Exploring and indulging on the Franschhoek Wine Tram

As promised, today we’re hopping on board the Franschhoek Wine Tram. There are so many vineyards in Franschhoek in  South Africa’s Cape Winelands it’s quite a daunting task to pick which ones to visit. So someone clever thought about starting up the Wine Tram to make it easier. There are five routes to choose from and seven or eight vineyards that you can hop off at for each one.

We chose the Red Line, which has eight stops – and you have time to get off at a maximum of five. Clearly there is still some decision making to be done. Anyway, select your route and head for the centre of beautiful Franschhoek to start your adventure. It’s worth getting there a little early for a fabulous coffee at Sacred Ground (how’s that for a great name for a coffee shop). Then wait for the bell to ring to announce the start of your tour and for your guide with the red (or whatever the colour of your tour) flag to appear.

It turns out that the Wine Tram tours are mainly on a bus – well the actual tram only visits two stops which happened to be at the end of our tour. But you won’t be disappointed as it’s a particularly cute bus, resplendent in green and gold. The open sides make for easy picture taking and the informative commentary fills you in about the wine life in Franschhoek.

All aboard the wine bus wine tram

We headed out of central Franschhoek towards our first stop Maison. It’s a beautifully quaint little building with a welcoming verandah and tasting area in front. The restaurant – Kitchen at Maison – which is currently rated the eighth best in the country, overlooks vines and mountains.

The quaintest of cottages greets you

There’s a strict timetable to follow which actually makes life easier. Each segment is organised in periods of an hour – so when you’re dropped off watches are synchronised and the bus is back in exactly an hour. You can of course stay two hours (or three, or however long you want). We found that the hour worked really well. The farms are all used to the system and served us quickly and efficiently. So we were ready to head off to the next stop when the bus arrived.

In the garden at Maison – a bit of natural art?

We decided to skip the next two stops – Eikehof and Leopard’s Leap, though I did get the opportunity to capture this stunning sculpture from the bus. No prizes for guessing which vineyard this was at. As well as all its other great qualities, Franschhoek is like a massive outdoor art gallery!

Look out for the leopard prowling on high

Next stop Chamonix which dates back to 1688. The newly opened restaurant which overlooks the forest at the back. We tucked into the cheese and charcuterie boards because you’ve gotta eat if you’re tasting all that wine. They were beautifully presented and tasty, just what we needed.

A tasty cheese selection to keep us going

A delicious charcuterie platter with local meat and cheeses

A short hop and we were off the bus again at spectacular Dieu Donne. It’s a modern construction, set high up on the slopes of Franschhoek with this spectacular view across the valley.

Dieu Donne’s view is one of the most amazing

The bus meanders through the streets of this historic little town – and it really makes you feel like you want to live there (or perhaps that’s due to the wine?). Beautiful views, quaint cottages and a sense of peace – I could picture myself moving into this house!

Picture perfect cottages line the streets

By now the afternoon was starting to run away from us, time really does fly when you’re having fun. Finally it was time for the best bit – the actual tram. We waited excitedly alongside the track as it trundled up. All aboard and we headed for our final stop – Grande Provence.

It’s on the tram for the last two stops

On arrival at the station there’s a tractor and trailers awaiting you which trundle through the vines and trees to a beautiful destination. Grande Provence oozes class and style and there’s a very warm welcome, too.

Love the Franschhoek modes of transport

It’s over 300 years old and has the most spectacular gardens. Beautiful trees, water features and art everywhere for your pleasure. And the wine is great too. We settled in the shady garden with a chilled bottle of Rose. The perfect last stop to complete our day.

The stylish inside tasting area at Grande Provence

The beautiful trees offer shade for the sculptures

More fabulous Franschhoek art to admire

I loved our afternoon on the Wine Tram. We made new friends and sang with them along the way (wine tasting definitely helps with that!), tasted new wines and enjoyed the beauty of the Franschhoek Valley in style. The Bus/Tram works like clockwork and is certainly a novel way to travel.

Homeward bound after a fabulous Winelands afternoon

The vineyards we visited in conclusion

They were all very different, a mix of historical and modern, varying views, food and wine. My opinion in short.

Maison

Quaint and quirky.

Expensive wine tasting.

Highly regarded restaurant, though we didn’t eat in it this time.

Chamonix

Lovely cheese and charcuterie platters.

Delicious Sauvignon Blanc with lots of citrus notes.

