South Africa

A night at VegTable: vegetarian feasting on the garden route

Eggplant involtinis at VegTable

April, 2017: Just outside Knysna on South Africa’s Garden Route is a rare dining experience. At least, rare in a nation full of die hard animal eaters. It’s intimate, slightly bohemian and… VEGETARIAN. VegTable is a tiny vegetarian restaurant hidden down a small country lane on a small patch of land called Mermaids Rest. We headed there for a cheeky Thursday dinner.

The first thing we notice when we enter the little cottage on Mermaids Rest farm is the twinkle of candle light and the slight hint of wood stove smoke. Three other tables of our fellow diners are comfortably spaced around a small glassed in verandah. The ‘dining room’ is small enough that everyone stops a moment when we enter (we’re last), but only long enough to smile a warm hello before getting back to their conversations. A friendly face appears wearing a chefs apron and a pair of Havaianas and must be chef Brett Garvie. Brett introduces us to Ruth, his one and only sidekick and then shows us to our table. An old school wood stove burns happily in the corner and music lilts gently in the background. VegTable feels like going to dinner at the home of one of your vegetarian friend’s places who is a gun cook. In fact it was Brett’s house.

Knysna Vegetarian Restaurant, best knysna dining: Loved all the little touches at VegTable like the mismatched antique cutlery

Loved all the little touches at VegTable like the mismatched antique cutlery

 

I don’t know about you, but the first thing I think of when I think South African food is more likely to be a braai full of boerwors and lamb chops. It’s definitely not a menu which proudly features only seasonal fruit and vegetables. This is what Brett offers at his vegetarian dining extravaganza where he combines classic French techniques with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavours. The ingredients for VegTable are sourced from Mermaids Rest itself, local tiny producers, the sea shore or from what Brett finds himself in the forest. With only 4 tables to feed 4 nights a week, Brett can keep things very small scale and be very flexible with his menu. He can take a basket of figs here or a whole bunch of herbs from there and keep it very manageable for just himself and one helper. It’s a very slow food, farm-to-table philosophy and it has been working successfully for Brett for seven years.

Brett has long had an appreciation for gardening and allowing nature to do it’s best work before taking food to put on the plate. From the small chats we had in between him serving up each course, it feels like he is an organic gardener first and chef second. That isn’t to downplay Brett’s culinary skills in any way but you can tell that the priority is on sourcing the most primo ingredient and then treating it with respect in order to deliver something delicious on the plate. Before VegTable kicked off, Brett used to work in permaculture during the week and then in a restaurant kitchen on the weekend. Eventually the opportunity to take a lease on Mermaid’s Rest presented itself. Brett realised that he had the perfect location for a small and intimate little vegetarian restaurant for his two passions. The rest is history.

So what did we actually eat at this vegetarian’s paradise? We started with a trio of eggplant (aubergine); little involtinis stuffed with ricotta and mint and another with babaganoush and then a rich and delicious morsel of eggplant parmigiana which we didn’t want to end. Next was a salad of roasted pears, beans, peas and feta which was fresh and tasty but we felt would have been better held back to come with the rather full on main. Our third course was a super rich and luxurious cannelloni of blue cheese, broccoli and spinach topped with an equally rich and garlicky aillade* sauce. The cannelloni was pretty epic but if you weren’t a blue cheese fan, it might have been a bit of a punch in the face.  And, while the aillade sauce was delicious, we couldn’t help thinking that maybe a slightly less rich sauce would have been a better option. Finally was a dessert of baclava wrapped figs, fig and wild honey sorbet and pistachio turkish delight. This was a great way to finish with the filo pastry encasing the fig being perfectly flakey, with just enough buttery, nutty goodness.

Roasted pear salad at VegTable: Knysna Vegetarian Restaurant, best knysna dining:

Roasted pear salad at VegTable

 

Awesome desert of baclava wrapped figs at VegTable: Knysna Vegetarian Restaurant, best knysna dining

Awesome desert of baclava wrapped figs at VegTable

 

As the coffee plunger was pulled away and we finished off the final sups of our wine we were both chuffed with a super lovely evening. While we both left feeling very satisfied we couldn’t help feeling a little like the R400pp price for the four courses potentially set expectations a touch high for the food we ate. The setting and service was bang on and we certainly enjoyed ourselves but we felt we payed for fine dining but instead got a rustic and delicious home cooked meal. Having said that, the overall experience and intimacy that Brett has developed in his little patch of forest is totally worth the visit.

VegTable fine print:

  • VegTable is open Wednesday – Friday evening from 7/7:30pm in winter and 7:30/8pm in summer. Given there are only 4 tables and 4 nights of service, reservations are definitely required.
  • Brett serves a constantly changing 4 course menu including tea/coffee for R400pp. Cash is required as there is no card facility. BYO all your drinks as only filtered water is served. Corkage is free.
  • To get to VegTable from Knysna, you take the N2 towards Wilderness until the Rheenendal road (about 10 minutes). Turn right onto Rheenendal road and then follow it for 5.6km until you see the Mermaids Rest farm sign on the right. Follow the little road until you hit the fence and then keep following it around until you reach the cottage.

*NOTE: Aillade is a classic french condiment of walnuts, garlic and oil. Brett’s version combines fresh and toasted walnuts along with some toasted pecans. Delicious!

