If you approach the limpid dam at Asara Hotel and Wine Estate with caution, and settle down quietly on the plush, grassy bank, and gaze into the crystal clear water, you’ll be rewarded with a rare view of the shy tilapia that hide among the aquatic plants at the water’s edge.
You’ll spot them by the telltale ripples which undulate over the glass-smooth water, as they dart along just below the surface in pursuit of a tasty morsel, then pause to turn, as if looking right at you.
The dam is surrounded by the luxurious hotel and wine cellar complex, with the Sansibar Gin Lounge and Bistro and the split-new fine dining restaurant Mise en Place, both graced with an enchanting view over the tranquil water and the verdant vineyards stretching to the top of the hill, where the summit of Klapmutskop, hazy in the distance, peeps over the horison.
But Asara isn’t just about idyllic walks and limpid dams. Winemaker Danielle le Roux, in the cellar for a year now, is making lovely wines.
I tasted at Asara last about three years ago, and compared with the 2016 whites – chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay – and the pinontage rosé, they are like chalk and cheese.
The whites all have a uniform luminosity with a pleasing tint of green, sumptuous acidity, and a mineral line that runs right through the palate. The rosé is the most magnificent onion skin, with a strawberry and candy floss palate, but with a pleasing dryness, that makes it stand apart. If this is what Danielle can do with the whites and rosé, imagine what she can do with the reds. Roll on 2018.
The Sansibar Gin Lounge and Bistro is a must after that gentle meander along the water’s edge, and before dinner at Mise en Place. Boasting the largest selection of gins in the country (I’m, told), it sports bartenders who live, eat, sleep, think gin. Winery manager Samantha Wiid tells the charming story of encountering one of the bartenders walking up the winding brick road to the hotel one morning, with his nose buried in a book – about gin.
Pick what you will from the line-up – I chose a Broker’s London Dry Gin – and the bartender will select the mixer (Fever Tree Premium Indian Tonic Water), and craft a unique flavor experience for you (lime zest, pomegranate, cardamom pods and mint).
Mis en Place, located below Sansibar, opened its doors in September. With Tim Nolte (who worked his way up through the ranks at Asara) at the helm, the open plan kitchen allows diners to a peek at the energetic kitchen team, as they assemble the exquisite dishes on the pleasingly simple menu – five starters, six mains, four desserts.
Two courses will run you R295, three courses R375, and the attentive waiting staff will engage with you regarding your wine selection.
Presentation is uniformly eye-catching with great attention to detail, giving credence to the notion that the visual impression we have of the food we eat, plays a critical role on our enjoyment of flavours, aromas and textures.
The pork jowl starter with pistachio ballotine, Granny Smith apple and radish, was picture perfect, and a delight of flavors and textures. I’m a sucker for pork belly, so the roast bone-in belly of Oak Valley pork with cider sauce, corn, carrots and onions a la plancha was the obvious choice with the Tonka bean brulee with toasted almond ice cream, was the perfect conclusion to a lovely meal.
The accommodation is superb. We were fortunate enough to spend the night in the Vineyard Suite, which boasts a comfortable sitting room, complete with TV and mini-bar, and a view to die for over the dam and vineyards.
A nice touch which we enjoyed upon arrival, sitting on the patio watching the sun creep towards the horison, was a platter of fresh fruit and a selection of handmade chocolates and perfectly-made macarons.
The bathroom is exquisitely appointed, and it has one of those baths in which you could almost swim, and of course the bath salts which sit in beautiful wooden boxes on the bath’s edge add that hint of luxury, usually missing from the helter-skelter of life. A generous shower cabinet with a tropical rain forest shower head atop plenty of space for two if you prefer, and the de rigueur twin hand basins, round it off.
A suite is incomplete without a dressing room, sporting wood-panelled cupboards, a mirror in which you can actually see yourself to check out your sartorial elegance, and the most luxurious towelling robes you could wish for. A nice touch is the shoe buffer, and the sewing kit, for that button on your dress shirt, you find is hanging on a thread, while dressing for dinner.
The double bed is a delight, with a firm mattress affording a restful sleep, and the heavy drapes mean if you want to sleep late, you’ll not be disturbed by the rising sun.
But a mid-week break means no late lie-in, so when the sun crept through the crack I’d left in the curtains, we arose refreshed to face the new day.
A final walk around the dam built the appetite for an exquisite breakfast – continental or full with a wide range of options – before packing and heading back to Somerset West and the real word. If you want to get away for it all, in the lap of luxury, where you feel as though you are a world away but are only a short drive from home, you can’t go far wrong by heading for Asara.
Norman and Eppie McFarlane were guests of the establishment.