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The perfect summer lunch is anyone’s dream, and what better place to find delectable food than in the Western Cape in South Africa. Nestled in the heart of the Western Cape is a little town called Stellenbosch. Some of South Africa’s best restaurants can be found in Stellenbosch, and many tourists and locals travel to the town for its food and wine. Apprentice restaurant can also be found in Stellenbosch. This restaurant is surely one of South Africa’s more innovative places to eat.
Sporting black and white decor, it’s more than just a business. As it is owned by the Institute of Culinary Arts (ICA), it forms part of the ICA’s practical training modules. My zesty waitress, Zané, explained that waiters at Apprentice alternate working at one of three areas of the restaurant: behind the bar, as a waitress, or as a chef. In the kitchen, head chef and lecturer, Hylton Espey, assists students in preparing various creative dishes.
Zané dreams of becoming a chef. She believes that the environment at Apprentice gives a good indication of the difficulties and rewards of being a chef. “We still get shouted at when we mess up, you know, but it’s a safer zone to work in than other restaurants,” she explains.
The dishes are not only creative, but proudly South African. The lunch menu features delectable desserts ranging from a Rooibos crème brulee to a polenta almond cake. For lunch, the waitress presented the chef’s favorite, a chicken quesadilla made out of grilled lime, chilli and ginger chicken breasts, sautéed cumin onions, peppers, and mozzarella.
The flour tortilla was a bit difficult to cut at times, but this was hardly noticed when enjoying the exquisite combination of the spicy chicken with a chipotle crème fraiche. Zané produced a delicious Rooibos-infused polenta with lavender ice cream for dessert. The ice cream was divine and the polenta, although slightly heavy following a big lunch on a hot summery day, was surprisingly good.
Apprentice is in the moderate price range – not too cheap, but not too expensive. The price range even allows for always-budgeting students of the nearby Stellenbosch University to enjoy first dates at this restaurant, says Zané. It caters for locals and tourists alike. If you are new to South African cuisine, the West Coast Toaster with snoek croquette, Malay curry fish samosas, and pickled fish should serve as a proper introduction to local tastes.
As Zané puts it, most tourists to South Africa want to try the local meat dishes. Why not try the “Wildsplaas” dish then? Featuring venison, mieliepap, chakalaka, and liquorice jus, this dish should have everybody raving about the way South Africa serves its meat.
South African wines make a star appearance on the menu. Apprentice serves a range of some of South Africa’s better wines, including the ever-popular KWV range, as well as wines from Tokara and Kleine Zalze. Sadly, another waitress told me that they do not feature brandies or whiskeys on their lunch menu. As the restaurant lacks the air conditioning necessary during the intensely hot Stellenbosch summers, sipping a glass of white wine outside under the shade might appeal more to some than ingesting a hot meal.
It comes as no surprise that this part of Stellenbosch has acquired the nickname “Little Europe.” Small streets housing rows of individual restaurants and wine houses intersect with leafy suburbs, reminding one of the cafés lining European streets. Apprentice itself is situated on a small street in the hustle and bustle of Stellenbosch, a perfect spot to watch people go by, enjoy some good company, and indulge in South African food and wine.