TGIFOOD

FOOD DESTINATION

The contemporary country kos of McGregor

The contemporary country kos of McGregor
The front of Tebaldi’s, and the outside seating for Out Of Africa, is pure country. (Photo: Allison Foat)

You don’t drive ‘through’ McGregor; it’s a bit under 20 km from Robertson and there is only one road into and out of it. But along that one road are wineries and restaurants galore. Time to plan a visit.

Four days and three nights in McGregor pushed me to my eating limits, and I didn’t even get everywhere I would have liked to. Mind you, if I’d stayed longer I would have eaten more of those toasted three-cheese sandwiches from Out Of Africa than is decent.

There are exciting and interesting things happening on the food scene in this quiet (mostly) little dorpie, with television shows and top chefs breathing new life into previously rather dated places. Bertus Basson swung by with Misi Overturf in February to make over the restaurant at Green Gables for the second season of the series In Die Sop; and Christiaan Campbell of Delaire Graff and Boschendal fame has revamped Tebaldi’s at Temenos Retreat, and added a light daytime café called Out Of Africa which is a popular spot for villagers and visitors to meet and hang out.

I love the old houses in McGregor, one of which, with thatched roof and kitchen fireplace, belongs to my friend Liewe Liny, with whom I stayed the first two nights. “There’s a gift in your room from The Blend and Bemind,” she told me, as I renewed my acquaintance with her pretty, earless cat Elizabeth and met the “new” dog Gracie Meisie. 

The Blend is a coffee shop, deli and wine shop, and Bemind is a garagiste winery owned by winemaker Ilse Schutte. With the bottle of Cinsault on the dresser was a jar of grape jam and a large chocolate brownie topped with lightly salted nuts.

Liewe Liny and I debated endlessly about where to have breakfast: 51 is one option and often busy. Out Of Africa does all-day breakfast and the aforementioned toasted cheese (as well as other sandwiches), but it was The Blend, owned by Benita Gouws and Chantal Dunlop, that won in the end. I walked the block and a half to get scrambled eggs on toast and an open ham, cheese, tomato and pesto sarmie. Plus two mini quiches because they looked so good. A cappuccino of course, and a jar of smoked bacon and tomato chutney, two slabs of chocolate with beautiful quirky packaging, a giant leek for Liewe Liny’s soup, and a book from the exchange for which I donated 50 bucks to the animal charity since I had nothing to swop.

Christiaan Campbell’s story is much like many McGregor tales, which intertwine and overlap. The owner of Temenos – a gorgeous retreat with gardens to wander and peacocks to admire – is Billy Kennedy. Campbell knew Kennedy’s partner Michael Pettit very well through the hospitality industry. Sadly, Pettit passed away in 2021 and Kennedy decided that after the horrific two years, it was time for a change and to update the restaurant, Tebaldi’s. 

Besides being a chef, Campbell has a business called Living Exchanges which “brings people together through developing an understanding of complexity so that people, communities, business and environment can thrive together in a regenerative ecosystem”. Campbell said he’d come up to McGregor to see what was needed, and to find that for Kennedy through Living Exchanges. Driving back the second time, Campbell and his wife Moya looked at each other and agreed they needed to be on board.

Chef Christiaan Campbell (in apron) with his Tebaldi’s team. From left to right, Zoe and Joy Jantjies (sisters), Shannon Hartzenberg, Luqmahn Cloete, Graham Goble, Anne Pilay, Natasha Rhodes and Iveline Jacobs. (Photo: Allison Foat)

“So we volunteered our services,” said Campbell, who plans to be around for the foreseeable future. “My life seems to move in five-year cycles.”

Out Of Africa, which comprises tables in the lush garden with a tinkling water feature, a small inside with fireplace and five more tables, and a kitchen “the size of a broom cupboard”, and a counter with high stools, serves a pasta of the day, salads, sausages, breakfasts and toasted sandwiches. I had sausages on that first visit but couldn’t get the sandwiches out of my mind; Campbell talked them up that much. I returned on the Sunday morning for the three-cheese and tomato on ciabatta. Campbell uses La Mont cheese – Montaan (pizza cheese), Royal Ashton (sweet and nutty) and Maasdam, a Swiss-type cheese. The combination is a gooey stretchy indulgence of deliciousness. Without a doubt a highlight of this trip, quite a statement given all the other feeding.

Hands down the best toasted cheese I’ve had the pleasure of, at Out Of Africa. (Photo: Bianca Coleman)

The new-look Tebaldi’s is unrecognisable. We had lunch in the garden room which in summer will open its glass doors to the outdoors and resident peacocks. The cat, Lulu, allows belly rubs. 

Open for barely more than a month, Campbell calls the food contemporary country cuisine. With dishes like hot smoked salmon trout and leek cannelloni with lemon and dill cream, mead-glazed chicken breast and confit chicken with artichoke, and salt-cured hake with mussels, smoked creamed potatoes and onion fritters, it’s posh for a village but not overly fancy. 

“We’re not trying to overdo anything,” said Campbell. “What we’re producing is what we can while holding the quality of life, the quality of food and giving it the right attention to reach that balance.”

