Unquestionably one of my favourite boutique accommodations on offer, a stay at The Robertson Small is an ideal way to spend a weekend in the countryside. Featuring only 10 rooms, this curated hotel appeals to those seeking unadulterated peace and quiet.
Found in the heart of a leafy green suburban setting, The Robertson Small rubs shoulders with residential homes – mostly quaint old Victorian ladies bedecked in broekie lace, roses nodding gently in manicured gardens. Itself a historic home, the original Manor House building that contains the reception, a few rooms and restaurant has been aesthetically amalgamated to include double volume pool-facing suites, restored Stable suites and a Wellness Room. Two spacious swimming pools encourage guests to take an afternoon plunge – the only better way to beat the summer heat is with icy G&T’s on The Small’s wraparound verandah – while the sun-splashed succulent garden is a heliophile’s dream on a warm morning.
I got to call one of The Small’s poolside rooms home for an evening. Greeted with a chilled glass of MCC, my suite overlooked the end of a lengthy lap pool and out over the lush subtropical gardens surrounding the Manor House. Offering guests the use of a private verandah with direct access to the pool, the suite also boasts a bathroom whose shutters can be opened out into the room for bathing with a view, a kingsize bed perfect for morning’s spent sleeping in and beautiful soft furnishings by local designers. In fact, The Small prides itself in loving local – with touches like the Pichulik keyrings, Mungo Mill towels and the Em Bar adorned in mosaic by Michael Chandler giving the hotel it’s distinctive appeal.
Having had enjoyed an afternoon of languorously swimming laps in the pool and getting more effervescent by the minute on MCC, we got our glad rags on for an evening drink on the Manor House verandah. Seated with a view over the garden and a glass each of my favourite Robertson white – Springfield Estate’s Life From Stone Sauvignon Blanc – we had the opportunity to peek at The Small’s new menu. Featuring dishes developed by Foliage’s Chef Chris Erasmus, the hotel restaurant’s menu is a celebration of seasonal ingredients and layered flavour. Generous without being gluttonous, portion sizes are hearty and full of textural appeal. To start, we shared the Potted Snoek Roulade with avocado and horseradish purée, the Tom Yum Coconut Broth with mussels, squid and exotic mushrooms and my personal preference – the Beef Fillet Tartare with kumquat & passionfruit vinaigrette and capers. We also sampled the Bokkom Caesar Salad – a bravely flavoured take on the classic bistro dish that contained quail eggs, apricots and that most controversial of West Coast tastes – the bokkom.
Mains arrived in the form of slow-cooked Pork Belly with red cabbage, apple and preserved lemon and a beautifully seared fillet of Sea Bass with pillowy Parmesan gnocchi, charred corn velouté and a pumpkin seed pesto. Already a fan of their wines, I decided on pairing our dining experience with a bottle of Arendsig 1000 Vines Viognier. Lusciously full-bodied with distinctive notes of jasmine on the nose and summer fruit on the palate, the Viognier was able to deliciously hold it’s own alongside both pork and fish dishes. Unfortunately I had bitten off more than I could chew with our selection of starters that I had to forgo dessert – well, I won’t say no to another reason to return!
After an early night and the most blissful sleep, we awoke to misty skies and a cool wind. Opting to curl up in a corner of The Small’s restaurant, guests can partake in a buffet breakfast spread or order from the kitchen. I’m easily persuaded by anything bathed in Hollandaise and so their menu featuring a choice of Eggs Benedict, Royale and Florentine whetted my appetite. One can also opt to have eggs as part of grilled breakfast with roasted tomatoes and chipolatas or an omelette. For those with a sweeter tooth, there is the option of waffles with honeyed bacon and rosemary. After a glass of freshly-pressed pomegranate and winter melon juice, it was time to check out and bid what truly was 24 hours in paradise a reluctant goodbye.
Incidentally, that Saturday saw the Robertson Valley play host to one of the most popular festivals this summer season – Wine on the River. Held on the Goudmyn farm just off the R317, the festival brings together the estates and winemakers of the valley in one convivially comprehensive event. Taking place over three days in what is a celebration of the grape, the grain and the ability to enjoy both on the grassy banks of the Breede River, I was fortunate to gain access to Saturday’s affair. Presented with a very fancy Riedel crystal tasting glass (of which I protected with my life for the duration of the day) we meandered our way through stands from over 25 wine farms, sampling and shopping (a large bag is a must) and enjoying the sunshine and live music. For the peckish, various food stalls sold snacks in the form of sushi, fresh oysters, kebabs, shawarma and some rather delicious sweet and sour pork that sadly I did not partake in as the queue was so long.
As for the wine, I revisited some old favourites from my original visits to the valley. Oysters naturally had to be paired with a glass or two of Paul René MCC whilst I enjoyed my salmon sashimi with De Wetshof’s delicately blushing Lilya rosé. If the heat got too much for festival-goers, a cheerful red ferry chugged it’s merry way up and down the river while the Nedbank VIP lounge (home to yours truly) provided a welcome respite in the form of shade and artisanal cheese platters. My first Wine on the River experience, I can say with certainty that this festival is by far my favourite in the Robertson area. After stocking up on some of my preferred varietals, there was nothing for it but to brave the sweet & sour pork stall yet again, admit defeat yet again and find a patch of lawn and a few friends to occupy it with. I can’t wait to do the same again next year – although perhaps this time with a helping of crispy pork.