Retro and cool brews, brandy and milkshakes at the Gateway to the Klein Karoo

Diesel & Crème is filled with memorabilia. Photo: Bianca Coleman

Barrydale is affectionately known as a drinking town with a farming problem, but there are some gems tucked away in the Karoo dorpie.

Barrydale is a deceptive little place. I’ve been visiting for years, always staying at what is now called the Karoo Art Hotel, never venturing any further. This was due to two things: I was usually at the hotel for a music gig or festival – most of which I’d booked and arranged in my role as a one-time band Miss Management – and second, the inevitable hangover the next day.

It turns out it’s a lot bigger than I thought and 24 hours wasn’t nearly enough time to explore all the food and drink options. A person can only eat so much, although the capacity for drinking is camel-like. Fun fact: A thirsty camel can drink more than 110 litres of water in less than 15 minutes. Okay, maybe I’m overestimating my ability.

All things considered, I think I did pretty well. On the recommendation of the nice people at the Karoo Art Hotel (where I was spending the night, of course), I booked for dinner at Mez Karoo Kitchen. It’s a block from the hotel. When I mentioned this to Ryno Reyneke of The Maker’s Brew (more about that in a bit), he said “oh my god”. What, what, I wanted to know? Is that a good oh my god or a bad oh my god?

Out of everywhere in Barrydale to eat, that is THE number one spot,” he replied.

Jolly good then.

The restaurant is owned and run by Michelle Berry and her son Kyle works the floor. They are both utterly charming and if that’s not enough, Levi the caramel cat sits by the front door to welcome guests. Kyle assured me he is very friendly (the cat) but he’s among the more aloof I’ve encountered. If the kitty isn’t on my lap, kneading my pillowy belly and purring madly, then it’s not that friendly. I have standards.

A private room inside Mez. Photo: Bianca Coleman

The website has the words: “This is an intimate restaurant with inside and outside seating. The ‘Mez Terranea’ gardens feature rose bushes, vegetable planters and flowering borders. The blackboard menu changes frequently. There is always a vegan option and also a lamb dish made with locally sourced lamb.”

All of this is 100% true.

Main course at Mez – Moroccan tagine with lamb in spices, honey and tomato. Photo: Bianca Coleman

From that blackboard, we had cauliflower and cumin fritters (two, because after the first one, it tasted like more) and spicy beef kofta with relish and bread to start. For main course I had the most divine vegetarian moussaka, and my partner had the Moroccan lamb tagine, with honey, spice and tomato, rice and veg, also excellent. I drank a couple of very generous glasses of fabulous Joubert-Tradauw 2016 Chardonnay; sadly, because of logistics, I wasn’t able to stop there on this particular trip, a thing of great sadness for all concerned but there’s always next time. The name of Meyer Joubert was to come up several times in conversation with Barrydalers. I suspect the family are some kind of legends.

The heavenly lemon cake with whipped cream. Photo: Bianca Coleman

And then there was dessert. I had lemon cake with whipped cream. Something which sounds as simple as it is, but oh my – how fabulous? The cake was moist but not soggy, soaked with lemon but not overpowering, with a slight crunch of sugar. My partner had the rose ice cream with Moroccan crunch (which can be bought in jars to take home; he purchased three, which speaks for itself), and he was still talking about it two days later.

A winning dessert of rose ice cream with crunchy bits (which you can buy a jar of to take home). Photo: Bianca Coleman

Before any of this happened, I’d had a whirlwind Friday afternoon. I began at the hotel with chef Derek Lowe, where we chatted about his favourite dishes and what inspires him. Being such a longtime guest there, I could pretty much say where I wanted to have my lunch. I chose a little table in the tiny courtyard of the restaurant, where the bougainvilleas were draped over the wall. It was set with a cheerful yellow cloth, and I ate the smoked rainbow trout salad. This is significant because the fish comes from the only trout farm in the Karoo – Two Dams in the mountains above Montagu, some 60km away.

Salmon sourced from Two Dams, the only farm in the area to supply the fish. Photo: Bianca Coleman

It’s amazing, and unique in the area,” says Lowe. “I have to order in advance, they harvest, smoke it and pack it. We got in yesterday. We do the whole trout as well.”

