Update: Chef Rikku Ò’Donnchü and Chef Warwick King have bid farewell to Quoin Rock to pursue an exciting, new restaurant venture in town. However, this particular review was written around them so I have left it untouched.
In late November, I had the pleasure of being invited to dine at Gåte Restaurant. This Stellenbosch-based fine dining restaurant lies on the rejuvenated Quoin Rock Wine Estate. It is, to put it frankly, a place where culinary science and stunning design merge.
This is surely one of the hottest new restaurants in SA – and I am sure it can rival the best in the world too. (And it hasn’t even been open a month!)
Stellenbosch Has a New Fine Dining Winner
While Stellenbosch is no stranger to impressive fine dining restaurants, Gåte Restaurant is an entirely different breed of restaurant. It is a most intriguing fine dining establishment.
I think I have been involved in the restaurant review and foodie scene for long enough now to recognise unquestionable quality. As well as to know what to look for in South Africa’s best restaurants…
Even so, I was mentally unprepared for this. After our visit, I still feel a sense of lingering, mind-blown awe.
Quoin Rock and Gåte Restaurant leave you hopelessly awestruck. They take your understood standard of quality and raise it a few notches.
The Man Behind the Magic
Situated on the positively stunning Quoin Rock wine estate, Gåte is fronted by world-class, Michelin award-winning executive chef, Rikku Ò’Donnchü.
Chef Rikku is a man who needs very little introduction. To date, his star-studded culinary career has included stints with The Fat Duck (under Heston Blumenthal), Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry – and locally, The Caviar Group.
And yet, despite his numerous accolades and stellar career, Chef Rikku is companionable, welcoming and completely unassuming. There is no hint of airs and graces with him… His respect for his fellow staff and customers certainly shines through when you meet him.
Along with a stellar team of kitchen and waiting staff – including the likes of head chef, Warwick King, head baker Rikki and head waiter, Rufus Scholtz to name but a few – and top-class general manager, Troy Truter, Chef Rikku has brought interactive and molecular mind-blowing fine dining to the Stellenbosch Winelands.
What Gåte Restaurant Offers
Gåte Restaurant provides interactive food experiences, jaw-dropping plating and presentation and quite possibly the best, all-round service I have encountered at a South African restaurant to date.
Both the 40-seater restaurant and estate will rival the best South Africa has to offer – although they are aiming (and striking) far higher than that already. World-class? Absolutely. The only remaining question is: where will they stop?
Arriving in Style
I need little invitation to dress up when I venture out into the Cape Winelands. But even so, a fine dining experience calls for something a little more elegant than usual. So, dressed to impress, it was time to venture to Quoin Rock.
Despite driving in peak-time traffic from Bellville, we made good time and arrived at 18:30 pm sharp. The recommended arrival time is 18:45 pm, as dinner begins at 19:00 pm.
We used the extra time to look around. Passing through the boom entrance, we drove up the vineyard-lined drive, which was amassed with rose in full bloom.
Once we had parked and taken in the beauty of the wood-dominated entrances, marking your arrival at both the estate and the restaurant, Troy came up to greet us.
That small gesture alone already spoke leaps and bounds for the establishment, as this was something he duly did for each arriving group or couple.
Quoin Rock: Where Natural- and Manmade-Marvels Meet
As we stood outside, Troy shared some insights into the architectural design and art features with us. He explained that Charles Haupt is the artist behind the incredible sculptures and statues, while Julia Gaiduk is the genius behind the estate’s incredible external and interior designs.
The Gaiduk family – who bought Quoin Rock over in 2012 – clearly have an eye for class and creativity… This can immediately be witnessed on arrival. One look at the imposing, all-glass venue hall (formerly a warehouse) in front of the restaurant and tasting room – and you will understand what I mean.
The building is utterly gorgeous from top to bottom. I love how, through its crystal clear glass panes, every inch of this lush estate reflects back at you. (It will soon reveal a cigar lounge too – though that hasn’t opened just yet.)
Standing in the middle of the cobble-stone space, we took in the sights and sounds. In front of the event space, a male sculpture crouches in resignation, surrounded by a pool of shallow water. Beyond him, rolling lawns, dotted with trees and stone paths, flow unhindered down to the vineyards.
