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!

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Foodie Bliss

Living out on a farm as we do, I occasionally suffer from foodie pangs of blog envy. So many gourmet delights are within easy reach of city gourmets -  the latest chic eaterie, Parisian patisserie or artisan chocolatier. Cape Town is close enough that I could theoretically nip in and indulge myself on gourmet delights once in a while, but life is busy, times are tight and it rarely happens.

So this weekend I was in foodie heaven when not one but two treats I’ve drooled over virtually winged their way in real life out to our farm.

The first was some small but perfectly formed bars of artisan chocolate from Honest chocolate that my lovely sister-in-law brought me from Cape Town. I’d discovered them online and written about them but never actually tasted it.

Their ethos is totally ethical – pure organic raw chocolate hand-crafted without any additives, dairy or processed sugar – single origin Aribba Nacional beans from Ecuador sweetened with agave. I was sure just looking at the website that this would result in chocoholic heaven and I wasn’t disappointed when I broached the first bar: a 72% bittersweet orange.

The chocolate had an amazing creamy texture that melted in the mouth like a truffle, smooth very chocolatey and rich – the orange wasn’t overpowering but just gave citrussey overtones that lasted and left a pleasant aftertaste. I’m looking forward to opening the 88% dark bar but am going to hide in a dark corner so I don’t have to share this one!! I also love their wrappings.

The second treat was a beautiful box of macaroons from Cassis, Cape Town's own touch of Paris. I can’t count the times I’ve seen gorgeous looking macarons on other blogs and read the ecstatic ravings without really knowing what all the fuss was about. Now I know...! These were perfectly moist and chewy inside and the fillings raised them to a level of decadent gorgeousness that I hadn’t expected. They were brought by a friend for a family gathering so they disappeared before I could photograph them, but I luckily did manage to taste several different flavours by scooping up and sampling any halves discarded by unappreciative children. The chocolate caramel one pictured was stunning but I was even more wowed by the raspberry, which surprised me as I don’t usually go for pink! However they got just the right level of sweet/tart balance. I am now an official macaroon fan!

And here is a last foodie discovery, that I failed to notice was posted on April 1st on the Fairview blog Inspired by the Indonesian Kopi Luwak, Fairview proclaimed that they have produced a new coffee made from coffee berries that have been eaten and partially digested by their goats, I was getting all excited by this possibly new taste sensation and even composing a whole post in its honour when at last I noticed the tag at the bottom. April Fools... aaagh!