If there was ever any doubt that Franschhoek was on a fast-track to becoming the Cape’s Culinary Capital, this restaurant will put paid to that!
Sleek, slick and flawlessly five-star, the space that once housed Margot Janse’s The Tasting Room is a new labour of love for bright young chef John Norris-Rogers who, under the guidance of La Colombe’s legendary chef-restaurateur Scot Kirton, and head chef James Gaag, has devised an exciting menu that marries rigorous tradition with lashings of playfulness.
We had the extraordinary pleasure of eating at La Petite Colombe within a week of its launch and, after just seven days of service, this relaxed and refined newcomer felt as well-oiled and established as its feted Constantia sibling.
THE DAZZLING MENU
The thing about highbrow tasting menus – in general – is that dishes can sometimes start blurring into one another in a haze of sensory overload. Here, though, you cannot help but be dazzled by the sheer drama of chef John’s theatrical menu (nine courses if you opt for the Full Menu; or five courses if you choose the Reduced Menu).
His Cape Malay Pickled Fish, for example, has been dressed up with creamed smoked snoek, piccalilli and salsa verde, and presented on a flat bowl of seashells and dry ice – transforming it from humble to haute instantly.
His inspired Springbok Tataki (lightly seared springbok loin, served with chicken liver parfait, rum-braised pineapple, pickled onions and a pickled Jerusalem artichoke) is another triumph, but my favourite was the Citrus-Glazed Linefish (pan-seared linefish served with smoked parsnip-and-vanilla purée, pancetta, buckwheat and asparagus), whose perfectly calibrated flavours and textures were symphonic.
John, who spent four-and-a-half years honing his skills at La Colombe, has a self-assured demeanour that belies his 26 years, and is quick to play down his fast-tracked trajectory when we ask about his brand-new baby: “I think it’s easier to step into an existing concept, than to start something from scratch.” Which is fair enough…
As for the winelist, it’s fine-tuned, smart and beautifully unpredictable.
Everything about this 54-seater restaurant oozes timeless elegance – from the background music (Ella Fitzgerald and Etta James) to the pared-down yet sumptuous interiors (by UK-based Beverley Boswell). The subdued (and forgiving) lighting and pitch-perfect acoustics (that allows comfortable conversation) make you want to sit for hours… (We did! Three-and-a-half hours, to be precise, if you go for all nine courses!).
It’s all about the guest experience
The fifth course – entitled Meet the Chefs – is designed to add a unique layer to the fine-dining experience, by giving guests a peek into how the kitchen works and inviting them enjoy their meal from, quite literally, a different standpoint: a counter at the pass!
The dish in question was ramen (a traditional Japanese meal consisting of broth and noodles). As our chef talked us through the different elements and ingredients, she poured the hot, clear celeriac broth into our orb-shaped bowls, inviting us to to soak up all the flavours (ponzu, garlic, sambal oelek, and so on) with the tweezers provided.
It’s these extras, coupled with polite and professional service, that create a sense of occasion, and make dining here rather special.
Cost The Full Menu (10 courses) costs R1 550; with wine R2 650.
The Reduced Menu (8 courses) costs R1 200; with wine R2 050 and is only available for lunch.
Open Monday – Sunday, 12pm – 13:30pm; 6.30pm – 8.30pm
Contact 021 202 3395, firstname.lastname@example.org