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.
And then what we weren’t expecting – an amuse bouche feast. Croquettes, a pea marshmallow and tasty potatoes topped with smoked fish. Wow!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Another great South African ingredient – springbok – was served with runner bean relish, pressed potato, fried eggplant and broccoli puree. Perfectly rare with crispy accompaniments.
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.
We also shared the vanilla custard which came with mango, mango sorbet, candied pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed ice-cream.
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.
Find out all about our adventure on the fabulous Franschhoek Wine Tram.
You’re gonna want to climb onboard, believe me.