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A northern Slowveld food safari

TGIFOOD

BUSH NOSH

A northern Slowveld food safari

Enjoy bush views and a Blue Devil Gin Tail at Aerotel, a novel boutique hotel made out of a Boeing 737. (Photo: Bridget Hilton-Barber)

For a small and remote bushveld town, Hoedspruit in Limpopo has a great diversity of eating and drinking spots.

You can do contemporary fine dining, safari style pub grub, sushi, Mediterranean tapas, traditional with a twist, and vegan, all within about 15 minutes of each other.

The reason for this is that Hoedspruit is a tourism hub and gateway to many private reserves as well as the Kruger National Park. The original flavour of the area was well captured many years ago in the book Bushveld Banquets, a feast of Lowveld flavours by Myrna Robins (Struik 2006) which focused mainly on the dishes of the high end reserves and bush camps.

A culinary safari through Hoedspruit today, however, offers totally new places, trends and concepts within the town itself. And being the northern hub of the Slowveld, as it’s dubbed, there is always an extra delicious quirk.

Gin Tails at The Tasting Room

At The Tasting Room you can test drive a Gin Tail made from the locally distilled Primos Gin. (Photo: Bridget Hilton-Barber)

Like Gin Tails.

In technical terms, a gin tail or feint is the last process of distillation and is low in alcohol, contains impurities and is likely to have been redistilled. But with characteristic Slowveld subversiveness, the Gin Tail has become the term for a cocktail with gin and just about anything. Think Negroni, Gin Sour, Tom Collins, Gimlet, Gin Fizz.

And Happy Hour.

Happy Hour in Hoedspruit didn’t fade away in the ’90s, nor was it killed out in the pandemic. Just about every establishment in town enthusiastically embraces Happy Hour, and as luck would have it, Happy Hour at The Tasting Room, a sexy new little bistro, lasts for two hours. Fifty bucks gets you two glasses of wine; R60 gets you two double gins.

Get a cheese platter at The Tasting Room to go with your Gin Tail. (Photo: Bridget Hilton-Barber)

The Tasting Room is all about boutique wines and craft gins; tastings, platters and freshly fired wood smoked pizzas. It’s a fine place to test drive the new locally distilled Primos Gin – juniper with a zesty lemon finish – and is about as close as you’ll get to an industrial chic vibe in bushveld country. The Tasting Room is at the end of the Hoedspruit lifestyle centre, next to a paint store, a small office block and Safari Wines bottle store. Both atmosphere and décor are charming – a trendy urban feel, exposed brick, wooden shelves and huge tasting tables. 

See Safari Wines

Franschhoek to Hoedspruit

The Kassava Café’s Bush Salad is a delicious combo of mushrooms, wild greens, roasted pumpkin seeds, red quinoa, cassava crisps, cherry tomatoes and a herb dressing. (Photo: Bridget Hilton-Barber)

Kassava Café is the hippest new kid on the restaurant block. Its name is a twist on the edible tuberous plant, cassava, fabulously rich in proteins and high in antioxidants, and it features on their menu in the form of sides like chips, mustard mash and hash browns with Parmesan shavings. Along with other local treasures such as foraged field mushrooms, plump, fresh herbs from nearby Hlokomela Herb & Garden Project, and the occasional marijuana leaf for decoration.

“We wanted to showcase African cuisine to be healthy, delicious and of an international standard,’ says Tuwanda Muzeketwa, who opened Kassava Café in April last year, along with his brother Stewart Masube, who is the chef. The brothers worked their way up the restaurant chain over 12 years in Franschhoek, food hub of the Western Cape, including a long stretch at Café Des Arts with legendary chef Chris Hoffman.

“We’ve been dishwashers, scullery workers, bakers, baristas, chefs, waiters, bar men, just about everything,” says Tuwanda. “Now we’re keen to share our skills, connect good people and inspire moments of creativity and conversation through delicious food.”

Enjoy this Zamalek Brisket at Kassava Café, braised in beer and served with cassava mustard mash, with carrots, leeks and Zamalek jus. (Photo: Bridget Hilton-Barber)

Like their Zamalek Brisket, a sumptuous beer-braised brisket served with a mustard cassava mash, carrots, leeks and Zamalek jus. And Hoffman’s Ox Liver with chilli roasted potatoes, baby spinach, creamy balsamic onions and crispy bacon. Kassava Café is also vegetarian and vegan friendly – try the cauliflower steak with root veggies and cauliflower puree or the five way beetroot salad.

The café is understated and elegant. All Good is painted on the wall, alongside their mascot and brand ambassador, a warthog called Khumba (meaning “come home”) who is also a great coffee and wine connoisseur. He recommends their single origin Ethiopian coffee from Bean in the Bush.

See Facebook @KassavaCafe 

The Farm Diet

One of the Farm House’s signature breakfasts is poached egg with smashed avo on health toast with baby spinach, rocket, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. (Photo: Bridget Hilton-Barber)

The Farm House is set in a big garden and has a Mediterranean feel despite the knobthorns, marula trees and the steady traffic of khaki clad visitors. Their deli has free range eggs, and local, seasonal and organic produce from community gardens and farmers. Their menu is soul food – homemade meatballs, smoked trout bagels, lamb shanks. For breakfast, smoothies, lassis, smashed avo toast, vegan mushroom Benedict.