Lowe is, like most chefs, all about fresh, local, seasonal produce. “If I can’t get it here, I take it out of my own garden. At the moment we’re working on a garden at the hotel,” he says.

Diners are a mixture of locals, in-house hotel guests, and folks from other guest houses in the area who get referred.

We have our regulars; some are the breakfast crowd and others are here for lunch. What keeps me going is I like to satisfy the customers and I like to get feedback – good or bad,” says Lowe, who grew up on a farm about 90km from Barrydale, in the Fort Beaufort/White Sands area. “My family’s still involved in the farming business. That’s where I got my inspiration for grabbing the area’s food and that’s how I got involved in keeping it local.”

For example, there’s a new cheese in town: optometrist by day, Irmgard Wright is making feta and cream cheese from the milk of the sheep farmed by her husband David. How cool is that?

The menu changes in summer and winter. Right now, the favourites are the slow-roasted pork belly and the fillet steak in pepper sauce. Come the cooler months, you can expect hearty stews, bredies and potjies. “In winter I do lamb rib, air dried with coriander and salt. We call it ‘ou soutribbetjie’. We boil it, then marinate while it’s warm, and finish on the grill to crisp it up.”

Technically, you won’t be able to “do it” while you’re in town, but Barrydale is the source of a very special brandy. Gerald Philips, who retired from the building industry 17 years ago and built a gorgeous home in the town, has provided the grapes for Karo Cape Brandy XO.

Gerald shows the exquisite bottle and gift box for his Karo brandy. Photo: Bianca Coleman

XO, VO, VS: What does it all mean?

VO (Very Old):

The whole thing’s been aged a minimum of four years.

VS (Very Special):

That’s aka “three stars”, and means the youngest Cognac or Armagnac in the blend must be a minimum 2 years old.


Stands for Extra Old, and it describes a Cognac consisting of eaux-de-vie that have been aged in oak barrels for a minimum of six years. However, XOs often have a much older average age, with many XO Cognacs being 20 years old and older.

People say Barrydale discovers you, you don’t discover Barrydale,” he says. “The people here are all very creative and alternative, it’s fun kind of a place.”

When he and his wife Carol bought the smallholding, they pulled up a whole lot of vines.

Which was a mistake on one level – I didn’t know about old Chenin vines at that time,” says Philips. In their place, they planted 700 olive trees, the oil from which is pressed at Willow Creek and supplied to Hemelhuijs restaurant in the Cape Town CBD.

So this is our little paradise. A smallholding is just an expensive garden,” he laughs.

Their house sits on a river bank, with a back garden (expensive) of Colombar vineyards, the traditional Cognac grape. “Cognac is probably 95% Colombar and 5% Semillon. Our brandy is single vineyard pot still and the appellation is now Cape Brandy. We can’t call it Cognac, but we can call it VO because it’s old enough. The first batch was 13 years old,” says Philips.

The name honours his wife, Carol, who also has the house named after her, and the 2011 Syrah made in collaboration with – yes – Meyer Joubert.

When we pulled up the Chenin vines we planted a hectare of Shiraz – which is enough to drown a city!” says Philips. “I knew nothing about wine so went to Meyer – young, beautiful Meyer, they’re a very good-looking family.”

Joubert planted Shiraz and gave Philips the same clone. The deadline was Gerald and Carol’s golden wedding anniversary in 2013, and Joubert said, let’s do a great experiment. This was to make a 50/50 blend of his Shiraz, and the Philips Shiraz – and bottle it in magnums. It’s interesting because the terroir at Karoolkie (the house/smallholding and the name of the wine, for Carol) is alluvial and Joubert’s is deep red clay. The bottles are recycled, and the label depicts the windmill you can see from the stoep. It’s all very personal, and sorry but you can’t buy it.

“’Elegant skinny Shiraz was Meyer’s description… in the French tradition and slightly lower alcohol so you can drink it and not get a kopseer,” says Philips.

Wait, back to the brandy. Karoolkie is Carol’s Barrydale name, and is shortened for design aesthetics on the exquisite packaging, which has a tarot card/goddess feel to it.

