Viva la France!

Posted: July 9, 2009 in Restaurant Reviews
Tags: , ,

First Published in Sunday Independent 5 July ‘09

 Roaring winter fires, a smorgasbord of award-winning restaurants, some of the finest wines, old world service, and plenty antiques, art- and bookshops make the quaint village of Franschhoek a perfect winter getaway.

Franschhoek roads are lined with vineyards and Cape Dutch homes. Photo: Astrid Stark

Franschhoek roads are lined with vineyards and Cape Dutch homes. Photo: Astrid Stark

Franschhoek is nestled in the heart of the Cape Winelands and under the protective gaze of the Groot Drakenstein mountains. Residents in the village refer to Franschhoek as the gourmet capital of the world. When the resident chefs are the legendary Margot Jansen, Neil Jewell , Reuben Riffel, Matthew Gordon, and the international and recently appointed executive chef of Le Franschhoek, Darren Roberts; it is easy to believe that you are in good hands. The main road is a collection of top restaurants and coffee shops such as Reuben’s, Bouillabaisse, and the understated Kalfies, where you can grab anything from a piping hot croissant and coffee, to a 6-course gastronomic feast.

Corrugated iron roofs, enormous flowerpots dripping with lavender, and fashionable Victorian ironwork known as ‘broekie lace’ decorates shop fronts and restaurants. Best of all; there is not a single fast food joint in sight. There are no less than 42 wineries in Franschhoek and the village boasts many innovative and progressive producers in SA among its wine farms. You can visit these farms either as part of a guided tour group, or by car, by bicycle, or by bumping along on a tractor. If you have tired a little of all things French you can catch a quick bite and pint at the comfy Elephant and Barrel English pub which serves up tasty pub fare at affordable prices. It boasts a selection of up to 30 English beers and it screens major sporting events. On weekend nights they feature local musicians. If you are lucky enough to visit on a busy night, the staff moves the furniture about, and you can boogie away on the makeshift dancefloor.

 This brings us to the nightlife in Franschhoek, of which – apart from dining out – there’s not an awful lot. Most restaurants offer winter specials and throw in creative food and wine pairings. Le Quartier Français’ 40 seat movie house shows nightly films, and they will toss in a glass of wine and some cheese balls at a ridiculously cheap price. It is during the big annual events, such as the Bastille Day Festival from 11-12 July, that the locals really come out to play. This year there will be a masked ball at Le Franschhoek Hotel, and Darren Roberts – who has cooked for the likes of Madiba, Brad Pitt and Val Kilmer- has prepared a mouth-watering menu for the occasion. There will be boules challenges, fresh farmers’ markets, and a barrel rolling competition. The colourful minstrels will be performing in the streets, French movies screened, and of course all the gorgeous food you can eat.

Photo 2, Franschhoek is known for its 'broekie lace' Victorian style decoration and corrugated iron roofs.  Photo: Astrid Stark

Photo 2, Franschhoek is known for its 'broekie lace' Victorian style decoration and corrugated iron roofs. Photo: Astrid Stark

At the chocolaterie in the main road you can indulge your inner chocoholic, and stock up on home-made preserves and souvenirs.

The Huguenot Memorial Museum is worth a visit for insights into the history of the area. The museum chronicles the history of the outlawed Protestants’ escape from France and their harrowing journey to the Cape of Good Hope. They were given land by the Dutch government in a valley called Oliphantshoek; so named because of the vast herds of elephants that roamed the area. Soon after they settled the area was baptised as Franschhoek.

Astrid Stark 70 Huguenot Road Franschhoek, 7690. Tel: +27(0)21 876 3603 Fax: +27(0)21 876 2964

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