I have been truly blessed with having spent some precious time in July with my husband staying in the extraordinary Hotel & Gardens of Babylonstoren in the Western Cape of South Africa.
I have so much to write about this incredibly inspiring place so I shall break it down into digestible chunks; food, spa, gardens & bees.
Growing food was the original inspiration when Karen Roos & Koos Bekker first bought the farm almost ten years ago.
The Cape has a history of being a stop off point for ships from the 1700s and gardens were established to produce the fresh food needed to replenish the kitchens on these ships during their long journeys.
‘Babel‘ restaurant opened at Babylonstoren with the aim to provide freshly harvested food to guests, combined in extraordinary ways to give the dinning experience never to be forgotten.
Initially lunches were served, but now as the gardens, farm and hotel is attracting thousands of visitors, Babel is open for breakfast and dinner in the winter and for lunches also during the peak seasons.
Our first meal was dinner after a 24 hour door to door transit from the UK.
Apart from the food, the other striking thing about Babel is the staff, so very welcoming,local, knowledgeable and extremely well trained in service. Nothing is too much trouble for them, your delight and satisfaction really is their greatest desire.
As a former artist I was so excited by the menu being categorised by colour. ‘Introductions’ in yellow, red or green.
The delightful Ilke offered us tasty entrees fresh from the garden, candy striped beetroot, carrots, citrus and the fruit of the season which themed our visit, vitamin C rich guava.
The table was furnished with Petri dishes of sea salt & pepper, and conical flasks with raspberry vinegar complimented by the house olive oils beautifully packaged in small tins.
I selected the green, and Greg had the yellow to start. His citrus based dish, so beautifully displayed had a variety of citrus fruits gently baked to remove the sweetness and combined with fresh herbs and vegetables.
Mine was a true picture! A fish broth with leeks, wild mushrooms and artichoke where every individual flavour was lifted and separated giving the tongue an unexpected challenge to identify such skilfully combined flavours.
“Greg chose the chocolate which came with a
full white rose, which I also ate as he was still
new to eating roses!”
Being very much a steak and chips man, Mr C could not resist the fillet of beef, on the bone, which was so delicious that he chose it every time we ate there! He allowed me a taste and despite Greg being a master at cooking prime fillet for me on each of our 12 anniversaries, this was the lightest, smoothest steak I have ever had the pleasure of tasting, so it became my final dish here on our last evening eating at Babel. It was complimented by an aniseed & barbecue sauce, a combination I would not have imagined, yet it worked perfectly.
I continued my fish themed meal with the catch of the day which was another tantalisingly stimulating sensation for my taste buds!
We resisted taking photographs of each dish, which I now regret!
For desert I was tempted by the dark chocolate mouse but as I was running a honey tasting workshop there the following day, I chose the fresh honeycomb topped ricotta so I could sample the honey from Babylonstoren’s own bees.
Yet another work of art where even the rose petals were edible. I was pleased that the honey was a small serving, reflecting the rarity and value of a pure local honey, also not to overwhelm the ricotta and warm citrus with sweetness. I have yet to learn the flavours of Cape honeys so I enjoyed the taste as it dissolved on my tongue, a complex variety of unknown fynbos plants blended skilfully by the Bees. Greg chose the chocolate which came with a full white rose, which I also ate as he was still new to eating roses!
During our stay I sampled most of the menu, whilst Greg stuck with the steak! It is of course noteworthy that the steak remained consistently good, not always an occurrence when repeating an excellent experience.
The halloumi freshly made on the farm, was my overall favourite, not just for the flavours and shear size of the slice, certainly the largest I’d ever seen, but the absolute beauty of this dish.
During our stay we’d also sampled lunch at The Greenhouse ( a beetroot & orange soup) with their signature tissanes, ( fresh herbal teas) and thick potato wedge chips.
I was anxious about a night at the Bakery, being completely wheat intolerant, pizza & homemade pasta, despite their excellence. A quiet word to the reception staff had everything sorted, ‘don’t worry Mrs Carnell, we have already instructed the chefs, and a special gluten free pizza and pasta dishes will be made for you’.
“The gluten free pizza was so good it was suspicious! I’d never sampled a gluten free pizza with such a crisp yet authentically ‘bread like’ base.”
The Bakery has a more relaxed, family feel to it and we can watch the chef making the fresh pasta and pizza doughs whilst being entertained by the jovial team of waiters. Jonathan & Warren were consistently excellent and attentive, and we were also delighted to meet wonderful Muranda with her powerful deep tones telling us she ‘won’t be loosing any hair’ over our indecisiveness!
The Bakery has a 4 course set menu for a remarkably inexpensive price and of course complimented by the delicious Babylonstoren wines or home made ginger beer for the non drinkers.
The shared platter to start was another piece of art, both visually & gastronomically.
Salads, fresh fruit and vegetables with freshly made mozzarella and meats could be combined with herb infused oils and dressings.
The gluten free pizza was so good it was suspicious! I’d never sampled a gluten free pizza with such a crisp yet authentically ‘bread like’ base.
The freshly made pasta was also undetectably gluten free and with its creamy mushroom sauce I had to have seconds, and I have never been a pasta lover with or without wheat! The added treat was watching the fresh pasta being made in the open kitchen.
Not liking waste, the pizza we were unable to finish was boxed up ready to be eaten cold the following day as we travelled West, and still tasting magical, reminding us of just how lucky we were to be fed so well for so many days.
I am excited to be returning to Babylonstoren next week to run more workshops and honey tastings and was sure to insist that there would be a table for me in Babel during my stay.
The vitality we received from eating there carried on for a number of days and I have to say that the food there really was extraordinary. With my research into bee health, i am learning so much more about the impact on our own health the extensive use of pesticides has, not only on bees and insects. The effects of pesticides are now linked to digestive disorders and cancers in humans and so to find a hotel and restaurants where the quality and sourcing of their food is paramount, it was clear that we really could taste the difference. Freshly harvested, organic food, grown within a stone’s throw from the restaurants is definitely the way forward, not only for a special night out, but for our survival as a species.
“The added treat was watching the fresh
pasta being made in the open kitchen.”
British national treasure, Monty Don, has recently made this short film of the gardens at Babylonstoren and he captures the beauty and atmosphere of this little piece of paradise perfectly. Watch it here
Babel restaurant books up months in advance, however you can visit the gardens for a very reasonable 10R (50pence) and eat at the greenhouse, or purchase food to take away from the Farm Shop.
A meal at Babel will set you back 470R (£27) for a three course meal with meat ( less for vegetarian) and you can add side dishes and some of the world famous award winning wines.
If you only visit one place in the Cape, this is it! Babylonstoren