The Rust en Vrede winery dates back to 1694, with the first wine being produced a few years after that. The 55-hectare estate has won numerous awards for its wine. There is a pretty terrace where you can have a drink overlooking the countryside before moving into the rather dark and somewhat formal red-walled dining room. The murky food photos match the gloom of the room.
John Shuttleworth took over as head chef here in 2011 after working for two years as sous-chef. He had previously trained at Mallory Court and Glenapp Castle in the UK. There was a choice of either four or six course tasting menus, and the kitchen were flexible about mixing and matching dishes.
The wine list was impressive in scale, with almost 1,250 separate wine labels. Boschendal Cecil John Reserve 2010 was priced at ZAR 425 for a bottle that can be found in the high street for ZAR 396, Shafer One Point Fie 2009 at ZAR 740 was significantly below its retail price, and Alion 2007 at ZAR 865 was again below its retail price of ZAR 940. We drank an excellent Rust en Vrede Estate 2007 (also significantly less than its current market price). Even the Margaux 1989 at ZAR 6,500 was a touch below what you pay for it in a shop in the UK. This list was a joy for a wine lover, both in terms of quality and price.
The meal began with nibbles of cured salmon with salmon caviar, watercress custard and bois boudrin sauce (involving shallots, tomatoes and Worcester sauce). There were also warm Parmesan and herb risotto balls, and hummus to dip. These were very pleasant, the rice balls comforting, the salmon having good flavour (13/20).
Loin of yellowfin tuna was lightly seared with sesame, honey and soy, offered with a tuna consommé with tomato jelly, daikon and red radish, pickled portebellini mushrooms and mushroom gnocchi. The dish was described as having wasabi and avocado but the former was undetectable, though the fish itself had good texture and the soy and radish went well with it (14/20).
Tartare of Chalmar beef had a paprika egg yolk, capers, gherkins, salsa verde and ciabatta croutons, which all sounded fine but the seasoning was woefully underpowered, so it mostly tasted of raw beef and egg (barely 12/20).
Even less impressive was cauliflower risotto and bitter chocolate with hot and cold elements from the use of Parmesan snow. There was way too much chocolate, in this, and the cauliflower flavour was hard to detect. The hot and cold contrast came across as gimmicky, but the real problem was n the flavour balance (10/20).
The meal got back on track with scallops with Vichyssoise, the shellfish having good natural sweetness and being lightly pan-seared, going well with the earthiness of the leek and potatoes (14/20).
Red Roman is a species of sea bream, served here with tomato, Parmesan, prawn boudin, green olive powder and “tagliatelle” of courgette. This fish has quite delicate flavour, and the issue here was that the courgette was also quite subtle in flavour, so again some bold seasoning was much needed but found wanting (12/20).
I preferred rabbit Wellington, the pastry quite delicate and the rabbit avoiding dryness, the carrots good, alongside nice spinach and herb puree and pommes Boulangere (thinly sliced potatoes with onions cooked in stock and butter). The technical execution here was fine, and the flavours were full enough (14/20).
On the side, breads were a choice of either olive brioche (the best), seed bread, black pudding bread with squid ink, or apricot and walnut bread, which was pleasant but for me needed more salt (13/20 average).
At this point the meal was shaping up to be just about 13/20 level overall, but the relatively new female pasty chef almost succeeded in elevating the meal above this single handedly. We had an excellent strawberry soufflé with coconut and lime, served with coconut sorbet, delicate coconut tuile, strawberry cream and lime marshmallow. The soufflé was evenly cooked and had good fruit flavour, the accompaniments also well made (15/20). Also lovely was a very
capable Valrhona chocolate fondant with Amarula ice cream, chocolate shards, hazelnut and cranberry biscotti and chocolate shards. Even a potentially weird addition of banana and lime puree with tempura and dried banana managed to avoid distracting too much from the chocolate (15/20).
The desserts seemed to me comfortably the best part of the meal, though the inconsistency and general theme of underpowered flavour in the savoury courses makes me uncomfortable scoring this above 13/20.
Service was very good and the bill came to ZAR 2525 for two, which works out at £55 a head including some very good wine. If you ordered more modest wine then a typical cost per head might be around £45. Rust en Vrede is certainly a pretty spot and the desserts at least show that the kitchen is able to produce some good dishes; wine lovers may be forgiving given the superb list here.