In the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde, and on a clear day you can truly see forever. Unless one is settled at the Restaurant belonging to winery Newton Johnson, in which case chances are you’ll be looking at your plate instead of scoping the stunning scenery.
Like all Newton Johnson’s offerings – the easy brilliance of its wines, the calmly exhilarating setting facing west over the valley to the sea, that laid-back efficiency of proprietors and staff – the Newton Johnson Restaurant is, well, just so effortlessly sublime, delivering some of the finest cuisine in the Overstrand region.
But if Hamilton Russell winemaker Emul Ross is to be believed, a visit to this restaurant can be emotional. Emul recently admitted, in hushed tones of reverence, that he had actually shed a tear upon tasting the chicken curry prepared by chef Tullishe le Roux.
So, who better a man to accompany me to the Newton Johnson eatery on a peachy autumn day for a cheeky Friday lunch than Emul. I hauled him fresh from the Hamilton Russell winery where he had been checking up on the Chardonnay quality of harvest 2022, warning him that lunch was on me, providing he held back on the tears. One has a reputation to uphold here in Hemel-en-Aarde, and sharing a table with a winemaker bawling over a plate of curry can have consequences on the image front.
Le Roux’s menu comprises pretty eclectic stuff with influences ranging from Korean to Indian, European to local South African. An adventurous spirit is underscored by the ever-changing menu. Our starters varied from classic bistro fare such as cream of parsnip soup and chicken liver parfait to spicy Korean chicken wings, pork dumplings and the cheesy Indian stuff that be paneer.
On the mains side, chef showed – inter alia – roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, fresh cob and Sri Lankan chicken curry, the latter not to be ordered so as to avoid my dining partner’s emotional frailty at things culinary.
We sipped Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2021 and looked over the valley sky shrouded in a fine lace of autumnal sun-woven gold, the vineyards releasing leaves to reveal attractively patterned rows against the hardy soils of Hemel-en-Aarde. To the south, the Atlantic Ocean lay viscous and heavy in an ungodly deep blue. You want to eat it all up, but I was sticking to the food.
Starters for Emul of parsnip soup, while I headed for something cool in the chicken liver parfait. The liver arrived in a rectangle the colour of a baby’s blushed cheek, a beautifully clean-lined slab of pale-pink goodness lying next to a few slices of toasted brioche. These were custard coloured, revealing an aroma of vintage champagne.
My partner’s soup was the texture of ladled cream and heavy dawn dew, eaten with gusto and good appetite, being interspersed with slight groans of satisfaction and profound moments of moving silence.
The liver parfait was almost butter-like, the fat and organ having been pounded, stirred, blitzed and whacked into a beautifully poised texture that lay on the palate like a silky Sauternes wine. Flavours were delicate and subtle, but with just the correct amount of primal savoury fattiness to make for an exquisitely satisfying eating experience. The brioche scrubbed the palate with buttery crumbs, preparing the mouth for the next onslaught of smooth, lardaceous liver and a sip of Chardonnay, bright and cool.
For the main-course Emul ordered the beef-burger, the one permanent item on the Newton Johnson, while I continued my journey into the murky, yet pleasurable, depths of animal organs. This be seared lamb liver with mash.
That beef-burger appeared formidable and superbly put-together with the ideal bun-to-beef ration, a scattering of good-looking fries laying next to it. My liver was plated with the view of offering sustenance and pleasure. Two generous slices of perfectly seared liver, brown and slightly crusty on the surface with the interior perfectly prepared to a deep pink, making the organ cooked and warm while ensuring that enough of the good, bloody and earthy liver taste remains.
The liver was lovingly placed on mash the texture of velvety potatoes whisked to a marble-white luxuriousness. A dense layer of gravy encased the food, with a few crunchy blanched green-beans the colour of Irish meadow provided a life-affirming, fresh look.
By now I had taken the liberty of ordering Newton Johnson Family Vineyards Pinot Noir 2019 to accompany the heady pleasure my liver dish was providing. The wine’s characteristic perfume of dried jasmine, fallen plums and oak bark lifted the liver’s presence to a new level, and once the Pinot Noir juiciness and refined tannins joined the sensual gastronomic fray, the senses were drifting to new undiscovered places.
These are those moments Evelyn Waugh wrote about, the ones you wish you could take hold of and bury, returning to re-live their exquisite beauty and human affectation. And no, cowboys don’t cry, because sometimes tears are just not enough.
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