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My Interview with ELLE Magazine in South Africa

1 Mar

Just a quickie to fill you in on what’s been going on. Very excitingly, since returning to Spain I have had an interview published online in the South African ELLE magazine. Here’s the link if you want to see the whole article with pictures of some of the food and places I mention in the interview

EAT YOUR VEGETABLES

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Introducing Natalie Ward, food writer, Cook Eat Live blogger, photographer and stylist, who specialises in delicious vegan and vegetarian cuisine. Natalie lives in Andalucia, Spain, but recently visited Cape Town where she compiled a list of the best restaurants for vegetarian and vegan food. We asked:

Why do you prefer a vegetarian lifestyle?

When I was younger the reason I didn’t want to eat meat was because I didn’t want to eat animals. It didn’t make sense to me. Now it is more to do with the health benefits of a meat-free diet. In 2009, aged 36, I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. It made me change my lifestyle completely. I gave up all cow’s milk products, sugar (including fruit), caffeine, alcohol, smoking and all processed foods. By the time I was operated to remove the 2x3cm tumor, it had shrunk to almost nothing.

How would you describe ‘whole foods’ eating?

I see whole foods as real, unprocessed foods – local and organic where possible, and not messed about with. No preservatives, additives or chemicals. It’s just about being more aware of what you put in your body and where it has come from, buying fresh ingredients and cooking them from scratch, rather than buying ready meals and heating them up in a microwave.

Is the whole foods/vegetarian lifestyle a challenge when eating out?

Definitely, but it’s getting better. I moved from England to Spain 11 years ago and it was basically impossible to eat out. The only thing I could eat was tortilla (Spanish omelettes) or a salad. And even that would have tuna in it. The Spanish think fish is vegetarian! I find it a lot easier to eat out here in South Africa.

Have you developed any of your own recipes?

Yes, for my blog, Cook Eat Live Vegetarian. I get inspiration from books, TV programmes and restaurants, but mainly from what I see growing in the fields where we walk the dog in the mornings. I create seasonal vegetarian recipes with a world flavour.

What brought you to South Africa?

My dad lives in Cape Town. We came on holiday here for the first time four years ago and fell in love with it. The food here is amazing. The quality and choice of restaurants and cafes is unbelievable. In Europe we still have a preconceived idea of what Africa is like. I am making it my mission to change that.

How do meat-loving South Africans fare in terms of vegetarian dishes and restaurants?

For a nation of meat eaters you do veggie exceptionally well. Most of the restaurants I have visited or contacted have had a choice of vegetarian options on their menu. A few have even created a vegetarian tasting menu especially for me with wine pairings. I could definitely get used to that!

Which dishes/restaurants/dining experiences have you enjoyed the most?

So far we loved Babel at Babylonstoren. There is a beautiful fruit and vegetable garden that you can have a guided tour of before enjoying a delicious lunch made from the produce you have just seen growing. Planet at The Mount Nelson has a five-course vegan tasting menu, which is unheard of. The Greenhouse prepared a wonderful seven-course vegetarian tasting menu which was a definite highlight. Peter Tempelhoff has made the balance of flavour and texture an art form. Ryan at Haute Cabriere also prepared a special five-course vegetarian tasting with wine pairings for us. Each one of the dishes was created especially to compliment a different one of their gorgeous wines rather than the wine being matched to the food. A real experience. The Franschhoek Kitchen at Holden Manz has a refreshingly modern outlook; the place is absolutely stunning, leading the way in new informal wine farms. It also has a fabulous spa and guesthouse. Ile de Pain in Knysna makes some of the best breads and cakes I have ever tasted. The Portuguese custard tarts (pasteis de nata) are to die for. And finally Reuben’s. We ate at two of his restaurants and I have to say that his flavours stand out for me. His use of fresh herbs and spices is genius.

What makes a restaurant a winner for you?

It’s about the all-round experience for me. It’s a real art to get everything right and to create a positively memorable dining experience.

