John Maytham's Weekend of Culinary Delights in Franschhoek
CapeTalk's John Maytham shares his wonderful weekend in Franschhoek
Lunch at Ōku Asian Eatery, dinner at La Petite Colombe, a night at Le Quartier Français, and lunch at Epice – a 28-hour battery recharge in Franschhoek. This picturesque town is the culinary capital of South Africa, and even now during these incredibly tough times, the place and its exciting restaurants live up to their reputation and make me believe that miracles are still possible.
Click on the gallery below to view all John's delectable meals:
The one thing that had been missing from the town’s rich repertoire was an Asian restaurant to satisfy all food longings. The newly opened Ōku Asian Eatery comes with the expertise of chefs Ryan Shell and Darren Badenhorst and fills the gap with aplomb, offering a menu for all tastes and pockets. Whether it is the salmon sashimi with the Eatery’s secret soy sauce; the crispy szechuan squid with Kewpie mayo; the steamed cauliflower dim sum with kimchi, soy and citrus; the porcini bao with pickled cucumber and teriyaki; or the seared tuna with togaroshi, daikon, lime and dashi – the dishes delight with perfectly intertwined flavours and gorgeous presentation – and the Japanese cheesecake with raspberry and yuzu compote for dessert is a must. The plum sake is the perfect digestive after a perfect indulgence. The word ‘ōku’ is ‘oak’ in Japanese and the simple, but strikingly elegant interior design with oak furnishings, invites to relax and linger in a casual but beautiful setting.
La Petite Colombe has been around for a while now and fans of fine dining will be elated to know that during lockdown this renowned restaurant has relocated to a new stunning building on the Leeu Estate. Recently planted vines, statues by some of the most celebrated South African artists and unique views accompany you on the way to the new venue, an architectural artwork in itself. You are welcomed into a lounge area where exquisitely prepared Saldanha Bay oyster with apple, kalamansi and soy; bite-sized treasures of yellowfin tuna with chipotle and coriander as well as Purdon wagyu, pickled fish, truffle and aubergine are served with aperitifs before you are taken through to your table where even the reduced menu becomes an unforgettable feast. Just the list of ingredients reads like poetry: rhubarb, lavender, dry aged duck, prawn, szechuan, peanut, hoisin, mezcal, mint karoo lamb, harissa, salsa verde, chickpea, strawberry, bergamot, earl grey, lime. And the well-selected accompanying wines are liquid poetry. At the end, the sweets trolley arrives and, if you are lucky, the chocolate bar you choose will include a Golden Ticket that will give you a handsome discount when you invite your friends to share in the culinary bliss next time.
Fortunately, I did not have to go far to rest after the two-meal extravaganza as a bed awaited me at Le Quartier Français, the most fitting accommodation to continue with a dream visit to Franschhoek. A night of peaceful rest, a small early breakfast accompanied by two delicious cappuccinos, a refreshing dip in the pool and a leisurely hour with the Sunday papers, and I was ready for the final stop of my adventure at one of the hotel’s own restaurants.
Epice first opened just across the street from the hotel before lockdown in December last year, but relocated to the new venue at Le Quartier Français, where the generous space vacated by La Petite Colombe opens almost entirely onto the hotel garden and provides the perfect safe setting for a meal during which your taste buds are not only tantalised but, in the time of the coronavirus, also reassured when the menu takes you on the Spice Journey. One of the divine starters – the anise and sweet potato bread with beef drippings, coriander and cumin – is prepared at the table and you can’t help but salivate as the diverse spices fill the air and you begin to dip the star-shaped bread into the spicy melted drippings. You enjoy thewagyu short rib roti with ginger and chilli while chef Charné Sampson takes you on a brief tour of her kitchen. The sorbet trolley offers refreshing palate cleansers before you continue with a kabeljou, squid, mussel, coriander and curry dish, the mouth-melting Karoo lamb with carrot, garlic and cayenne pepper, and arrive at the end of this fabulous trip via the Welsh rarebit croissant with pear, mustard and cumin and the enticing coconut, mango, vanilla and curry dessert. The experience is followed by a spice test – three chocolates, three spices and a lot of intrigue – to finish the Journey.
Needless to say, I travelled home a well-fed and content man and will be returning to Franschhoek as soon as I possibly can. The most lasting memory, though, of this gourmand bacchanal is from the lunch at Oku. There was a young man - perhaps nine years old - at an adjoining table. After he'd finished his meal, he lifted the plate to his mouth and licked and licked and licked until it completely cleared of the last vestiges of food. That was something I wanted to do after every one of the courses that arrived in front of me. Perhaps I should have thrown convention to the winds and done exactly what he did.