Not much of a view.

Dieu Donne

Spectacular views.

More delicious Sauvignon Blanc.

Grande Provence

The classiest of the lot.

Beautiful gardens, water features and sculptures.

Delicious Rose.

Find out more about the fabulous Wine Tram at winetram.co.za

 

 

 

Another great Franschhoek restaurant: Ryan’s Kitchen

Today we’re having dinner in the beautiful Winelands town of Franschhoek. About an hour’s drive from Cape Town, the valley of Franschhoek (which means French Corner in Afrikaans) was originally settled in 1688 by 176 French Huguenot refugees. There’s a definite French feel to the town with many of the settlers naming their new farms after where they came from in France.

Which means the town has a strong wine culture which, along with the stunning scenery and architecture, make Franschhoek one of the most desirable towns in South Africa. It’s also often described as South Africa’s gourmet capital as it’s packed with so many top-quality restaurants. Tonight we chose to have dinner at Ryan’s Kitchen.

It’s a welcoming, modern space with an open kitchen that’s buzzing with activity. Our table was close enough to the action to watch the meticulous presentation skills that every chef is clearly required to have to produce the beautiful plates of food that we enjoyed here.

Ryan’s goal is to produce modern South African cuisine using local ingredient, all prepared with imagination, flair and ingenuity. And he certainly didn’t disappoint.

First up, the breadboard of the year was delivered. How we loved his fabulous beer and cocoa creation, bread has never had a more enticing aroma. The other selection was an equally delicious turmeric bread.

One of the best bread offerings ever

And then what we weren’t expecting – an amuse bouche feast. Croquettes, a pea marshmallow and tasty potatoes topped with smoked fish. Wow!

Close up on the wonderful croquettes

A spoonful of pea marshmallow, who’d have thought?

Smoky fish and delicate potato flavours

Now that got the meal off to a great start…particularly as we were feeling incredibly hungry after a day exploring on the Wine Tram. And we hadn’t even started on our starters yet.

The duck egg 63C was served with seasonal salad greens, asparagus cream, rye wafer and black garlic aioli. A wonderful mixture of flavours and textures with the perfectly (and scientifically) cooked egg. A proper fresh start.

Beautiful colours and flavours bring the whole dish together

Here’s a real innovative dish – a pulled duck koeksister with sweet potato, chicory, vegetable dice and coconut broth. A koeksister (a traditional Afrikaans treat)  is usually sweet – fried dough infused with syrup or honey (loads of it).It’s derived from the Dutch word koek which generally means a wheat flour confectionary. So today’s revelation was a savoury version, full of rich and luscious pulled duck served in a creamy broth.

Koeksisters don’t get better looking than this

The Karoo lamb belly was slow cooked and served with smoked green chakalaka, sweetbreads and spiced peanuts. Chakalaka is a traditional South African relish, though it’s normally tomato-based, Ryan has taken it to a different place – love what he’s doing with the local favourites.

A vibrant plate of lamb delight

The grass-fed beef sirloin steak was served with lime and lemongrass, coconut creamed spinach and heirloom carrots. More Asian flavours being introduced here with delicious results.

A delicate tower of steak with an Asian touch

Another great South African ingredient – springbok – was served with runner bean relish, pressed potato, fried eggplant and broccoli puree. Perfectly rare with crispy accompaniments.

Tasty springbok with a touch of green

Phew, that was all quite something. There’s a lot going on in Ryan’s dishes – though I’m pleased to say we all thought everything worked really well together.

The portions are certainly substantial and with the unexpected addition of fabulous bread and amuse bouche we were all feeling rather replete.

But that didn’t stop us from ordering dessert – and thank goodness for that. This is one of the best desserts I’ve ever eaten, never have I experienced such a souffle spectacle. The smoked plum souffle was cooked with curry leaf and served with buffalo yogurt ice-cream. It was fluffy, pink and melt-in-the-mouth, like clouds of heaven delivered to our table. As well as adding that perfect pinkness,  the plum gave a lovely tart flavour.

The queen of all the souffles

A dessert so good I had to show it from two angles

We also shared the vanilla custard which came with mango, mango sorbet, candied pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed ice-cream.

Delicate beauty on a plate

Now that was quite a feast. It’s definitely hearty fare at Ryan’s Kitchen so I’d advise working up an appetite before you tuck into his inspired dishes.

