Bliss in the Heat of the Valley

It was 40 degrees in the shade, and my engine was running on empty. Time, thus, to fill-up. So turned left off the highway between Stellenbosch town and Somerset-West, heading for the hills. Well, the valley actually, this one being Pink Valley, the eatery and winery that set-up shop some three years ago on the lower slopes of those Helderberg Mountains known for making wine and generally a place being awfully pretty, too.

The day was, as I said, hot. Hot enough to melt the botox off Stellenbosch Mafia hit-man. The cool conditions of the Cape summer’s first half had fooled all and sundry. Since the second half of 2022, things began to warm up, that scorching cloak of summer heat laying itself over the earth and its people, making the pull of places offering refreshment and sustenance firm and true. Pink Valley has such a pull, and here I begin with the wine.

Pink Valley is rosé wine country. That cold, crisp blush wine that began in the Provence region of France already in Roman times. In hot, open country, no wine hits the spot the way a fine rosé does. Bone-dry, a line of acidity sharper than Lindiwe Sisulu’s tongue with flavours of summer berries, oyster-shell and gushing mountain-stream water, rosé’s a tough act to beat as far as wine refreshment be concerned. Pink Valley makes a gorgeous rosé, one that sings, cools and refreshes the parts other rosé’s can’t reach.

Knowing this, I immediately ordered a bottle of Pink Valley as I strolled through the welcoming cool interior of the Pink Valley Restaurant and plonked down at a corner table with Rios Catana, my Latin-blooded dining partner. The wine came and after finishing the first glass in two generous draughts, I realised how hungry I was, so we perused the menu.

Chef Monché Muller

Pink Valley edibles are designed and executed my flavour-monger head-chef Monché Muller. They come in small-plates made for diverse ordering from the items on offer and sharing. Ideal for two, except Rios’s permanent ravenous appetite means one has to grab your portion quickly when the little guy is around.

Monché has the Pink Valley menu changing on a regular basis as seasonal ingredients come to the fore. No destination in the quest for taste, it is a permanent journey. And there’s a lot to like, so we just began requesting as our mood and tastes saw fit.

To kick-off, sweet potato bread – as baked on the island of Madeira – and to spread on this golden warm cloud of deliciousness, a pâté made from smoked snoek. And can we just hear it for smoked snoek pâté, please? Is this not one of the truly delightfully flavoursome and textural pleasing items to have on any South African table?

The oily fish that is snoek, as much a part of Cape culture as tattooed baristas, Brazilian waxes at Camp’s Bay beach and four-lettered graffiti on intercity trains, makes for one of the world’s great seafood spreads. Deep marine umami that would have a Japanese geisha break-out in heavy-metal song is found in a smooth, silky pâté the colour of coral that provides for delicious eating. Especially when slapped onto the slight floral sweetness of the sweet-potato bread. Eaten with the life-affirming zesty Pink Valley Rosé, the afternoon’s hellish heat had turned into a day of heaven.

Rios and I chose generously from the main menu of “to-share” plates: Hake in a crisp, light tempura batter; mussels out of the shell and drifting in a unctuous broth tasting of ocean and marine life; a savoury pancake with glistening morsels of fatty duck; peri-peri chicken pide where accurately spiced chicken is set in a golden, crusty flat-bread; lamb kofta to make a Greek smash his mother’s finest plates with its delicate meatiness, lifted further by a herbaceous fragrance.

And the rosé kept on coming, and flowing and refreshing, a perfect wine to elevate these culinary delights to stratospheric levels. It was all flavour and cool; fresh and invigorating; rewarding and mood-elevating.

That lamb kofta, grilled to perfection with a dark crustiness embracing the tenderest, most joyous minced meat, was a thing of true beauty. Being Portuguese, Rios was trying to colonize the peri-peri pide, but my threatening gestures with a shiny knife and the promise to order another portion, managed to keep him at bay. The dish was exotic, the range of spiciness more complex than a Kardashian’s annual cosmetic surgery schedule, yet the perfectly cooked chicken and fresh flatbread provided a semblance of homely comfort.

Churros and that other milk-tart stuff.

To accompany another bottle of Pink Valley Rosé, dessert was ordered in the form of churros accompanied by a dipping elixir inspired by the traditional South African milk-tart. Here long, slender churros, deeply golden with the perfect ratio between crisp exterior and tenderly baked interior, were served with an eggy custard perked with cinnamon. Dunked in this luxuriously creamy and spice-scented custard, the churro is taken to elevated heights of decadence that will have a Cisterian monk grow a man-bun.

Drinking dry rosé and eating such rich sweetness is a better match than one would think, and just one of the many points of discovery in a valley that has me, for one, tickled pink.

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