Set in a secret valley, encircled by the noble mountains and vineyards both, Quoin Rock offers one of the most outstanding natural backdrops. I have visited many wine estates, consistently raving about their natural and architectural beauty… but this newly revived estate is next level stuff.
As I commented to Troy – feeling genuinely stunned by the natural beauty-meets-modern-design precision – the estate really could not be better situated.
As you glance up in wonder at the majesty of the Simonsberg mountains, the cries of estate peacocks punctuate the evening stillness, sending ripples through you.
Expectation hangs in the air – and you know a night of magic lies before you.
Stepping Inside Gåte Restaurant
After some quick snaps, it was time to head inside for dinner. Passing down into the reception area, beneath the impressive, flowing archway, we were greeted and offered refresher towels and a delicious passion fruit and MCC-inspired drink. (This was positively divine and just what you need to set the mood!)
The foyer has several eye-catching elements – from single rose vases to bonsai trees and bronze statues – but it is the tree of life, as I like to call it, that grabs your focus. This stunning central feature by Charles Haupt is absolutely marvellous.
Surrounded by beams of running water, with spotlights set within its base, it introduces the earthy, modern-meets-edgy theme. (Something that bleeds through into the restaurant.) I also like that it hints at the estate’s rebirth.
Unlike the event space, Gåte speaks to the natural elements of the estate. Think vineyard-twisted archways and pergolas. Or beautiful, wooden Pierre Cronje tables and pin-pricks of beaded lights, illuminating the space like stars in the night sky.
Best of all is the breathtaking, floor-to-ceiling windows and doors, which stretch from one side of the restaurant to the other. Even the part overlooking the cellar (a place of egg-shaped fermentation containers) is just glass. The effect is incredible, as you dine with the best possible Cape views at your disposal.
Make an Early Start – It’s 16-Courses After All!
We sat near to the cellar side and for the duration of the night, were served by the excellent Connor. Humourous, knowledgeable and politely attentive, he really went out of his way to ensure a wholly memorable dining experience.
I wanted to take photos of the interiors so, despite his advice that we should start early (something we regretted ignoring later…), we only began our 16-course taster menu and wine pairing at 18:45 pm.
In hindsight, I would suggest starting as early as possible – because it takes time to eat your way through 16 dishes! (Hence why we only finished after 23:15 pm.)
The standard 16-course taster menu does not include drinks – but you can enjoy it paired with some excellent wines. Alternatively, stick to the standard option and add your choice of cocktails, beverages and more.
Predict Your Next Course
One of the most fascinating parts of the 16-course taster menu (which offers a choice excluding the wine pairing or including it, based on your preference and budget) is the golden menu cube.
Your waiter will twist and turn this, like a crystal ball accurately predicting one’s future (for a change). It’s pretty fun and I like how it ties in with the meaning of gåte, which means ‘riddle’ in Norwegian. Aesthetically, it is also impressive and allows for more table space – something you certainly need at Gåte.
Another cool thing about this restaurant is the changing of trays, which takes place with each new course. Not only does it free up space but it keeps the restaurant spick-and-span at all times.
The trays are often changed by extra kitchen/waiting staff, in order to assist your waiter in getting to other tables faster. I found this a very clever and thoughtful approach. (Especially given how it helps the staff.)
Note: In addition to the standard with or without wine taster menu, there is also apparently a vegetarian option.
Consider Yourself Cleansed
Attention to detail and the element of surprise are something that Gåte and its staff use to their advantage. There is a shadow of mystery and excitement – even if you have already seen some of the meals being taken to other tables.
You can see a dish and think, “Ah, so that’s what we are having,”… but really, there is no knowing what comes next here.
Our first course, the Nitro Cleanser, was served to us in a kind of ‘cast-iron’ ladle. It was small, but it definitely packs a punch! The Nitro Cleanser (green grape, meet nitrate) is designed to clear your palate, preparing you for the next 15 courses.
Our second course was aptly named ‘Not An Ashtray’. It offered black garlic mousse and smoked tomato ash. And in terms of presentation, culinary stealthiness and outright deception in the best possible way, it was my overall favourite.