Thanks to my friend Candy and her great photography skills for the pictures of the duck koeksister and springbok steak – my efforts were blurred…yes, it does happen, especially when you’ve spent the afternoon wine tramming around the stunning Franschhoek valley.

Ryan’s Kitchen is at 1 Place Vendome, Huguenot Road, Franschhoek. You see it’s very French in Franschhoek.

Coming soon!

Find out all about our adventure on the fabulous Franschhoek Wine Tram.

You’re gonna want to climb onboard, believe me.

 

A food adventure at Foliage in Franschhoek

A trip to Franschhoek in the beautiful Cape Winelands means some serious decision making. Most importantly – where to book for dinner.

This year it was made easier for me because there’s a new restaurant I’ve been dying to try. Foliage is set on Franschhoek’s main street and is the baby of chef Chris Erasmus who used to be at the helm of Pierneef at La Motte (and made it famous).

Chris is passionate about wild ingredients and I’m told you can often spot him cycling around the valleys foraging for something exotic. And that’s a great word to describe a visit to Foliage – it’s exotic. And exciting – from the moment you’re handed the menu you need to be adventurous, throw caution to the wind and embark on an amazing journey.

You’re not quite sure what you’re going to get, despite detailed menu descriptions. We had plenty of questions for our waiter – what a joy to discover lots of new ingredients I’d never heard of before and such an inventive style of cooking.

The slow-roasted prime rib came with egg, radish salad, parmesan and fermented chilli dressing. The tenderest of tasty rare beef surrounded by an amazing array of flavours and textures.

beef starter

A beef salad like no other.

The confit duck and foie gras rillette came with wild fig and thistle cured cream, nastergal and lamb crackling brioche, caramelised milk skin and granadilla vinaigrette. It’s hard to imagine a prettier or more intriguing plate of food…wild figs and thistles, lamb crackling brioche…this is the type of dish to get really excited about!

foie gras

An intriguingly beautiful starter

The menu had put me in adventurous mood so I ordered an amazingly different starter. Vadouvan and almond spatzle, peas and fennel, poached Spier egg and pea veloute.  Vadouvan is an Indian spice blend and spatzle are little German noodle-y dumplings, so that’s a pretty exotic start. The egg was crumbed and deep fried, and spilled its yolky deliciousness over the dumplings while the peas and fennel added an amazing sweetness. I’ve never had a starter anything like this and I’d order it again without hesitation. I love that food is a never ending learning experience.

spatzle

A truly inventive and delicious plate of spatzle

And then there’s the beautiful basil, lime and chilli tuna tartar which came with spicy avocado and horseradish puree, preserved lemon yogurt and mango atjar. An enticing combination.

tuna tartar

Melt-in-the-mouth tuna tartar to savour

On to mains. I don’t remember the last time I found menu choices so difficult. There were nine options and they all sounded fabulous – even the vegetarian ones. How about pan-fried smoked cauliflower, watermelon glaze, golden beets and rooibos mascarpone – sounds wonderful to me?

I went very meaty with the brambleberry and mallow-glazed sweetbreads and smoked spare ribs, charred corn and marrog barley, river herbs and berries. Wow! A beautifully soft and tender dish with an amazing richness and depth, zesty fresh berries and smoky corn. Unlike anything I’ve ever eaten before.

sweetbreads

Sweet, rich and satisfying, sweetbreads and smoked spare ribs

Chef Chris had recently visited India for inspiration and produced this delectable smoked pork and potato curry which was served with naan bread, heirloom tomatoes and chakalaka salad – a beautiful fusion of flavours from different continents, including kashmiri chilli which  added a little something extra.

curry

Totally amazing curry with a chilli bite

Meat lovers need look no further than this boerbok and tongue en crepinette, grilled springbok, roasted bone marrow, purslane, mushroom and oyster with honeybush jus. The boerbok and tongue was made into the best sausage I’ve ever tasted. The bone marrow was rich and satisfying and the springbok packed with flavour. Love it!

marrow

An exotic carnivore’s delight

By this stage we were all more than satisfied until I spotted panna cotta on the dessert menu. A pud I can’t resist, so I convinced the table that we should share one. The lavender and yogurt panna cotta came with a delectable nectarine and honey jus and plenty of berries.

panna cotta

Fruity, creamy panna cotta

 

Foliage is truly an adventurous night out with a cornucopia of combinations to try. And although the cooking is clearly complicated, it doesn’t seem at all fussy or overwhelming – and everything just tastes so good. Pure genius!