In the kitchen with Campbell are assistants Luqhman Cloete and Iveline Jacobs, from Bonnievale, who had never cooked before being employed here. A tender 20, Campbell says she is amazing, with a natural gift for recreating dishes she’s been shown, even improving them. “I wanted to employ locals, and I’d rather train someone who hasn’t been trained before, who has the enthusiasm and willingness. So I took a gamble,” said Campbell. “I will do more of that. I’m putting my intention out there.” Which is a very McGregor thing to do. 

The smart new interior of Tebaldi’s, fresh and modern. (Photo: Allison Foat)

“My role here with Billy is to really align with the spirit of Temenos, from the integrity of the ingredients to how the team is treated. There is no point in being all spiritual on one side while all hell is breaking loose on the other,” he continued, in line with Living Exchanges’ ethos. 

Hosted by Bertus Basson, the kykNET series In Die Sop finds restaurants in desperate need of help. The goal is to give them that in 72 hours, from decor to menu. Which brings us to Green Gables, a farm at the very end of McGregor before you take the 10km dirt road to Lords Winery (worth the visit but rough on suspension). It’s owned by Sarel van der Westhuizen, a widower with two daughters.

The stoep at Frida’s has one of the best views in McGregor. (Photo: Bianca Coleman)

For background, the episode is available to watch on DStv Now until August 17, 2022. It’s touching and heartwarming, and the result is Frida’s, a tapas restaurant. Green Gables remains as a bed and breakfast with four rooms (five at a push), where I spent my third night, in a room that was once a barn for storing flour for the old mill behind it.

“The whole experience of In Die Sop was amazing,” said Van der Westhuizen. “It doesn’t matter what comes of it, it was so cool. There were, like, 40 or 50 people here, it was chaos but so much fun!”

Sarel van der Westhuizen and Misi Overturf in an emotional moment from In Die Sop. (Photo: Supplied)

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut and not be able to see your way out, so fresh eyes and ideas can be the push you need, which is what happened at Frida’s. There was one major change that Van der Westhuizen struggled with – moving the bar – but he’s happy with it now. There’s a flow from the front door to that bar, where the wines are displayed, and to the outside area, an asset previously unutilised. The front stoep has a wide sweeping view of McGregor but it’s hellishly hot in summer, until sundowner time when it’s just perfect.

“You get ideas and opportunities you maybe thought of but didn’t follow through,” said Van der Westhuizen. The experience provided impetus and inspiration. 

Last weekend, Van der Westhuizen had decided to introduce an Indian menu, unfazed that he’d not cooked Indian food on that scale before. “The Indian menu is not funny. There’s a lot of prep work,” he said, as indicated by his flour-covered hands when making naan bread. It’s the first big change since In Die Sop, and it’s a jolly fine effort. I had dahl, butter chicken and naan, and Van der Westhuizen sent out a few sides. I told him he could bottle that zucchini pickle right there and I’d buy a jar.

Sarel van der Westhuizen has put together an Indian tapas menu, for cold McGregor nights. (Photo: Bianca Coleman)

On my way home to Cape Town I stopped at Rooiberg Winery, a Robertson landmark for the giant red chair which gives its name to the bistro. This bistro is now in the hands of MasterChef SA season four runner-up Andriette de la Harpe and her partner Janelie Kruger. It’s the newest of all the places I went to, having opened under their management on July 1.

De La Harpe, a bubbly extrovert who greeted me with a warm hug even though we’d never met before, and Kruger lived, worked and were retrenched together during Covid. De La Harpe started a bakery called n Mondvol and entered MasterChef, not for a moment thinking she would make it through the auditions.

“We joked we knew she’d be there at least a week,” said Kruger.

“I’m not emotional but this whole thing was heaven-sent,” said De La Harpe. “It was such a moment of growth. I really didn’t believe in myself. At all. I was continually struggling with imposter syndrome; I didn’t feel good enough, and that I didn’t deserve to be there.”

By the time she reached the top 10, De La Harpe decided it was time to stop having the thought that she was taking someone else’s spot. “I had to step up and own it,” she said.

Following MasterChef, De La Harpe and Kruger talked about a shared dream to have their own food space, and De La Harpe mentioned it in an interview she did on Bravo on kykNET. Next thing she knew, Marianne Lochner from Rooiberg reached out and offered her the opportunity to take over the bistro, a deal De La Harpe accepted on condition it included Kruger. Their vision is of a place where guests can fill up on good grub in generous portions. 

“While I dreamed of having a space, it wasn’t necessarily a vision of being in the kitchen,” said De La Harpe. “I never wanted to be a chef. I wanted a space where people can come have fun, joy and good food. And if not now, when.”

Before I left, De La Harpe put three of her Lindt brownies in a paper bag for me. Dusted with gold, pale and cracked on top, and soft and chewy below that, I scoffed them all. Easily another highlight of a fulfilling – and filling – road trip. DM/TGIFood

Follow Bianca Coleman on Instagram @biancaleecoleman

The writer supports The Gift of the Givers Foundation, the largest disaster response, non-governmental organisation of African origin on the African continent.

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