Jenny Handley finds out what moves Chef Stefan Bekker at his new fine dining restaurant at Erinvale Hotel and Spa.
(As featured in the latest edition of the Gourmet Guide here: https://gourmetguide.co.za/stefans-restaurant/)
Before work began on the JHP Gourmet Guide, way back in 2014, I was easily persuaded to spend five hours on a golf course. Now, 10 courses in a fine dining restaurant appeals more, with the best part of the meal is finding out what moves the chef to be exercising their culinary muscles.
Upon arrival at the Erinvale Hotel and Spa, which keeps good company alongside Lourensford, Morgenster and Vergelegen estates in the Somerset West valley, golf was forgotten. This boutique hotel, which prides itself in hosting memorable weddings and conferences, is intimate and tranquil. The entrance to the dinky little chapel and the conference centre, is separate, so guests in the 56 small, but well-appointed rooms can wind down…or wine down next door using their complimentary Lourensford wine tasting voucher. Note that if you get married at Erinvale, you get invited back to celebrate your first anniversary.
The Magnolia Bar and the outside terrace are popular with locals, as is Stefan’s. Chef Stefan Bekker has spent over three years as executive chef here, and this newly refurbed restaurant, which opened in November 2021, is his dream come true. “It’s passion project, my play area. It offers such a release and is so much fun,” says Stefan.
LESSONS LEARNT ALONG THE WAY
He grew up in Nelspruit in a family that owned cafés. Stefan worked as a sculler in England, initially considering it a punishment, but loved the familiar environment and learning to navigate different cultures. SA beckoned, and he returned to study at the Prue Leith Academy. He has no fine-dining background; varied experience that include hotels, airlines and cruise ships, will guide his way.
Here is a humble chef who reads, follows social media and the award-winning chefs for inspiration, but true inspiration comes from the ingredients. Stefan chooses to focus on one ingredient and then builds on it.
I asked Stefan to describe his food. “I want guests to say that they had an experience, something different with flavours they might recognise. The shape, form and presentation will be different. Like my tomato dish – made from a few ingredients, but with time and ensuring that there is little wastage.”
During lockdown, this passionate chef found a new creative outlet to add to his love of photography. Now Stefan’s handmade pottery can be witnessed on his table.
DINNER IS SERVED
The first thing to catch my eye in the cosy room is the carpet, an arresting black and white check, the second the green velvet chairs. Soft music plays. Wine is served from a central table adorned with an enormous vase of cream roses.
There is the popular option of 10 courses, a more petite version of the seven-course option, and it seems that most of the guests, mainly couples, are here to celebrate. Locals love the fact that the restaurant is not intimidating, or fancy. Service is gentle and discreet, yet engaging and friendly.
The bread course with its little foie gras rock, whipped butter and snoek paté, creates a good impression. A lemon and spekboom palate cleanser is served in a box on dry ice, giving it a touch of pizzazz. The beef fillet with local truffles, potato, mushrooms, bone marrow and corn in a jus, is cooked to perfection. Wine pairings are not yet formalised, but good advice given to your preferences, from the wine list.
There is such joy in not having to drive home, so if you are planning dinner, be sure to treat yourself to an overnight stay.
BOOK AT STEFAN’S BELOW