In the Cape Winelands, foodie travellers are truly spoilt for choice. From the booming wine bar scene in Stellenbosch to the fine-dining destination restaurants of Franschhoek, you’ll certainly never go hungry. And yet the town of Paarl and its surrounds have always been an outlier; something of a Bermuda Triangle when it comes to memorable winelands dining.
With the notable exceptions of FABER at Avondale and Noop on the oak-lined main drag, there have been lamentably few reasons to head to Paarl to sate your hunger pangs.
But that slowly seems to be changing. Along with Kevin Grobler (formerly at Michelin-starred JAN in Nice) taking the reins at Grande Roche, the most exciting new destination tempting diners out beneath the granite monoliths of Paarl Mountain is the Brookdale Bistro.
Brookdale Estate has enjoyed a renaissance since British businessman Tim Rudd bought the property in 2016. Vines were pulled out and replanted, a striking exclusive-use villa established, and plans laid for the bistro and wine-tasting centre, which opened in February.
It’s a gorgeous space, with triple-volume ceilings, organic tones and exposed beams lending the interiors a contemporary farm feel. Tables flow out to the wide terrace, with views over newly planted vineyards and the distant Paarl Mountain.
At the helm of the bistro is the estate’s Executive Chef Gary Coetzee, who brings a wealth of experience to the kitchen. After a spell at the acclaimed lodges of Singita in the Sabi Sand, he spent a decade as a private chef for the late hotel magnate Sol Kerzner.
From that role, Coetzee learned all about flexibility, and that shines through in his new role at Brookdale, whether it’s catering to the whims of guests at the nearby Manor – a gorgeous six-bedroom exclusive-use villa amid the vines – or adapting the menu to fit the hillside location of the bistro.
“We really wanted to remain true to our location on the farm,” says Coetzee. “So, on my first menu, I’ve made careful reference to the vineyards and the harvest season.”
That shines through across the summer menu, from the poached yellowtail in a sauce Veronique – a traditional French sauce of cream, grapes and tarragon – to the raisin purée that accompanies the beautifully silky duck liver pâté. The homage to the harvest extends to the desserts, where the fondant of Valrhona chocolate is plated with poached plum and an unusual gelato made from vine leaves.
“To make the gelato we harvest the whole vine leaves, which are then boiled down in a sugar stock syrup with green grapes. It brings a lovely gentle acidity to the gelato,” explains Coetzee.
That touch of subtle innovation is what’s seen the bistro already generate a loyal local following, and repeat guests already declaring which plates should never be taken off the menu. Dishes like the oxtail tortellini, for instance. Served in a reduced jus and showered with shavings of parmesan, it’s a perfect dish for autumn.
What also impresses is Coetzee’s creativity when it comes to plant-based dishes. The cauliflower risotto is an instant favourite, served with pickled shimeji mushrooms, aubergine ‘biltong’ and herb oil. The beetroot pavé is equally creative. Here curried beetroot is plated with an onion bhaji, the spiciness neatly offset by flavours of mint and coriander, all balanced by the sweet and sour notes of seasonal cling peaches.
“It’s not a complicated dish, but the flavours all speak to each other in their own unique way,” says Coetzee. “I love how it incorporates Indian cuisine and Cape Malay flavours.”
While the summer menu is already drawing diners out to the Paarl Winelands, Coetzee has an eye on the next evolution.
“This menu has a little something for everyone, but I do think I’ll add dishes to the menu before we change or remove plates. I think there’s space for another dish or two in each section,” says Coetzee. “I’d like to see venison in the mains. I’d love to have more fresh fish on there; something a little lighter for warm Paarl days. And I’d love to put on some form of soup when the weather starts cooling down.”