Home > Food, Travel, Wine > A small piece of Eden in Robertson

A small piece of Eden in Robertson

First published in Bolander Lifestyle & Property, November 25, 2009

Topping the pass with no name, between the N2 and Bonnievale, the valley opens up before you with breathtaking suddenness. Gone are the extensive fruit orchards which dominated the area in years gone by, replaced by a patchwork of neat vineyards. Wine has come to the valley with a vengeance.

Proximity to the Breede River means water in considerable abundance, and many of the vineyards are drip irrigated. The blocks of vines range from bare, through a smattering of tender green shoots, to an abundance of new growth, as spring quickens. It is mid-September, and we’re on the way to Robertson, for what turns out to be a remarkable experience.

In a quiet suburban street away from the bustle of the busy town centre, the Robertson Small Hotel nestles discretely amongst quaint suburban homes. A refreshing strawberry welcome cocktail awaits, as we enter the reception area to a cheerful greeting from Deonè Rossouw, front of house manager and urbane barman Alvin Fluks. In short order, we’ve signed in, and ensconced in our beautiful room.

The compact yet spacious ten room establishment opened its doors on August 4, offering exclusive accommodation which epitomises understated elegance, in the heart of a fast growing wine region, that twenty years ago produced only fruit.

The main dwelling houses three elegant rooms – one with bath two with shower only, the beautifully appointed and well stocked bar, and Reuben’s at the Robertson Small Hotel, the sister to Reuben Riffel’s iconic eatery in Franschhoek. The main house is, I suspect under the control of Heritage Western Cape, because according to Deonè, no walls were allowed to be broken down during the conversion from house to exclusive hotel. The one thing I just couldn’t figure out was the broad white stripe painted on the floor – so reminiscent of an airport runway – from the front door right into the restaurant. Little other than an artistic moue, which jars with the rest of the décor.

The beautifully dressed gargantuan bed looks out onto the private patio, pool deck and informal garden

The outside accommodation is by no means second class, by virtue of its separation from the main house. Opposite the restaurant are the two Stable Suites, both sporting king-sized beds with crisp white linen, modern but elegant furnishings and magnificent spacious bathrooms, one of which is wheel chair-friendly. The honeymoon suite is located above the Stable Suites, and it is a study in restrained sumptuousness. Would that we were on honeymoon when we stayed there mid-September. A small swimming pool services these three suites.

A row of four spacious standard rooms, all with capacious bathrooms – his and hers basins, rain-forest shower, neo-Victorian bath, and square toilet, complete with hydraulic seat – lead out onto a timber decked private patio, with direct access to a sparkling shared swimming pool.

The pool deck beckons with comfortable recliners under crisp white umbrellas, the manor house in the background. With a cooling cocktail in hand to keep the heat of summer at bay, blessed relief is a step away in the cool waters of the semi-private pool

Opposite, comfortable wooden loungers under cool white umbrellas promise lazy days beside the pool once the fierce heat of summer assails the valley. With the bar within earshot, a cool and lavish cocktail is but a polite call, or finger-crook away.

The colour scheme, common to the entire establishment is muted, greys and whites, which rather than looking drab lends an air of quiet sophistication, and is in keeping with the period. Each room has a feature wall which is exquisitely sponged, breaking the uniformity of cool white. Skylights feature in many of the outside rooms, adding a natural light dimension that is pleasing as well as environmentally friendly.

Every room has a massive HD LCD TV, a DVD player – there is a library of DVD’s in the main house to choose from – and a most remarkable feature, an iPod docking station – annoyingly, the remote control did not work – built into the sophisticated clock radio alarm, complete with a choice of cradles for every model of iPod.

The magnificently appointed honeymoon suite, atop the Stable Suites

The informal garden is lovingly maintained, and the size of the cool shady trees indicates their longevity. The palm trees in the front garden and adjacent to the pool are also long standing residents, witnessed by the laying of the timber deck around the trunks, so as not to disturb them. Legend has it that the previous owner, identified only as “Em” by a small mosaic plaque at the door onto the patio, “imported” them over the years from a variety of exotic island holiday locations.