If you’re interested in the health benefits of eating a whole-foods plant-based diet, Natalie suggests reading The China Study by T. Colin Campbell. Click here to explore Cook Eat Live or follow Natalie on twitter @Foodblogdog

Can you see me smiling and jumping up and down from where you are?

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Ile de Pan – a Knysna Epidemic

29 Feb

Arriving in Knysna on a quiet Tuesday morning and driving over the bridge to Thesen Island we wondered where all the people were. It looked like a bit of a ghost town to be honest. We wandered around for a while thinking that there had been some sort of viral epidemic that had claimed the lives of all the inhabitants overnight.

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Then we spotted Ile de Pain, our main reason for visiting Knysna. It was packed with people eating at the wooden tables or queueing to buy the fabulous bread and cakes. It was like the whole of the town and a fair few tourists were sharing in the joy that the the Ile de Pain experience brings.

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We had reservations for lunch and it was only 11 am. You have no idea how much I wish we had booked for breakfast too. I had to get a blow dry just to waste some time before lunch. We also had a look around a new boutique hotel called The Turbine which is a converted wood fired electricity power station. Its industrial past combines with chic comfortable design pieces to create a contemporary space with a relaxed vibe.

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But back to the food. We arrived at Ile de Pain hungry and excited. For lunch the vegetarian choices are excellent. I went for the Butternut Squash and Chickpea Cakes with tomato salsa, tzatziki and fruit chutney. The Washer Up ordered the Halloumi Bruschetta with rocket and a lemon caper vinaigrette. Other options that looked equally good were the Wild Mushroom Tart with roast tomatoes, leeks and a shitake mushroom pesto or The IDP Pissaldiere, a thin crust french style pizza topped with caramelised onions, mozzarella, olives and rocket.

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Both dishes were delicious. The squash & chickpeas cakes were light and spiced with cinnamon. Too often any cakes made with pureed chickpeas can be dense and heavy. The bruschetta was amazing – I can see why their Companio bread is so popular. It’s chewy, crunchy, airy and has fantastic flavour. The dressing was zingy to contrast with the salty Halloumi and the heirloom tomatoes and peppadew peppers were sweet and spicy.

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Stuffed as we were from cleaning our plates, I was still powerless to resist when they brought around a two tiered cake stand filled with all the different cakes and pastries they had on offer that day. The difficult thing was which ones to choose.

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We made our decisions though. A sticky, chewy walnut slice and a peach and blueberry cake.

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Both stunning…..

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They very cleverly put the lunch and breakfast menus on the same sheet so you get to see both. I couldn’t think of leaving Knysna without trying out the breakfasts too so we decided to come back the following day.

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I ordered the Green Envy, scrambled eggs, basil pesto, rocket and parmesan on wholegrain toast which was lovely but The Washer Up made me green with envy when his choice arrived at the table. “Como” is delicious steamed vegetables, mushrooms, poached egg and tomato shitake pesto. It has a slightly Asian flavour from the vegetables and is the best breakfast dish I have ever eaten. Yes I had to help him eat it, for research purposes only, you understand. The poached egg was perfect too.

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We were meeting up with my Dad on the next leg of our tour later that day so I thought it was only right that we buy some of the beautiful tarts as a gift. He has never been to Ile de Pain and loves a little cake with his afternoon coffee. We chose the Portuguese custard tarts Pasteis de Nata (pictured above) which also happen to be The Washer Up’s favourite, a creme brulee tart…..

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And a mini lemon and passion fruit meringue pie……

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They were all beautiful, even though everything got a little bit squashed in the box on the back seat of the car when my suitcase slid along the seat on a sharp bend. We saved them though. It was hard to chose a winner, but I think the custard tarts just made it. Not eggy or bouncy at all, just creamy and ever so slightly burnt, which is a good thing. And that pastry…..

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Ile de Pain is a must on any trip to Knysna or Plettenberg Bay. They only open for breakfast and lunch and you will want to try both. It gets very busy especially at weekends so make sure you book. You really wouldn’t want to miss out believe me, this place is special and so is the food.

