It’s a sorry state of affairs when you sneak off for a weeknight getaway in the winelands and you pack your laptops, external hard drives, USBs and flash drives because you intend to work while you are away.
As it turned out, we couldn’t connect to the wifi at Holden Manz and the 3G was iffy. It was all we could do to manage to keep the world updated with our pictures on Instagram. So, work went very quickly out of the window and I swear it had nothing to do with the complimentary bottle of estate rose in the room, nor the pre-dinner drinks. Not even the wine with our meal. The lack of connectivity was a blessing in disguise, forcing us to kick back, relax and enjoy the gorgeous surroundings, excellent food and great company.
The Franschhoek valley is one of my favourite places in the Western Cape. A little – okay, a lot – more commercial than it used to be, but that’s mainly in the “village”.
I visit fairly often, but this was the first time I had reached the Monument and turned right. We stopped to take pictures of orchards of blossoming fruit trees on a glorious not-quite-yet-spring day before turning off to Holden Manz, where the Franschhoek and Stony Brook rivers converge on the 22-hectare farm.
The Cape Dutch-style guest house and spa has a light, airy communal area with couches on the deck overlooking the lawns, gazebo and small lake complete with Egyptian geese. The long courtyard has a water feature filled with monster Koi, and everywhere you look there is art. For all intents and purposes, the Holden Manz guest house is a gallery.
Instead of the high tea laid out, we klapped that first bottle of wine on the patio of our room, with its view of the vineyards and mountains. In the right light, and if you squint just so, you’ll be able to spot the massive elephant in the rocks; the region was once called “Olifantshoek” (Elephant’s Corner) on account of this.
The cellar, wine tasting room and restaurant are situated a short distance away. It can be walked, but we drove to our dinner prepared by executive chef Cheyne Morrisby, who has cooked for celebrities such as Kylie Minogue and Kate Moss – and now us. The menu is tweaked seasonally, and the estate tries to grow as much of its own produce as possible; the next day when we took an exploratory stroll accompanied by the enthusiastic trio of resident dogs, besides the orchard and vegetable garden, we discovered a coop full of chickens and turkeys. The former are so far earmarked for eggs only, but I suspect the gobblers will see their fate come Christmas.
Cheyne’s menu is deeply Pacific Rim inspired, with lots of coconut, miso, lotus root and so on. Presentation for several dishes is artful arrangements of colour and shape on unglazed black tiles.
Miss Christy started with the recommended warm Asian mushroom salad with cucumber kimchi and braised pistachio puree which was delicious. I had the grilled tiger prawns (thankfully entirely shelled, lord I hate having to take the face off my food) atop a perfect lemon and pea risotto with garlic croutons, also good.
We followed with duck breast with sweet miso, sweet potato puree, and red wine and star anise syrup for her, and pork belly with sweetcorn and cumin puree, coconut and potato dumplings (a bucket of those to go, please), soy and maple, lotus root crisps, and airy crackling for me.
I had to admit defeat but Christy had the Belgian chocolate mousse with salted caramel to finish. I had more wine.
When we got back to our room, the fire had been lit to warm it in anticipation of our return and I embraced my inner cavewoman by feeding it into a roaring blaze. With more wine, of course. Bliss.
Needless to say, the next morning got off to a very slow start and it was extremely difficult to get out of the wonderfully comfortable bed.
We eventually declared ourselves presentable enough not to frighten anyone and took our breakfast, of Earl Grey tea and what Christy claimed to be the best eggs Royale she’s ever had, in the dining area.
It was with great reluctance we finally headed back to the smoggy city. So what if we had to work all weekend?