“At The Farm House we’ve tried to embody everything that is good and wholesome about country living”, says Antonia De Luca, who runs this delightful new restaurant and deli with her husband Jake Hoddinott. “We promote the farm diet, which is basically free range and preservative free”.

The deli at the Farm House has fresh vegetables, free range eggs and organic, preservative-free juices and milk substitutes. (Photo: Bridget Hilton-Barber)

The Farm House also offers milk alternatives, gluten free, sugar free and vegan options. Antonia is of course, well known for her books, health products, plant-based cooking and lifestyle; and for being the chef behind the legendary vegan café Leafy Greens, next to Casalinga in Muldersdrift, Jozi.

Antonia and Jake uprooted and moved to the Slowveld in April last year. “Hoedspruit has totally transformed in the past few years” says Jake, “there is a new spirit, new opportunities, the town is a semigration success story with a great lifestyle.”

It’s also really lovely to see an egte ou boer having his first green smoothie.

Being the Slowveld, of course there’s a bar, and yes there’s Happy Hour too – get a six-beer bucket for R150 bru, and, what a lovely touch – on Family Fridays, kids eat free between 3 and 6 pm. 

See The Farm House; for more on Antonia’s Botanicals check out Antonias. 

African Fine Dining

Choose from a selection of impala, kudu, wildebeest, eland, gemsbok and ostrich for your decadent Wild Game Platter at the Hat & Creek. (Photo: Supplied)

There are many people who believe that dining in the Slowveld means a really good meat meal. The Hat & Creek remains the undisputed queen of the bush on this front, with their extensive menu that offers just about everything from beef fillet, rump and T-bone, to lamb, pork, venison and steak. It’s one of the most popular restaurants in town, and has a lovely contemporary bush style décor, with spacious seating areas overlooking a lawn and huge tree.

“Sophisticated in the bush” is how owner and manager Cheryl Nel puts it, and she has wild and wonderful stories about the journey she and her restaurateur husband Andre took to get here, including stints at Sun City and a whole array of ventures in Gqeberha and Jozi. “We take special care to bring our diners the best A-Grade meat, aged, selectively cut and grilled to design,” she says. The Hat & Creek sources their meat from Beefmaster and Sparta, their venison and game from ethically sourced Camo Meat.

Their decadent Wild Game Platter offers a selection of impala, kudu, wildebeest, eland, gemsbok and ostrich. Their fillet menu includes dishes like their South Coast fillet, topped with butterflied prawns and smothered in garlic butter, their Roquefort and Fig Fillet, and their Dutch Fillet which is tossed in crushed black pepper and flambéed in brandy with butter and caramelised onions.

Their seafood is equally delicious – choose from dishes like their mussel pot, seafood potjie, prawns, calamari, hake with caper butter and seared Norwegian salmon with avocado. 

See Facebook @The-Hat-Creek 

On a wing and a prayer

This unique boutique hotel made out of a Boeing 737 calls for cocktails and platters. (Photo: Bridget Hilton-Barber)

For an entirely wacky Slowveld sundowner experience, head for Aerotel at the Zandspruit Estate and have tapas and Gin Tails on an aeroplane overlooking the bush and the glorious Blyde River Canyon in the distance. Aerotel is a six-room boutique hotel made out of a refurbished Boeing 737-200. Yes. Seriously.

Alongside the aircraft, is a covered deck and the original passenger seats, where you can kick back with a Blue Devil Gin Tail (blue tonic, lime juice, rosemary, blueberries and a glacé cherry as the devil’s tail) inspired by the classic aviation cocktail which is made with crème de violette and is fruity, floral and fragrant.

Enjoy a charcuterie platter with relishes and dips at Aerotel. (Photo: Bridget Hilton-Barber)

Enjoy chef Prayer Mathebula’s charcuterie or cheese platters, as well as tapas like Bobotie cigars, a Cape Malay minced beef in phyllo pastry and Half Moons, an Indian Pakistani chicken delicacy with a curry sauce. You can even go and sit in the cockpit a while or walk on the wing.

“We wanted to offer people a completely novel experience”, says owner Tracy den Dunnen. She and her husband Martin employed a special team to deconstruct and transport the plane onto massive abnormal load vehicles to bring into retirement in the bush. They stripped the interiors of the aircraft and redesigned it into a series of comfortable cabins with double beds, overhead lockers and a bar fridge.

“It was a helluva lot of fun”, she says. They’ve recently purchased a repossessed Boeing 747 that they’re turning into an air villa for exclusive use by groups. Stay the night if you want to join the Slowveld Mile High Club (sex in an aeroplane that never takes off) and their excellent breakfast the next day. 

See Aerotel, Hoedspruit.

Try to pin the Gin Tail on the donkey at the Thirsty Giraffe. (Photo: Bridget Hilton-Barber)

Bush pub and grub  

The Slowveld experience is just not complete without a visit to a really lekker bush pub (think thatched lapa and animal heads on the wall) and the Thirsty Giraffe, on the outskirts of town, is friendly and laidback with consistently good quality dishes like espedata, peri-peri prawns, and something.

You may well be greeted by the resident donkey that sometimes has a stroll through the bar, never failing to trigger the proverbial “Why the Long Face” joke. DM/TGIFood

Follow Bridget on Instagram @bridgethiltonbarber

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