You could be forgiven for missing this beautiful restaurant among the cluster of fine eateries in Stellenbosch, but if you knew about it, you might not forgive yourself. Tucked away within the historic Coopmanhuijs Hotel in Church Street, it’s a hidden gem that deserves the drive from Cape Town or, for a special occasion, the luxury of at least one night in the five-star elegance of any one of the 16 bedrooms.
The gracious 18th-century manor house was transformed into the present-day boutique hotel and spa as recently as 2010, with Helena’s a main attraction. Choose a table on the patio or in the splendour of the restaurant under the high, yellowwood ceiling, but don’t miss a great meeting of style, service and gastronomic excellence.
“The familiar made spectacular” is the restaurant’s mission statement, and Helena’s more than lives up to it, offering heritage food with a contemporary twist and the focus on locally sourced ingredients. The dinner menu is small: four starters and six main courses, complemented by an incredible wine list showcasing some of the finest wines of the area.
For starters, we opted for the delectable duck liver pâté with melba toast, and the mezze platter of crispy aubergine sticks, lightly toasted baguettes, smoked snoek pâté, marinated button mushrooms and Helena’s signature roasted peppers. For my main course, I opted for the Chalmar beef fillet on a bed of potato dauphinoise, served with braised leeks, onions, roasted tender-stem broccoli, Parmesan cheese and a delicious Béarnaise sauce. My partner chose the poached linefish with prawn aioli served with Jansson’s Temptation, a pea and fresh origanum purée, and sugar snap peas. We ended a sumptuous meal with a selection of freshly prepared desserts, including Helena’s homemade cheesecake and the chocolate fondant with rooibos parfait, almond meringue and raspberries – irresistible.
We chose a patio table on a beautiful Saturday evening night and it was comfortable and romantically lit… just what we wanted, but you might prefer the restaurant itself if seeing the food in detail is a priority. The patio is small and intimate but not crowded, so even if you have company, there is nothing to distract you from the sheer pleasure of the food and wine and the discreet attentions of the waiters.
Helena’s is the kind of restaurant where service really matters, and that, too, struck exactly the right note. There are only a handful of waiters, but it was clear that they all knew the menu and the wine list inside out and could take diners through the ingredients of each dish. We were bowled over by our waiter’s food and wine knowledge, and his attention to detail made the experience all the more memorable.
Helena’s is truly the complete package when it comes to a night out at a top restaurant: every dish a revelation, the service remarkable and the setting idyllic. You will leave Stellenbosch with that uncommon feeling that your money has been well spent on a meal you won’t forget anytime soon.
Open Monday – Sunday, 12.30pm – 2.30; 7pm – 10pm
Contact 021 883 3132
Location Church Street, Stellenbosch
Where to find it Helena’s Restaurant