dish filled with the creamiest coffee ice cream and topped with the same caramel brittle Brydon used over his market carrot cake. What with our jeans feeling far tighter than when we walked in, there was nothing left but to bask in midwinter sunshine, sipping on excellent wine and chatting to Innes about the couple’s plans for the future. Havercroft’s is currently on the market as they plan to branch into private dining and catering to give themselves a well-deserved break after 12 years in the industry. And after experiencing indisputably the most delectable meal I’ve had in ages, I can’t praise Havercroft’s highly enough. Best you book a table of your own there sharpish!