Tag Archives: Graaff-Reinet

Tequila slammer

Chris Harvie tries out an eatery whose decor is as fearless as its menu


One of Graaff-Reinet’s many claims to fame, along with its numerous national monuments and its Pierneef Museum, is the fact that, until recently, it was the only place in the world outside Mexico to distil tequila. Of course, being from outside Mexico, it couldn’t be called tequila, and instead was named agave, after the blue agave plant from which the spirit is made.

I say “until recently” because the factory is now closed, but around the time of its closure a year or so ago, this unrelated restaurant of the same name popped up in one of the old town’s oldest buildings.

The said restaurant then promptly burnt down and was rapidly reconstructed. Such is Graaff-Reinet – everything has a complicated history – but now Agave is up and running and acquiring something of a reputation in the surrounding Karoo.


Bold is the word. Bold red window frames and doors in a town where everything is heritage green. Bold art on walls, floors and mantelpiece. Bold mirrors. Bold candleholders throwing bold shadows from high above the tables.

There’s a bold menu to match, at breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a rightly strong emphasis on gemsbok and other venison, lamb and roosterkoek, but that’s not to say that Agave is stuck in a Karoo lamb rut (if that’s not vulgar); the dinner menu also features Italian, Malay and even Tandoori dishes and some very fine steaks.

There’s a shady courtyard out back with huge loafing chairs for the daytime coffee-and-cake brigade, but we went for dinner.


I chose roasted veg and pesto spring rolls (R40) followed by the open Karoo lamb pie in a crisp pastry shell topped with minted pea mash (R80). The pie was deliciously rich and gluey and the “mashy peas” a triumph. Around the table, the lamb loin chops (R85) came in for heavy praise but the biggest hit was probably the chicken, cranberry and camembert parcel (R65). I thought parcels were passe but I was firmly corrected by a fellow diner, who tucked into this particular package with gusto.

The desserts on offer were cardamom-infused panna cotta with a berry coulis – admittedly on the trendy side – and a more traditional choice of malva pudding or mango and passion fruit mousse (R25).

From a limited but well priced wine list, we enjoyed a Weltevrede sauvignon blanc and a rather delicious Hermanuspietersfontein 1855 Posmeester. The name is a mouthful and the wine is not very highly rated, but I thought it was a treat for R120.


Without wine but with dessert, it came in at about R160 a head. Some of us got away with less. While not cheap, there’s no compromise on quality and the smiling service adds value to the red-and-white decor, the red and white wine, and the unusually comfortable chairs.


Quintinn van Rensburg is through-and-through Karoo – his father was even the town’s postmaster until recently – but he learnt his trade at Spier’s Institute of Culinary Arts and formed his style in some of the country’s top kitchens, including the renowned Samara Private Game Reserve. He is young, ambitious, confident and determined. Definitely a name to watch out for.


Agave, corner Somerset and Bourke streets, Graaff-Reinet.

Phone 0498910250 or e-mail quintinnchef@polka.co.za.

Open Monday – Friday 8am to 4.30pm and 6pm to 9pm. Saturday 8am – 2pm; 6pm – 9pm. Closed Sunday.

A farm so fare

Church Street, Graaff-Reinet,
Tel (049) 892 3212

I scoured the area around Graaff-Reinet for a padstal. There had to be one. I drove in every direction on the roads to Pearston, to Jansenville, to Goliatskloof, all place-names with stories attached (especially Goliatskloof). Graaff-Reinet was, it appeared, a giant of a place, but no padstal.

Of course, there was a reason. The people of the Karoo are a friendly, cooperative bunch and after the 1971 drought, more than forty ladies got together and opened an outlet in the town. Obvious, really, in a place where more than half the vehicles on the road are passing traffic, concentrate your efforts into supplying one shop at the bottom of Church St, the one street that everybody travels.
The result is an absolute delight. A wider, fresher range of biscuits, jams, chutneys, breads, cakes, game meat, quiches and koeksisters than Fortnum and Mason. (I suspect that Fortum’s doesn’t sell koeksisters at all). And you’ve got to love a shop that has a sketch of a dachshund on the notice showing the whereabouts the wors’

Try Koperpennie Wortelslaai or Beetroot Chutney. There are pickles you’d never have thought of, each labelled with suggestions as to what it might accompany. There are even Muffins in a Jar, with contents layered like a Namibian sand-bottle and instructions for converting the dry ingredients to make 12 muffins. And there’s lekker Ginger Beer.

