We were out driving around the Cape of South Africa, stopping from time to time to ask residents what they might recommend, explaining that we love finding small scale producers and local food. The next thing we knew, a woman in Sedgefield was scribbling down a phone number for a fellow named Brett. “Give him a call,” she said.
And oh, we are so glad we did.
On a Wednesday night, we pulled off the rural road and our car headlights illuminated the promise enchantingly hidden in the woods: “Veg-Table Private Dining Room.”
Love the sign. It loosely translates to, “This way for slow, cow-friendly food”
Down the dark drive, we pulled up to a little cabin, lit with candles and filled with music swirling through the rustic rooms and drifting out the open doors… Crackling open flames danced on the hearth and smiles crossed our faces as we were shown to a tiny table adorned with antique green and white fabric and perfectly mismatched giraffe figurines.
The Veg-Table is charmingly BYOB, and there are countless Cape wines available in all the local stores. We brought a bottle of our favorite Tokara 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (purchased for pennies compared to Oregon imports, I’d imagine).
Sounds from the kitchen, a clatter of bowls, a whirring image of our host buzzing back and forth between the final touches on each course. Ted and I enjoyed dinner as if we were eating at a friend’s home.
Brett serves two dinners a week in his private in-home dining room, cooking for the love of food, for the love of produce, for the love of friends and guests.
He prepares everything on an antique wood-fired oven in generations-old cast iron cookware and sources only seasonal produce from nearby farms and suppliers. He chooses the cook’s menu, and all diners receive the same servings.
Our menu of the night (more for my own memories…but you can let your mouth water, too!):
Scones and Roasted Tomato Soup
(from his blend of home-dried and home-roasted tomato varieties)
Local Pear, Rocket, and Walnut Salad with Cranberry, Red Wine Reduction & Gorgonzola
(walnuts from right outside the door; homemade dressing as sweet as blackberries)
Homemade Tagliatelle and Lemon Pesto Pasta with Roasted Mushrooms
(Oh, the memories of homemade pasta…he’d started making his the night before)
Dark Chocolate and Walnuts in Phyllo Dough
(78%, of couse…with more walnuts from the tree outside)
Brett darted back and forth, preparing and plating dishes, serving up wonder to each table. And then, when it seemed like it couldn’t get any better, Pink Martini came across the speakers, and we felt right at home…
We invited Brett to join us at our table at the end of our meal, and I peppered him with questions, so pleased to find a kindred spirit. He grinned as he answered, proud of his work and fiercely protective of the atmosphere he’s crafted. He doesn’t want reviews on Trip Advisor. He doesn’t want listings in guidebooks. He wants to serve community-minded friends and visitors who desire to share the joy of meals centered around a shared table.
He beamed as we talked about our shared love of beautiful, nourishing, local food, and then he hopped up from the chair and came back with his most recent inspirational cookbook favorites: Food Plants of the World: An Illustrated Guide and Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi.
At the Veg-Table, he aims for the opposite of “dinner from four continents” – where each person is staring at their iPhone, consuming plates of food from far corners of the earth. Tiger prawns from Thailand, Kobe beef from Japan, sea bass from Chile, buffalo burgers from the West?
Why not share one meal, in one place, with one small group of people, and revel in the simple joy and pure flavors?
Sketchbook notes. Music in my head. Memories of Brett’s homemade pasta and charming cottage in the woods. Unique. Treasured. Delicious. Few things better than enjoying local food, half-way-around-the-world from home.
If You Go:
Call Brett at 074 833 9516 to ask for available dates and make a reservation.
Address: Just outside of Knysna, Rheenendahl Road (5.7km from N2, turn right at the Mother Earthworms sign)
For more tales from South Africa, see our twoOregonians Tour the Cape series…