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22 Comments

  • Reply
    Bawnie
    July 12, 2017 at 6:41 am

    Sounds delicious!! Nice one forking out for a vego meal… sounds well worth it!

    • Reply
      RoamingCo
      July 12, 2017 at 4:13 pm

      Hey Bawnie! I know right? Who would have thought Fi and I would fork out for a Vege meal. So good though!

  • Reply
    Katherine
    July 15, 2017 at 2:17 pm

    I definitely imagine South Africa being a meat eaters paradise. Brett’s restaurant looks so lovely and the food! The pictures make it look so mouthwatering sand and delicious. Nice to see some vegetarian options!

    • Reply
      RoamingCo
      July 19, 2017 at 5:45 pm

      From an experiential perspective it’s right up there as one of the best meals we have had. So intimate and cost. It was definitely kind of refreshing to go to an all vegie restaurant that was doing so well.

  • Reply
    Eric || The Bucket List Project
    July 15, 2017 at 3:24 pm

    I would never have thought vegetarian and South African but that sounds amazing. I would love the baklava and the figs.

    • Reply
      RoamingCo
      July 19, 2017 at 5:43 pm

      Exactly my same sentiments!

  • Reply
    Claudia
    July 15, 2017 at 8:56 pm

    Ohhh muy this place sounds and looks so dreamy. We are veggies too! (vegan) so I am super excited to learn about this place and would love to visit

    • Reply
      RoamingCo
      July 19, 2017 at 5:43 pm

      Dreamy is exactly the word. Was so beautiful. Sadly I fear the restaurant may have burnt down recently in some horrendous bush fires but I need to double check. Fingers crossed for the best.

  • Reply
    Danik
    July 16, 2017 at 8:57 am

    The food looks so yummy I want this in my tummy. 😀 Considering going and doing the vegan thing and been reading more posts on it recently, seriously convinced. And I am a meat eater. Ouchies 😛

    • Reply
      RoamingCo
      July 19, 2017 at 5:41 pm

      Mmmm, can’t say I could ever be a vegan as meat, dairy, eggs etc are too damn delicious. But, can increasingly see the need to eat less meat from an environmental and health perspective.

  • Reply
    Claire Summers
    July 16, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    Oh wow this sounds amazing! As a veggie this truly would be heaven! I visited Cape Town a few years back and I can honestly say it’s still some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. They really know how to do good restaurants! Blog is looking amazing by the way, really love the look of it. Although reading through just makes me want to eat!

    • Reply
      RoamingCo
      July 19, 2017 at 5:40 pm

      It’s certainly a bit of a veggie heaven. I think we probably enjoyed the atmosphere almost more than the actual food but that’s coming from two carnivores.

      Thanks for the blog complements. Sometimes I feel like I’m beating my head against a brick wall for no return but I feel like it’s slowly improving. Are you still in Central America?

  • Reply
    Peter Korchnak
    July 18, 2017 at 2:34 am

    That first photo looks like something wrapped in bacon! I don’t know anything about South African food, i.e. when you say the word, nothing comes to mind. Baklava-wrapped anything sounds delectable.

    • Reply
      RoamingCo
      July 19, 2017 at 4:04 pm

      Ha ha, I know what you mean about the bacon. In general South African food is all about meat in all its glorious forms. It’s actually one of the main reasons I was keen to check out VegTable as it’s so different from the norm.

  • Reply
    Jen Joslin
    July 18, 2017 at 10:50 am

    I am not a vegetarian, but this food looks amazing! I love that Chef Brett takes such pride in his ingredients and their preparation. Love that there’s no corkage fee too!

    • Reply
      RoamingCo
      July 19, 2017 at 4:01 pm

      I know right! I love when restaurants don’t charge corkage fees. Sadly there were massive fires in the Knysna region recently so I’m hoping that both Brett and his restaurant are OK. But yes, the food and the experience was awesome!

  • Reply
    Shruti Prabhu
    July 18, 2017 at 2:43 pm

    That looks amazing! Baclava wrapped figs! Now that’s decadent! Haven’t had cannelloni in a long time. Man! This post is making me hungry.

    • Reply
      RoamingCo
      July 19, 2017 at 11:53 am

      Hey Shruti! Yeah, those figs were pretty epic. Cannelloni was also good but maybe a touch rich! If it hasn’t been burnt down by recent fires you should definitely make a trip to check VegTable out!

  • Reply
    Rosemary
    July 19, 2017 at 2:26 am

    This looks and sounds pretty amazing. Love Brett’s creativity and twist on the local ingredients to create such a superb vegetarian experience. Sounds like Brett has created a really special place, that is perfect for vegetarians. Great review!

    • Reply
      RoamingCo
      July 19, 2017 at 11:51 am

      Thanks Rosemary, there has recently been some massively destructive fires in and around Knysna so I need to check if Brett and VegTable is alright. Was really a lovely night!

  • Reply
    Paige W
    July 20, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    This looks phenomenal! I am a part-time-vegetarian (I try to be but every so often something just sounds delicious) so I love seeing all the creative things people come up with to eat. phenomenal review! I’d definitely give this a go if/when I’m in Knysna.

    • Reply
      RoamingCo
      July 22, 2017 at 7:52 pm

      Yeah, it was really awesome to see a talented chef dedicating all his energy and creativity into vegetarian cooking.

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