By Tova Syrowicz
Landing a coveted spot on Elite Traveler’s list of the World’s Top 100 Restaurants 2013, Le Quartier Français’s Tasting Room in South Africa continues to innovate while serving some of the finest (some would argue the finest) African-influenced cuisine on the continent; in addition to a dramatic resto and kitchen redesign, the Relais & Châteaux has just launched a cosmopolitan cocktail bar the likes of which Franschhoek has never seen.
Grande Chef Margot Janse has been spinning her magic in the heart of the Cape Wineland’s village of Franschhoek for the past 18 years. Of course, just because she’s become a favorite fixture of the Relais & Châteaux’s award-winning restaurant doesn’t mean the element of surprise has left the premises. Continually experimenting with new flavors and presentations, Janse’s refined cuisine delights and excites guests time and again.
Last year, her brother—an opera set designer based in the Netherlands—flew in to redesign The Tasting Room’s interiors, saying that his sister’s food deserves a stage. This year, the kitchen was completely redone. Now 100 percent induction, it can also claim the title of South Africa’s greenest kitchen. Here, Janse creates unforgettable plates, like a foie gras slab that resembles a bar of chocolate, and a seafood offering with everything from edible mussel “shells” to “sand.” While you’ll be taken by the visual creativity of each dish, the quality and deft use of ingredients, as well as the flavor combinations, will make your taste buds dance.
Guests of the restaurant can now take tours of the spanking new kitchen. When asked whether anyone actually does, Le Quartier’s owner Susan Huxter replies emphatically, “They do! And they love it.” It seems that when one’s food deserves a stage, the audience takes extra pleasure in behind-the-scenes access as well.
Other recent additions to Le Quartier Français include a Garden Room with glass ceiling and walls—a lovely spot for breakfast as well as private functions and events. Even though the boutique hotel is located right in the heart of Franschhoek, you would never know it once inside, as it is comprised of numerous buildings that surround a lush pool courtyard. It really is an oasis amidst the mountains of the Cape’s stunning wine country.
And lest you think Franschhoek is a sleepy village where everything shuts down at 9 p.m., Huxter has just unveiled her latest brainchild, a lounge bar serving up craft cocktails made from Le Quartier’s own infused alcohols. Star mixologist/professional barman Matt Roberts, who hails from Soho’s Quo Vadis and Notting Hill’s Montgomery Place in London, is in residence for six months, his creative cocktails already causing quite the stir. Playful bar bites are courtesy of Margot Janse, and include decadent “cheese oreos,” Huguenot Gruyère oozing with a cream cheese and chèvre filling, and wildebeest donuts. There is nothing else like this venue in town, and though it’s still a little early to tell, we expect that the opening hours of noon to midnight will attract quite the evening buzz.
While you can expect to feast on and imbibe some truly artistic creations, you’ll be happy to know that your indulgence allows Le Quartier to do some major nutritional good in the community as well. Five days a week, they feed 120 kids a meal so nutritious it is sufficient for the full day should they not eat anything else, and that’s in addition to serving 700 breakfasts a week to older children in need.