I don’t smoke but it was seriously fun pretending to eat – I mean, smoke – a cigar. (Don’t try this at home, kids.) The presentation and thought behind this course is incredible. There is a real-life smoke effect (I was convinced it would taste of smoke!), which only adds to the surprise.
While I found it a bit acidic overall (largely due to the fermented black garlic, no doubt), it was one of my picks for the food presentation – and I did enjoy the rye bread.
Ice, Ice, Baby
For our next course, we had the Cured Oysters. Complete with these West Coast specialties (fabled locally), this dish was another winner to look at… You will need to make space on your table though!
The overall effect of mist cascading down from the oysters into the ocean (or a rock pool), was certainly stunning. And it was interesting to learn that, for this dish, Chef Rikku drew inspiration from both Camps Bay and Table Mountain’s famous Tablecloth.
It was also the first time on the night that we got to savour the Quoin Rock wines. First up, was the beautifully festive 2013 Quoin Rock MCC. Because naturally, oysters and bubbly are a match made in food heaven. (Another lovely aspect of this course was the introduction to the differently shaped, oh-so-delicate Schott Zwiesel crystal glasses.)
I loved every one of the MCC and wines we tried at Gåte – so I think winemaker, Jacques Maree, and Nico Walters are doing a stellar job.
But back to the food: I am not usually a fan of oysters (I’ve only braved them once before) but I actually quite liked these. I must also say that they didn’t taste anything like oysters normally do, so again, Chef Rikku’s skills and flavour selection are right on target.
You will notice that, along with your oysters, you are given a pair of black tweezers. These are for scooping the oysters out – but feel free to chuck ’em back too. Connor told us they supply the tweezers just as an optional eating method. (If you are unsure of how to eat a dish at the restaurant – please ask. Or you might deprive yourself ease of eating or even, a fuller dining experience.)
Which Came First?
For our fourth course, we were presented with a most interesting setup. The Birth of Liver (which incorporates a real duck egg) offers an interesting, ethical approach to foie gras. It was even presented on a bed of wild oats and a stone plate.
Once we cracked our egg open, we used the beautiful banana bread to enjoy the contents within (like egg and soldiers). Inside, you can expect to find ethical foie gras, chocolate and miso. This was paired with the Black Series MCC Brut 2013 (again, lovely).
Everything at Gåte – from the ingredients to the dineware – is either locally produced or custom-made for them. In fact, much of the produce is grown on the estate. This is ethical, environmentally-friendly approach always appeals to me.
The Birth of Liver wasn’t my favourite but it was still good… I really enjoyed the banana bread, as well as the ethical adaption.
The Black Pearl on a Plate
For the fifth course, we enjoyed possibly the most eye-catching plating. This yin and yang-style plate is absolutely beautiful and really makes an impact.
This dish offered scallop, cauliflower vanilla purée, gorgonzola, lime and beluga caviar, with white chocolate grated on top. It was paired with the Namysto Sauvignon Black/Semillion 2017 – a really great wine, which I loved.
Overall, this one was a winner for me – not only visually, but in terms of its good mix of flavours too. I really enjoyed it. (In fact, from this course onwards, I really started to enjoy the food and flavour combinations.)
The Caprese salad was another course I really enjoyed. Simply plated, the food provides a nice splash of colour, largely thanks to the jellied tomatoes. Other ingredients include: mozzarella whey dome, basil oil, tomato essence and smoked tomato crisps.
This is a simple, yet lovely dish; I found it really nice. It was also interactive (find out how if you try it) – and interesting to eat.
Caviar, Macaroons and Taters
From Russia with Love was another excellent course; I loved it.
What most surprised me was how well the caviar-topped macaroon went with the smoked potato. It sounds crazy but it is so good!
This dish also had a small, hands-on element to it (can you spot what it was?). Also, I found the gold and silver leaves very pretty; a nice touch to a great dish.
Comfort Food with a Parmesan Twist
The Cauli-cheese was another truly delicious dish. It also came with a lovely backstory about how, after an earthquake in Italy, a thoughtful chef helped saved the Parmesan industry.
This dish was another that was beautifully presented (and colourful to boot).
I like that it offered three different ages of Parmesan (15, 20 and 25 years respectively) and three cauliflower textures.