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Oh and Liezie very kindly gave me the recipe for the Butternut & Chickpea Cakes so I will be making them soon. Watch this space…

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Sorry for the lack of posts…..

21 Feb

We have been eating lunch and dinner every day in different restaurants but I have not had the time or the WiFi to post anything. What I have to give you is a coming soon, a little teaser of what’s to come. Enjoy….
Tempting cakes at Voila in the new Cape Quarter…

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The Washer Up feeding the elephants in an attractive green poncho and bandana combination…

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Stunning cakes at Ile de Pain in Knysna….

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A delicous pink sparkling on Valentines Day….

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A stunning tomato risotto at Sand at The Plettenberg….

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Startled monkeys….

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Baked Camembert with green fig preserve, honey and almonds amongst the vines at Bramon Wine Estate Plettenberg.

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Exotic birds…

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Beautiful hotels…

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The best Portuguese custard tarts in the world…

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Meet Piccolo, the cutest dog in Montagu….

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A sweet potato brûlée tart with asparagus at Haute Cabriere…..

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An amazing tomato and boconcini salad at Reuben’s…..

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A gorgeous fig and frangipane tart with goats yoghurt ice cream from Bread & Wine…..

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And much more to come…..

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Rumbullion at The Roundhouse

15 Feb

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A gourmet picnic hamper filled with your choice of goodies enjoyed while taking in the breathtaking views over Camps Bay.

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Order a bottle of your favourite wine and unwind while the chickens wander around on the lawn and under your feet.

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Your picnic basket arrives with cutlery, plates and napkins and you will be handed a checklist with all the available food. Just tick the boxes next to the items and return it to the waiter.
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My dad ordered the Caesar Salad with a soft poached egg, how could he resist with all those chickens running around, you don’t get much fresher than that.
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We chose a loaf of fresh ciabatta to go with the three dips that we ordered. Jalapeño hummus, feta and herb dip and caramelised onion pâté.

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We also decided on some Fairview goat’s cheese that was accompanied by a delicious watermelon chutney. There is a good selection of charcuterie items and salads as well.

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There are hot dishes too like enormous burgers and their extremely popular pizzas. The Gorgonzola, caramelised onion, fig, rocket and walnut was very tempting. Matt the manager was also very proud of the roasted bone marrow with oxtail marmalade, so much so that he insisted that The Washer Up and my dad tried it.

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They loved it, I enjoyed the salad that came with it!

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This is a relaxed and informal lunch experience, definitely book, it gets busy, especially at weekends. Apparently they do a picnic breakfast at the weekends too. I’ll be back for that, no doubt about it.

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The Garden of Eden at Babylonstoren

12 Feb

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You have to see this place to believe it. It is heaven on earth. An eight acre fruit and vegetable farm growing over 300 varieties of plants, each one edible and grown as biologically as possible. The picture below is of an heirloom variety of pumpkin called Turkish Turban.
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Fruit and veg are harvested year round for use in their restaurant, Babel. The garden is divided into fifteen areas for vegetables, fruits, berries, bees, indigenous plants, ducks and chickens. Gravity feeds water into waterways from a stream into the garden as it has done for 300 years.

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You can take a guided tour of the farm, as we did, before enjoying a lunch made from freshly picked fruit and vegetables you have just seen growing. Don't forget to stop off for a fresh herb tea in the beautiful greenhouse before lunch.

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You can pick your own blend of fresh herbs from the garden. I chose lemon verbena, pineapple sage and mint which was refreshing and light and made up for the beautiful rose water and strawberry cupcake we couldn’t resist to go with it.

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Lunch at Babel is a joyful celebration of fresh local produce served in a natural and generous way.
The maxim of the restaurant’s creator, Maranda Engelbrecht Cape Town’s food and style guru, is that the food should be served as naturally as possible, not messed about with or chopped into oblivion. Pick, clean and serve is her approach and it works. You really get that “fresh from the garden to the table” feeling.

