Exploring the breathtaking Cederberg Wilderness Area, we take refuge at Bushmans Kloof. After the winter rains, the ground covering the Cederberg Wilderness area famously explodes into tapestries of wild flowers, the subject of innumerable paintings and photo essays. The Cape Floral Kingdom contains the largest variety of wild flower species in the world. But, I am too early for that this year. The landscapes morph into otherworldly shapes and patterns as we drive along the N7 from Cape Town. Craggy ochre mountain faces and bizarrely shaped weathered sandstone formations capture us as we drive towards the Cederberg Mountains and Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve and Wellness Retreat, situated on a private 7500 hectare nature reserve that forms part of a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The 170 year manor house, a colonial style, thatched and white-washed building was carefully restored in 1995 and I wonder if the food at Bushmans Kloof, prepared by seasoned and long-serving chef Floris Smith will echo a taste of a bygone era. When I ask him about his cooking style, he says, “My grandmother was a great inspiration. I also get inspiration from great chefs such as Charlie Trotter, Heston Blumenthal, Thomas Keller and many more. There is just so much to learn and absorb when it comes to food, it’s a great journey.” So that settles that. To work up an appetite, we hop aboard a rugged safari vehicle to explore a part of the reserve’s flora, fauna and famed rock art paintings. These paintings are representations of life up to 10 000 years ago (the scientific data archiving the precise dates is scant), drawn by the original inhabitants of the area, the San people otherwise, and perhaps controversially known as ‘bushmen’. While some paintings depict hunting scenes and tribal domestic life, others portray conversations with ancestral spirits, a vital part of the culture.
The terrain of soft orange sand and layers of rock is dotted with hardy indigenous fynbos plants. Rooibos or red bush being the South African fynbos claim to world-wide fame. It is enjoyed brewed as a tea or used in skin care preparations and renowned for its anti-oxidant properties. Chef Floris uses rooibos and the plants and herbs he grows on the estate in his recipes too. “As we all know this is fynbos and rooibos country. They are indigenous to this area and for that reason we try and incorporate them in our menus as much as possible. Other than that we are lucky to serve some of the best lamb in the country, ‘Karoo lamb’. In and around the Clanwilliam area there are also a lot of local producers of citrus, vegetables and fruit. Plus we have our wonderful organic gardens. We are very lucky with what is on our doorstep,” he explains.
The dining options at Bushmans Kloof, a Relais & Châteaux property are one of a cumulative of reasons the property has won so many international travel and hospitality awards and they range from the dining room of the manor house to outdoor experiences such as an old candle-lit shepherd’s house and in a sandstone amphitheater, under the stars. The night temperature drops quickly in the area, fires are lit, warming drinks served and a night of feasting with great wines, commences. The flavours, however experimental, are pulled together to represent the unique South African produce.
Chef Floris adds,
”Keeping it truly South African I enjoy adding a sweet element to meat dishes. One of the ‘crazy’ combinations includes chocolate with game meat. My favourite dish at the moment is a savoury white chocolate and wasabi crème brûlée. This is the great thing about food, there is just no limit.”
The plate I enjoy most is Floris’ version of old fashioned South African game meat pie paired with a local wine that tells the story of the earth in its ruby tannic notes. Naturally, the pie is dollied up. And after the last morsel is scraped clean off the plate, I end the meal with a cup of rooibos tea, a familiar and comforting ritual.
On the way, we stop in Clanwilliam, a small town made famous for the antioxidant-rich rooibos (redbush) tea, a variety of fynbos grown exclusively in the area. At Netmar’s teahouse we are guided through a seemingly endless variety of red and green rooibos teas from local farms, some flavoured with chai spices, other’s enticingly labeled ‘winter’ and ‘bourbon vanilla’.