I recently had the good fortune to be taken for dinner at the phenomenal Rust en Vrede restaurant, as a belated birthday gift. The friends who invited me treat birthday gifts like interest - the longer you leave them without claiming them, the more valuable they get! Since my birthday was in January, I got treated to a meal at an award-winning restaurant that was quite easily one of the best dining experiences I've had in my life.
I didn't take many photos, as it's the sort of atmosphere and service that makes you want to lean back (in one of their incredibly comfy armchairs) and take it all in. The restaurant is housed in a national monument, and they've done the edifice justice by making sure that every single aspect of the meal and the service has been considered, right down to the smallest detail.
Someone offers you a blanket in case you get chilly while sipping your glass of Champagne (yes, the real stuff, with a capital C) on their porch, before offering to carry that glass inside, where a beautifully appointed table is laid out for you. Your seat gets pulled out. Buttonholed napkins (who says bibs can't be classy?). Riedel stemware. Laguiole knives. Orchids in Roederer buckets. Crockery monogrammed for the restaurant and hand-fired by the wonderful David Walters from Franschhoek. (As a side note, my new life goal is to be successful enough to afford a set of monogrammed crockery.)
And that's before I've even begun to talk about the meal. There's a reason Rust en Vrede gets awards practically thrown at them. We settled on the four course menu, but were so enamored by the look of a cheese soufflé on the six course option, that they agreed to do five courses for us.
The wine pairings were taken care of by their extremely talented sommelier, whom I may or may not have flirted with egregiously. (Spoiler alert: I did.) Their wine list is a heavy and comprehensive tome, with wines by the bottle and by the glass from all over the world, and chosen to suit every pocket.
The world's tiniest egg on toast - poached quail egg on rye croutons.
What followed was one of those meals where no one at the table talks, so absorbed are they by what's on their plate and in their glass. Conversation happens solely between courses, unless it's to say "You must try this" to your neighbour.
Throughout the evening, I had so many questions about the restaurant's amazing local produce, that when we were presented with our bill (handwritten on monogrammed paper and sealed), I was given a handful of things to take home: Names and contact details of their suppliers, and a tub of the goat's milk butter that I'd raved about at the start of the meal.
It's rare to have a meal (or any experience) where you cannot fault even the smallest part of it, and Rust en Vrede went over and above that. I've already warned my friends that we're going back next year, but pretties, you should get there as soon as you can.