Reuben’s at the Robertson Small Hotel is a tiny, intimate restaurant which continues the tradition of excellent dining started by Reuben Riffel himself at the Franschhoek eatery. It was configured for 13 diners, surprisingly few I thought, although with somewhat cosier seating arrangements it could be expanded to 20 covers, and the informal tables in the courtyard could seat another 20 I’d guess. Having said that, intimate exclusivity does have its distinct advantages.

The furnishings are understatedly elegant, as is the cutlery – Pintinox of Italy – and the crockery, but whoever matched the two missed the point.  When you put your knife down on the dinner plate, annoyingly it slides right into the food because the lip of the plate is cocked too high.

The restaurant staff are magnificent; friendly, knowledgeable and efficient without being over bearing, best described as unobtrusively attentive. Our waitron, Pepe, was a darling. She, like many of her colleagues, hails from Zimbabwe and according to manager JD they make ideal hospitality industry staff: well educated, generous of spirit and inclined towards service with a smile.

The menu under the stewardship of exec chef Aviv Liebenberg is Reuben-like up to a point – his signature salt squid dish is on the menu. The cuisine is uniformly minimalist with an intriguing fusion of flavours in every dish. The delightful appetiser – deep fried porcini mushroom risotto with truffle mayo (yum!) – set the tone for what was to come.

My pork belly main was to die for, as was the fusion of dessert items, each meticulously plated, separate yet connected, giving a progression of interesting flavours which led to an interesting conclusion.

The menu changes according to what is available locally, says exec chef Aviv, so this is seasonal local cuisine with known provenance at its best. By the time you dine there, the menu will undoubtedly have changed to reflect the shift in availability of produce locally.

The wine list reflects the best of what comes out of the Robertson Valley, with out of region wines in a special section of the wine list headed, somewhat laconically,  “Other regions”. The bottle of Rusticus Tilled Earth we had with dinner – sumptuous earthy notes with dark berry fruit, hints of cassis, a luxurious mouthfeel and a lengthy finish – was just perfect.

After dinner the patio beckons. A generous measure of Remy Martin VSOP from the well stocked bar, in the dim coolness of the evening, reflecting on the dining experience. The bill for the two of us, starter, main, dessert and wine was a whole R540, hardly a fortune considering the excellence of the meal and the dining experience.

On returning to our room, the beds were turned, a bottle of water thoughtfully at each bed side. A selection of scrumptious confections and a bottle of wine beckons for those still peckish, and the under-floor heating, thoughtfully turned on, keeps the tootsies warm while brushing your teeth. And so to sleep, perchance to dream, between crisp white sheets on a thankfully firm and gargantuan bed, with the morrow a tantalising contemplation.

The morning dawns bright, and a discreet knock on the door heralds a wake-up call and hot coffee, enjoyed on our private patio overlooking the pool.

Breakfast is sumptuous, ranging from the healthy continental (no thank you!) to the full English with all the trimmings (yes please!), supported by an interesting range of juices like wooded Shiraz grape juice and freshly squashed orange. The croissants are exquisite – light and fluffy enough to float off the plate in a breeze – testimony to the skill and artistry of patisserie chef Christien van der Westhuizen, as are all the confections, breads and rolls served in the restaurant.

A gargantuan espresso machine, emitting interesting wisps of steam and coffee aromas renders a final cup of coffee, and we repair to our room to pack.

Front of house manager Deonè and duty manager JD are at reception to see us off, and they do just that, carrying our bags to the car. They’ve become almost like family, and the parting is tinged with melancholy.

We sadly take our leave, and embark upon the road back to Somerset West and everyday life, determined to return once more in the near future.

Categories: Food, Travel, Wine
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