I visited Franschhoek, the gastronomic capital of South Africa
A recent survey has shown that we are a nation of flying foodies. Not only is “good local food and restaurants” cited as the top priority when it comes to choosing a holiday destination (above beaches, nightlife, sightseeing and shopping), but almost a third of us have travelled to a destination with the primary intention to eat in a certain restaurant or try a specific dish. I tend to agree with this survey, being a foodie, my holiday destinations are very much centered around researching local restaurants and the wines on offer.
That’s why whenever I visit Cape Town I return to Franschhoek, famously known as the ‘gastronomic capital’ and wine heartland of South Africa. It’s a quaint town in the Western Cape province nestled between towering mountains in the beautiful winelands. Here award-winning wines are grown and top chefs create international cuisine where you can dine overlooking breath-taking scenery and encounter the warm South African hospitality.
The main street is lined with lively cafes, top restaurants, cookery shops, trendy artisan food halls and art galleries. It’s buzzing with people who seemingly have stepped off the pages of a glossy magazine where there are plenty of glamourous and bronzed ladies and gentlemen there to experience the culinary delights while also enjoying the many beautiful vineyards offering wine tasting experiences.
The main street is where you will find Le Quartier Français, part of the Leeu Collection, a boutique hotel in the center of town, home to the award-winning ‘The Tasting Room.’ Its unique menu is designed by the acclaimed executive chef Margot Janse who enthralls diners with her bold, creative experiments in local flavor. (South Africa’s version of Heston Blumenthal!).
She celebrates over twenty years at The Tasting Room and her creations are outrageous. One of the dishes which stand out as a piece of artwork was the ‘Snow Globe, Blackberry, Ginger, Rice Pops.’ A small hammer was presented for us to crack the perfectly rounded clear globe to find the contents!
She doesn’t steer away from the local produce where she specializes in telling an essentially South African story using her food with ingredients sourced in the Franschhoek area, foraged in the valley or from local farmers.
Dining here is an experience not to be rushed; over three hours the busy team presents no less than eight courses, accompanied by carefully selected South African wines, of which some we recognised from our recent vineyard tour in the area. Our personal favorites being Graham Beck and Morena, all made in the area.
Janses’s interpretation of local scenes like our introduction to the ‘garden of food,’ featuring local flowers, the famous Fynbos flower and little nibbles to find within the forest and bread baked within a small Luck Fish Pilchard bread tin served with deliciously creamy and tasty caramelized brown butter.
It was magical and enchanting and our waiter, Morné, was enthusiastic in explaining the story behind each dish.
The menu pays homage to South African soil, using ingredients indigenous to the South African countryside, it make you want to celebrate everything home grown and produced on your doorstep.
The Tasting Room itself is less enthralling with its sparse design and not overly luxurious feel, but is that because the interior will take away an ounce of concentration away from the plate?
It’s all about the culinary journey and the taste and if you have the time it’s a worthwhile flight and a very pleasant way to spend three hours!
Le Quartier Francais, 16 Huguenot Road, Franschhoek; Tel: 0027 21 876 2151 Dinner Tuesday to Saturday
R850 for eight course tasting menu £39.00, R1335 with wine £60.50
Where to Stay?
Le Quartier Français, Double room for two including breakfast from R4800 (218 per night) or
Leeu House: Double room for two including breakfast from – R3500 (160.00 per night) (Part of the Leeu Collection).