Foliage is at 11 Huguenot Street, Franschhoek.

An amazing food and wine pairing at Rupert & Rothschild

Time for a trip to Franschhoek. This beautiful town deep in the Winelands is known as the food and wine capital of South Africa (more of that later). And the drive there offers all sorts of possibilities for lunch stops with so many vineyards and restaurants to choose from. My advice – don’t plan, just check out the signs on the road and pull off when you think you like the look of something…which is how we ended up at Rupert & Rothschild today.

The Rupert & Rothschild (R&R) partnership was formed in 1997 by the late Dr Anton Rupert and the late Baron Edmond de Rothschild of France. Since then the R&R family partnership has flourished and their historic farm at the foot of the Simonsberg mountains produces lovely wines to savour. We know and love the Classique which is a classic Bordeaux blend and were keen to taste some more.

R&R view

The stunning view across the vines

Sparkling wine glasses just waiting for the tasting are all set up along the welcoming bar.

R&R roses

Welcome to the tasting area

While we were pondering our tasting options, we were told of a new food and wine pairing menu that had just been introduced to R&R. There we go…lunch. So we settled down on the lovely verandah to taste to our heart’s content.

r&rwine

Three delicious wines to taste

R&Rfood1

And then paired with the food

R&Rfood2

Three stunning dishes

So this beautiful tasting menu is R135 (about £7.70 at today’s exchange rate). You get three R&R wines and three dishes paired with them.

The Baroness Nadine, which is a zesty, flinty Chardonnay, is paired with Artisan smoked butter-roast hake, pan fried gnocchi, pea veloute and bacon crumble. Beautiful fish, amazing crispy gnocchi and a sauce that makes you want to lick the bowl!

R&Rhake

Fresh hake with beautifully zingy Chardonnay

Next up, with the Classique is crispy pasture-reared pork belly, confit squash and fennel gratin. The softest of pork with an amazing vegetable combo.

R&Rpork

Pork belly goes perfectly with the Bordeaux blend

And finally, with their amazing Baron Edmond, grass fed beef braised in R&R Baron Edmond, root vegetable puree, glazed baby onion, crispy shallots. The sweetness of the squash, the richness of the beef and the different textures made for a wonderful taste sensation. And their Baron Edmond is superb, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

R&Rbeef

A fabulous combo of tastes and textures

R&R seats

Sit outside and take in the scenery

And here’s the wonderful trio of wines that we enjoyed.

wine-bottles-3What a fabulous experience. Eating and drinking great food and wine in style and such great value for money.

There’s also a fabulous-sounding Champagne and oyster tasting for R160 (just over £9 at today’s exchange), which is only available on Saturdays. Now that could be the best way to spend a Saturday afternoon soon! I’ll be back…

Rupert & Rothschild is just off the R45 on the way from Cape Town to Franschhoek

A balmy night at Grande Provence, Franschhoek

When you’re choosing a restaurant for dinner in Franschhoek, it’s not an easy task. Known as the food and wine capital of South Africa, this little town is home to some of the best restaurants in the country. It also has the highest concentration of top-quality restaurants in the whole of Africa. So it’s a challenge – but a pleasant one that I was happy to take on.

In the end it was because of a review I read in the local paper that I chose Grande Provence which is on a vineyard just on the outskirts of town. The vineyard has 300 years of history and the chef Darren Badenhorst promises fine French dining with an Asian twist.

You turn off the main road and wind your way down through a twist of vines until you get to what feels like the foot of the mountains. It was such a beautiful night we opted to sit outside in the warm summer air in their beautiful garden. A fire burned in the built-in brick braai in the distance sending out a welcoming glow and the scent of jasmine from giant pots wafted through the air. The interior is stylish and chic, with a mood of chilled sophistication. Just perfect.

The menu offers a choice of four starters and five mains (good, less decision making) and suggests that the whole experience has been designed around having a three-course meal which is the price you are quoted for. Well, who am I to argue? As it happens, it was really a six-course meal as also included were an amuse bouche, palate-cleansing sorbet and a pre-dessert! All making the evening feel even more indulgent. I mean, a pre-dessert, how luxurious is that?

