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WORDS: KIT HEATHCOCK IMAGES: KELI VAN DER WEIJDE

Exploring your own backyard can be just as adventurous as the most exotic safari, and far more sustainable. In food terms this is exactly what chef Lucas Carstens is focussing on at the renamed restaurant of boutique hotel Majeka House – celebrating seasonal ingredients, foraging, and sourcing most of his produce within 20km.

We drove into the Stellenbosch hills to visit Mason Farm, one of Lucas’s main suppliers, where Edson Madangombe gave us a tour of immaculately maintained beds of organically grown edible flowers, leaves, baby beetroot, carrots, all sorts of decorative kales, and much more.

Back in the kitchen, Lucas demonstrated the processes that went into turning a regular organic beetroot into a complex construction of umami chargrilled deliciousness. His dishes are pared down, creative, finding a foodie niche that isn’t traditional fine dining, but every bit as skilful, conferring intensity of flavour on simple ingredients. In the layered plating a vegetable is often the star, protein playing a supporting role. That’s not to say meat isn’t equally important, featuring Black Angus beef from Boschendal, pork from Glen Oakes, fish from Abalobi.

Fine eating rather than fine dining is how owners Karine Dequeker and Lloyd van der Merwe described the Majeka Kitchen experience at dinner that evening, where Eddie Smit of Vriesenhof treated us to wine pairings of some really special vintages.

The menu is structured as a series of small plates of which you can choose four to seven in any order. After a delicious steamed octopus with lemon cream, nasturtium, unripe papaya and trout eggs, and the exceptional beetroot dish we’d watched being built in the kitchen earlier, we were wowed by the superb Vriesenhof Grenache 2011, paired with an adventurous plate of chilled thinly-shaved beef curls with mushroom emulsion and croutons.

Our next meat dish also ticked all the boxes – lamb rib eye on boerenkas creme and wild nettle, hidden under butter-poached slices of daikon radish and a spritz of lemon zest.

If salted strawberries sound like a culinary paradox, try Lucas’s current dessert dish. The salting dehydrates the berries to concentrate the flavour to a new intensity, balanced by fresh sour milk ice cream, a delightful finale to the evening. Turning in after dinner to my extremely comfortable room at Majeka House, enfolded in glorious almost country peace, all that was left to do was enjoy a good night’s sleep before tackling the equally sumptuous breakfast extravaganza the next morning.

Majeka House | 021 880 1549 | majekahouse.co.za