Designed for drama
Quoin Rock outside Stellenbosch is drawing diners for experiential dining in an individualistic architectural setting
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WORDS: KIM MAXWELL | PHOTOS: GARY COX AND MICHAEL LA GRANGE
On entering the refurbished Quoin Rock winery building in the Stellenbosch winelands, the first impression is of scale. A series of rusted beams and splashing water features frame your arrival on foot. As a design feature, these coppery metal tones are intended to emulate the soils of the Simonsberg, the water features linking visually to farm streams.
If the name seems familiar, there is a reason. Vitali Gaiduk bought Quoin Rock farm in 2012. Previously it had belonged to controversial businessman Dave King before SA Revenue Service attached it as a distressed sale. Gaiduk is associated with politics and steel mills in the Ukraine. Son Denis Gaiduk is Quoin Rock’s MD.
His wife Julia Gaiduk has a PhD in architecture. Aside from building design, she co-ordinated the artworks and interior decor of the winery reception and function venue. Gaiduk also created the flagship fine dining restaurant Gåte that opened last November.
Gaiduk’s 20-year career focused on architecture projects in Kiev. “My thesis was on the principles of reconstruction. So in a South African context, working in Kiev was more like being in Johannesburg, with many abandoned industrial areas,” she says. “The winelands was a very different type of project for me. The Quoin Rock restaurant was a tasting room with brick walls and small windows. Denis was pushing me to create something different,” she says.
Accepting the challenge, she opened up the Quoin Rock space, replacing restaurant walls with frameless glass stacking panels “to bring the surroundings inside”.
The original buildings were two adjoining elongated rectangles, built parallel to each other. Instead of thinking vertically, Gaiduk linked the two structures on the horizontal, a new pergola (pictured above) forming a structural link between the buildings.
The pergola runs the length of the restaurant to the function area. Laser-cut aluminium panels fit into I-beams, creating a striking dappled effect for daytime diners indoors looking out. The panels mimic the shape of vine leaves, a visual link to the vineyards outside.
Sculptor Adriaan Diedericks adds visual impact outside the function hall, with his striking sculpted work of a man leaning intently over a circular pond.
Pierre Cronje was enlisted to produce Gaiduk’s exclusive furniture designs; her brief to him to create chairs and banquettes in lighter tones. “I am in love with the work of Pierre Cronje, so I involved him in the furniture,” she says. “My designs; he produced it. We wanted to create a comfortable space.”
Gaiduk illustrates her meticulous approach in a dining chair upholstered in winter white leather. “A chair is really important in a restaurant, and people have to be really comfortable, especially with a Rikku dining experience,” she says, beckoning to look under the chair base.
“This restaurant chair took four months. It has to be comfortable, your back relaxed. We changed the length of the chair arms three times. Even the joints underneath had to be perfectly finished in brass seams.” Gaiduk continues her train of thought. “Luxury is not gold and diamonds everywhere. Luxury is comfort.” With furniture painstakingly created in this manner, she may be on to something.
A focal point in the dining space is a circular central service station (pictured below) created by Pierre Cronje in solid oak. “I was inspired by the shape of the wooden fermentation ‘eggs’ (tanks) where grapes are fermented during harvest in our adjacent winery,” says Gaiduk. The station is surrounded by Cronje’s banquettes, chairs and solid wood tables, and wooden floors continue the natural elements.
A small bronze vine lies above one restaurant banquette, a sculptural piece by Charles Haupt of Bronze Age Studio. Over in the winery reception, Haupt’s bigger, gnarled bronze vine adds organic texture as it soars towards the ceiling for more than 5m. Its circular frame of spraying water was created by Clive Giliomee of Water in Motion.
The Gåte evening dining experience extends to 16 courses full of interactive and visual eating drama. There is a five-course lunch menu. Executive chef Rikku Ò’Donnchü grew up in the UK and owes his name to Irish-Icelandic parents.
Ò’Donnchü creates labour-intensive menus that merge tradition, skill and science. Even the dinner menu is not straightforward; it appears on a stylish bronze hexahedron, designed by Ò’Donnchü’s advertising exec wife Michelle Marais.
Fine dining aesthetics rule, the chefs using hi-tech tools in a hyper-modern kitchen to transform flavours into spherifications and foams, with elements of table flashiness.
Ò’Donnchü serves an Italian caprese salad, a deconstructed version removed from the sliced tomatoes, mozzarella and basil leaves it originates from. It’s based on those three ingredients: basil leaf is extracted into oil alongside a frozen mozzarella cheese that melts at the table, with tomato skins and juice playing their part on the plate. A glass of Quoin Rock’s Namysto Sauvignon Blanc Semillon pairs nicely alongside.
Partnering a glass of Quoin Rock MCC bubbles is a cauli cheese dish. It presents a clever combination of cauliflower caramelised, puréed and pickled. Parmesan elements in the dish add a mature cheese salty intensity for a delicious result. Some dishes are inspired by the chef’s travels. The Ike Mata makes visual impact, with black cod fish, fresh lime, coconut and lime jelly served in a coconut shell. Aromatic essences escape from the bowl when liquid nitrogen comes to the party.
That sort of sensory surprise is a key element of the Gåte experience. Here dining drama meets a theatre of tastes on the kitchen’s playful and artful plates. All the while offering a brilliant vantage point on nature from a luxurious setting.