A farm restaurant that brings something of the Karoo to Pretoria

A farm restaurant that brings something of the Karoo to Pretoria
The kitchen is unbelievably quiet. From left, Adriaan Maree, Sinenhlanhla Thikazi and Rothi Nthabiseng Monyebodi. (Photo by Marie-Lais Emond)

In this series, we bring you up to speed on the restaurants in ‘the north’ that you need to visit if you like to keep abreast of the best eateries in the region. What will you find at La Fermier?

We tend to think of Joburg or Cape Town for South Africa’s best cuisine. Then, much like Cape Town has nearby Stellenbosch with its own interesting restaurants, we have Pretoria, here in Gauteng. Its own restaurants are also mighty good but have often been surprisingly located: on a golf course, on eccentric hotel grounds in an eco-reserve, in a toy-town structured enclave, at a super-bland shopping centre.

I don’t think any of them beat the location of La Fermier. The name does more than hint at a farm situation but, on hyperactively urban Lynnwood Road, having just passed the gleaming Forti Too restaurant, it does seem odd suddenly to face one of those wide farm gates that has to be opened by hand, where you expect a cattle grid as well.

There’s a gear change necessary to take on the rougher dirt road ahead. Uncertainly, you pass craft signposts, not enough of the wooden La Fermier ones, directing you on, even past a caravan, to a clearing in the veld.

None beat the location of La Fermier though the name hints at a farm situation. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

There’s no hint of a restaurant but, even though I’m especially early for scouting-around purposes, already here are two formally clad figures in summer’s early evening sunshine, to welcome guests.

Belonna Moti in her starched white shirt, black skirt and pumps guides me around a wall, between plants, along a loosely bricked path, down a couple of rough wooden steps and I think I see the restaurant building.    

It’s not a shed as has been said but it looks farmyardy, a concrete, earth and tin structure with an outdoor brick chimney and dark wooden planks.

The rather beautiful wood and metal interior of La Fermier, with Belonna Moti on the right. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

Belonna shows me through the entrance, into the rather beautiful wood and metal interior of La Fermier. Here, I suppose I do what everyone probably does. Standing on one of the Persian rugs, I look up and swivel my head around in surprised delight. So would someone from Domus magazine. The kitchen is wide open at the end of the space.

On the pillar next to my table are hooks for bags and coats and things, where I leave my handbag, above my sheepskin-topped chair.

I’ve wheedled a pre-dinner walk around the farm with chef Adriaan Maree. A Dutch friend, Gert, who’s joining me here for dinner, wants to do that too.

Some sections are quite wild and some still to be replanted and better structured. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

While inquisitive geese and ducks watch from a safe distance, we three pick our way (and trip once) around the various sections, some quite wild “and still to be replanted and structured more.” It’s quite lovely in its present unstructured state, pumpkins lolling here, lemongrass and cucumbers and peas competing with each other there.

“The current permaculture aspect is quite accidental and won’t always be this way.” Adriaan keeps mentioning John du Raan who, I’ll subsequently find, is the owner of this property, Karoo, and in charge of what and how things grow. John du Raan, something of a philosophical scientist and social engineer, also has a farm in the real Groot Karoo, near Prieska, whence comes La Fermier’s lamb. It’s funnily enough not that far away from here, as the bakkie flies.

Du Raan, who’s keen on the community aspect of the farm and very strict about wasting nothing, will later tell me that Adriaan gives him his restaurant wish list for the planting of vegetables, herbs and fruit and “we comply as much as possible”. The aquaculture system supplies a lot as well.

But here and now, Adriaan himself waves to the south to indicate where the border of the farm is, up against the Faerie Glen Nature Reserve. “Then up there are all our fruit and nut trees.” 

He shows us a replanted area, presumably very fertile, where the pigs were. Sunflowers, shu-shus, wasabi and dandelions jostle here. He laughs, “I would find myself running down Lynnwood Road after the pigs and that wasn’t what I always wanted to be doing.”       

Then the “other side” is given over to a very successful aquaponics programme “of John’s.” Tilapia, crimson ones, are the fish part of the system and Adriaan uses them mainly for sauces, snacks and bouillabaisse, preferring to get tastier fish from his own fisherman on the coast twice a week, for the fish on his restaurant plates.

We will later have, as the fourth of our eight, but really nine, courses, surprising… kingklip. I haven’t ever thought very highly of it. However, Adriaan is so very much for sustainability that I do know it would be a long-line caught kingklip, not a trawled one. Adriaan uses whatever is fresh and available from his sustainable-fish man and he uses it all.

Ours will come with dill dust, the dusky and wild-tasting porcini, peas and a goat’s cheese sauce that even Italians with their “niente il formaggio con il pesce” rule would approve. Gert will be very taken with the dill dust and how it’s made. I’ll realise I’d have to say, “Before this, I’ve never really rated kingklip.”

Gert will have the wine accompanied menu and so Julien Schaal’s Born of Fire organic Chenin Blanc that accompanies that fish will turn out to be the most exciting, caramelly-citrusy chenin blanc ever tasted by me, an avid South African chenin fan.

The current extent of the aquaponics project and its produce. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

As for winding up our current tour of the aquaponics and its produce, Adriaan has to whizz back to being an active chef while we’re still marvelling at the extent of this project. More produce is grown here than La Fermier can use but there’s another restaurant café, Karoo Café, on the property, serving breakfast and lunch dishes. Then there’s a kind of informal co-op programme within the larger Lynnwood area for supplying what surplus the farm has, for other items, like dairy or other sustainable ingredients and items produced in the surrounds.

As Adriaan leads us back at a trot, through the humid hydroponics part of the farm, he says, “So that’s why I was saying the sustainability of La Fermier goes much further than just the food. It’s everything. The lovely chairs you’ll sit on, and your table, are produced on the property from reclaimed wood. The crockery, specially designed for us, are made by Elza van Dijk down there. See you later!” 