Farm Fare is butcher, baker and condiment-maker. So wherever you are coming from, visit these ladies, and kill many Goliats with one stone.

A little light relief

Graaff-Reinet is gearing itself up for Christmas – so much so that you’d almost notice. The girls in Clicks were wearing Santa hats this morning and I am sure I spotted some tinsel on the shelves in Spar, but so far nothing on the tills, hanging from the ceilings or dangling tantalising over the Karoo lamb cuts in the butchery.

It is such a relief.

Elsewhere in South Africa, the shops have been draped with gaudiness for at least a month already. Panic-buying has set in and the roads are filling up. But in Graaff-Reinet it’s just another lazy, hazy weekend. Hot, dry, dusty days are relieved by the afternoon rush of a south-easter. Nobody is going away. Graaff-Reineters actually like where they live and they are staying put.

Peace will only descend here altogether once the rush-through is over. Convoys of X5s and Fortunas, with their Venters and their woonwas hooked up, snake their constant way through town towards the coast, barely casting an eye around them. Luckily for Graaff-Reinet, very few of these passing pilgrims seem to notice its appeal, which is precisely why it still has so much.

Pleasant evenings whiled away in the Graaff-Reinet Club evoke mystical memories of times gone by, when this little town was the launch-pad for just about every great movement in our country’s history. It was from here that the Voortrekkers trekked, that the pioneers pioneered, that diamond-seekers sought and that great hunters hunted. Under its sleepy surface this town is alive with stories.

Next to the Club is the Coldstream Restaurant named, not after the warm occasional stream that is the Sundays River, but after the regiment, the Coldstream Guards, whose officers’ mess this was during the Anglo-Boer War.

The Coldstream, run by Inge Weich, is also manifestly ignoring Christmas, not out of Scroogish tendencies but rather out of a very sensible realism related to the fact that Christ was only born on one day, not on every day in December and early January.

After an evening at the Club a good breakfast is required and the Coldstream is open from 10 in the morning. What could me more civilised, what could be more Karoo, than a tender kudu steak, no steak knife required, for breakfast, with potato crisps, two eggs, boerewors, grilled tomato and toast?

Eat your heart out Steak, Egg and Chips. Enjoy your Wimpy Double-up Bottoms-up Breakfast all you passing Gautengers. This is The Business, washed down with a fine mug of coffee and a view, through the honeysuckle and past the old-time streetlamp, of That Church, That Icon of the Town, proud replica of Salisbury Cathedral (although it doesn’t look much like it to me) and one of the Karoo’s greatest landmarks.

But there’s more. Inge does lunch, and dinner, and tea and scones. And it’s all great and local and fresh and herby and very tuisnyverheid and yellowwood. The calamari steak salad, the trio of sliced springbok, beef and ostrich fillets, the pan-fried sole and a fine Creme brulee. Good, reasonably-priced wines. Friendly, service with proper titles. “Gentleman, may I bring you a drink?” The Coldstream is what a restaurant should be.

Inge plans, very sensibly, to celebrate Christmas at home on Christmas Day, but in the meantime in a moment of festive colour if not fare, she has offered us what she describes as her Very Lovely Cream of Tomato Soup recipe. Well. it’s red, like the Santa hats in Clicks – and you could bung in a dollop or two of whipped cream to make a bobble and a fluffy white brim, if required.

Coldstream Cream of Tomato Soup


1kg tomatoes
80g leeks
10g onions
40g celery
60g carrots
40g butter
5g chopped garlic
100g tomato paste
70g white flour
2.5l vegetable stock
300ml heavy cream
Chopped basil


Cut tomatoes into cubes, removing seeds.
Wash and dice the leeks, onions, celery and carrots. Saute in butter with the garlic. Add tomato paste and continue cooking.
When cooked, dust with flour and allow to cool.
Heat vegetable stock, add to vegetable mixture and bring to boil, stirring continuously. Add cubed tomatoes and boil until all ingredients are soft, skimming occasionally.
Puree and strain. Bring to boil again and stir in cream. Season to taste. (If too acidic add sugar or fresh orange juice)
Garnish with finely diced tomatoes and chopped basil.