• Jenny Handley writes about the launch of Babel, a fabulous new cookbook launched in time for Christmas

    The launch of the book Babel, by Maranda Engelbrecht, was as nature intended. What a delight to catch up with old friends, and to make new ones, united to celebrate the unveiling of what is surely the most dramatic book of the year. The celebration started in anticipated visual splendour, where guests savoured the proud produce of Babylonstoren in their farm shop.

    Fellow foodies were also mystified by the rounded black bread – is it a piece of wood, a sculpture or paperweight? It was delicious, imaginatively flavoured and coloured with squid ink. We wandered past the Manor House, through the breathtaking gardens to the restaurant Babel. Custom-designed pink mushroom plates arrived with just 10 minutes to spare, a perfect match for the front cover of the book and the first course of the terrarium of pink oyster mushrooms. It was followed by a flower petal salad, Franschhoek trout, and plum soup with plum sorbet. Every dish was more than delectable – proof that you do eat with your eyes first.

    I was lucky to be seated between Maranda herself, a paragon of creativity (no surprise to discover that she started out in fashion design), and Len Straw, restaurateur and raconteur of Le Petite Tarte, equally stimulating company. I was surrounded by those in the know, close friends and family who had enjoyed a sneak peak of the book – they included Maranda’s sisters who had flown in to celebrate this momentous occasion.

    She, a culinary genius, and her team, have combined their knowledge, flavour and expertise to produce this exceptional book, truly a work of art. I salivated until it was polite to pore over the copy on our table. It is nothing short of a masterpiece. In Len’s words, “heart-stopping”. As each tactile page is turned, the culinary vision of Babylonstoren is shared in print. It does it justice, the beauty of the estate comes alive and with it, each of your senses.

    Guests were given their own pink oyster mushroom kits so they could cultivate their own at home. Those who could devote the entire day to enjoying everything on offer progressed to enjoy tea in the Greenhouse, as I drove back from paradise to reality.

    Babel restaurant is open Wednesdays to Sundays from 9am to 5pm.
    Call 021-863-3852. Booking essential for restaurant or garden tours
    Babel (the book) is available at Babylonstoren and Woolworths, at R390.