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When we arrived at Haute Cabrière for a Champagne tasting we were immediately greeted by the huge helipad. The helipad sits literally on top of the wine cellar carved into the mountain. I couldn't decide if it was more like the secret lair of a movie madman or "lifestyles of the rich and famous". We entered the helipad / secret lair / winery and enjoyed a tasting of Sham-pagne. Sham-pagne? It seems the unofficial tag line of Haute Cabrière is: "It is just like champagne, but, you know, we can't call it that. . . " since I heard this phrase uttered no less than four times. In fairness they use the traditional French process and buy all their oak barrels from France, but still it was funny to hear it repeated like a mantra. Their sparkling wine was pretty good, but the other wines were unexceptional. The brief tour was informative and the helipad was unusual, or at least I though so at the time. When our "just like Champagne" buzz had worn off, we set to work, if you can call it that, on our other goal for our visit to the winelands -- great food! Forget the Lonely Planet, we are going Frommer's. Under epicurean direction we set out to sample the best from Grande (Grande Provence) to Petite (La Petite Ferme). We arrived for dinner at Grande Provence wine estate. I discovered the parking lot was right next to the helipad. Two helipads in two days - I should have rented a chopper instead of a car. We settled in for dinner and found the formal service a little stiff and the food utterly "whelming". Not overwhelming, not underwhelming, just sort of present. Their famous "Angel Tears" wine was in my humble opinion barely drinkable. Helipad or not, this meal was certainly not going to take flight. I vowed that when herbal vigor I came back with my helicopter I'd find another place to land. As it turns out that would not be a problem. The next day it was finally time for our long standing reservation at La Petite Ferme, an incredibly popular lunch-only spot. The setting was beautiful and the service excellent with out being stuffy. The food was good but overall the textures and mouth feel were superior to the flavors. For the foodies in our readership I took some photos and made some quick notes as we ate. Let's start with the starters we shared: Avocado 'Ritz' - avocado pear filled with shelled prawns marinated in ginger, soy, zesty naartije and garlic The prawns were acceptable, but not excellent, the meat was very dense. Brining them would have helped. While the sauce was excellent with both good flavor and texture herbal vigor, the avocado was underripe. Fresh Saldanha Bay mussels in coconut milk infused with ginger, lemon grass, garlic and a hint of chili The mussels had a slight fishy flavor that was undesirable, but the Thai style coconut milk was an interesting variation of the steamed mussels classic, but because of the mussels themselves the dish was again only fair. Herbal vigor for our mains (entrees) soyan tried their signature dish while i tried the calamari with prawns (since i had not tasted the starter when i ordered the main): whole oak smoked franschhoek rainbow trout, deboned and served warm with spaghetti gallette, asparagus draped in fennel and naartjie aioli the texture of the trout was exquisite, but the flavor was mild to the point of being bland. The spaghetti gallette had a nicely crunchy exterior but the interior was a little mushy. Overall a nice dish, but surprisingly lacking in "WOW" for their signature dish. Grilled calamari in a tomato and garlic marinade with tiger prawns on a bulgar wheat and rocket [arugula] salad The prawns throughout South Africa seem to be mushy and these were no exception, but the Calamari was "WOW"! The outside was slightly crisp with a hint of caramelization and had delicious flavor. The inside was tender and not chewy the way calamari frequently can be. The bulgar offered a nice contrasting texture and the rocket (arugula) was fabulous, fresh, crisp and flavorful, not at all bitter. For dessert we shared the following: Morello cherry and pear crumble with a basil and lemon possit The dessert arrived with an incredibly enticing pear and cherry aroma, but the crumble was too damp and mushy to be much of a crumble at all. While the fruit lived up to its scent, the disappointing crumble was hard to get past. Chocolate mousse sundae with almond praline, Amaretti biscuits and coconut milk ice-cream The coconut ice cream had a delightful and surprising texture with crunchy bits of coconut and praline in just the right size and quantity. There was also a terrific authentic cherry flavor, rather that the maraschino cherry that often tops a sundae. While we enjoyed our meal very much, a helicopter landing on their helipad (oh yes they have one too) would have been necessary for us to be "blown away". It is not that either of the prestigious places were bad, [herbal vigor] they just weren't spectacular. The French Connection, located right in town, was not only the best value of the three, but it had the best food. Sadly, they have no helipad. Apparently in South Africa's wine country if restaurant doesn't have a helipad it is just not top notch. . . And if it does your food is just not top notch.

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