Table for One: Mez Karoo Kitchen and Other Barrydale Delights
“Remember the days you prayed for the things you have now.”
– Jennice Vilhauer
When I turned 48 I decided to visit Myanmar as a birthday present to myself. I spent my birthday cycling the dusty roads of Bagan, immersing myself in a place that had been on my bucket list for a very long time. My fascination with old temples took me the following year to Borobodur in Indonesia, but instead of visiting the temple on my birthday, I chose to spend it at a leather workshop in Yogjakarta making myself a pair of sandals, which felt like a double gift to myself. And so, a tradition was born to not spend the day at home, doing any of the mundane things of life, but instead visit a place where I could dream, learn, reflect and celebrate the gift of life. Alone.
As it was my father-in-law’s 80th birthday less than two weeks after my 50th birthday, it was not viable to visit another country, and so I decided on a side trip to one of my favourite parts in the country of my birth, South Africa.
My first choice was Nieu-Bethesda, a place that has stirred my heart the first time I visited it twenty years ago, but it was just too out of the way for everything I wanted to fit in. I also decided against Prince Albert, another favourite, because my previous stay there was so perfect that I didn’t want to try and repeat it. With the help of Google I found what seemed the ideal place; a farm nestling in the mountains just outside of Calitzdorp, but when the owner told me they were fully booked for the weekend I felt an intense disappointment. I wanted to stay there, so I booked the Sunday and Monday nights, and proceeded to look for somewhere else not too far away. Barrydale, a small town on Route 62, bursting with a creativity that spills over into a variety of quirky shops, restaurants and accommodation options, was a good alternative to celebrate a milestone birthday in. I’ve been there before and loved it.
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As my body was still adjusting to the two hour difference between the UAE and South Africa, I started my birthday cuddled up in bed with coffee and a book in the very early hours of the morning. When the nightsky gave way to a burst of colour. I made a second cup of coffee, grabbed a throw to ward off the chill in the air, and my journal to watch the sun peer over the mountains, bathing the wide veranda in a glow of warmth that slowly seeped into my vitamin D deprived body. Birdsong filled the air. I could hear peacocks, roosters and guinea fowl. A dog barked. Underneath it all was a deep silence that felt ancient. I sat motionless, inhaling it with each breath, willing it to drench my soul. It is a peace I had longed for the whole summer in the brown, miserable heat of Abu Dhabi, and I didn’t want to lose it by moving, so I sat like a dassie in the sun, allowing the morning to unfold in its own timing.
Later, when the church bells chimed eight times, people started to stir. Footsteps crunched on gravel. A motorbike sputtered. Music spilled out of a window.
I stayed and watched the dust trails hanging like mist over the landscape where the gravel roads in the distance disected scattered houses and veld. I breathed deeply and opened Anam Cara. John O’Donohue’s words are filled with depth and beauty. They seemed perfect for the day, and as they need to be consumed slowly, and I lingered in the perfect moment.
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The glow of the late afternoon sun intensified the lush green of the garden. The doors of the old house in which Mez Karoo Kitchen is housed, were flung wide open. I was greeted warmly by Michelle, the owner, and had my pick of tables, as I was the first of a constant stream of diners to arrive. My choice allowed me a view of the kitchen from where I could watch Michelle, her son, and the two kitchen staff casually, yet efficiently going through the various steps of preparing food, greeting diners, serving and chatting as they went.
Michelle has lived in Barrydale for almost 30 years. She told me that opening the restaurant a couple of years ago was a steep learning curve, as she has no formal training. I looked around me and marvelled at how her persistence and hard work has paid off. The restaurant, today, has the ambience and food that is far superior to that of most city restaurants. Small towns in South Africa can be a real challenge for a vegetarian, but she always has vegetarian options on the menu which changes all the time, making good use of seasonal produce. In the restaurant garden she grows herbs and edible flowers, as well as lettuce and tomatoes. The rest of her produce she sources in the area. She tells me that the owners of the local supermarket are a blessing for the town. Their vegetarianism and eco-friendly approach to life are reflected in the incredible variety of products and produce that is available.
I sipped on the excellent Springfield Sauvignon Blanc in between the three courses of the meal, and scribbled in my diary. I hardly ever indulge like that, but I wanted the experience to last forever, and as her portions are perfectly sized and it was a special day, I ate more than I usually do.
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My choice of accommodation for this trip stood in sharp contrast with my previous visit. Karoo Moon House, a typical ‘Nagmaal huisie’ (Holy Communion House), was restored in 2018. These houses were originally built in the early 1900’s by farmers who would come to town to attend Holy Communion at the Dutch Reformed Church, hence the name. Louise Pharo filled this house, steeped in so much history, with old pieces of furniture and bric-a-brac that is in line with her quirky design style. She is also responsible for the iconic Diesel & Créme restaurant and its adjacent Motel, which she runs with her husband Arthur and son Dean.
Magazines and books are scattered throughout the house, and the kitchen is filled with thoughtful touches – Nespresso coffee capsules, milk in the fridge, as well as rusks and cookies, and a jar of sweeties on a bedside table. There are three outdoor spaces that are idealy suited for different times of the day or weather conditions, braai facilities, and a woodburning stove for cold winter nights. The kitchen has all the basics, but there are so many lovely restaurants in town that it would be sin not to at least try and visit them all.
Karoo Moon House & Cottage can be booked through various sites like Booking.com or Airbnb. The Cottage, on the same premises as the House, is located in the old ‘Waenhuis’ (garage) and is much smaller than the house.
## As I love quality handmade products that have a story to tell and benefit the local community, it is no surprise that my favourite small business in town is Barrydale Hand Weavers. On my previous trip in 2015 I bought a kitchen towel that still looks as good as new despite being used often. On this trip I bought another kitchen towel, as well as lovely bathroom towels I am planning to take to Portugal to our little house there.
## House of Books was a lovely surprise, as I’ve never seen so many wonderful second hand books under one roof.
## Ryno Reyneke from The Maker’s Brew brews fantastic artisan beer, while his wife’s pottery (Helen Vaughan Ceramics) compliment the space extremely well. To make it even more special was the delicious pizza (one of the best I’ve ever had) from the The Mystic Overlander, who struck a deal with Ryno when their van broke down in Barrydale and they decided to stay for the rest of the summer season.
## Drive the beautiful Tradeauw Pass.
Barrydale has much more than the above to offer, so don’t rush through if you are ever in the area. Stay a night or two so that you can fully appreciate the peace and creativity of the town and its surroundings.
Remember to also sign up for our adventures in Portugal, A Taste of Freedom, where we are in the process of rebuilding a ruin into a tiny house. All while we are still residing in the UAE. It is a long-term project, as we do not have unlimited resources, and only progress as fast as we can put money aside for the different steps required. We also have a Facebook page for it. So, please join us on this adventure of transforming a dream into a reality.
Visited: November 2019