This was comfort food with a creative, wonderful twist, and it was paired with more great wine (possibly my favourite at that point)… I am always a Chardonnay fan but this Quoin Rock Chardonnay 2017 is a true gem.
Injection of Ramen
This next course was a collective favourite – and rightly so. Ramen is always popular and it is something I have been eager to try for a while… I was certainly not disappointed!
And this might just have been the most scientific experiment-like meal we had… Connor had each of us assist him in finishing this dish off at our table. Each diner is given a bowl, syringe and a tube. While the waiter injects honey noodles into a beautiful broth, you hold the tube in place in the bowl.
From what I understand, the broth contained a quail egg, sampire, pickled sea vegetables and coriander.
Another fun aspect of this dish is you each get to cook your own slice of premium Wagu beef (another delicacy) using hot stone cooking. This is a really immersive dining experience and something I have heard is catching overseas with other dishes/meats – I can see why. It’s good fun and allows you to choose how rare (or not) you want your meat.
Confession: I found the Wagu beef oh-so-mouthwatering. It was so good, I could have had ten more slices! And the broth was equally delicious.
This dish was beautifully paired with a sultry red (in a huge glass): Namysto Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon 2015. It was a beautiful wine and the perfect accompaniment; I adored it.
Safe to say my first ramen (and Wagu beef) encounter was a huge success! By this point, I seriously felt the courses were getting better and better the more we ate.
Ika Mata, a popular South Pacific island dish, was inspired by Chef Rikku’s time in New Zealand. And let me tell you, his take on it is positively gorgeous.
Not only is the presentation (and misty magic) almost too beautiful to disturb or eat but the coconut bowl’s contents (yes, you read right) are fresh, fun and beautiful. The result is a lovely meal, which is meant to make you feel as if you were right there on an island, eating with the locals.
This course was paired with the lovely Chardonnay and it was a perfect match.
In terms of food presentation, this is certainly one of the most decorative and thoughtful dishes on Gåte’s 16-course taster menu.
Rated 10/10 on MasterChef UK: The Professionals
The next course, Wild Peacock, is seemingly hailed as one of Chef Rikku’s finest signature dishes. For this dish, he famously received a 10/10 rating on MasterChef: The Professionals – so who are we to argue against it?
The presentation is simple, yet quite visually impressive. In terms of the food itself, you can expect poached and seared peacock, mint puree, charred feta, pickled grape, sticky black rice (amazing) and puffed rice.
The peacock is beautifully cooked (and despite being nervous, yet excited to try it, I thoroughly enjoyed the meat) – and I could have a bowlful of that sticky rice.
The Wild Peacock was paired with the Quoin Rock 2015 Shiraz. It wasn’t my best wine of the night but it was good nonetheless.
Time to Cleanse Again
Next, we tried the Lassi: this was a beetroot-themed palate cleanser… And with Curry + Candifloss as the next course proper, it came at a good time. I wanted to fully experience curried candifloss.
For this dish, we had red curry ice cream, smoked meringue, white chocolate, candy floss and mango forms.
This was a fresh, fun and altogether interesting course – but the accompanying drink from the bar was not something I enjoyed; I found it a bit too overpowering. (Although my friend really enjoyed it.)
Gert du Fromage and Sweet, Sweet Wine
This course was another that was tastefully presented. I loved so many of the details from each of the courses… The glass chests, copper pots, wrought-iron teapots. They all add a creative, whimsical element to each dish.
This dish consisted of gold-leaf coated goats’ cheese, fresh plum, Parmesan ice-cream, crispy capers, goats’ cheese powder, sesame crostini and plum jelly.
Overall, I found the dish a bit too much for my tastebuds – it was too rich and sharp for me to enjoy so I am sadly not a fan.
However, the Quoin Rock Vine-dried Sauvingon Blanc 2017 was divine – and something I could easily have had more of. It paired well with a goats’ cheese-themed dish.
Meeting the Master (Chef)
Sometime after this course, Chef Rikku came around to greet each of the tables. When he reached ours, my praise focused on the incredible plating and my favourite dishes: the peacock, macaroon and potato and Ika Mata (at least I meant to mention that one to him but probably forgot).
I found this gesture a really lovely touch; one of my best of the evening. Even after all his hard behind-the-scenes work, this top chef still has time to come and chat to his diners. It is a rare occurrence at most establishments (unless you specifically ask if you can meet the chef) – but one that never fails to truly impress me.
