Franschhoek, a two-hour drive from Cape Town, is known as South Africa’s culinary capital. Home to some of the country’s finest restaurants, including a World’s 50 Best, it is also famed for its wineries, many of which date back centuries.
Translating from Dutch as “French corner”, Franschhoek is one of the oldest and picturesque of South Africa’s towns. French Hugenots first settled in the mountain-ringed valley in 1688 and many of the original farmhouses, built in Cape Dutch style, remain intact, surrounded by gardens and vineyards, all topped by a crisp, expansive sky. Visitors would be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon a slice of heaven.
Many of Franschhoek’s restaurants are worth a daytrip from Cape Town, or stay a couple of nights to soak up the scenery. Here is the pick of Franschhoek’s culinary crop.
LE QUARTIER FRANCAIS
No foodie trip to this part of South Africa is complete without a visit to this boutique hotel and restaurant. Regularly voted as one of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, The Tasting Room offers an exquisite culinary safari created by multi-award-winning Dutch-born chef Margot Janse. The restrained decor, by set designer Herbert Janse—the chef’s brother—and the artworks on walls by revered South African artist Maud Sumner, provide an ideal backdrop for a meal that will excite as well as challenge.
Janse’s Surprise Tasting Menu is the one serious gourmands should go for: each of the nine courses are African-inspired, balancing surprise with nostalgia, and use the freshest ingredients, many of which have been grown in Le Quartier’s own garden or sourced from local producers. Janse is known for using quirky ingredients, such as wildebeest bone marrow, fennel pollen, and the tart leaves of the spekboom (a shrub). The menu, served for dinner only, is paired with local wines. Leave three and a half hours to enjoy your meal and book in advance. Corner Berg and Wilhelmina Streets; www.lqf.co.za; tel: +27 21 876 2151
This much-loved restaurant, bar and cafe is helmed by the supremely talented and handsome chef Reuben Riffel. Mixed-race Riffel, who grew up during Apartheid in an area outside Cape Town allocated to non-whites, defied all odds to become one of the country’s top chefs, opening his eponymous restaurant in 2004. He also has a Reuben’s at One&Only hotel in Cape Town.
Riffel excels at comfort food executed with panache, with dishes such as grilled peri-peri tiger prawns with butternut and spinach wontons and shellfish bisque on the menu plus a daily list of specials developed around whatever’s freshest. The dishes are complemented by a carefully curated wine list. 19 Huguenot Street; www.reubens.co.za; tel: +27 21 876 3772
LA PETITE FERME
Make lunch at this Franschhoek institution the first stop on your culinary tour—it sets the scene. The views are breathtaking and you are likely to spend the afternoon lying on the grass ordering one bottle after another. If you are finally unable to move, this boutique winery and restaurant also has cosy suites to stay in.
The menu highlights South African ingredients and dishes, such as Cape Malay pickled fish served spicy sweet and cold, venison medallions with apricot and red muscadel reduction and butternut, and traditional cinnamon milk tart served with rooibos (tea) honey and ice cream. The cooking is homestyle, the atmosphere family friendly. Franschhoek Pass Road; www.lapetiteferme.co.za; tel: +27 21 876 3016
LE BON VIVANT
Chef Pierre Hendricks is making a name for himself in Franschhoek, and although the restaurant is located in a converted home so is small and quiet, the food is far from humble.
Expect dishes such as springbok loin with beetroot, potato croquettes and turnip spring rolls, or duck breast with seared foie gras, orange doughnuts, atjar and carrot gel. Then there’s the playful crayfish tails with shredded osso buco, tortellini, lentils and white onions, and for dessert, the raspberry, lemon and basil sorbet pavlova with sorbet and baked custard. Sample also Saldanha Bay oysters and local cheese.
Portions are light and full of fresh flavours, and each dish is beautifully presented. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner. 22 Dirkie Uys Street; www.lebonvivant.co.za; tel: +27 21 876 2717
MÔRESON’S BREAD & WINE
This rustic restaurant set among vineyards and lemon orchards takes the art of delicatessen to another level: Neil Jewell, charcutier-extraordinaire, takes the techniques of curing, smoking, pickling and other methods or preserving as inspiration for his seasonally influenced dishes.
Start with the antipasto platter, an ever-changing selection of meats that reflects Jewell’s passion for charcuterie, and follow up with a signature dish of braised Italian plum tomato with aubergine ravioli and tapenade, or porcini-dusted wildebeest, smoked beetroot custard and celery and garlic.
Jewell home-cures most meats, including a spectacular bacon and lamb ham, and these are available to take home from the Farm Grocer. Do not miss out on the special breads. The farm also offers charcuterie and bread-making classes. Happy Valley Road; www.moreson.co.za; tel: +27 21 876 3055
If you are looking for another side to Franschhoek’s history, Batho’s Place makes for a memorable dining experience.
Located in a converted shack in J40 Squatter Camp in Tyotyombeni, Batho’s is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and serves a wide range of dishes from burgers to traditional African. On summer evenings, indulge in beer tasting on the patio, soaking in the atmosphere of township life, and listening to live singing. The venue is cash only, and can arrange for a car to pick you up and drop you back at your hotel.