Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse, Drakensburg Mts, South Africa

About a 30 minute drive from the Kamberg Reserve along the Highmoor Spur off the main Kamberg Road, the Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse occupies a magical setting next to a small lake at the base of a colorful bluff.

The Room

Our suite boasted an enclosed porch with bluff views and a wood burning fire place. The large bedroom, decorated in a warm farmhouse shabby chic with crisp white sheets, was furnished with a queen bed, mini bar area with tea and coffee service, and antique book lined shelves.

The bathroom was equally spacious with a claw foot tub and dressing table.

The Grounds

The farmhouse grounds is comprised of a series of garden rooms – herb garden, rose garden, and a wisteria covered veranda with splendid vistas among others.

The main building housing the lounge and dining room borders the lake flanked by larger trees.  Past the lake and gardens the property continues to pastures and the river beyond. A tranquil atmosphere to stroll and unwind.

After settling in and a nap in the quiet of the afternoon we went back to the main house for advice on our long day of driving the following day. We were offered tea, including a choice of home baked scones and cheese and crackers. This is a high service establishment with friendly staff and an attention to detail.

Watching the Weaver Birds

Sitting on the front porch of the lounge we noticed the trees were filled with what looked like woven-straw Christmas tree ornaments and myriad yellow birds swooping through the air. The male weaver bird weaves a nest for his mate.

The female, upon inspection of his work, will snip off his efforts and let it drop in the lake below if she doesn’t approve.  If, however, she likes what she sees, he is allowed to continue, building a proper entrance to the main compartment.

As this was nest building season, nests in every stage of development were visible including the starter ring that the male perches on while he builds the rest of the chamber.

Dinner at Clepatra Farmhouse

But you come to the Cleopatra for the food. The seven course dinner menu, the pride of the farmhouse, changes nightly. Before dinner guests look over the menu and meet their fellow travelers over a glass of wine in the lounge area. On this evening we were mostly Americans, with a group of eight Americans on a preconvention (aeronautical engineering) trip and a friendly South African couple from Durban. Each party is taken down to the cave to select a wine. A small thoughtful collection of mostly South African producers.

Around 7:30 the chef appears and presents the menu written on a blackboard. He begins by telling us a lengthy story about a local battle between the Zulu and the Boer at which the Boer commander, upon seeing the cliff that currently faces the farmhouse, decided that it looked like the profile of the beautiful Queen Cleopatra and thus named the mountain.

Finally Chef gets to more important matters, dinner. Starting with chicken livers in a sesame sauce with just a dash of heat served with a small side arugula and avocado salad to make use of the extra sauce. With great conviction he explains that he generally does not believe in “the side salad”. We loved the sauce! Reminded us of the hot, dry, noodles of Wuhan China, a street breakfast dish made with sesame paste and local chili.

Grilled courgette soup. According to Chef, to make the stock they start with 70 liters of liquid and reduce it down to just one producing a thick rich soup without the cream, just great zucchini flavor and garnished with parmesan shavings. Although we didn’t get the hint of smokiness that should have come from grilling the squash.

Carpaccio of springkbok (a type of small antelope). This is not your traditional thin layers of carpaccio served on a plate. Instead they take thin slices of a smoked peppery but still rather raw springbok and wrap it around rich avocado forming a package. The colorful confetti presentation is garnished with fig, artichoke and red pepper. My favorite of the evening.

Orange granite – palate cleanser.

Main event. Salmon baked in foil with an Asian coconut and green chili sauce, topped with shrimp and asparagus. The shrimp and asparagus were perfectly cooked and the sauce, a brilliant blend of sweet coconut milk, spice and a dash of Thai chili. The disappointment of the evening was the overcooked salmon. While Norwegian salmon is an agreeable accompaniment to the sauce, I question the use of a fish that has to travel so far. This was not the thick succulent salmon you see in the States. Surely there are other local fish that would work just as well.

Dessert. A classic crème brûlée with just a dram of Van der Hum, an orange liquor added just before serving. A lovely creamy custard with great flavor, but with the choice of ramekin somewhat ill conceived. By preparing it in a stout, deeper dish rather than the classic shallow dish there is less surface area for the quintessential crunchy caramelized sugar topping. Pouring the liquor on a little too soon also caused the sugar to melt leaving the experience without out that great moment of the first crack through the caramel into luscious custard.

A glass of port to end a delightful evening.

September 29, 2011

For links to all the posts in this series see the South Africa page.