IF YOU're a parent who enjoys eating out, you'll know it's tricky to take a child to a restaurant when they are of ants-in-the-pants age. Even when you're at a child-friendly establishment, it's an ordeal. A child's inability to stay still for five minutes requires parents to eat in relays. As one trots around to ensure they don't plonk a sticky hand in someone's soup, trip a waiter or bite an ankle, the other gobbles up the first course. Then, before the initial herder's food gets too cold, they swap roles.
I'm not ashamed to admit that when our son finally evolved from rug-rat to toddler, my husband and I also occasionally free-ranged him at restaurants. (He's an organic child.) Our key selling point was that the kid was gorgeous and, at that age, as garrulous as a politician on the campaign trail. On an ideal night out, cutie-pants - dressed in blue to match his eyes for maximum appeal - would zone in on an affable older couple dining quietly in a corner and strike up a conversation.
"I've got two brothers and a sister," was a favourite opener. "Two are dogs and one's a cat."
If there was an extra chair at the table, he'd clamber up and make himself comfortable for an evening of conversation. At that point, his father and I would know we were in for a cosy evening pour deux and, while furtively keeping an eye on him, we'd pretend we were out alone. It worked a treat.
With our son nearly 18 and rarely disposed to going out with the old fogeys these days, I'd forgotten our dining technique of yore - until I had lunch at Tokara Delicatessen recently.
With 2005 Eat Out chef of the year Richard Carstens at the helm, Tokara Restaurant, on Helshoogte Pass near Stellenbosch, was named best winelands restaurant in South Africa by the Great Wine Capitals Global Network last year. But, if it's breakfast or lunchtime and you're not up to the full fine-dining experience, there's a more casual option too.
Tokara Delicatessen, housed in a converted olive-processing shed, opened in 2010. The large L-shaped room, with ceiling-high shelves against the walls, comprises an olive oil tasting bar; deli with wine, olives, olive oil, jam, preserves, meat, chocolates and other deli-type products; and a restaurant with a fireplace and large, comfortable couches.
The front of the building, which looks on to the Simonsberg, is made almost entirely of glass. A playground, including a large jungle gym made of branches and a huge "bird's nest" suspended from a tree, is positioned a few metres in front of the restaurant in full view of the diners. In other words, you don't have to fob off your offspring to dine in peace. You can eat and keep an eye on them as they play. Moreover, if you're childless and/or not inclined to spend your meal chatting to someone else's kid, you're protected from the young 'uns by the glass.
The menu is small and simple but delicious, and the prices much lower than expected at a sophisticated wine farm. There's a lunch buffet on weekends and our beef brisket in red wine, potato and butternut bake, and salads were superb. Many of Tokara's excellent wines are available by the glass. Or, if you're inspired by the happy sounds of children playing outside, you can order a glass of full-cream milk.