Monday, January 31, 2011

Stanford: it’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s delovely

The terrace at Marianas

You know those mornings.

Your mouth tastes like it has been used in a series of illegal chemical experiments. Your face feels like a Picasso painting. You wake up with an urgent, insatiable craving for Coca-Cola. And, as you begin to move your body to assess the damage, aches and pains draw your attention to several UDIs (unidentified drinking injuries). You need a long weekend to recover from your long weekend.

Yesterday was one such morning.
I’d do it all again, though, because in the past few days I have had two of the best meals of my life.

First, Marianas. I am writing about this begrudgingly, as I really don’t want this restaurant to become any more popular. As it is, you usually have to book at least a month in advance.

We arrive at 12 and are greeted by Peter Estherhuizen, Mariana’s husband, who shows us to our seats on the sunny terrace overlooking green lawn and Mariana’s vegetable garden. Bright, slightly faded 70s-style beach umbrellas and a vine provide shade. Bread is served with homemade tapenade, and we order three starters: a light, creamy cheese tart, a refreshing watermelon, basil and goats cheese salad, and tarentaal rillette (a rustic pâté).



Melon salad

Tarentaal rillettes

For mains, plaashoender (farm chicken), slow-cooked to perfection, on a bed of creamy carrot mash and roasted onions, with a sharp cucumber salad and gravy on the side. Heaven. GP had an aubergine lasagne, which he ate in silent reverence: it was saucy but not too rich, and the incredible flavour of home-grown tomatoes made it. I honestly didn’t know they could taste that good.

What I love, love, love about Mariana’s cooking is its complete lack of pretension — they have no interest in manipulating their food (mostly sourced from their garden and local producers), so what you get is completely uncompromised flavour. No effort is made to try and rescue the dish from its own ingredients.

In other words, it’s bloody good.

We wanted to know if Mariana and Peter would adopt the Guinea Pig and I and raise us as their own, but they laughed and gave us some parsnip seeds and a hug.

Aubergine lasagne


Mariana's garden

Inside Marianas

We saw Mariana and Peter again that evening at a local pub, Oom Stein’s (great burgers, FYI), which was buzzing as everyone wanted to catch an impromptu set by Valiant Swart, where Peter introduced us to Jero Rivett, co-chef and co-owner (with his wife, Catch) of Graze: Slow Food Café. Exuberant and gifted with the gab, we soon learnt that Jero is someone who finds it impossible to keep his passions to himself. (Food passions, you naughty reader, I mean food passions.)

Now let’s see — my interest was piqued when he revealed that he grows all the produce used in his kitchen in his own award-winning garden, and that he uses a R45,000 coffee machine. But when he told me of the Jersey cow’s milk mozzarella (burrata) that he sources from Italian brothers living in the Cape, a mozzarella to rival any buffalo-milk variety, with a creamy centre that pours out when you tear it open, and that he serves this as part of insalata Caprese at Graze, I knew wild horses could not stop me from trying that cheese.

Try it I did, and oh my word, it was glorious: sliced tomatoes, pesto, basil leaves, balsamic, olive oil, and in the centre a great big ball of silky-soft, dreamy white mozzarella, which I tore open and ate with my fingers. I daresay the other diners were shifting in their seats and raising their eyebrows because of all the groans of pleasure coming from our table.

We also had an equally delicious platter of bresaola with crisp, peppery rocket, slivers of grana padano, lemon juice and olive oil. Did I mentioned the bread? No? Jero makes it with sea water: pana di mare. The rosemary and olive focaccia... Well, let’s just say that when he brought us a few slices to try before we ordered, which we dipped in olive oil, I could quite happily have had only a plate of it for lunch, it was that good. Olympia Café could learn a thing or two from this man about bread.

If you are ever in Stanford and do not go to eat at Marianas and/or Graze, I just want you to know what you’re missing. If you do go, though, try not to drink quite as many bottles of Raka Rosé as we did.

On the verandah at Graze

Inside Graze

Insalata Caprese at Graze

Bresaola platter at Graze


  1. Not too many years ago we could buy a little house for just over R200 000 in Stanford, why the hell didn't we. Now it is so sought after and restaurants like these two are indeed gems!!

  2. *wipes drool off her keyboard*
    Great review and photographs.

  3. Robyn! Beautiful photo's and such lovely piece, wow I wish I could be there, definitely have to make the trek

  4. That's it!!!!! I'm hopping a plane now & coming on over to try these places out. Love the presentation of..... 'ahhh all of it' but I've never seen lasagne presented that way.... awesome. Love the 70's style outdoor alfresco fun of Marianas too.
    Brilliant review Robyn :)

  5. What cool & fab restaurants these are!! The food looks fabulous, tasty & so colourful too!

    thanks for sharing your story & those fab pictures too!

  6. Your photos are beautiful! I can almost feel the warmth of the sun and the wonderful aroma of these dishes. wonderful post!