The amuse bouche was a silky smoked salmon veloute

The amuse bouche was a silky smoked salmon veloute

I chose the ruby salmon gravadlax with smoked beetroot and avocado oil mayonnaise, walnut crumble and lemon sorbet. The most beautifully tender salmon presented as a true work of art with flowers and leaves and herbs. So amazing. When I think about it, lemon sorbet and gravadlax is bound to be the perfect combination – I’d just never thought about it before. And it was. An idea I’m going to steal next time I have friends around for dinner.

The most amazing salmon gravadlax

The most amazing salmon gravadlax

Terry opted for the ginger and corn dim sum – Asian porcini broth, king scallop and wine barrel smoke. A truly exotic looking and tasting smoky dish.

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Delicious dim sum with a difference

For mains I couldn’t resist the roasted quail with truffled gnocchi, fig and hazelnut jus. The quail was perfectly cooked with great depths of flavour and the truffled gnocchi totally heavenly.

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Flavoursome quail with the most amazing truffled gnocchi

Terry’s delightful plate was the buchu and balsamic braised lamb neck with tomato ragout, pistachio butter  and sage pomme croquette.

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Melt in the mouth lamb and beautiful soft croquette

And then on to the pre-dessert – a chocolate mousse with berry coulis served in a beautiful glass. I had to photograph it from on high.

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Today I tucked into pre-dessert for the first time!

Dessert choice was the beautifully named Textures of chocolate with vanilla creme anglaise and raspberry granita.

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Pudding that’s heaven for chocaholics

I don’t have much of a sweet tooth so was delighted to find a cheese option and ordered the goat’s cheese. It was proper ‘roof of the mouth’ cheese with depth of flavours and a great texture. Cheese of the year for me so far!

Amazing goats cheese, the best I've had all year

Amazing goats cheese, the best I’ve had all year

We also enjoyed a bottle of their lovely Cabernet Sauvignon, the perfect compliment to the meal.

The estate also regularly hosts exhibitions of contemporary South African art, you can do wine tastings and there are even rooms where you can stay overnight. I must admit to be also picturing a long lunch in the beautiful garden, so that definitely has to be on the agenda for the future. Mind you, there’s so much to choose from in this restaurant heaven will I be able to return to the same place twice? Watch this space.

You can find out more at www.grandprovence.co.za

Tapas at Cosecha, Noble Hill

So last week we set off on what we decided is going to become an annual event – a mini break in Franschhoek in the stunning Winelands. B&B booked, restaurant for dinner carefully chosen and off we headed.

As we meandered our way there with the scenery getting more and more beautiful, the inevitable hunger pangs started. And there in front of us was the perfect sign advertising food and wine tasting at a vineyard called Noble Hill. To say that you pass a lot of these sort of signs in this area is understating it, but for some reason instinct told us we needed to take a detour right there.

As luck would have it, Noble Hill was the perfect choice. In a truly beautiful setting, the Cosecha restaurant is Latin-inspired so we found ourselves looking at a lovely tapas menu. Bearing in mind that dinner was going to be gourmet we happily settled ourselves down for a tasty snack.

Welcome to the beautiful setting of Cosecha

Welcome to the beautiful setting of Cosecha

First on the agenda – wine. Oh, I should say, the Winelands can get exceedingly hot and it was over 40 degrees as we sat down in the shade. Only one thing for it, a chilled rose. The Noble Hill Mourvedre Rose 2012 is described as having tastes of strawberries, watermelon and rosewater. Beautifully, light, aromatic and flavoursome.

As we sipped our wine, a plate of the freshest, lightest tortillas I’ve encountered for a long time were delivered with a delicious chunky hummus dip.

Tortillas and freshly made hummus

Tortillas and freshly made hummus

I ordered from the ceviche section – seafood in citrus, in this case prawn and avocado. Plump prawns, rich avocado, crispy leaves and a zesty dressing.

Zesty prawn ceviche

Zesty prawn ceviche

Terry went for the special of the day which was patatas bravas served with prawn pincho (skewer). The bravas sauce was beautifully silken and rich, and the prawns juicy and garlicky.

Patatas bravas with the perfect sauce and garlicky prawns

Patatas bravas with the perfect sauce and garlicky prawns

Simply the perfect way to start our visit to the beautiful Winelands. Oh and there’s plenty more to be tried on the menu when we’re in the market for a more substantial lunch. I’ll also have to return soon and stock up on some of that irresistible rose. Cheers.

Find out more at www.noblehill.com or www.cosecharestaurant.com