At a fine dining, quality establishment like Gåte, it is the crowning glory. 🙂
Beetroot Balloon Leaves Me Red-Faced
Our next course was something fun and completely unexpected: a helium-filled balloon of beetroot juice and beetroot powder.
This is a tricky one to get right: if you don’t inhale it properly (I think the waiters enjoy this course the most…), it flops sadly – and if you aren’t careful, it can also float away from you!
After a failed balloon presentation (balloons are tricky creatures, after all), I was brought a second. As one of the first diners to encounter this on the night, I had no idea what to do or how to eat it.
Connor was quick to smilingly encourage me to exhale, then inhale it as best as I could. I think I gave a half-hearted attempt, mainly because I felt silly (especially after a staff member teasingly sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to me… Yes, they definitely enjoy this course! 🙂 ) and knew I would be left with a sticky mess.
I was – and more importantly, my voice pitch became noticeably higher. It is certainly a laugh. I would sum it up as mildly traumatising (just joking) but fun.
A Surprise at The End
I won’t give away too much information about these sweet treats (except to say there were things like mango macaroons – glorious – and beetroot turkish delight – less glorious for me), but this is part one of a special two-part surprise you receive at the end.
The other is a delicious nightcap to set you on your merry way after all the wine. (Although, the waiting staff are continually replenishing your water (still or sparkling, you choose) so that – and all of the courses – help to dilute the wine factor.)
To Sum It All Up
Overall, in Gåte Restaurant, Chef Rikku and his team have created a marvellous dining experience. It breaks barriers you never knew existed in food, restores the sense of creativity and passion you have for dining experiences – and most of all, gives you with a very special, memorable time with those you know and love best.
Honestly, I did not walk away with any criticisms and cannot fault in any aspect of Gåte Restaurant and Quoin Rock estate.
The first weeks and months after a restaurant opening are always the most critical, I feel. This is when word of mouth first starts spreading (often online through social media) and essentially, the restaurant and its staff have one chance to make a lasting impression. Suffice to say, Gåte Restaurant left an imprint in my food brain.
And after such an altogether enjoyable, spectacular and fun evening, in such impeccable surroundings, the impression is that Gåte Restaurant deserves a firm 10/10 rating from me.
I must especially highlight Quoin Rock and Gåte Restaurant’s staff. All of whom were excellent. From the gatekeeper to the last waiter, everyone at Quoin Rock is slick, polite and fiercely professional, while still possessing enough down-to-earth ways to ensure great conservation and some light-hearted jokes over dinner.
I was extremely impressed by Gåte Restaurant – I am sure you will be too.
I wish to thank Quoin Rock, Gåte Restaurant and all its staff – especially Chef Rikku, our waiter, Connor and Troy Truter – as well as Kisha van Vuuren, for making this incredible estate visit and impressive dining experience possible. It was completely awe-inspiring.
Gåte Restaurant is open Tuesday to Sunday, from 18:30 pm – 22:00 pm and on Sundays from 12:00 pm – 16:00 pm. (Closed on Mondays.)
Note: A 50% deposit is required upon reservation. (If you cancel no later than 48 hours before, you will be refunded in full.) Please state all dietary requirements when booking.
The 16-course taster pricing is as follows:
- With drinks pairing included: R1950
- Excluding drinks pairing and/or the vegetarian taster option: R1250
- What’s more, a discretionary 12.5% service charge will be added to all tables.
For more information on Gåte Restaurant, please contact: +27 (021) 888 4750 or email them at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also visit their website or find them for yourself at: Quoin Rock Wine Estate, Knorhoek Road, Knorhoek Valley, Stellenbosch, Western Cape, South Africa.
Author: Tamlyn Ryan
Content writer by day and blogger by night, Tamlyn Ryan passionately runs her own travel blog, called Tamlyn Amber Wanderlust, from her home base of Cape Town, South Africa. And, despite a national diploma in Journalism, in her free time, Tamlyn’s preferred niche remains travel writing.
Tamlyn is a hopeless wanderer, equipped with an endless passion for road trips, carefully planned, holiday itineraries and, above all else, an innate love for the great outdoors.