There are few places that embody the pride and beauty of Franschhoek more than Mont Rochelle.
In a valley filled with beautiful establishments, it stands confidently among the best for more reasons than the obvious.
Like its owner Richard Branson, Mont Rochelle always tries to go the extra mile to be more exceptional. From the moment you step out of your car, you step into a world where good is not enough, and excellence is standard practice, like the immaculate rooms that invite you to give in and unwind. Or the pristine gardens where you can enjoy a game of croquet and boules.
And then there’s the beautiful restaurants Miko and Country Kitchen that are a labour of passion for everyone at the estate. The restaurants are a celebration of the very best of Franschhoek, in particular, its wine and fresh produce – and the man bringing it all together is new to the Franschhoek valley.
Arek Witadzek, the recently appointed executive chef at Mont Rochelle Vineyard Hotel was born and raised in Rydzyna – a picturesque village to the west of Poland. Visitors are attracted to its exquisite baroque architecture, historic sites, and endless gardens. Just 2 446 people call this town their home.
The more than 17 000 residents of Franschhoek in the Western Cape often refer to the area as “the village”. When they speak proudly of its idyllic mountains, historic architecture and iconic vineyards you can’t help but agree that it takes a village to raise the bar in hospitality.
Apart from being breathtakingly beautiful, both Rydzyna and Franschhoek now have one more thing in common – Witadze – whose passion for food led him to the Cape winelands via the UK. He’s now at the helm of Mont Rochelle’s flagship restaurant Miko, as well as its popular Country Kitchen restaurant.
“I’m absolutely thrilled to join Mont Rochelle and its wonderful team. I’m truly passionate about creating a selection of menus that showcase the diverse flavours of South Africa while complementing the incredible views that are still taking my breath away on a daily basis,” he said about his appointment.
Witadzek will look to marry his European roots to South African flavours polished off with a selection of some of the best wines in the country that can be found on his doorstep in Franschhoek.
James Basson, Estate Manager of Mont Rochelle, said: “I’m delighted to welcome Arek to the Mont Rochelle and Virgin Limited Edition family. He has already settled in very well and I have no doubt our guests are in for a real treat with his culinary delights.”
There are very few restaurants that can boast the view from Miko. The Franschhoek mountains make for the most picturesque backdrop, it almost seems unreal. When the sun starts to dip, the dramatic colouring is something you want to capture, on your phone and in your heart.
We were treated to a special menu to showcase Witadzek’s vast understanding of various ingredients. When the Red Velvet Prawns with avocado mousse starter made it’s way to our table, I realised that nothing about this meal was going to be ordinary. And I would be 100% correct. Crispy on the outside, succulent and plump on the inside, the prawns needed to be dragged through the mango and coriander salsa underneath it to release a sweet, sumptuous mouthful that is not soon forgotten. It was polished off my plate in a minute and when I look around, no one at the table wasted any more time than I did on theirs either.
For the main, don’t think twice, order the pan-fried sustainable fish with polenta mousse, onion sauce, green asparagus and baby carrots. Polenta is not a dish most restaurants get right, it can be downright stoggy and tasteless. Witadzek knows his way around a creamy, delectable, melt-in-your-mouth polenta and when you pair it with a soft, silky, fresh piece of fish – you have a star dish. What I love most about his well-thought out pairings is that nothing competes for attention, the flavours simply melt into each other to create a more potent mouthful.
A dark chocolate fondant, with a rich gooey centre, smothered in a tart raspberry sauce, hazelnut and Frangelico ice-cream with vanilla crème and honeycomb pieces completes the tasting menu.
When Branson bought the property in 2014, it placed Mont Rochelle in good company in the Virgin Limited Edition collection; Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands, Kasbah Tamadot in Morocco, Mahali Mzuri in Kenya, and Son Bunyola in Mallorca are just some of the establishments.
Mont Rochelle’s rooms balance luxury and pragmatism to make you feel right at home. It’s not pretentious in any way, and with rooms named after Shiraz, Cabernet, Pinotage, Merlot and Cap Classique it goes without saying they are tastefully designed, with all the modern trimmings one will ever need.
Not just content to rest on its laurels of its natural beauty and luxury, Mont Rochelle has a heart of gold too. Its Pack for a Purpose initiative encourages its visitors to pack a little fewer belongings and make room to bring along small supplies for local schools and clinics in the community; this way they’re making a lasting impact on the area.
The estate supports projects in the community that help ex-offender community reintegration, soup kitchens, life skills training in schools, music outreach and early childhood development centres.
With this in mind, and the spirit of Branson running freely through the estate, Mont Rochelle elevates itself above its peers in the Franschhoek valley. Its exquisite surroundings feed the heart and soul, while Chef Witadzek and his team feed your body.
Contact: 021 876 2770
Address: Dassenberg Rd, Franschhoek, 7690