Wild Food & Cocktail Pairing in South Africa


Dreaming up the menu is always the romantic part of a wild food dinner for me.

The wooing of ideas, the pairing of ingredients, flirting with the flavours; there are so many delicious options it is hard to decide, so the best way to get out my head is to get into the edible landscape, heading for the hills, bush, mountain and coast, each one calling out, beckoning me to discover what is fresh and abundantly available.

Wild food often has its fleeting moments of maturity; ripe one day and over the next. You never know when something you are so sure would work perfectly would suddenly be unavailable, like the Pelargoniums I had envisioned plucked and placed in a little vase for the Botanist dinner diners to forage from on the tables to garnish their own plate – all gone!

Thanks to an unseasonal overnight downpour of rain, all the precious petals were off the bush, damp and strewn on the ground, like walking past the scene of a wedding held the previous day. However, my forager’s luck was in when I remembered a stand of Pelargoniums growing hidden under some tall bushes, and saved.

The endless traipsing and exploring of the veld had served me well. I saw the vivid pink from afar and ran towards the intact flowers.

Flavours that grow together also often pair well, and your ideas change all over again when you are in nature, inspiration coming from the colour hues of the land, imagery of the landscape, the mood of the setting, the season and new growth of fresh botanicals.

Then, the ideas become clearer, and drawing up lists of possible dishes and pairings and sketches of the plating begins, starting a little relationship with each course as I put down visually what I taste in my mind.

My main concept with this dinner was to try and make each course slightly interactive, seasoning the meal with a part of the Botanist’s philosophy of foraging which rings so true to me.

Seared line fish and wild fennel mayo served with beetroot, kale and samphire


  • The Botanist gin
  • Lemon
  • Cointreau
  • Wormwood/Wild Fennel Cordial

Wild fennel grows abundantly in the Cape, and I really wanted to use it in one of the courses.

The beets and kale were harvested from my garden, and the samphire served in little bunches wedged into empty mussel shells, foraged off the beach for diners to use to season their meal.
This samphire was found on the rocks at the beach, growing like a bushy bonsai rather than the fields of samphire that grow next to marches and estuaries. Because it grows near the sea it is also incredibly salty. (samphire)

Paired with Foraged Corpse, this drink was strong, fresh and citrusy, and the bitters from the wormwood and echo of the fennel worked well with the fish.

Freshly foraged seaweed

This dish was actually inspired by The Botanist gin’s gorgeous bottle.

Edible flower and seaweed salad with a Fynbos honey dressing


  • The Botanist gin
  • African rosemary syrup
  • egg white
  • Cointreau
  • Lemon juice

This dish was actually inspired by The Botanist gin’s gorgeous bottle. Clean, clear and fresh. I wanted the focus to be on the little glass vial representing the gin bottle, which had a Fynbos honey dressing in it. The dressing was allowed to be left separated (vinegar away from the oils), so diners had to pick it up, shake it and pour it over their ‘botanicals’ (the edible flower and seaweed salad), thereby engaging them in the dish. The seaweeds are foraged from the icy Atlantic shores and the edible flower petals display a range of colours to jazz up the greens in the salad.

Paired with African Lady cocktail, the bitterness of the wild rosemary balanced the honey dressing and the lemon juice paired beautifully with the salad greens.

Wild Garlic

This dish was a play on a farm style sandwich, a quick lunch break in the veld.

Goats cheese, roasted wild garlic, grapes, rye and wild mint dust



  • The Botanist gin
  • Peppermint Pelargonium
  • Simple syrup
  • Lime juice

This dish was a play on a farm style sandwich, a quick lunch break in the veld.

The cheese was made from our hand-milked goat’s milk and infused with a sweet citrus Buchu. Wild garlic was slow roasted and the wild mint sun-dried to retain its musky minty flavour. The dish was plated on a purple cabbage leaf, one diner even eating the whole leaf!

I was happy with the flavours and concept but the presentation could have been tweaked. Little mini vases of pink Pelargoniums were served with this dish for diners to garnish the meal. Paired with Pelargonium smash, the volatile oils in this intensely flavoured Peppermint Pelargonium came through wonderfully in this cocktail, and paired really well with the goats cheese.

botanist food pairings

The gin and tonic foam was a little experimental idea which mercifully worked

Oyster and nasturtiums with a sea lettuce gin and tonic foam


  • The Botanist gin
  • Fynbos smoke
  • Sea water

The gin and tonic foam was a little experimental idea which mercifully worked – foams can be quite fickle or flavourless if not made with a fancy machine – so we whipped it up at the very last minute and added it to the oysters just seconds before serving.
The oysters were resting on a bed of mixed seashells, gathered at the same beach that the sea lettuce was foraged. The nasturtiums were spiked through a foraged porcupine quill, becoming the interactive side of the dish, and paired with Fynbos Smoked Martini.

The Martini glass was rinsed with Atlantic sea water from the same beach as the seaweed was foraged, leaving a hint of saltiness behind which enhanced the drink, with the subtle smokiness enhanced the flavours of oyster.

Wild Lemons

The ice cream was created with a sharp lemon Pelargonium syrup

Lemon Pelargonium ice cream, Honest chocolate sauce and rose geranium truffle

The ice cream was created with a sharp lemon Pelargonium syrup to cut the creaminess of the ice cream and the richness of the cocktail.

The warm Honest chocolate sauce hardened on contact with cold, creating a satisfyingly crack when you dipped a spoon into the ice cream. The truffle was served in a lemon Pelargonium leaf, wrapped in a tissue paper parcel.

Paired with Mount Gay Coconut Dream, the chocolatey coconut rum drink made it a decadent trio of desserts – the coconut, chocolate and lemon all complementing each other.

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