Rust en Vrede review

When overseas visitors tell me they want to eat at the best restaurant in Cape Town, I send them to Rust en Vrede (with locals I check their budget first). I know there will be much debate about which is the best restaurant in Cape Town, but for me it is Rust en Vrede. I am well aware that places like La Colombe and Le Quartier Francais are higher on the World top 100 list, and there are several others above it on the Eat Out top 10 list, but in my experience, Rust en Vrede as a complete experience is the best.

The food is absolutely mind blowing, David Higgs is an incredibly talented chef. The venue has wonderful character and a beautiful setting. The service is excellent, with the waiter able to tell me everything about my dish, something I rarely find even in high end establishments. The kicker, which makes this the best dining experience in Cape Town is Neil Grant, the sommelier. Rust en Vrede does not limit their wine selection to Rust en Vrede wines, Neil is free to choose wines from all over and he is one of the few sommeliers that has the skill to pair things in a way which elevates the meal to another level. All of these things together make for a dining experience that is hard to beat.

Make no mistake, you will be paying a substantial sum of money for this experience. But any expectation your investment generates will be easily exceeded. If you have the opportunity to interact with David Higgs and Neil Grant, you will find them very friendly and easy going. Rust en Vrede is not filled with airs and graces, it has an elegant casualness about it. The service is attentive, efficient and highly competent. Many of the service interventions will escape your notice, unless you are paying specific attention.

The kitchen is open and from many of the tables you can watch what is going on. I was quite keen to watch a little more closely so I stopped for a while on my way to the toilets, which are awesome by the way. No shouting and swearing in this kitchen, instead a calm efficiency which ensures the various courses are ready at the appropriate times for the various tables. The kitchen is also marvelously clean.

Our meal was fantastic. I was a bit nervous that I had oversold it to my well travelled dining partner (as I might be doing for you right now), but her words as she tasted the first course indicated that this was the best food she had tasted in some time. There are two menu options, the four course at R440 and the six course at R585. The six course menu can be paired with wines, taking the price to R880.

We opted for the four course and Neil offered to pair wines with the courses for us. We accepted, because as I mentioned, his pairings really elevate the experience. Below is the list of dishes and wines we each enjoyed:

First course (Maastricht Sauvignon Blanc 2009)
Cauliflower and Lemon Soup, Almond and Ciabatta Crunch, “Olive Paint” and a Raclette Mousse
Confit Tuna with Apple and Sprout Salad, Truffle Poached Oyster with a Pea and Mint Purée

Second Course (De Trafford Chenin Blanc 2009 & Mullineux White Blend 2008)
Sole and Duck Confit, Lentils with Shimeji Mushroom and Horseradish
Tortellini of Artichoke and Kalahari Truffle, Hazelnut and Parmesan and a Tarragon Beurre Noisette

Third Course (Rust en Vrede Estate 2006)
Fillet of Beef, Carbonade of Beef Cheeks, Welsh Rarebit, Parsnips and Rosemary
Ash Rubbed Springbok Loin, Pickled Beetroot Purée, Glazed Turnips and Truffled Croquette Potatoes

Fourth Course (Mulderbosch Noble Late Harvest 2007)
Goat’s Cheese Soufflé, Fig Ice Cream and a Sesame Biscuit
Lemon Mousse with Pistachio Brittle, Rum Baba, Roasted Pineapple, Coconut Ice Cream and Basil Coulis

I’m not going to go into detail about each course. The food was amazing. When dishes of this caliber arrive before you, conversation stops. The dishes take all your attention because they look beautiful and the flavours combine wonderfully in each mouthful, before they are elevated higher by an excellently paired wine. We spoke about nothing except the food and the wine when the dishes were before us, alternate topics reserved for between courses.

I don’t want to say much more, I think I’ve made my point.I would like to mention that I enjoyed reading the menu notes on the provenance of the various ingredients. The restaurant tries to source local and organic produce as much as possible and they list many of their suppliers, with some information about them, at the back of the menu. This is something I think more restaurants should do. As consumers, we should be concerned with the provenance of the food we consume. Whilst I am very pleased with the focus on provenance, I have to say that only stocking imported bottled water is a major disappointment. We have good local options and the type of person that appreciates the efforts made in terms of provenance, would also appreciate being able to order local water as opposed to imported.

