Grande Provence is a name that is synonymous with incredibly high caliber gastronomical and wine experiences one expects from a visit to the Franschhoek Valley. This gorgeous heritage wine estate boasts a 300-year history and 47-acres of hardworking, verdant vineyards that consistently produce top performing wines.
Arriving at the estate’s regal gates, Grande Provence extends a real Cape Winelands welcome to guests as they drive down her topiary-lined avenue, which is embraced by acre upon acre of verdant vineyards and, between the towering oaks and lush garden vegetation, glimpses of beautiful, historic houses built in the Cape Dutch architectural style. Yet, this is only the start of the splendor. The gardens at the front of the restaurant are impeccably manicured, heavily shaded by oak trees, and adorned with the most spectacular sculptures and artworks.
Bubbly and oysters in the Sculpture Garden
We came to Grande Provence to experience their new Executive Chef Guy Bennett’s take on modern South African cuisine and yet, before I’d even stepped foot in the restaurant, my eyes and heart were fit to bursting with the beauty of this historic heritage wine estate. Thankfully, before I could have an existential crisis, I was offered a glass of Grande Provence’s Méthode Cap Classique, of which the estate makes three different kinds, and a plate of fresh oysters dressed with zingy, citrusy “yuzu pearls”. I’m pleased to say that these were the first fresh oysters I have ever actually enjoyed.
Incidentally, Grande Provence offers an intriguing Méthode Cap Classiques & Oysters 3-Way Tasting, in which the estate’s three MCCs (Grande Provence Brut MCC, Grande Provence Brut Rosé MCC, and flagship Grande Provence Vintage Brut 2011) are paired with delicately seasoned and embellished oysters. The ones we sampled were absolutely delicious and, with the magnificent Sculpture Garden as the backdrop for the indulgence, it’s a truly exquisite experience that’s guaranteed to covert even the most avid of oyster-hating palates.
New Executive Chef Guy Bennett
The genius behind this seemingly unorthodox pairing is Grande Provence’s new Executive Chef, Guy Bennett, who may be new to Franschhoek culinary circles, but is absolutely no stranger to the South African gourmet food scene. Having completed his apprenticeship at the snazzy Savoy Cabbage and Constantia’s Buitenverwachting wine estate and having worked at the One and Only, The Robertson Small Hotel, and Delaire Graff alongside some of the country’s biggest names in gastronomy (think Michael Deg, Bertus Basson, Reuben Riffel, and André Steyn), Guy Bennett has a résumé that would impress even the haughtiest of food critics.
One thing was for certain: we were in for the most exceptional experience with Guy’s five-course luncheon, featuring fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, and a line-up of Grande Provence’s stunning wines.
Our five-course experience with wine
We sat down to lunch in Grande Provence’s opulent and impeccably decorated restaurant, with its serene dark blue walls, elegant furnishings, and seductive artworks. We were then poured a generous taster of the estate’s Zinfandel (2016), Chenin Blanc (2017), and, their flagship wine, the Grande Provence Amphora (2015), which is a luscious blend of mostly Chenin Blanc with “a touch of Muscat d’Alexandrie” and pressed Viognier skins. There was no regimented approach to drinking the first three wines; each person simply decided which one they preferred with each course.
After a quick introduction and briefing of the menu by Chef Guy, our first course of charred yellowfin tuna (served with miso, labneh, black garlic, and crunchy cauliflower nuggets) arrived: elegantly presented and incredibly flavorful. So much so that it was a constant struggle to eat slowly and thoughtfully like my well-cultured table fellows. I found the flagship Amphora to be the most excellent accompaniment to the first course – and every course thereafter, as it would turn out. However, to be fair, all of the wines were beautifully suited to the first three courses.
The next course consisted of succulent, rosy slices of cold roast beef sirloin with pine nuts, mustard, oxtail kromeski, shallots prepared two ways, and crunchy disks of Boland cheddar. Here, the fruity, spicy, and smoky Zinfandel worked beautifully. The third course was a fillet of silver fish caught off the coast at Cape Point, butter-poached langoustine from Mozambique, gnocchi, lemon and masala crème, and thin shavings of kohlrabi, all washed down with not-so delicate sips of Grande Provence’s utterly delicious Chenin Blanc.
A brief interlude, fresh wines, and the final two courses
With the first three courses done, the excellent and attentive service staff swooped in to remove our dirty dishes and wine glasses and to set the table for the next three wines and two courses: the Grande Provence Cabernet Sauvignon (2015), Angel’s Tears Le Chocolat Pinotage (2017) – a brand new addition to the estate’s repertoire of wines – and, finally, the Muscat d’Alexandrie, a sweet and intensely aromatic late harvest wine that married perfectly with the final dessert course.
The fourth course was a tender braised Karoo lamb neck and sweetbread with butternut squash and BBQ jus, and the fifth and final: mango and hazelnut micro sponge, lemon crumble, and cocoa bean namelaka (a creamy textured mousse).
Chef Guy’s food philosophies
Each course was beautiful to behold and even more beautiful on the palate. Chef Guy is clearly passionate about sourcing fresh, local food, which he channels such tender love and care into preparing and presenting. The menu is also very dynamic and changes according to Chef Guy’s inspirations, what’s popular, and what ingredients are fresh and locally available, often on a daily basis.
What I especially love about Chef Guy’s kitchen philosophy is that he encourages his team to write their ideas, inspirations, and concepts on the communal whiteboard and so, the creations that are served in Grande Provence’s exquisite restaurant are wholly unique and the result of harmonious collaboration.
Grande Provence is a wine estate with a formidable reputation, not only for its award-winning wines, but also for its lauded restaurant. It’s, therefore, a wonderful thing to see that, even though there is a great potential for instability during a changeover, Chef Guy has brought incredible creativity to Grande Provence’s kitchen. It’s clear from the incredibly high caliber of our experience that he will be taking the estate’s food legacy forward with great passion and pride!
For more information visit www.grandeprovence.co.za.