Sunday is Bastille Day, the national day of France called la Fête nationale, celebrated every year on 14 July. Closer to home we see many gourmands and oenophiles (and others!) flocking to the Franschhoek Valley. I shall simply close my eyes and reminisce about three epicurean experiences I recently enjoyed in Huguenot Road, the main road of this culinary town, all within spitting distance of one another. This may not be the weekend that you will be getting a booking, but make a note now for another time.
If it is daring and different you seek, then two-plated Foliage is where you should head. Here the pioneer of foraging, Chris Erasmus, has found his niche and started a movement. Inspiring many like-minded chefs and creating a groundswell, he believes, and lives, conscious cuisine. Chris and his equally passionate team use what is growing on their doorstep, they innovatively update (and invent) techniques and try (almost) anything that is new and novel in the pursuit of excellence. Even the plates and knives for the bread course are made in-house. They reduce costs, waste nothing, using less to create more. The two-plated restaurant ensures that every plate showcases the origin and authenticity of this kitchen. Expect vegan and vegetarian options that will entice regular meat-eaters to try something new.
Start with Salmo’s raw milk fig leaf cheesecake with forest herbs and tomato chutney – heavenly. The grilled cos lettuce with lemon verbena-charred corn, leek and pine-ring-mushroom cream, kumquats and croutons, is light and luscious. Mains are offered in ‘from the beach’, ‘roaming free’ and ‘from the backyard’ options. The forest mushroom and carrot risotto with a mixed green pesto is one of the many vegan options that will appeal to all.
Desserts are decadant, not frilly and frothy – look out for the caramelia delice with peanut butter and cannabis-leaf marshmallow and chocolate rock.
La Petite Colombe
One-plated La Petite Colombe, and its neighbour Protégé, offer cutting-edge cuisine, the former with a fine-dining style laced with laissez-faire, the latter casual, experimental, petite plates. Know that in either restaurant the cuisine is heart-stoppingly impressive.
Chef John Norris-Rogers has an ability to make your heart stop as each dish is served. Before committing to the gourmand or reduced menu, you will be entranced by the bread course and amuse bouche. Halfway through you will be invited to witness the wonderful team at work in their (small) kitchen, whilst sipping on your wine and enjoying a note of nostalgia as you eat ‘soldiers’ dipped in egg. My mother never thought of adding foie gras when I was dipping bread into my egg during childhood.
Expect glorious dishes like yellowfin tuna with aubergine, miso, naartjie and avocado merged together in triumph. The langoustine and yellowtail with mango, ponzu, avocado and nahm jim, is sublime, on a par with the succulent Gochujang-glazed pork with scallop, spiced-up with celeriac, wild garlic and horseradish. Here is a chef who knows that a palate cleanser should do just that – be light with a hint of acidity, to create a stop-and-start, not to add another course.
The desserts provide a true grande finale, hope that the Valrhona Caraibe with pumpkin, pain d’épices, coco nib and hints of orange is on the menu when you dine. Choose the gourmand or reduced menu, with or without a wine flight – served with aplomb.
Le coin Francais
If you want to truly celebrate all that is French, this gem is a good choice. The cuisine, wine, décor and art at one-plated Le coin Francais all pay homage to French heritage. I can hear the strains of Edith Piaf as I write. “Showing restraint is a big thing,” says chef Darren Badenhorst. Some dishes are endearing in their simplicity, others are complex. It creates a journey that demonstrates his ethos of infinite care for local ingredients. All wines too, other than a handful of French wines, come from nearby.
Be assured that Darren’s trademark dish, his butter-poached BBQ langoustine, is enduring to keep regulars happy. His presentation is artful, each tiny ingredient contributes to the impressive whole. Know that he thinks of flavour first, presentation second. Innovation is the name of his game, well represented in a dish like the roast cauliflower and Boerenkaas tortellini, with a smoked pork emulsion, foraged local porcini and hen’s yolk (injected with porcini veloute) with puffed pork. It’s the kind of dish that will make you return, again and again…
Simplicity is showcased in singular elements like one coriander seed or one piece of candied lemon. Team effort is demonstrated in the roast chicken – everyone took a walk down memory lane to suggest what this family favourite means to them. The result is a dish made with finesse, that calls back the past and warms the cockles of your heart.
Save space for dessert, you will not be disappointed. Guys, if you are saving for a ring, this may be where you want to present it! A lunch or dinner here (romantic candles, sparkling silver and glinting glassware) cannot help but feel like a special occasion.
If the Francophile in you is alive and your appetite has been whet, then be sure to read the current edition of the Gourmet Guide online magazine for Newton Cross’s account of a memorable dining experience at La Grande Maison in Bordeaux. Click to view.