Latest news:

Steenberg Farm: A rich experience

Our efforts to sample the high-end cuisine at Steenberg Farm’s Bistro Sixteen82 were almost stopped in their tracks at the gated entrance to the estate.

Instead of the usual filling out of names and contacts on clipboard, the security guard demanded my driving license. I baulked. My partner, however, proffered hers, whereupon the security guard scanned the barcode. When I asked why, all we got was a vague referral to standard protocol. That barcode contains valuable personal information, and by accessing it without any undertaking to protect it or prevent access by third parties, Steenberg may be on the wrong side of the Protection of Personal Information Act. It is also intrusive and arrogant and exclusionary. But perhaps exclusionary is exactly the point.

Steenberg has a rich history, originally owned by matriarch Catharina Usings Ras, the family sold it to Johnnic a few decades ago, and then it was more recently bought by the Beck family. The Beck’s made their fortune in coal mining before dusting off the dirt and going into wine and horse breeding. With coal magnate Graham Beck having died in 2010, his surviving son Antony Beck is in charge.

In any event, the boom gates, intrusive security, and questionable bedrock of the Beck fortune is not executive chef Kerry Kilpin’s fault, and so we proceeded, albeit with jaundiced eye, to our date with a wine tasting and lunch.

Steenberg Farm: A rich experience
The modern lines of Bistro Sixteen82 belie the history of the farm.

Gone is the Cape Dutch architecture you might expect when arriving at the Cape’s oldest farm. How Beck got heritage approval to replace 300-year-old structures with slick black aluminium and glass is a question for another day. Architecturally, Bistro Sixteen82 and its adjacent tasting lounge is little more than a dollied up double volume shed, but the highly polished screed floors, fine art, and oversized lighting fixtures, and bottles of expensive wine lining the walls create a sense of airy luxury befitting the kind of place that seems to want to require a stamp in your passport before letting you in.

Power trips of the rich aside, the rectangular pool of water spilling out from the deck, the sculpted lawns and expertly planted verges calm the irritated nerves. The excellent wine also helps. Thus, a jovial mood was restored by the time we were ushered to our table and paid attention to our attentive but unobtrusive waiter explain the specials, from which we chose the smoked fish taco as a starter. The offer of pear and fennel, and soy and saffron syrup was as irresistible to the imagination as it was to prove to the taste. As was the curried baby calamari off the main menu. Curry may be the test of a chef’s ability to blend spice and herbs to create depth of flavour, and here Kilpin proved her worth, along with calamari soft as butter.

The curried baby calamari starter revealed chef Kerry Kilpin’s prowess.

The starters were a hard act to beat but the mains did not lower the bar. The braised lamb neck, stuffed with ricotta, had the tenderness of a caress with a suggestive spiciness born of the accompanying apricot salsa, and citrus and lemon thyme jus.

The roasted pork belly is a simple but delicious piece of meat, and Kilpin served it resting on a bed of celeriac mash providing a complementary texture to the soft flesh, with a pickled grape and fennel salsa to heighten the taste, and a sauvignon blanc and sultana jus adding an exotic note.

Ending off, the almond and chocolate streusel defied expectation. Looking like an expensive Romany cream with vanille crème, chocolate crémeux, and salted caramel ice cream, we wondered if we had made the wrong decision. A heavy dessert on a full stomach is not recommended. The first tentative spoonful proved us wrong. It was light as a compliment, smooth as a fine wine, rich in taste but soothing our stomachs rather than adding to their weight, rounding the meal off with a sweetness like perfumed air.

Each dish has a recommended wine pairing by the glass, but as we had already had a superb and highly recommended wine tasting, we reined back and just had a favourite glass each, being the Steenberg Black Swan Sauvignon Blanc to go with the curried calamari and pork belly, and Steenberg Nebbiolo for the fish taco and lamb neck.

In all, chef Kilpin served us food for which I’d almost be willing to forfeit my personal information, and made us feel both at home yet fêted as guests, which we were in a sense, as we were invited.

Certainly, unless you are an established member of the mink and manure set, Bistro Sixteen82 is not your fallback restaurant, but as a place to celebrate an achievement, a milestone, or an anniversary with excellent food, fine wine and attentive service, I would highly recommend it. Just remember to bring your driving license.

Mother City News was hosted by Steenberg Farm. Our bill would have come to approximately R1,050, we tipped accordingly.