The Cap Classique sees us through our very first taste of crayfish and dombolo, served on two plates. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

Klaas Setati is also working here in an organic fashion, having shown an earlier interest in the wine side of running a restaurant, he’s started hands-on and in-the-soil training visits to the Winelands and is sommelier-in-on-the-job-training at La Fermier. He tells us about this Charles Fox Cap Classique he’s carefully pouring into both our glasses. Till now I’ve not tasted any of this boutique Elgin Cap Classique specialist’s wares and I love tasting wines I don’t know. Judging by the menu, that’ll be all but one of them.

It sees us through our very first taste of chef Adriaan Maree’s La Fermier, crayfish and dombolo, served on two plates, the former wound with intensely cucumbery cucumber and wasabi leaf paste, the dombolo, a tiny mouthful, we’re instructed to “just gooi it down”. It’s filled with a bright-tasting sweet pepper gel and bursts blissfully on the tongue. Perfect champagne food.

The next dish is also in two bits, cauliflower, truffle, bone marrow, raisins and a small vetkoek. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

The next dish is also in two bits, one of the dishes that chef Adriaan Maree battles to remove from the menu because of popularity. It’s his cauliflower with truffle, bone marrow and raisins and I see it’s served with a cinsault. A small vetkoek is another “gooier”, enclosing a confit of the marrow and rosemary. I think I can identify, from the farm walk, the little white flowers as being wasabi blossom.

His other much-demanded item accompanies the fresh breads, a teeny baguette, so perfect, and two different sourdoughs. The item is chef Adriaan’s real masterclass version of a light but intensely tasty duck parfait, served with a herby, nutty dukkah.

Gert mentions how quiet the kitchen is. It’s true. Chef Adriaan and his two chefs working by his side don’t seem to say a word to each other, let alone yell and bang things. The music in the restaurant is low, the tables specially far apart, so there’s a deep feeling of peace and expectation about.

When I exclaim over the veal dish that features lightly pickled veal sweetbread and some veal flesh of course with musky black garlic, onion and creamed cashew with parsley, Adriaan says he sometimes doesn’t tell guests until they’ve finished that they had sweetbread, for instance, because there are so many unadventurous eaters.

Adriaan sometimes doesn’t tell guests until they’ve finished that they had sweetbread. (Photo: Gert Top)

His guests are three sorts: the Pretoria people; the foreigners who are mostly from the embassies but often tourists; and the Johannesburg special occasion people who travel over for anniversaries and such. Tonight, they are local Pretoria guests and when he knows that from his bookings, he often tones down any “extra innovation or more unusual ingredients” for that evening. It’s easy to do with a menu that is the non-specific list sort, for instance, “Veal, parsley, onion, black garlic”.

On our quite unforgettable earlier farm gardens trot, Adriaan had said, as do so many more modest but great chefs, that “the finest, freshest ingredients are everything — I can do anything with good ingredients”. I am thinking about them as I lip-lickingly proceed with my other favourite (along with the sweetbreads one), the sixth course of lamb. Naturally, this is Karoo lamb, Grootkaroo lamb, nogal. I revere the fat, in this case from the rib piece as there’s also an inherently herby loin piece on the plate. The tenderly treated fat provides that nostalgic taste of wonderful lamb that one yearns for more than one gets.

The tenderly treated fat provides that nostalgic taste of wonderful lamb. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

I should also be praising the asparagus that tastes so unusually but unsurprisingly here, real and full, along with a thick puree of more asparagus, as well as a couple of pearls of caviar and hazelnut on the plate. There are often nuts in the La Fermier dishes, given the wealth of different nut trees I saw on the property, I guess. It’s a treat.

A “pre-dessert” of lychee and chardonnay mousse and compote, another nostalgic taste of the brandy snap with it plus yoghurt sorbet has, cleverly, as its accompanying wine, a Cederberg bukettraube. The dessert itself is expectedly splendid, featuring a very grown-up tasting rooibos and vanilla crémeux, with white chocolate and fabulous rhubarb under a nutty tuile halo.

A friandise of choux pastries with coconut ice, black chocolate and cream. (Photo: Gert Top)

Finally, a friandise of choux pastries with coconut ice, black chocolate and cream comes along on a coffee bean bed as a good hint. For once I ignore the hint. Even coffee cannot increase my pleasure from this evening.

Untying his apron, Adriaan brings along two glass jars, one a porcini kombucha vinegar and another a reduction of the vinegar. They are for me and Gert. If something can be umami-sweetish, this is it, thick and dark with culinary promise, so I lay my hand firmly on the reduction before we all say our goodbyes and find ways back down to the farm gate, homeward. DM

La Fermier | 076 072 5261 (booking necessary) | 141 Lynnwood Rd, The Willows, Pretoria


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Johann Kirsten says:

    I wonder if the author of the story as well as the restauranteur and the farm owner are aware that Karoo Lamb is now officially protected as a “Geographical Indication” through the gazetted rules of 27 October 2023. It is very easy to comply – the farmer and abattoir just need to register with the Karoo Lamb Consortium. See Without permission from the State it is illegal to use the word Karoo Lamb. You need to proof that you comply with the ‘origin definition’ of the product and that no feeding in feedlots or grazing on pastures are involved.

  • Lucy Hillier says:

    Thanks for writing about somewhere to eat other than the Cape! PS the sub-editor in me compels me to point out that the restaurant is called Fermier…La Fermier is problematic because you can’t say this in French!

  • Charl Engelbrecht says:

    I’m certain there is nothing pretentious about this restaurant at all. On the other hand, I have never encountered anything like this in the Karoo, so I don’t comprehend the connection.

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