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The restaurant is in a converted cow shed with floor to ceiling glass walls and white painted original brick. It is light, informal and incredibly chic. The menu reflects the seasons and what has been harvested that day. The salads are either red, green or yellow and abundant with beautiful produce in that colour. Speaking to Maranda she told me that she wanted the fruit and vegetables to be the main ingredients and the meat and fish to be additional. We chose the yellow which included edible lilies, passion fruit and carrot, papaya, tamarillo, pineapple, nectarines, yellow heirloom tomatoes, roasted corn and melon. You could add smoked trout, chicken or yoghurt cheese but it was perfect without.

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It is the attention to detail that makes this such a memorable experience. The freshly made bread was served with a herb oil made from a mixture of herbs from the garden.

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We were given an aperitif of chenin grapes and cheesecake mouse which was stunning.

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I ordered the Artichoke & Goats Cheese Tart with caramelised onion, tamarillo & basil for my main.

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The pastry was so crumbly and light and the filling creamy and delicious. All the main courses come with chips and vegetables. Now about those chips….

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They were the best I’ve ever tasted. The Washer Up (who makes amazing chips) was not pleased to be knocked off the top spot but these were special. Thick and chunky,hand cut, very crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy in the middle. The perfect chip served with course sea salt, cracked pepper and fresh lemon to squeeze over. The Washer Up insists it must be a superior potato to the one he uses. Something about the workman always blaming his tools comes to mind.

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After lunch we had the absolute pleasure of meeting with Maranda Engelbrecht one of the driving forces behind this incredible concept. She let us have a look around her new venture there that is almost ready to launch. Another converted barn being made into a delicatessen and bakery selling freshly baked breads, homemade charcuterie and cheeses as well as a wine tasting area. Is there no end to this woman’s talents? She is leading the food revolution in South Africa and I, for one, am definitely on board.

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Thanks Maranda, it was a pleasure….

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Out of This World at Planet

11 Feb

The Planet restaurant at The Mount Nelson Hotel has a 5 course vegan tasting menu. This was one of the places that I was most looking forward to experiencing.

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It is a beautiful hotel with an amazing reputation and I was surprised (in a good way) that the chef Rudi Leibenberg had decided to go with the very risky idea of offering a vegan tasting menu in such a traditional hotel.

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Turns out it was one the best decisions he ever made. Apparently everyone is pleasantly surprised with the success of the menu. It seems that this forward thinking, open minded chef is leading the way. There is a definite change happening. Diners are moving towards a more health conscious, lighter way of eating.

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On the night we were there, he had a “chef’s table” of ten people all eating a specially designed vegan and raw tasting menu. And most of them were men!

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Apparently the chef’s idea was to challenge his team, to stop them being complacent. I, for one, am so glad he did this. Each of the six courses can be accompanied by a wine pairing that is vegan too. Who knew that there was vegan wine? I certainly didn’t.

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The fabulous sommelier and restaurant manager Carl informed us that he had actually embarrassed himself by laughing when a group of vegans asked if the wines were vegan too. He thought they were joking. It turns out they weren’t laughing.

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The highlight for me was the raw beetroot ravioli (above) stuffed with a cashew nut “cheese” purée and served with a tomato consommé. But all of it was gorgeous and all vegan. Thank you Rudi for being brave enough to go there. The rest are following, I can’t wait….

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The Culinary Journey Begins….

9 Feb

Lunch at Harbour House…

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At The Waterfront. We shared the Vegetable Tian with Tempura Prawns, delicious. The Washer Up ate the prawns… The tian was layers of avocado, tomato and roasted vegetables with a sweet chilli sauce.

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I had the Butternut Squash & Feta Salad as my main course, it had lovely crunchy butternut crisps. Forgot to get the recipe…..

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The Washer Up was also happy with the beer..

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Pretty bleached wood interior and fantastic views of the harbour…

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Hasta mañana

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