A Magical Place on The Cape
Following in Marj's footsteps I set out on my first trip to South Africa…
I was travelling with 'By Prior Arrangement' assisting on their South African culinary tour, a really indulgent adventure for their guests and one we are looking forward to hosting at Thyme when they come to England next year.
After five days of full-on feasting in Cape Town we left the city, heading east towards Franschhoek along arguably the most famous wine route in South Africa, with the anticipation of Babylonstoren as our destination. It wasn’t the clearest of days but as we arrived the weather brightened and we could really appreciate the jaw-dropping beauty of the estate and the backdrop of the Simonsberg, Du Toitskloof and Franschhoek mountains. The seventeenth century Cape Dutch farm boasts one of the best preserved farmyards in the Cape. Beloved for its magnificent garden, laid out over 8 acres, it has abundant fruit, vegetables, berries, bees for pollinating, indigenous plants, fragrant lawns, a prickly pear maze, ducks and chickens.
Former magazine editor, Babylonstoren owner Karen Roos, has so many projects happening on the estate, driving forward this working farm supporting the local community in every way she can, delivering an extraordinary guest experience in the restaurant & hotel.
We piled into their bright restaurant to feast on their famous salads - green, yellow, red perfectly seasonal and single-handedly describing the gardens - I loved the whole story of 'field to fork' that was evident in the interior design and the menus. After settling into our rooms, we embarked on what was for me the highlight of our visit ... the tour of the gardens. Led by their colourful head gardener, we crunched along the crushed peach-stone paths in her wake, and I was reminded of our own gardens at Thyme and our female-led team - so many parallels. However, we definitely do not have Carob trees! They were beautiful, the male and female trees filled with the music of their honey bees. In the evening the ducks are taken for a walk around the vegetable gardens - the slug squad, seeing them in action was brilliant, I made a mental note of that for when our new ducklings are ready to move to our kitchen gardens. While the ducks were busy at work the irrigation sluices were opened to flood the citrus orchards and we retreated to the courtyard to enjoy Olive Leaf Iced-Tea, while the pleached sycamores were misted by another ingenious system that kept the air cool.
It is a grower's paradise, I didn’t know whether it was the chef in me or the gardener that was more excited. We picked lemons, limes, oranges, fennel, watercress, their extraordinary salad, radishes, kale & aubergines. And then we cooked - swordfish carpaccio (sourced on the coast at Cape Town) with fennel, orange & olives, followed by Karoo lamb, finishing with Quince poached in Babylonstoren's gorgeous red wine & their homemade marmalade. Very happy guests, so many good memories. We visited some extraordinary restaurants, vinyards & estates in South Africa (perhaps we should have a South African Adventure Part 3 for Marj & I to wax lyrical again) but there was nowhere that more reminded me of Thyme and the ethos behind our growing, cooking and hospitality.