A taste of the spicy Cape
When I first heard about Spice Route, I assumed (wrongly) that there would be a shop filled with aromatic spices.
But while there isn’t a shop dedicated to spices at this venue outside Paarl, in the Cape Winelands, the chocolate, coffee, beer, wine and restaurant all emphasise spice in every product.
Spice Route’s name harks back to the time of the first European settlement at the Cape.
Paarl is on the outskirts of Cape Town, where the Dutch landed in 1652. Led by Jan van Riebeeck, they were under instruction from the Dutch East India Company to establish a base for ships to replenish, with fresh water, fruit, vegetables and meat, on the Europe-Asia spice-trading route.
The Spice Route experience more than makes up for the lack of a shop dedicated to spices: spice can be found in the delicious meals at the restaurant, in the crafted chocolates, in the craft beer and, of course, in the wine.
Spice Route Restaurant’s head chef, Marion Kumpf, has created a small range of deli spices: Treasure Chest, Smoked Sea Salt and Sweet Berry Delight come in spice grinders. She also makes a range of condiments, turning traditional tastes on their heads: waterblommetjie (an aquatic flowering plant) and strawberry jam; beetroot piccalilli; waterblommetjie pickle; and crunchy cucumber ribbons. Kumpf’s love of spice permeates everything that leaves her kitchen.
Spice Route is on the Suid Agter Paarl Road along the wine route, and has spectacular views of Paarl, even when it rains. A recent family outing to Spice Route, during a winter storm, was worth every raindrop that splattered on my head.
I am sure that its chocolate is made the way the gods intended: dark and glossy, breaking with a satisfying snap.
The restaurant staff were attentive, not once becoming confused when my rowdy family couldn’t decide what to order. And we knew we were in for a treat when we were served a delicious amuse-bouche (a bite-sized hors d’oeuvre).
Everything was made with care, and perfectly spiced. The grilled Patagonian calamari and chorizo with a warm salad of baby spinach, grilled eggplant, harissa and preserved lemon dressing was beautifully presented.
My matured prime beef was served rare and came with truffle mash, sautéed mixed wild mushrooms and grilled root vegetables. It went very well with the Spice Route Grenache, a smooth red wine.
After lunch we strolled around the estate and wandered into an old Cape Dutch building, home to DV Artisan Chocolate, owned by the De Villiers family. It is one of only a few bean-to-bar micro-batch chocolate makers in the world.
I am sure that its chocolate is made the way the gods intended: dark and glossy, breaking with a satisfying snap. The bars are all single origin.
My favourite bar was the lightly salted one, but the espresso, cinnamon and chilli, and orange and vanilla are also delicious.
There is an art to eating chocolate, especially if it is some of the best chocolate in the world, and DV offers chocolate tastings.
The Spice Route is also home to Red Hot Glass, where glass is hand-blown. Each piece, be it a whisky tumbler, bowl or vase, is hand-made and no two are the same.
Water from a crystal-clear stream is used to make craft beer at the Cape Brewing Company. The brewery’s Cape Dutch façade hides a modern operation that started production at the end of 2012. They make Pilsner, Lager, Krystal Weiss and Amber Weiss.
Spice Route is on the wine route, and yes – thanks to founder Charles Back, a celebrated winemaker – it has wine, which can be tasted on the premises.