Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Ryan's Kitchen, Franschhoek

Wandering down Franschhoek’s main street, I am stunned by the number of restaurants that line both sides of the street, clamouring for attention and elbow to elbow with craft shops, gift shops, art galleries, and the very occasional useful port of call like the post office and a supermarket. In the fifteen years since I last visited, the village has polished, preened and laid  on as many tourist attractions as it possibly can, taking advantage of its picturesque setting and strategic position in the Cape Winelands.

Luckily I don’t have to choose a place for lunch, as I am meeting up with blog friends Jeanne and Johanna and their families. Jeanne has done the research and booked a table at Ryan’s Kitchen, so after a quick dip into two of the tempting chocolate shops,  I head back to the leafy end of the street, where oak trees bombard us with autumn leaves and acorns, and an unseasonably hot and sunny day has us sitting outside on the terrace under the shade of big red umbrellas.

Much as I’d love to be a lady who lunches, it’s an extremely rare occasion that sees me anywhere but at the kitchen table, so I feel like a kid skipping off school as we finally tear our attention to the lunch menu. It’s succinct, with three choices per course, dinner being the main event here, but they are all tempting.

But before our starters arrived, the chef’s appetiser from the lab was brought (in the picture above) – a complementary selection of light as air wisps of flavour dramatically presented in test tubes. The green one bubbled frantically with ‘dry ice’ smoke pouring forth. We left that one till last... when it turned out to be a basil essence with a salty tang. The butternut and ginger soup was one slurp of intense flavour and the tomato foam had plenty of chilli heat. That just left a slightly more substantial cheese puff with a dab of tomato sauce for emphasis.

Palates tickled into action now, the starters arrived to start dealing with the serious issue of hunger. Mine was a generously portioned tuna carpaccio served with a mixture of variously textured salads and vegetables. There was plenty of crunch and bit of horseradish heat  contrasting nicely with  the tenderness of the thinly sliced tuna and the delicate roulade of leek and apple on the side.

Fish again for the next course, as it was unseasonably hot and red meat seemed too heavy... until the springbok shank arrived further down the table to a pang of menu envy from us all! However our sea bass with smoked mash, pancetta and fennel arrived in theatrical style once more, whisky barrel smoke swirling under a glass dome which, when released, engages the sense immediately with warm mellow sweetly perfumed bonfire aroma. Sadly the smokiness was only a background flavour in the mash, but perhaps just as well or it could have overwhelmed the deliciously moist and tender fish. I raved over the fennel too, stewed to tender perfection.

After all this I declined dessert, slightly regretfully as the beautifully plated compositions arrived. But then my restraint was rewarded by a complimentary platter of little mini desserts that came with coffee. A loaf of malva pudding with a beetroot caramel topping, a rooibos jelly with lavender custard ( I ate two) and a square of carrot Turkish delight (take it or leave it).

I loved the touches of theatre that had a certain tongue in cheek grandeur about them, but which were carried off beautifully. I may be too easily impressed these days, (poor little farm-girl that I am!!) but Jeanne and Johanna, as non-jaded veterans of a gourmet whirl around the best of the Western Cape were equally wowed, so I can safely wax lyrical!

Edited to add: Jeanne has posted her review of our lunch at Ryan's Kitchen with wonderful pictures and descriptions of the whole meal, so go there for more drooling!


  1. You're making me hungry. I've never had a taste of that food in test tubes. Modern and fun! It all looks very good to me!

  2. Oh I wish I could have joined you. Fish at Franschhoek, one of my favourite places yum yum. Diane

  3. What a great lunch we had! It was lovely to finally meet you, hope to see you on your layover in Singapore! X

  4. My first instinct is to wave this all away, refusing to be seduced by avante garde serving tricks... but since you've actually eaten the weird-looking stuff and found it delicious, then it's all right in the end. Methinks I'd like to just sneak off in a corner with that tray in the last photo and leave all the foamed this and essenced that to the rest of you! 8-)

  5. How delicious. I followed the meal via Jeanne's twitter feed and it sounded so fabulous. I simply HAVE to get there some time...thanks for sharing xx

  6. It all looks and sounds FANTASTIC!! I'm all hungry and dissatisfied with the very prosaic salad I made myself for lunch. ;)

  7. Looks like a great place--amazing presentation, too. If you don't go out too often, this definitely looks like the place to be.

  8. Thrilled that Johanna and I could persuade you all the way out to Franschhoek to join us! It was indeed a truly lovely lunch - both the company and the food. Can't wait to see where we end up next time we meet :)


Thanks for your comments - I appreciate every one!