There’s a vivacious, buxom Latina in your glass of pinot noir at Haute Cabriere, and she’ll entice you with fine morsels and tempt you to indulge enough to let your hair down and languish there until you are replete with wine, food and life. That is what Achim von Arnim, owner of all things Cabriere, including the farm and winery, the Pierre Jourdan label and its derivatives and this wonderful restaurant, is all about.
I am a fan of the man and his philosophies of life and good and wise living (essentially living life to the full and than adding a whole lot more), not to mention his vivid and playful oil paintings and his wink-wink poetry, and have been since I first met him in the Eighties. Sixteen years ago he opened Haute Cabriere, a cavelike semi-subterranean restaurant on the pass above Franschhoek, with chef Matthew Gordon, who has recently moved on to his other ventures. The kitchen of the operation is now run by a lad called Ryan Shell, and if at first you wonder at the choice of a chef so obviously young, you quickly understand why they have chosen him when you taste his food. There are marriages of subtle flavours all over the place, and as has always been the way at Haute Cabriere, every single dish is created to match a specific wine, and the wines are all their own.
Pinot noir is a big thing for Von Arnim and for the whole operation, and they now have in place a menu that matches pinot noir, going back through the years, with dishes intended to bring out this distinctive varietal’s character and nuances. So olive, for example, features subtly in a lamb dish, olive being an excellent match for pinot noir.
The buxom Latina in your glass? Restaurant manager Alton van Biljon tells us, cryptically, once we’ve ordered the lamb, “I’m going to be bringing you some Sophia Loren to go with that.”
In Achim’s book of art and poetry (which you can buy when you visit – and also admire some examples of his art on the walls of the restaurant) there is a poem entitled Joie du Vin, opposite Achim’s oil on canvas of one of the many beauties he has painted over the years. It reads:
The joy of wine
is to share wine intimately
In every glass of fine pinot noir
is an elegant lady
to be treasured
sip by sip
one glass at a time
vintage by vintage
accurately recorded for always
Joie de Vie
And smiling, garrulous Van Biljon adds, while pouring a sample of the 1998 pinot noir, to match the garlic-crusted lamb loin, “If there’s a lady in every glass, most definitely this is Sophia Loren.” The wine’s elegant vivacity was well matched with very rare lamb loin and its olive mash and aubergine puree.
But there were several small courses before that, done in quarter-size to give us a range of the menu. A gentle starter was spiced Karoo lamb tartare with broccoli parfait, brandade, smoked mushroom and pistachio. With that was matched Von Arnim’s new Haute Cabriere unwooded pinot noir which is as clean and fresh as you could hope for in a red wine perfect for summer. Van Biljon predicts that unwooded pinot will become the ‘next big consumer wine’, and if he’s right and that happens, Von Arnim, now well into the years others would call retirement, will have set that trend. And not for the first time. It’s a splendid wine. Brandade, by the way, is pure Provence – an emulsion of salt cod with olive oil which normally would be served on bread or with potatoes, but it made an interesting if surprising addition to a meat tartare. Interesting too to encounter a lamb version rather than the usual beef. And once again here’s evidence of tartare making a comeback.
Also brought out so that we could see and photograph it was their ‘Pierre Jourdan oyster experience’ in which six oysters prepared in different ways are paired with their three methode Cap classique bubblies: The steely dry brut sauvage (60 percent chardonnay, 40 percent pinot noir), blanc de blancs (100 percent chardonnay), and Cuvee Belle Rose (100 percent pinot). Oh come on, you didn’t think we’d just photograph them? Best of all were the oyster with apple and Tabasco sorbet, and the delectable truffle Hollandaise, briefly gratinated.
On a slate, they present their assiette of aubergine – aubergine panna cotta topped with a brûlée, a parfait with blanc fromage, aubergine crisps and lovely little pickled baby aubergines. The pinot noir 2001 came with this, showing the depth and finesse added by wood and bottle maturation and reminding us of how fine Von Arnim’s treasured pinots are.
Their Parmesan risotto was sublime, sprinkled with Parmesan crumbs and containing peas, a sprinkling of balsamic “caviare” and a basil foam which seemed superfluous.
After that garlic-crusted lamb loin with its accompanying 1998 pinot noir, which I could have drunk all night while being regaled by Von Arnim’s ribald and delightful tales of life, living and loving – if only he hadn’t been on a visit to Germany when we were there – we were persuaded to end our meal with their Valronha chocolate trio and a tiny glass of Ratafia, that mesmerisingly beautiful aperitif (or liqueur if you like) made by adding a dosage of potstill brandy to free-run still white wine to fortify it (and you). It’s a real pick-me-up in the way that tequila is, yet with a fresh burst of energising, palate-tickling flavour.
A bigger burst of flavour, though, was the deeply rich chocolate sorbet that was the finest part of the chocolate trio. Pop next door to the wine centre, like we did, to buy a bottle of the Fine de Jourdan, their potstill brandy, and a bottle of the Ratafia to take home with you. It was created to honour courage, and is the best liquor with which to toast a veteran of Von Arnim’s vigour and the fact that Haute Cabriere has entered a new phase of its success.
Haute Cabriere, Franschhoek Pass (R45), Franschhoek 021 876 3688 firstname.lastname@example.org