Franschhoek is basically the Disneyland of fine dining. If you consider yourself a wine-loving gourmand, this is a town that should be added to your bucket list immediately. Since Huguenot settlers began planting grapes in the area 300 years ago, the fertile valleys of the Western Cape – the province in which Franschhoek sits – have provided us with so many celebrated vineyards that it’s an obvious choice for laid-back days exploring smoky Pinotage, cool Cabernet and fresh Chenin Blanc.
Over the decades, discerning visitors have influenced the food on offer and picturesque Franschhoek– with its handsome Huguenot monument at the top of the high street and precious thatched cottages – may now have as many tasting menus as it does coffee machines.
It was Dutch chef Margot Janse who brought the tasting menu concept to the valley (and, in fact, to South Africa) and it helped take the reputation of the area to a new level; her Franschhoek restaurant The Tasting Room was a regular in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants in the noughties.
When The Tasting Room closed in 2017, a new culinary superstar moved in; La Petite Colombe is the countryside sibling of Cape Town’s three-Michelin-starred trailblazer La Colombe. The combination of discerning customers eager to try something new and local produce that allows chefs to shine couldn’t be better suited to fine-dining.
Even beyond ironed tablecloths, there are so many special meals in the area. At local favourite Terbodore Coffee, your poached eggs come with miso hollandaise; you’ll find crab and feta samosas at the weekly Franschhoek Village Market; and there are some very imaginative wine pairings on the estates (the cheese and charcuterie platter at Atlas Swift is world-class).
For the big-name bookings (mainly La Petite Colombe and Babylonstoren’s evening options), you’ll need to book ahead, especially if you’re visiting at the weekend, but thanks to the wealth of options, it’s perfectly reasonable to leave your accommodation for an evening aperitif without a dinner reservation and return having eaten something extraordinary.
La Petite Colombe
A meal at La Petite Colombe is modern fine dining at its most celebratory. The chef’s tasting menu is a parade of intricately presented flavour bombs; traditional South African ingredients such as biltong and snoek (a native white fish related to mackerel) make appearances after Mexican-style steak and before Cape Malay-style tuna. The restaurant, with its Scandi-style interior, is surrounded by great stretches of manicured gardens in the spectacular environment of the Leeu estate. The estate is also home to The Wine Studio, a glamorous setting for a tutored tasting of the Mullineux & Leeu Family wines, during which you’re likely to be treated to a new vintage release or two.
Klein Goederust Boutique Winery
The food at Franschhoek’s first black-owned wine farm is authentic South African. Instead of deconstructed malva puddings or fancy versions of bunnychow, there is a buffet piled with fresh salads and barbecued meat, plus plenty of roesterkoek – fluffy flatbreads cooked over coals – to mop up the delicious juices. There’s excellent spit-roast lamb most Saturdays, meaning you’ll have to compete with local residents for a table. Their fantastically fruity MCC (Methode Cap Classique – a production method that apes that of Champagne) is named for the owner’s mother, Nomaroma, who worked on the wine estate for nearly 40 years.
This slick setup from the same group as La Petite Colombe is an excellent way to enjoy high-end cooking without feeling self-conscious about your holiday wardrobe. It’s informal enough to serve Korean fried chicken (highly recommended) but still delivers its vibrant five-course menu in the inventive crockery of a Michelin-star-seeker. The wine pairing includes some of the area’s most well-known favourites; it’s a great way to get an overview while you’re deciding which wineries deserve a visit.
Yama Sushi Emporium
Perhaps you weren’t expecting to be wowed by a California roll while visiting this particular continent but the food at Yama proves that excellent sushi can complement any setting. As well as expertly constructed stalwarts of the sushi selection (those California rolls contain incredibly tender, crisp-coated tempura prawns) there are artful specialities such as their delicate ‘salmon roses’. A separate menu offers a pan-Asian-style selection of dumplings, bao buns, noodle bowls and tempura, and do take a short break from the local wines to try the restaurant’s own sake.
This elegant day out is a whole farm-to-table concept – wine, orchards, restaurants, livestock, hotel, shops and spa – set in one of the Franschhoek valley’s oldest Cape Dutch properties. In a chic, white-tiled dining room that was once the cattle shed, their main restaurant Babel makes exceptional dishes from their own produce. Make sure to finish with the water buffalo gelato. Babylonstoren wines are suggested as pairings, naturally, though we advise committing to a bottle of their very well-regarded fresh-but-creamy Chardonnay. If you can’t get a booking at Babel, it’s still very much worth a visit for an excellent light lunch in their Greenhouse restaurant.
Reuben’s Restaurant and Bar
Reuben Riffel is essentially South Africa’s Jamie Oliver and was born and raised in the Franschhoek valley. This is his flagship restaurant and the food is aspirational bistro fare: classic dishes made noteworthy. Carnivores should not miss the roasted springbok steak with blueberry chutney. The wine list is sorted by varietal – perfect for those who know what they’re doing – and they offer the world’s most coveted dessert wine, Klein Constantia Vin de Constance, by the glass.
Le Lude Estate may already have caught your eye with their selection of MCCs, especially given that some of their best vintages are available by the glass in the tasting room (particularly exciting as they’re very difficult to find overseas). At their Orangerie restaurant, you’ll enjoy a gently modernised menu of classic French and Italian cuisine and a setting that invites linen suits and aperitifs. Chef Nicolene Barrow spent two years at Le Gavroche, as implied by her signature dish, Gruyere soufflé with a zingy, crunchy, celery and apple salad, which is as perfectly balanced as the fizz.