The whole concept is that most Cognacs are in a dark green bottle and you can’t see the contents. The colour of the brandy is so beautiful and it should be seen. Our bottle is French; I insisted on a clear bottle, like a perfume bottle.”

Philips does not profess to be a brandy maker or distiller; he merely supplies the grapes, and it’s the only reason any of this happened.

We had the grapes and the co-op was right next door, so I picked the grapes and took my 10 or 12 or 15 tonnes to the co-op – Barrydale winery, the big building as you come in to town. And it was all very well, and it happened for a long period of time.”

Since the price of the grapes wasn’t that wonderful, and the co-op had the means to make brandy and keep it in barrels, this was the next step. So imagine, if you will, brandy that’s been languishing for more than a decade, now being bottled and sold for your drinking pleasure.

I haven’t had a chance to taste it yet because, well, you know – deadlines. But it’s “double distilled matured in French oak by master distiller Kobus Gelderblom at Oude Molen Distillery. It has flavours of dried peaches and litchi, a hint of the Karoo herbs, and a smooth and lingering with a vanilla and apricot aftertaste.”

Plus, the bottle. Damn but it’s pretty. You can get a bottle, you can get a bottle in a gift box, or you can get a whole case of bottles. For more information and to order, email Kinship Spirits Company at [email protected].

From brandy to beer. My next stop was The Maker’s Brew where I met Ryno Reyneke. He’s new to Barrydale; he bought the building and began renovating in 2017 and has been trading for about 18 months. His background is in food photography but beer was a hobby that grew into a passion.

The Maker’s Brew is not a bar-bar; it’s a tasting room for craft beers, and other refreshing beverages. Photo: Bianca Coleman

I wanted to move to the country. I found the building, fell in love with it, and moved,” he says.

The rest is history in the making.

Reyneke brews himself: “Everything is me, with one or two assistants. To find people as passionate as I am about my product is challenging,” he admits.

Reyneke has created a space which he says is comfortable for women as well. “There are drinking holes and then there are places to have a drink. This is not a bar,” he says.

Primarily a brewery (it’s out back), municipal laws dictated there had to be a kitchen, which serves simple light meals. Back in March, when Reyneke launched his first monthly open mic Friday, he invited Mystic Overlander – a mobile gourmet pizza operation with a wood-burning oven – to join the fun. Afterwards, their vehicle broke down and they’ve been in Barrydale ever since. “Beer and pizza is a match made in heaven,” says Reyneke.

A mobile pizza bar has taken up residence outside The Maker’s Brew. Photo: Bianca Coleman

No argument here.

So you can get a pizza, a pulled pork sarmie on sourdough (from a local baker), and in summer, a trout platter from – yes – Two Dams.

Oh, the beer, you say? Reyneke makes four beers: a blonde, an amber, a saison, and a porter.

The four beers in the standard Maker’s range. Photo: Bianca Coleman

Porter is a British-style beer named after the porters who carried bags and such at harbours and stations, where there were always pubs close by, explains Reyneke. “Pub owner would take the bottom of the barrels and mix them together and that was known as the porters’ drink. Then it became popular and has been developed as a style.”

The man also does a unique barrel-aged beer, which is classified as a sour: “People drive very, very far distances to have one or two of those,” he says. “The idea was always to do some seasonal beers but demand is low and I’m still finding my feet, so I’m focusing on the four and getting them perfect.”

Wife Helen – who has a gallery adjoining the brewery, probably the only one of its kind – adds: “Our whole business plan has been to dig deep and narrow, to do one thing well and hone it until it’s right.”

Shake, shakes and more shakes at Diesel & Crème. Photo: Bianca Coleman

Last, but not least, if you’re on this trip, you absolutely must stop in at Diesel & Crème for a milkshake at the very least. It’s one of the coolest spots on the planet, crammed with retro décor and memorabilia (I know of at least one movie with scenes shot there; crap movie but still.) It’s super popular with bikers who are most likely on their way to Ronnie’s Sex Shop, and the vibe is amazing.

Diesel & Crème vintage diner is famous for its shakes. Photo: Bianca Coleman

It’s never too soon to be booking your R62 road trip – voted world’s best by CNN travel in 2017, and really, that hasn’t changed. DM