“Dobro pozhalovat’ v Hazendal,” says our smiling waiter, aptly named Blessing. Welcome to Hazendal. It’s the greeting that starts our culinary adventure into the alluring world of Russia – in the Cape Winelands.
Since its reinvention a year ago, Hazendal Wine Estate has broken the mould of what defines a winelands destination, by offering unique experiences to guests of all ages.
The Russian Tea Garden is one such experience on their long list of firsts in the Cape.
We arrive at Hazendal Wine Estate on a dull, rainy day but we were promised a Russian Tea Experience and the dedicated staff graciously set it up inside the ultra-chic main restaurant, Avante Garde, to accommodate the weather. They urge me to come back when the sun is out because the tea garden is the ideal place to still your heart and mind with the breathtaking views of Stellenbosch.
On our table sits a silver-plated samovar, an ornate Russian kettle with boiled water. Blessing waits for us to settle down before he begins to enthral us.
“A samovar is a boiling urn discovered by Peter the Great, a Russian emperor. During his travels to Holland he was gifted a small copper kettle. He liked it so much he took it back to Russia and called on his craftsman to reinvent it into something unique. The end result was a contraption called a samovar,” he explains effortlessly.
The original samovar on display in the restaurant uses charcoal, pinecones and pieces of wood to ignite a fire and boil the water. The modern version on our table is electrical. The teacups are intricately decorated in subtle tones and are as light as a feather.
A ring of treats called sushki is held together by a red ribbon tied on the samovar.
“These sweet biscuits are baked using flour, egg and vanilla. The round shape is symbolic of the sun, which brings warmth to cold Russia,” says Blessing. It’s welcome on this unusually cold Cape Town day.
Zavarka is a tea that is rich, dark in colour and highly concentrated. It’s rare too, because you cannot find it anywhere else in South Africa.
We sit in silence as Blessing goes on to explain how the tea had to be transported over long distances to Russia.
“The smokey flavour was accidental. It came from the merchants who would light fires to cook and keep warm on their long journey to bring the tea back to Russia. When the tea eventually arrived, the flavour was changed by the smoke and it took on a better flavour.”
What we find more beguiling is the way to drink it.
“In Russia they sweeten tea with jam and no milk. To enjoy it the authentic way you can eat a bit of jam and drink your tea or add the jam to the tea and mix well,” advises Blessing.
He walks around the table placing small strainers in our cups to catch the tea leaves, and the first puff of steam from the teapot releases a sweet and smokey aroma.
The tea is dark, fragrant, and oh so delicious. It has the undertones of the tea you are accustomed to drinking, but the smokey flavours throw your tastebuds a curveball. Only when you break off a sushki and dip it into the tea, do you understand what the fuss is about.
These are humble flavours, much like the babushkas gathering around tables to roll out dough and sip on simplicity during a time when family meant everything, and food was the centre that held it all together.
With Blessing’s words echoing in my mind, I could taste the flavours and savour the importance of a discovery that has defined Russian culture to this day.
A Russian tea experience is nothing without the sweet and savoury treats that accompany it. In fact, this is an integral part of it all. Four savouries and four sweet items each contrast and compliment the tea tasting.
You’re meant to start with the savoury first, a Russian Olivier salad with green peas, carrots, smoked chicken, boiled potatoes and mayonnaise is cold and tart. My favourite was the blini with sour cream, potatoes and bits of apricot. From the sweet treats, the apple tart and chocolate salami complimented the smokey tea the best.
Sip, dip and savour. An experience as simple as this, carried down through the centuries from Russia all the way to the tip of Africa is giving Capetonians something completely out of the ordinary. It’s more than just tea, it’s understanding the story behind it all and giving in to this captivating world.
If you’re looking to enjoy all the adventures Hazendal has to offer start by building up an appetite.
1. Marvol Gallery
There are far more ties between Russia and South Africa than one might have originally thought. The inaugural art exhibition at Marvol Gallery offers guests a chance to delve into this longstanding history. The owner’s highly-regarded private collection of religious icons and memorable paintings is on display for all to enjoy. Marvol aims to bring together Russian and South African artists in one dynamic space.
Open: Tuesday to Sunday from 9am – 5pm
Wonderdal is true to it’s name in every sense. It is a magical space for kids to play while they learn and can’t be compared to any other children’s facility in South Africa. Virtual characters called Amuki guide children on the adventure of a lifetime. Aside from developing critical thinking, problem solving, fine motor skills and physical aptitude – it is a ton of fun. The greatest advantage is the secure environment, you can leave your child in the reliable care of child minders while you lunch at Avante Garde.
3. Avante Garde Restaurant
You have to admire how Cape Town knits together the world’s best offerings under one African sky. Our world-famous vineyards give visitors and locals a feel of France and our fine-dining restaurants take them on a global culinary journey.
For the duration of your meal you are teleported somewhere exotic, somewhere unknown, some place where the flavours are unfamiliar yet so utterly enticing.
Avante Garde Restaurant successfully intertwines the best South African fresh produce with a modern take on Russian favourites. The end result is an undeniable flavour extravaganza. High-ceilings with a hand-painted ceiling mural, velvet armchairs and a custom built aquarium with a full view of the wine cellar are the touches to complete your food experience.
4. Babushka Deli/picnics
It’s all in the name. Babushka is the Russian word for grandmother. It signifies warmth, generosity, smiles and home. Much like what the deli has to offer in meals that generate a feeling of being in a familiar place surrounded by people you adore. Drop by unannounced, it’s how family behaves. Relish a morning, brunch or lunch with freshly baked goods, take-home products, and a children’s menu. Best of all, you can picnic on the sprawling lawns in the company of sculptures by artist Angus Taylor – and soak up the views of the Bottelary Hills.
Contact: 021 903 5034
Address: Bottelary Road, Stellenbosch