A Celebration of Fine Dining – Benguela on Main
Benguela on Main’s owner describes the restaurant as ‘a fine dining celebration venue’, somewhere to splash out and commemorate a special occasion, and with its glitzy look and feel it certainly fits the bill. Walls are adorned with sections of glittering gold wallpaper, luxurious leather seats are completed with faux fur throws and the roof twinkles with dazzling chandeliers. Glamour aside though, the real test with any restaurant is of course the food and a recent visit to the Somerset West restaurant exceeded expectations.
Benguela on Main is part of the Benguela group, which includes the Lakeside Lodge & Spa and Benguela Brassiere in Sedgefield, Benguela Cove Lagoon Wine Estate and luxury housing estate located in the Walker Bay area, just outside of Hermanus. There has also been the recent acquisition of a golfing estate in the UK, which is set to become a vestige and ambassador for South African wine in the area. While all of these parts make up the group, the wine of course being integral to the brand, Benguela on Main is certainly the shining culinary jewel in the crown.
The restaurant features The Taster upstairs – a premium wine tasting room and shop. It is centred around a huge fireplace that warms the space and provides great ambience. Wine aficionados will be awed by the amazing selection of local and international wines, cognacs, aperitifs and more that are available. Visitors can sample the estate’s own wines, as well as enjoy a cheese or a chocolate pairing.
Downstairs in the main restaurant the interior is plush and the menu impressive. The style may not be to everyone’s liking but the tone is meant to be OTT – it’s luxe and sparkling, and when celebrating a special occasion, isn’t this what one wants? Despite the upmarket feel, the restaurant does not feel prim; the team are all incredibly friendly and while guests are made to feel relaxed, the staff work seamlessly and manage to take take the intimidating factor out of fine dining.
We enjoyed a six-course menu paired with wines selected by resident and ever effervescent French Sommelier Denis Garret. It is difficult to go through the entire menu in detail as it included an amuse bouche to start and a palate cleanser midway, so 8 dishes in total. It is also really tough to pinpoint highlights, as there were so many. I will say this though – I haven’t enjoyed a meal in a while where I could say, from start to finish, that everything was perfectly on point. With differing palates, likes and preferences any menu can be hit or miss, and for my partner and I this was a definite bull’s-eye. Head Chef Jean Delport (ex Rust en Vrede, Terroir, Cassia, Equus Dine at Cavalli) and his team truly excelled.
Each course was incredible – perfectly seasoned, beautifully cooked and plated, and served at the exact right temperature (something often overlooked). The plates were all identical; portions were the same and each bite involved complex layers of flavour, with no elements that didn’t belong. I truly loved the Seasons of Pumpkin dish, with mini pumpkin fondant, purée, pumpkin seeds, hay ash and crisp leaves of Brussels sprouts. Served alongside this a mini savoury cone that continued the theme and just left me spellbound at each bite. The tongue on the Beef and Parsnip course was delectable, with the arancini a delicately smoked surprise. The Pepe Charlot Chevre Frais course – goat’s cheese with potato crisp was also just sublime. I wouldn’t be true to myself if I didn’t mention the dessert, a dish that combined textures and flavours of chocolate and orange. The most delicate chocolate shell encased a light, spiced yoghurt mousse and rounded off the meal with finesse. Courses were each paired with wine and a standout had to be the Middelburg Chenin Blanc 2013 paired with the Sichuan Pear dish. We enjoyed course after course of food and I would run out of superlatives if I went through each element – suffice it to say, it has been a highlight of my foodie year so far.
Fine dining has developed a rap for being minute plates of overpriced, stuffy food, which is a real shame. It takes incredible skill to produce food at this level and even as trends change, there will always be a place for the kind of culinary artistry that evokes a sense of whimsy and awe.
Although Benguela on Main is the ideal spot to mark a special occasion, don’t let it be just that. Celebrate the end of a hard week, or just take some time out to enjoy a lovely dinner with a friend or partner without having to have a reason. Eating really incredible food should be cause enough. I would highly recommend the tasting menu – take your time and savour each element and appreciate the effort that goes into creating a beautiful plate of food that looks like art and tastes as good.
*Note: if you are celebrating something special, enquire about the gift service which offers fresh cut flowers, wine and occasion cakes that can be included.
Benguela on Main c/o Main Road and Coronation, Ave Somerset West | 087 357 0637