A taste of the Garden Route

Nature’s Valley was once a Broederbond hangout (not to be confused with Beau Valley for Naturists which was a let-it-all-hang-out) so there are, inevitably from such highfalutin origins, some house-names to be conjured with. Try these for size, the timber-clad Casa Planca, the esoteric Laat-waai-Meraai and the inevitable Kostaplentie. Nature’s Valley attracts a mixture of folk nowadays but this haven of quiet, under the canopy of the forest and amongst the greens and pinks of the fynbos, is so laying-back that one can almost forgive the Rus-en-bietjies and Kaalvoets. It must be tempting, in such a scenic spot, to improve on 45 Forest Drive.

I thus spent Easter surrounded by the Tsitsikamma. Nothing energetic, mind you. Not that there is a lack of energetic pursuits in the area. There’s the Otter Trail, which ends there. There’s Bungi Jumping just up the road at Storm’s River. There’s canoeing on the lagoon. There’s jogging down the leafy lanes. Every house seems to be festooned with fishing rods and mountain bikes. And what houses!

There are only 300 plots in The Valley and their owners really went to town, so to speak, when they got to the seaside. Along the front, overlooking the dunes at one end and looking over the dunes to the sea at the other (smart) end are some magnificent pads. Interspersed amongst them, and up on the hill behind, are some absolute horrors, known unaffectionately as the Standard Bank, the Wedding Cake, the Coffee Machine and the Cheese Wedge. No names, no pack drill. They know who they are.

But whilst everyone else was kaalvoeting around, I set out to investigate how Nature’s Valley and its environs in tourism paradise, might fare in the up-and-coming Sunday Times Great Taste Awards. It seemed to me that this green valley and the nearby chunk of Garden Route should contain many prime contenders for prizes.

It all began with the Nature’s Valley Shop, which sure as hell ain’t gonna win anything but which forced me out to seek greater things. I kicked off with a perfectly good breakfast in the beer garden out front. Whilst waiting for my ‘Terry’s Breakfast’ I looked around me. There were shoes in the trees. Old takkies, broken strops and rotten veldskoens, besloganed with the wit of their worn-out wearers ‘Blow Out’, ‘Bob 76 Years Young’ and the even cornier ‘I lost my Soul on the Otter Trail’. I suppose nobody would be at their sharpest after walking 42km of cliffs and crags over 5 days but you don’t want tacky takkies hanging around in the branches when you are trying to eat Terry’s (or anybody else’s) Breakfast. I am sure that the dangling footwear looks fabulous when lit up at night by the fairy lights. I never got around to checking.
Vrot vellies notwithstanding, breakfast was fine. The neighbouring store, however, needs a lot of work. The Nature’s Valley Shop sells the usual staples of a township spaza shop, charcoal, Palmolive, apples, tinned tomatoes, old bread, onions, cooking oil and Grand-Pa’s headache powders, supplemented with a couple of small concessions to seaside living in the form of shrimping nets, tinned fish (?!), slops and home-made bird-feeders. There are also back-copies of Rapport and the same range of wines as the Parks Board shops of yore, Baronne and Edelrood, under an inspiringly insightful sign worded SELFDE WYN, SELFDE PRYS, GRATIS SAKKIE. I couldn’t fathom it out either.

The shop’s wilful failure to provide for its wealthy and discerning clientele forced me to head for the high road to Plettenberg Bay to see how that town catered for its multi-millionaires. First stop was Natures Way Farm Stall. Huge smiles and huge cheeses greeted me, every one of them, the cheeses, carrying the date of manufacture and a guarantee that their 100% Jersey Loredo Farmhouse Cheese is made on the premises. Everything is very wholesome, fresh free-range eggs and olive oil on tap, cakes and bakes, pickles and pestos. There’s even Chocolate Salami. It’s amazing what these small producers can cobble together to catch the eye.
Then I dropped into Thyme and Again. How about Roast Vegetable, Feta, Sun-dried Tomato, Olive and Basil Quiche or Roast Butternut, Feta, Chilli, Basil and Pecan? It’s a step up from Lorraine isn’t it? And for real men who don’t eat quiche, there’s more than just and Kate and Sidney Pie as well, Lamb and Mint Pie, Sweet and Sour Chicken and more. To further prove your manliness, you can then take up the offer of the girl pictured overhead clutching her citrus and uttering the immortal words ‘Soen my lemoene’.

Wandering through the Truffles and the Panforte and past shelves-full of Passionberry Jams and Appelliefie Konserf, the smell of fresh bread tickling my nose-hairs, another sign caught my eye. VIR DIE FYNPROEWER. Finally someone had noticed that from the pool of regular roadside-stall visitors there occasionally surfaces a Padstal Connoisseur. Someone who is looking for more than Whisky Marmalade and Coach House Nougat. Thyme and Again have a Fynproewer’s Corner which could fulfil, time and again, the Olives category of the Awards. Acres of different marinated, stuffed, dipped and drowned olives, yards of olive oils and, a new product to me, Olive Marmalade. Delicious, says the label, with cheese, roast lamb or cold meats and with sandwiches. They are not wrong. But at R35 a 300g jar, it’s not cheap either.
Onwards into Plettenberg Bay the focus changed a little. The Deli Factory is a fine example of what can be achieved when a small business thinks big. Fridges-full of fresh salamis and sides of meat. Whole nutmegs and cardamom pods. Pink, white and green peppercorns. Line upon line of oils, rubs and pastes. Plum and black bean sauces, wasabi, sushi seaweed, Thai seasonings and magnums of vinegar. And there’s lime in everything. Lime is the new lemon, it seems. The Deli Factory allows tasting and I am now addicted to their Cold Smoked Norwegian Salmon, which, luckily, due to their gradual expansions, is now available throughout the Cape.

It was time for a Robberg Seafood Safari. Prawns, crayfish, oysters, herrings, scallops and a tremendous trout pate; the usual ranges of mixes and powders with names like Nice’n’spicy Step-by-step. Eureka! It was here that I finally found Garam Masala, which crops up in so many recipes in these days of Eastern-obsessed cooking and yet is seemingly very hard to find. Being Plett, Doll, there is also a Kosher range and, being quite trendy, there was also a display of Verjuice, another growing small business founded by two entrepreneurial lady-entertainers touting the mediaeval equivalent of vinegar.

Last stop was tea amongst the horns and antlers at Emily Moon, the superbly-situated, dramatically chaotic, madly eclectic restaurant-cum-lodge overlooking the Keurbooms River behind Plett. Indescribably stylish and bizarre, its laid-back approach to its own success seems to sum up the endless talent of the area.

Let’s hope that the local producers aren’t so horizontally relaxed that they forget to enter the Awards. Everywhere you go on the Garden Route there are small businesses and small stalls. The Sunday Times Great Taste Awards will ensure that more and more roadside delis will spring up, the range and spread will improve and we will all be able to get more than headache powders in Nature’s Valley. We’ll also have fresh prawns in Kakamas and taste olive paste in Lichtenburg. Who knows? Maybe Terry’s Breakfast will go national as well and a shoe shop from the Midlands Meander will supply new vellies to the Nature’s Valley Shop.

Natures Way Farm Stall, 2.5km on R102 to Nature’s Valley, 044 534 8849
Thyme and Again just outside Plettenberg Bay on the N2 East 044 535 9432
The Deli Factory, Hutchinson Street, Industrial Area 044 533 2885
Robberg Seafood Safari, Theron Street, Industrial Area 044 501 2620 www.robberg.co.za
Emily Moon River Lodge 044 533 2982 www.emilymoon.co.za