Not many people would drive an hour or more for lunch. But for those who do, Farro is the reward at the end of the road.
Farro at Gabriëlskloof is the new home of chef Alex Windebank and his wife and business partner, Eloise. She takes care of the front of house – and a more welcoming person is hard to imagine – while chef Alex works his magic in the kitchen.
Being parents themselves, Alex and Eloise welcome children to Farro, where they get their own pint-sized platters of spaghetti bolognese. But this is spag bol taken up a level.
Gabriëlskloof is a wine and olive farm in Bot River – the turn off to the estate is about 20km from Caledon, on the N2. It is known for its splendid wine and delicious olive oil, with grapes and olives grown in the dryland of the Overberg. Think very cold and wet winters, and hot and dry summers, cooled by sea air coming in from Hermanus.
Farro is on the estate, in a large and breezy space with stacking doors opening to a commanding view of the land and mountains. It sits atop the hill, next to the tasting room, an inner courtyard offering a large pond, green grass and easy conversation in the sun.
Spectacular as the setting is, it is really the food that is the draw, all carefully designed and developed to pair with Gabriëlskloof’s understated but excellent wines.
Food at Farro
“The food at Farro is my elevated take on wholesome, classic and comforting dishes,” says Alex. “It is about embracing simplicity, respecting the ingredient and celebrating all the region has to offer.
“My philosophy centres on respect for both food and locality. There’s such a wealth of produce here that we just didn’t have access to previously, that’s really going to help drive my culinary ethos and direction in a way I just couldn’t before. It’s all about well grown produce, treated with respect to bring out the maximum flavour,” he says.
My opening gambit is the truffle cappelletti with pumpkin; it is sublime, the truffle bringing its distinctive earthy nuttiness to the whipped ricotta. My dining companion opts for Jerusalem artichoke velouté and rarebit toast. It is pronounced delicious with pleasing crispiness to the toast that is well balanced with the creaminess of the rarebit.
Service is refined, quiet and intuitive. But friendly still. It is fine dining, but no one needs to feel out of their depth.
Mains and dessert
The main is potato and Karoo crumble pithivier with mushroom, the puff pastry melt-in-the-mouth gorgeous, rewardingly filled with the bite of potato. Again, my companion duels me over who has the better choice – she believes her Karoo wagyu Denver with aioli is the winner; I wager it is not.
The chef has his own ideas: “I’ve just put a Monkfish Kiev on the menu with parsley sauce and it’s bloody delicious – if I do say so myself.”
For both of our choices, the Syrah on Shale from Gabriëlskloof’s Landscape Series is an inspired choice, dark wood first on the palate, followed by Christmas spices and a rich mouthfeel. It comes from vineyards grown on Bokkeveld shale soils. Just 3 304 bottles were made.
It is followed by the chocolate brownie, served with salted caramel and milk sorbet. For me, the cheese platter, all the better to enjoy the deep red wine. There is Forest Hill Manchego, Forest Phantom goat’s cheese and a wedge of Dalewood blue Brie. A long, lazy Sunday lunch with fine people.
It is a meal worth the 190-odd kilometre roundtrip.
Farro, the restaurateurs
The Windebanks themselves followed a meandering route to the Overberg, leaving the UK, chef Alex’s homeland, for Johannesburg, then Cape Town and finally Bot River. Born in South Africa, Eloise left for the UK as a young girl. It was there, in a restaurant, that the two met.
“After getting married, Eloise and I always wanted to open our own restaurant, but we knew this wasn’t going to happen in London as property prices were too high. So, we decided we would make a go of it in Joburg.” There they had a commercial bakery and supper club, but “the Big Flu arrived and took us out by the kneecaps”.
This prompted the move further south. “Living and working in a place of natural beauty has been our end goal for a few years and this just ticked all the boxes.”
Farro opened in April 2022. It is a pared-back space, the ceiling open and the lights covered with fabric. Plants soften the edges, and the ebb and flow of happy diners warm the large, open room.