Stopping to smell the flowers: The spring flowers may bring visitors to Darling, but it's the food that will make them stay.
Dining in Darling
By: KATHARINE JACOBS: EAT OUT Aug 24 2011 10:01
The weather forecast looks a little ominous as I pack my bags for Darling. Rough seas, high winds and heavy rainfall are on their way, and one blog promises winds just short of a hurricane. “Should I bring my slippers, or my huge granny jersey?” my friend, Kerry, who’s coming along, asks. “Both,” I tell her, surveying my own collection of granny jerseys.
72 kilometres up the West Coast from Cape Town, Darling is perhaps best known for its spring flowers. Thousands flock there in September for flower season, when the farmland around this tiny village becomes a carpet of yellow daisies, arum lilies, and shiny fuchsia mesems. The season is about to kick off on September 2 with the Darling Voorkamerfest, when musicians, dancers and actors take over 21 local homes, and local taxis ferry viewers between performances.
It’s already dark when we arrive in Darling, and, after dropping off our bags at the eminently quirky Koekemakranka Backpackers (mosaics in the bathroom; bathtub in the garden), we take refuge in cosy pizzeria, Tesoretto. Opened just three months ago, this main street establishment proudly proclaims itself the smallest restaurant in Darling. Sure enough, its pizza oven takes up roughly one quarter of the restaurant. We squeeze in behind the door, alongside the happily snoozing and somewhat tubby cat, Tess, and order a fabulously cheesy mushroom bake to start (R22.50).
The restaurant has no liquor license, but a quick trip across the road to the Darling Hotel Drankwinkel for a bottle of Darling Cellars Pinotage averts disaster, and we tuck into rich macaroni cheese, served with tasty pizza bread (R35.50) and wood-fired pizza, (the Sombrero) with Mexican mince and avo (R60). It’s not haute cuisine, but it certainly hits the spot on this chilly night.
The spring is sprung
The next morning, we’re woken by a cock crowing, and not gale-force wind and pouring rain, but something even more surprising: sunshine. The sky is perfectly blue, and the flowers are just beginning to open in the lush fields along the road.
Happily shedding woolly jerseys, we head to The Marmalade Cat in search of breakfast. The eponymous Marmalade is not in attendance, but there is a giant statue of her outside, and several knitted, sculpted and painted versions inside the attractive restaurant. The pancakes with scrambled egg, smoked salmon and cream cheese (R40) are perfect.
Artisan cheese-maker Carla Bryan also sells her Udderly Delicious range of cheeses here. In a real community industry, Carla makes her cheeses in her own home, relying on her neighbour to pick up sixty litres of milk from the farmers each evening, and passing on the whey leftovers to the locals who feed it to their pigs. “I can only make three cheeses a day, so I can’t really supply the big centres. I tell people, ‘Come to Darling!'” Carla explains, as I nibble some of her wares.
Nominated for an Eat In Award by blogger Dax Villaneuva, they’re worth the trip. Her caciotta is creamy and smooth when only matured for a couple of weeks, and becomes nutty and rich after six weeks or more. There’s also delicious salami on offer, made by local Jeep mechanic and Carla’s boyfriend, Russell Kent.
While we’re here, we also manage to meet up with Phillippa Wood of Darling Brew. Along with husband Kevin, she’s currently producing three artisan beers — a normal lager, a native ale, and a wheat beer brewed with coriander and citrus.
The couple began their adventure after Kevin quit his job and they decided to travel Africa for 10 months and come up with a new business plan.
After travelling for just three days, they met artisan brewer Andre Cilliers in Nieu Bethesda, and bought his recipes. Phillippa asked her husband, “Isn’t it a little early to have found our idea?” Evidently, it wasn’t: they are currently working hard to set up a tasting room on Darling’s main road, which will showcase their beers alongside tasting platters of local cheeses and other snack plates.
When we finally emerge from the Marmalade Cat — straight into a full marching band — we make a bee-line for Evita se Perron. Home to Pieter Dirk Uys’s hilarious shows, the restaurant is better known for its entertainment than its food, but locals rave about the bobotie, melkterts and koeksusters baked by local tannies, rumoured to be worth the calories.
The show is booked out for the day, so we head to Bistro Seven to pick up some lunch. Run by Kit and René Haslam, this pleasant restaurant and sports bar has been running for nine years, but also recently opened up a coffee bar. Somehow we are distracted by a towering red velvet cake, and a chocolate tart that looks like it’s composed of solid chocolate. Since the weather is so beautiful, we order slices for the road.
As we leave Darling, we stop off at the Tienie Versveld reserve, and sit in the sun amongst the flowers to eat the spectacular red velvet cake.
“We should have bought spoons,” says Kerry, pointing to the gooey and delicious chocolate tart. “Yes,” I say. “And fewer jerseys.”
Where to eat in Darling
For breakfast and lunch:
Evita se Perron: Book ahead, catch a show. And order the bobotie.
For breakfast, lunch and dinner:
Trinity Lodge: Booking is essential at this guesthouse. Minimum ten people.
Marmalade Cat: Open for breakfast and lunch, they also fire up the pizza oven on Friday nights.
For lunch and dinner:
Bistro Seven: Fabulous meat and a good option for dinner, or lunch, sitting outside under the umbrellas.
Hilda’s Kitchen at Groote Post: Easy-going country fare at this wine estate restaurant.
Lelieblom: Book ahead and enjoy a real country meal made in the farm kitchen.
Tesoretto: Darling’s smallest restaurant, this is a good option for an affordable dinner.
Go to www.eatout.co.za for more restaurant listings and reviews.