Saucy Tales

HL's assistant editor, Leigh Robertson, dined at new Stellenbosch hot spot, Casparus, an exciting venture between chef Etienne Bonthuys and land artist Strijdom van der Merwe... He’s known among foodies as The Sauceror for good reason. Etienne Bonthuys – chef-proprietor of Stellenbosch’s Casparus restaurant, which opened earlier this year - has absolutely aced it when it comes to sauces of any description. A remarkably youthful looking 60-year-old, he’s something of a legend in Western Cape dining circles, having run some of the region’s more memorable and innovative dining establishments over the decades. I’ll certainly never forget dinners at Cape Town’s famous Floris Smit Huis in the late 80s/early 90s and, several years later, at Bonthuys, both of which were at the cutting edge of South African fine dining (with little to compete with locally). Then he opened the restaurant at Tokara, where he stayed for 10 years. Chef Etienne’s fans have followed him to his new venture, a partnership with world-renowned land artist Strijdom van der Merwe, who is, like the chef, a Stellenbosch boy through and through. An evening spent at Casparus will have you battling to keep your eyes from wandering from the faces of your fellow diners in order to fully take in and appreciate the artistry of the venue – brilliant local architect Johann Slee also had a hand in the design of the space, though it’s Strijdom the artist whose presence is most intimately felt, both in striking interior features like criss-crossing screens and intricate branch-like wooden beams that mirror the trees outside, and his artworks depicted on panels (they look a little corporate) and via a looping projection onto a wall. You definitely won’t find conversation lagging as you can always enter a discourse on ‘what it all means’… But you’ll also be deeply immersed in the eating part of the experience. The well-priced menu (and wine list) offers a wide selection of dishes to suit even fussy eaters (and vegetarians happily won’t find themselves having to pick at a meagre salad). You can choose between Bonthuys classics like his beef fillet with bone marrow in red-wine sauce, fish dishes that are also beautifully sauced, signature surf-and-turf dishes combining meat and seafood, and even simple but elegant pastas. Do not visit without ordering his signature starter: a warm oyster dish with a delicious sparkling wine-and-butter sauce. We dined there on a very chilly winter’s night, and while the large open space at first felt cold, we soon warmed up when blazing gas heaters were brought to our table – over the back of every chair is draped a soft blanket you can use to wrap up in, a nice touch. I look forward to returning when the nights are warm and we can dine outside under the stars – the space seems designed for summer. Casparus, 59 Dorp Street, Stellenbosch. 021-882-8124