Babylonstoren is a rare find; one of those places that makes you want to pinch yourself at just how lucky you feel to have found it. I visited South Africa for the first time earlier this year, and my day spent at Babylonstoren, and its intimate signature restaurant, Babel, was without doubt a highlight of the trip.
Dating back to 1692, Babylonstoren lies at the base of the Simonsberg mountain, burrowed between Paarl and Franschhoek in the Western Cape region. It’s laden in history and over the past centuries has experienced an evolving South African society, from waves of nomads and sailors, to slavery, wars and droughts, apartheid, democracy and the organic food movement.
As a heritage site, and one of the best-preserved farmyards in the Cape Dutch tradition, Babylonstoren flawlessly marries the past, present and future. Today it’s a working farm (divided between fruit orchards and vineyards), a luxury hotel, an innovative restaurant supplied by a bourgeoning on-site garden, a greenhouse, bakery, charcuterie, dairy, larder, spa and cellar.
One of the winelands oldest estates, it’s spirit has been skillfully restored and preserved but infused with simple, and tasteful, modern touches. It boasts all the hints of a self-sufficient rural past: stables, storerooms, gabled henhouse and pigeon loft, a wine cellar and oak trees and over 8, 800 olive trees. Steeped in South African history and tradition, echoes of the past penetrate every facet of this outstanding area, including its diligently conserved Cape-Dutch architecture.
This restaurant blew my mind. I loved everything about it – from the fact that it’s an old cowshed converted into a modern restaurant, to the fresh produce and the setting in the middle of a farmstead.
Staying true to the textures and colours of a dairy, the palette consists of cream, yogurt and soft cheese and thick whitewashed walls and pillars. Old wooden tables are blended with a mix of farm benches, white Luxembourg chairs and transparent seats. And then there’s the marvelous bull. A backdrop of tiles bearing an oversized bull’s head anchors the whole concept, adding a fabulous contemporary touch.
The menu (which to no surprise is whimsically designed) offers exciting flavor combinations and is made from food fresh from their garden or from their good farmers. The heart of Babel’s menu is built around what happens to be in the garden on any given day and what’s ready from the garden for harvesting. Fresh seasonal produce – fruit, vegetables, herbs and edible flowers – are the focal of any dish, and then protein is sourced from nearby farms. The food is simple, delicious and creatively served like art on a plate.
The second (and more informal) restaurant is The Greenhouse tea garden – a beautiful glass greenhouse, filled with all sorts of wonderful plants and crawling vines. Here, visitors can soak up the quietude, make their own tea from a range from fresh lavender, mint, thyme and other herbal potted-plants and enjoy a selection of sandwiches, charcuterie and cheese, fresh garden salads, or scones.
The heart of the farm is an 8 acre magnificent fruit and vegetable garden of great diversity. A playful nod to the fabled gardens of Babylon, guests who are staying in the hotel are able to stroll through the garden and handpick the garden’s riches, before taking the produce back to their suite to get creative in the kitchen. Maintained by 19 gardeners, every morning fresh fruit and vegetables are harvested for their garden-to-table restaurants.
/ The Farm Hotel
The hotel is comprised of 13 guest cottages all built in the Cape Dutch style on the foundations of the original labourers’ cottages. Allegiant to the Babylonstoren concept, their18th century-style exteriors are seamlessly married to the 21st century. Not all have kitchens, so if you are interested in cooking up some of their delicious harvest, make sure you request a cottage that allows for this!
As far as staying with the hotel goes, there’s an abundance of activities at your doorstep; walk through the Babylonstoren orchards, take a canoe out on the farm dam, go for a cycle through the vineyards or just a stretch out on the chamomile lawn.
/ The Winery
A result of varying microclimates, the Simonsberg range is known for producing exceptional wines. At Babylonstoren, they have 62 hectares of the farm under vine, with 13 grape varieties – wines are produced in a state-of-the-art winery and are made to showcase the soils and climate where its grapes are grown. There is a guided cellar tour every day at noon, which includes a visit to the olive oil production plant, tasting of their olive oils and all of their wines.
/ Babel sample menu
Fresh from our garden – simple salad with edible flowers from the garden
Green: Pear macerated in Babylonstoren viognier and gorgonzola yoghurt cheese wrapped in baby vine leaves with kohlrabi, apple, beans, tree melon and a salsa of early fig preserve, toasted macadamia nuts, and avocado served with a drizzle of green goddess dressing R75
Red: Hot smoked salmon and pickled candy stripe beetroot terrine with camarillo, lotus, slow-roasted albion strawberries, heritage raspberries, watermelon, duke blueberries, san pedro peach, purple carrot and num-num, served with vygie dressing R85
From our good farmers
Beef Fillet: Free range sirloin with flash-fried Babylonstoren oyster and shiitake mushrooms and a smear of roasted black garlic and star anise butter R195
Fish: Fresh line fish with lightly but-smoked nectarine and lime, spekboom and parsley germinate, sparkler and cherry belle radish and apple sticks R165
A matter of taste – decadent subtly sweet, bitter, sour and savoury elegant desserts with a twist
Sour: Frozen soft meringue with beetroot and berry yoghurt and Babylonstoren shiraz ice cream R60
Sweet: Fresh berry soup with plum jelly R60
Savoury: Prosciutto and salted caramel doughnut with gorgonzola ice cream R70