There is a photograph of Springfontein Eats chef Jürgen Schneider on the wine farm’s website. He is wearing wellie boots, jeans, a sweatshirt – and a toothy grin. Schneider is holding a big knife and a tub of freshly-cut veg. He’s wearing the same sweatshirt and the same toothy grin in another photo. In this one, he has his arm around his wife, Susanne. In another photo he has his arms around two members of his kitchen staff.
Schneider looks like a nice man. He also looks quite ordinary. He might be ordinary, but his food isn’t.
Jürgen and Susanne Schneider ran a Michelin-starred restaurant in Germany for 18 years before moving to Stanford (near Hermanus). Schneider’s food is creative while remaining utterly assured. He sets a new bar.
There are not many fine-dining chefs in South Africa with the confidence to foreground ordinary ingredients like tomatoes, eggs, chicken, peas, carrots, celery and plums on their set menus. It helps that these ingredients come from the farm: Springfontein has not only free range chickens and an organic vegetable garden, but also an orchard. Still, good peas do not a gourmet experience make.
Consider my dessert: Plums. That’s what the photocopied sheet of paper said. What arrived was dried plum ice cream, roasted cashews, plum sauce, cashew pesto and plum salad. I had “lamb and celery” for main. The dish consisted of exquisitely cooked lamb steaks with pink middles, a rectangle of bottle-green celery jelly, pie crust crumble, sliced celery and a single, buttered half moon of pasta stuffed with peppers. It was finished with a gravy I never dreamt of eating (never mind cooking).
Schneider expresses finesse through balance of taste and texture – not only dish by dish, but also course to course. Springfontein Eats is generous with amuse bouche and palate cleansers, but one doesn’t leave feeling overfull. It speaks to Scheider’s maturity that he doesn’t lean on rich flavours and heavy preparations to impress.
Schneider’s light-handed food aesthetic is reflected in the décor and ambience of the restaurant. The accent colour amongst the neutrals is a green so fresh it looks like a colour match for growth. The simple interior suggests stones, trees and plants. It blends seamlessly with the working farm. The floor staff are friendly and hospitable. Everything about Springfontein Eats refers back to its locale. It does not encourage aspirational flights of fancy.
The wine list is expansive, but grounded in regional gems. Susanne is extremely wine knowledgeable and on hand to advise on pairings.
Currently, Springfontein Eats is supported by sophisticated European tourists and local foodies. Given Schneider’s rootsy approach and the world class results of his artistry, it’s likely to gain broader popularity very soon.
Schneider offers a master class in how fine dining can reflect a contemporary preference for local, honest and inspired food. It’s not a bank-breaker either. The three course lunch is priced at R280 – and comes with five additional mini courses.
Springfontein Eats 028 3410651, email@example.com; Left off the Main Road in Stanford onto Moore Road.
- Daisy Jones is author of Star Fish, a cookbook about sustainable fish. She has written restaurant reviews for Business Day and various guides.