Zimbete Country House, near the town of Empangeni, in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). Set on the Nicolson family farm amidst beautiful tropical gardens filled with indigenous plants and about 130 bird species, the Zimbete Country House is a tranquil and unique lodging alternative, in the heart of KwaZulu-Natal.
Zimbete Country House is well renowned for its hospitality and the four hosts Andrew, Annie, Jonty and his wife Tanya, welcome you to their country house. As descendants of the original settler families of Natal, the Nicolsons take particular pleasure in sharing their wealth of local knowledge, and invite visitors to browse their library, which is stocked with a valuable collection of historical South African books.
Food is of the utmost importance at Zimbete and gourmet chef Jonty Nicolson is well known for his unique flavour-filled style, and artistic flare. All the fresh produce is grown on the farm, and it makes Jonty’s cooking that little bit more special.
“The theme of Jonty’s kitchen is not food preparation, but rather inspirational cooking. So there’s no menu: Jonty finds out what you like, don’t like, and so on. When we had decided on what we would have, I got involved in the cooking too. First though, I joined Tanya in gathering the fresh produce to be used for the cooking. That’s a completely new and novel approach,” says Raymond.
Guests dine in a newly decorated, elegant restaurant and bar area, as well as outside in a traditional African boma, where romantic dinners can be held under the African stars, and many a glass of wine has been enjoyed around the fire.
“In the restaurant it was clear Tanya, who’s in charge of decor, went for a very particular kind of vibe. I’ve been in restaurants where the owners try and create a certain ambience through the music they play, and the decorations on show. They mostly fail to get it right. Not so at Zimbete. It really works well, with the jazzy background music and the elegantly decorated restaurant area certainly creating a bit of a Cuban jazz effect. I loved it,” says Raymond.
Jonty whipped up some pan-flash prawns on a bed of avocado, pork fillet served with truffle-flavoured mashed potatoes and baby green peas, and for dessert poached black cherries, chocolate mouse and crushed macadamia nuts.
Raymond says he had a ball helping prepare some of the food under Jonty’s strict supervision, and the eating part was not half bad either!
“Jonty obviously knows his stuff, and the food presentation was also superb. Was the food tasty? Oh boy, was it tasty!” he says.
But back to Zimbete. Overnight guests are accommodated in the original farmhouse, which has five luxuriously equipped and air-conditioned en-suite bedrooms. Each room is individually furnished, and reflects the graciousness of colonial living. Personalised service ensures that guests are served with refreshments whilst lounging around the swimming pool, or reading in the comfort of the lounge. An air-conditioned wine cellar also houses an exciting selection of Cape wines.
Guests who don’t want to stay over but only want to feast on Jonty’s exquisite meals must make advance bookings.
And Raymond’s overall impression of Zimbete Country House?
“It’s definitely the kind of place I would go back to. Regularly. And it’s also very conveniently situated, and within easy range of game parks, battlefield sites, and a host of other attractions,” says Raymond.
Farming it out
For the next instalment in the “Raymond is cooking… but where?” series, Tuffstuff’s Raymond du Plessis headed to a normally very flat province, to an establishment surrounded by very big mountains. Readers can guess where he went cooking, and stand a chance of winning great prizes!
A 4×4 guide on a horse? Indeed. This beautiful farm, set amidst majestic mountains full of tradition and rich in history, provides you with a 4×4 guide, on a horse. And it works remarkably well, because going up these steep mountains is no speedy venture! At least the slow-going enables visitors to see the more than 600 head of game on the farm!
But although this establishment features several moderate to difficult, and unbelievably scenic, 4×4 routes, it’s the food that Raymond du Plessis was after. And he got a pretty good deal in that department.
“My first impression when I arrived here was that it is an absolutely stunning place, and very friendly too. But friendly in a more rural manner, like you are a member of the family who has returned after some time away, and is welcomed back with open arms,” says Raymond.
The family-run business consist of patriarch and matriarch Willie and Miemie Nel, while their son Wiesman and his wife Mafie also work on the farm.
“I was ready to get cooking, and asked Mafie, who shares the cooking duties with her mother-in-law, if she would mind if I joined in. She said ‘you’re on’, and the menu was set for an unforgettable experience,” says Raymond.
Talking about the menu… on the dinner version were biltong soup, tomato and port lamb shanks, and tarte tatin, or French apple pie.
Raymond reported for kitchen duty at 5pm, as agreed, and under Mafie’s direction, the two of them started cooking up a storm in the farm-style kitchen.
Later that evening, with all the food prepared, Raymond sat down with his guests in the classy restaurant area.
“Before we get to the food, I must tell you about the ambience of this place. It’s not particularly fancy, featuring hugely expensive decorations or anything like that. But it is so homely and friendly that one just want this dining experience to go on, and on,” Raymond says.
The waiter served their meals, and Raymond was again impressed. Not only by his own cooking under Mafie’s direction, but also with the service.
“The waiters, on a farm in the middle of the gammadoelas, were simply outstanding. I’ve experienced many restaurants in main centres, and although the food is okay, the service levels often ruin the whole dining experience. Here the service only enhances the experience,” says Raymond.
Raymond and guests were so enthralled by the food and service that they lost track of time.
