I’m sure you’ve heard the saying ‘never judge a book by its cover’? I guess this long-overdue blog post, is in equal parts, a response to a rather undeserved review I read online this morning and my own personal experience at Spek & Bone. A departure from his other restaurants the latest offering from Bertus Basson is a considered establishment. You can see that time, thought and passion was put into everything within the four walls. Discretely located on a historical site next to the original Stellenbosch market, and behind Oom Samie se Winkel, this newish addition to the charming oak lined streets of Dorp Street in Stellenbosch is welcome given that there are few good options in that neck of the town other than pubs ‘n grub.
For those not in the know, and really because you’ve been living under a rock, Bertus Basson is not a flash in the pan (if you’ll excuse the pun) culinary entrepreneur. Though he had been cooking for a few years prior, he was firmly put on the food map in 2007 when he competed in the Bocuse d’Or world chef championship and was later named Unilever Chef of the Year. Over the past decade he has built up four wildly popular establishments, offering food based on the freshest quality ingredients sourced from local suppliers, across the culinary spectrum from fine, bistro, street, and private dining experiences. Added to this no small achievement is his own book ‘Homegrown’, numerous television appearances (as a guest on The Ultimate Braai Master to Brood en Botter and now as leading man on his own show Goed, Beter, Bertus) and specialist condiment e-Retail business.
But I digress.
To understand the restaurant, and the departure from his usual culinary offering, you have to understand the man. In his own words, Bertus explains “the restaurant is named after our pig and our puppy, Spek and Bone, who are surprisingly best friends and inseparable”. The pets were in turn named after the classic food combination of pork and beans and it’s in this authentic simplicity that the restaurant can be summed up by the Afrikaans saying ‘om vir spek en boontjies te werk’ (to work for ordinary food, not for money). However, there is nothing cheap, fast or flash about this eatery. Besides the entirely modern, almost Spartan-like main eating area is the quaintly romantic and secluded courtyard found under what was previously known as the Trumpet Tree: one of the oldest fruit producing vine in the area.
As is his style, Bertus employs and trains his staff to operate independently of him (as he Rovers from one restaurant to another and from endless projects to suppliers) and Spek & Bone is under the stewardship of restaurant manager, Jacques and chefs David and Kyle who have together managed to make something special in the ‘Bosch. Though it can become quite crowded and boisterous, depending on the time of day or evening and proximity to exams, the service either slows down or speeds up but your craft beer always arrives with a smile and facial expression by the waiter that tells you how the kitchen and bar are handling it all.
I feel that at this point I should insert a caveat to explain the paragraph above. It’s no secret that I am not the most patient person when it comes to being outside my bubble, and despite my protests to the contrary, I know it’s true. Idiot drivers, unsolicited telephone calls that fail to get to the point quickly enough or more than often service from restaurants, coffee shops or retail shops would have me rethinking my choice within minutes. However, that being said, if there were any delays in getting any of our orders on any of the times I’ve visited Spek & Bone have been such a non-starter and hardly worth the mention because of the professionalism and enthusiasm of the front of house staff.
I predictably tend to veer towards staples like their home made beef bangers (slaphakskeentjies, foraged herbs, cured mustard, radish, and heirloom beets), sauteéd potato gnocchi (mushroom, crisp crumbs, parsley, Huguenot sauce, and spring onions) and SFC- spekkies fried Chicken (maple syrup, roasted peanuts, green onion, peri-peri emulsion and coriander). Another treat, also on other Basson menus, is his Tannie Hetta’s apple pie (served with homemade vanilla ice cream, Crème anglaise) which is named after his Mom. And only appropriate, given that this is a town built on, and in service to, the wine and academic industries, that there would be a balanced wine list from well-established farms and a respectable range of interesting blends and varietals. The menu is made that much more personal with the inclusion of the wine maker and region listed beneath each Estate. In the absence of my favourite gin brands, I do tend to stick to my perennial favourites like De Toren Delicate off their menu (sold either by the glass or bottle).
So if you’re in the ‘Bosch and are wanting to meet colleagues or clients, entertaining out of town family or fancy foreign friends or just looking for some ontspanne vermaaklikheid with a group of friends after lectures then Spek & Bone, 84 Dorp Street, Stellenbosch is going to become your favourite local hang-out this coming spring and summer. To make reservations, contact them at +27 (0)82 569 8958 or firstname.lastname@example.org.