Babylonstoren blows us away
Set in the Drakenstein valley between Franschhoek and Paarl, Babylonstoren is one of the oldest wine farms in the Cape. For only three years of its 300-year history, the farm has been in the hands of Karen Roos, ex-editor of Elle Decoration, and her husband Koos Bekker and yet their roots in the place feel deep and strong as if the farm was always meant to be this way.
A serious amount of work has gone on here in their short reign: old farm buildings have been beautifully restored and preserved, luxurious guest accommodation has been built, a stunning restaurant has opened and a huge kitchen garden has been planned, planted and is producing mind-boggling varieties of fruit and vegetables.
We went along to check it out and highly recommend that you get your skates on and check it out too.
At the very core of Babylonstoren’s ethos is a magical garden. Inspired by the Company Gardens of the Cape, which were built in the 1600s to provide rest and replenishment to ships making a stopover between Europe and Asia, absolutely everything in this formal, eight-acre garden is edible. We were shown around by a garden fairy with flowers in her hair and every toe painted a different colour, Gundula Deutschlander. She’s a gardener extraordinaire.
Her excitement for every single plant and tree is infectious. Picking and tasting as we walked down peach pip paths, she rightly described the garden as ‘radiating heat’ with ‘a feeling of vibrancy’ and talked us through every aspect of its design. Waterways criss-cross the garden bringing water by gravity from the mountain, just as it was done 300 years ago. There are rose towers, long pathways and cosy thyme-lawned private picnic spots. It’s all been designed to capture the ‘procession of the seasons’ so this time of year is a pretty special one.
There are over 300 varieties of fruit and vegetables and each of these has a ‘purpose for good’. Almost all varieties have a story too, whether from Gundula’s travels in Greece and Iran or the farm workers themselves who have a personal bond with the farm and the new life that has been breathed into it. Take the enormous ladies fingers (Okra), for example, these came from seeds collected from Zimbabwe by the security guard. There are tree tomatoes, all sorts of red and green apples planted together to aid pollination, peaches, plums, persimmons, figs, waterblommetjies, trout, chickens, bees and a 200-strong team of ducks who, when not picking the snails from the vines, sometimes run amoc and eat all the cabbages.
It’s difficult to comprehend that this so well-established garden has not always been here. For anyone with the faintest interest in gardening and produce, it’s a pretty special place.
Reliant on this rich garden and its produce is Babylonstoren’s brand new restaurant, Babel. Its raison d’etre is fresh, seasonal produce and it’s proving to be so popular you need to be lucky to get a last minute booking.
Maranda Engelbrecht has played a big part in the décor – the glass-walled, white-washed old cow shed is super chic, clean and fresh and they’ve got a superb head chef too in the form of Simoné Rossouw.
Simoné comes with a glittering CV and a bucket load of energy. She’s worked with greats including Bruce Robertson and Chris Erasmus and has done some pretty impressive things that include cooking crayfish in a Lamborgini. Every week, Simoné and her team tour the garden, constantly changing the menus depending on what is in season. Each dish showcases the freshest fruit and vegetables; there’s no liquid nitrogen here just glorious food ‘as nature intended’. It’s simple, natural but beautiful and packed full of flavour.
There’s a healthy work hard, play hard mentality here with swimming in the dam after service, making soap in terrine moulds and cutting it like a cake and pegging chillies to a laundry line to smoke in front of the wood-fired bread oven.
One thing is for sure put Babylonstoren on your list. In fact, put it at the top of your list. If you really want to treat yourself you can stay or book a spot for lunch. Otherwise for a mere R10 from Wednesday to Sunday you can visit the gardens, be totally inspired and find out what ‘seasonal produce’ really means.
Try out Simoné Rossouw and Maranda Engelbrecht’s impressive recipes for slow-roasted lamb and beetroot and strawberry cake. Send us a picture and we’ll be super impressed.