“At about 11:30pm owner Willie came to our table, and asked if he could take the waiter back to his dwelling, situated some distance from the restaurant. The waiter was due for early-morning service again, and needed to get some shut-eye. Of course we didn’t mind, but we had such a good time, it felt like a waste to go and sleep. So we moved to the honesty bar, and continued to ‘kuier’ there until the wee hours of the morning.”
Raymond says he is amazed that a place like this exists.
“It’s just a special kind of place. Full of beauty, heritage, friendliness, amazing people and food… I’m completely sold on it,” Raymond concludes.
* Next month we will reveal where Raymond went cooking, along with more detailed information on the establishment.
Here’s how to make your own dishes, as served at this establishment:
Biltong Soup (10 portions)
1 cup cake flour
10ml course black pepper
1,5 litres beef stock
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
100g Roquefort cheese, grated
Whipped cream and port
Heat butter and cake flour in heavy saucepan, add milk, beef stock, pepper, nutmeg and coriander, stir all the time until thickened. Add biltong and cheese, reduce heat and cook for 20 min. Serve with whipped cream and a drizzle of port.
Tomato and Port Lamb Shanks (6-8 portions)
250g bacon, diced
Six onions, in quarters
Four carrots, sliced
30ml garlic, crushed
6-8 lamb shanks
750ml whole peeled Tomatoes
500ml Beef stock
3 bay leaves
Fresh rosemary sprigs
30ml brown sugar
Fry bacon, add onions, carrots, garlic and caramelise these vegetables.
Place all in a heavy based oven dish. Dust lamb shanks in a cake flour and salt and pepper mix. Brown lamb shanks in a hot sauce pan with a little oil. Place meat in oven dish and top with port, tomatoes, beef stock, herbs and sugar. Cook covered for 150min at 180 degrees Celcius. Serve hot with roasted vegetables roulade and potato puree.
Tarte Tatin, or French apple pie (six portions)
1 roll puff pastry
200g castor sugar
Five granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, cut in halves
Whipped cream for serving
Melt butter and sugar in a 20cm cake tin on stove top. Add apple halves. Cook 15-20 min until golden colour. Cool slightly, roll out a piece of puff pastry big enough to cover cake tin. Cover apples with pastry and bake 20-25min at 180 degrees Celcius. Turn out on dish up plate and serve warm with whipped cream.
* The closest town to this establishment is famous for hosting the annual Cherry Festival. This year would mark the 41st cherry festival held there.
* This town was proclaimed in June 1867, and named after General JIJ Fick, commandant general of the former Free State forces, to serve as a “military town”.
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The Cobb Grill can be taken virtually anywhere for any occasion, in it’s own convenient carry bag. It can cook just about anything. The high quality stainless steel ensures it will be able to withstand any outdoor environment. Its design makes it safe for any situation. Its cooking system guarantees healthier tastier meals. In short, if you love to braai, you will love the Cobb Premier Grill.
And the fourth Cobb goes to…
The winner of the Cobb braai, bake, smoke, boil and fry system is Denise Labuschagne. Congratulations! The correct answer was Empangeni, and the establishment was the Zimbete Country House. But remember, there are still four Cobb systems waiting to be won, and that trip to the Okavango Delta is also still up for grabs. So get google-ing and exploring, and you can possibly also win the fancy braai system – or that dream holiday in the Okavango!
Selinda Camp in the Okavango awaits
All we need is the nearest town to the lodge, hotel or restaurant in question. Sometimes it will be in a town, and other times it will be around the corner from a town. (However, should you know the actual name of the establishment this will also be accepted). Each month one reader who got the answer correct will win a new Cobb cooker.
Readers who get all the answers in the competition correct will go into a lucky draw, and if you land up with the most correct answers (five, or closest to five, you will stand a chance of winning an all-expenses paid trip for two to Selinda Camp in the Okavango Delta, courtesy of Tuffstuff 4×4 Insurance. The prize is worth R23 500, and includes airfares.
Selinda Camp is set in a 130000ha private reserve, centred around the Selina Spillway which weaves its way through the reserve, linking the outer reaches of the Okavango Delta in die west with the Linyanti Marshes in the east. It is a spectacular and unique place.
What makes the Selinda experience even more unique is that it is shared by a maximum of 32 guests at a time, ensuring a personal experience with the reserve’s splendour, beauty and animals.
So, all you have to do is to guess the nearest town (or the actual establishment) where Raymond went cooking, after deciphering the clues. Then e-mail your answer to [email protected], under the heading TUFFSTUFF, by no later than August ?, 2009.
A case in point
In 2006, a Tuffstuff client and his family were on their way to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park in Botswana, in the client’s trusty Land Rover Defender. About 150km from the small town of Ashkam, a tyre burst, and the Landy rolled.
Fortunately the occupants suffered only minor injuries, and these were treated by the client, who also happened to be a medical doctor. A friendly farmer then towed the 4×4 to his nearby farm. The client contacted Tuffstuff shortly afterwards, and the company immediately arranged a replacement 4×4 (which Tuffstuff carried the full costs of) to be delivered to the farm where the family was stationed. This allowed the client to continue on the journey. Two days later the Landy was collected by Tuffstuff from the farm, and returned to Johannesburg. It was a total write-off, and the client was paid out the full retail value of the vehicle.
The client now drives a Land Rover Discovery III, insured by Tuffstuff.
Tuffstuff: www.tuffstuff.co.za; Toll free 0861 44 44 00.