In a nation that has become renowned for its cuisine in a relatively short time, the town of Franschhoek is the epicenter of great food and wine. Located about an hour east of Cape Town, in the heart of the country’s wine region, Franschhoek is a charming village reflecting its origins as ‘French Corner.’ With a range of lovely hotels and inns spreading to nearby Stellenbosch, one can dine for many days before becoming bored. If you were analyzing a quiz from college exam days, Franschhoek would be the answer to the following
San Francisco: Napa :: Cape Town : _____?______.
The Tasting Room is part of Le Quartier Francais, a boutique collection of hotel rooms and several restaurants overseen by its wonderfully eclectic proprietor Susan Huxter. Susan has been developing Le Quartier Francais for 25 years. She gave us a tour, and we were delighted with the surprise around each corner. In several hotel rooms the juxtaposition of fabrics, colors and furniture was partly audacious but completely successful. In a wise bid to cater to all tastes and pocketbooks, she has opened Delicious Hotel rooms in three sizes: Itsy Bitsy, Teeny Weeny and Bigger Than a Bikini. In each you can get the ‘”4B” rate comprising bed, breakfast, bottle and bike. Although we did not stay in any of Susan’s hotel rooms, we have seen more than enough to plan a return visit for at least a weekend.
The Tasting Room has the ambitious goal of telling the story of Africa through the food. Susan has fully empowered the multi-cultured staff, and diners justifiably revel in the result. Each server had a bubbly personality, with the right amount of enthusiasm and discretion. We learned from Susan that when hired, “the servers did not know the difference between fried, scrambled or poached eggs.”
The five courses in our meal were unlike anything we had ever seen or tasted. Had we been served in a bland room, we still would have been amazed. But like the delightful décor of the hotel rooms, The Tasting Room is a treat for the eyes. Our table looked out over a small courtyard and lawn, tastefully lit in the amber twilight.
Every evening is different, as there is no menu. Each of our courses arrived with an understated flourish. We often asked for the description to be repeated, as our initial visual curiosity seemed to impair our sense of hearing. Our starter that evening was comprised of beetroot, buttermilk labne, dill and cucumber granita. Each course was accompanied by a paired wine flight, and we had no complaints about the selections.
In time the next course arrived, which was a visually delightful concoction of curry dusted silver cobm yellow dahl, kale, braised spices and confit tomato. The middle course was based on tender karoo springbok loin with accompaniments of wild grains, sorghum, rainbow carrots and celeriac. The wine shifted to red, in this case the local pinotage. Pinotage is a well-balanced red, with solid, earthy tones making it a signature taste of South Africa.
Our final two courses had us nearly swimming in delight. A half decade old port was paired with klein rivier gruyere, rusks. Mebos custard and currants. The chef finished us off with baobab, coconut, honeybush and caramel.
Margot Janse has been named Chef of the Year and The Tasting Room has understandably been rated as one of the top restaurants for many years. At a prestigious awards ceremony in London recently The Tasting Room moved up the gourmet ladder from 57 to 53 on San Pellegrino World’s Top 100 Restaurants. Only one of two African restaurants on the list (Cape Town’s The Test Kitchen came in at position 61) makes this a remarkable achievement. On our visit, the culinary surprises with each course were savored. Indeed, the restaurant suggests at least 3 ½ hours and reservations can be understandably difficult.
After our delightfully long evening wound to a close, we had indeed taken a culinary tour of Africa. Our guides for the journey were Susan and her talented staff. The Tasting Room is not to be missed.
The Tasting Room and Le Quartier Francais
0027 21876 2151