* This article first appeared here in the Saturday Citizen
Let’s face it, we’ve all got our favourites on the Garden Route. For me, it’s often eagerly driving ahead to arrive at the Plett Winelands or arriving before sunset for a sunset cruise on the Knysna lagoon. On my most recent visit, I decided to explore a little deeper – with a particular interest in seeking out some foodie finds.
Wilderness might traditionally be known as a small and pariah village but it has stretched into its own over the years, thankfully, without losing its authentic charm. At the end of one of its streets, Serendipity Restaurant is tucked quietly tucked away – and is touted as the home of fine dining on the Garden Route. The guesthouse spreads across a prime piece of Wildness riverside; with the expanse of water before and indigenous forest behind it is indeed a sliver of paradise.
Lizelle and Rudolf are the affable couple behind Serendipity, with Lizelle heading up the culinary offerings and Rudolf the front of house. Along with their mother Elsabe who runs the guesthouse, this is every bit a family affair – and every bit the reason why guests return time after time; a hospitality that sees you arrive as a guest and leave as a friend.
The couple started the Rudolf jokes, “the first time they worked in a restaurant was their own.” Clearly they’ve perfected the recipe since almost two decades later they’re still as passionate about Serendipity. Monday to Saturday the couple serve dinner – with a seasonal menu that changes every five to six weeks.
After sunset aperitifs, I was invited to the dining room where the starter was an elegantly plated springbok tartare, with Quail Egg, Miso Mayonnaise, carrot and spekboom pickle. Moving to mains, I chose the ostrich fan fillet, accompanied by sweet potato kluities, roasted pumpkin, baby spinach, and red wine jus.
On the evening’s menu, the palate-cleansing buchu and lemon ‘slurpy’ was my introduction to Lizelle’s fascination with infusing botanicals in her meals (a passion so contagious that I landed up returning home with three of the plants from a local nursery).
Lastly, for the sweet stuff, I was served dark chocolate and date torte, with maltabella, salted caramel popped sorghum, baobab frozen yoghurt and dates. The evening’s elaborate cuisine is a self-explanation for the impressive string of accolades that Lizelle and Rudolf have collected.
An equally enticing part of the visit is that after the meal there’s no need to drive home – but rather enjoy one of the four guest suites on site. Double volume entrance, which extends up to the guest rooms creates an almost cathedral-like feel, with the walls dressed by veteran leather artist Beatrix Bosch. Each suite opens onto the balcony with views over the Touw River – and has direct access down to the garden and river.
Then of course there is a tantalizing breakfast waiting for you in the morning downstairs. While the grand dining is a great drawcard, it’s also the tranquil surroundings that still the soul – help stimulate the appetite with a boardwalk along the river – the start is a mere stone’s throw from the entrance to Serendipity. serendipitywilderness.com
My second foodie find also promised to double up with stepping back in time. After an easy hour’s drive the Land Rover was gliding through the forest and stopping at the stately Portland Manor, where the historical estate encompasses countless hectares of pristine Knysna forest.
Pretoria based-businessman Russell and estate manager Desmond Morgan both share a keen interest in agricultural, ensuring that the land is being used to its full potential. Giving the property a new lease of life is a remarkable task and is being tackled with remarkable energy.
It is every bit the magical place described by renowned South African author Dalene Matthee. In fact Desmond speaks about how “ the forest speaks to him at night”. Perhaps it’s not incidental then, that he also speaks of sitting on Delene’s lap as a child.
The Residence is the stone and ivy-clad building that greets you has a collection of Standard, Deluxe and Family rooms. Arriving in one of the season’s first cold spells, the fireplace in the room and welcome bottle of Merlot very quickly helped set the scene.
However, Portland’s crowning glory is the privilege of staying in the adjacent Manor House. The magnificent 1864 home was originally owned by Knysna pioneer Henry Barrington – the character from Mattee’s The Mulberry Forest (or Moerbeibos in its original Afrikaans).
For the first time, it is available as an exclusive-use rental or per room, encompassing four bedrooms, a grand dining room, lounges, and a sprawling veranda. The pool is a short walk away and the 900m dam for those wanting a paddle or freshwater swim. Opportunity to not only appreciate but also live in history.
Continuing the theme of Garden Route foodie finds, Portland Manor does not disappoint. Desmond brings his decades of experience to some of the top hotels in the country (think Mount Nelson and the Saxon). The Cow Shed serves up wood-fired pizzas – the smoked springbok option with red onion, parmesan shavings, Prince Albert fig preserve, and rocket may just be the best pizza I’ve had this side of Naples.
Following the theme of an authentic farm stay, the lamb served in the restaurant was raised on the surrounding green fields. There’s also The Last Stance at Portland Arms (naturally the pub is the oldest building on the farm) where I’d recommend the local Porter – a hearty beer that matches up to a hearty stay.
When you’re not exploring the Garden Route, the estate has plenty to offer: hiking, running, mountain biking, fishing, paddling and swimming. Step back in history and book a stay in Kynsna’s magical forest. portlandmanor.co.za