To be honest, I cannot afford to eat at Rust en Vrede. It’s a once in a very long while experience for me. On this occasion I was expecting to pay but was pleasantly surprised when our meal was comped. This was my third meal at Rust en Vrede, the other two occasions were for functions (Rossouw’s 3 star awards & Great Wine Capitals awards) and my experiences then were what convinced me I needed to have the full experience. I’m glad I did, and I hope to enjoy it again at some point.

Rust en Vrede restaurant
Rust en Vrede estate, Stellenbosch
Tel: 021 881 3881

Open Tues to Saturday from 7pm.


5 responses to “Rust en Vrede review”

  1. Michael

    Absolutely agree. We in the Western Cape are spoilt by a good number of excellent restaurants but Rust en Vrede is in a league of its own. For me THE absolute best dining experience in this part of the world.

  2. I am in total agreement about Rust en Vrede. Every time I have eaten there it has been sublime!

  3. unfortunately it is always best to pay for a meal even when the kind offer of a comp is made – it encourages objectivity – something which is difficult when the meal is free, even if one believed that payment would be due until the final moment as the review is written subsequent to the “surprise”

  4. Rog, I agree with you 100%. I do believe though that there are some advantages to dining under invitation. One is that I get to try restaurants which I normally could not afford. My Maze review is an example of this, at R2000 for two of us, I would never have eaten there. I’m not backed by a publication and I’m not wealthy. Eating at these places helps me to keep a perspective on what makes a quality experience.

    You will notice that my review of Maze was not very complimentary, but it was fair. My two subsequent visits (in the comments below the original review) were also not so complimentary.

    Relax with Dax offers reviews on meals both paid for and under invitation. I do reveal that the meal was not paid for when that is the case, so my readers can allow for bias.

    In the example above, you will see the other comments are in agreement with my review and if you ask others who have been, you will see that my review is correct.

    Another reason for accepting invitations is to be able to find out more about a project. For instance, my lunch at Casa Labia Cafe the other day was under invitation and it allowed me to interview Antonia Labia and get the story of what has happened with the house over the years and what their plan is for the future. That information I would not have obtained had I just visited of my own volition. I believe my readers will find this sort of information useful.

    Thanks for the feedback, I hope that you will continue to read the site.

  5. Since my last visit to Rust en Vrede, it won the Eat Out Best Restaurant, Best Chef & Best Service awards and the chef David Higgs moved to Johannesburg and was replaced by John Shuttleworth. So I was interested to visit again and see if it was different.

    One thing is certain, it’s still one of the best dining experiences in the country. Not much has changed, in fact, if I didn’t already know, I would not have realised the chef had changed. John Shuttleworth is highly qualified and worked as sous chef to David Higgs for 2 years before taking over from him. So you can expect the style of food to be similar and the quality is definitely there.

    The service is still stellar, with it’s characteristic softened formality. The venue is still wonderfully comfortable and warm. The tableware is still of the highest quality. And Neil, the sommelier, is still creating pairings which are a cut above.

    The prices are still the same, which is crazy. And the toilets are still some of the best I’ve used. So really, I will continue to recommend it as the pinnacle of dining in Cape Town.

    One thing I did do this time which I haven’t before, is peruse the wine list. I must tell you that if my chair didn’t have sides I would have fallen off it. The wine list is basically a book of bargains. The markups are so low that whatever premium you thought you were paying for the food is easily recovered on the wines.

    I noticed wines like the ’08 Steenberg Nebbiolo for R280 and Saxenburg Private Collection Shiraz ’06 for R200. Those are just examples but the whole wine list offers great value. Especially the Rust en Vrede wines which are only tens of Rands more than the cellar door prices. Quite unbelievable really.

    Another thing I learned was that they don’t sell any MCC, only French Champagne (that’s sort of tautology, but I think it’s ok in this context). They have an extensive list, some of which they import themselves and it’s all reasonably priced.

    I had the four course and Neil selected some wines to pair with each course. I was really impressed by both the food and the pairings. I had forgotten how good Rust en Vrede actually is.

    Here is what I ate (langoustine lasagne was the highlight, also the foie gras with pear):

    Foie Gras, Pain d’espices, Shimeji Mushrooms, Pine Nuts, Pear and Raisin

    Crown Roasted Duck Breast, Crispy Leg Confit, Pickled Red Cabbage, Peach

    Pan Seared Linefish, Cauliflower, Shitake Mushroom, Crevettes, Langoustine Lasagne

    Lemon Geranium and Pine Nut Panna Cotta, Salted Caramel, Pear Sorbet, Earl Grey Doughnut