As part of a wintry weekend away, we dined at the venerable estate of Grande Provence in Franschhoek, an estate that wears her 300-year history with dignity.
Outside, vines spanning 30ha of gentle valley floor landscapes as though at odds with the rugged mountains beyond; and inside cleverly thought-out industrial chic modernisation – most appealing, without altering the historical ambiance.
Seamless service is the order of the day with the kitchen under the sure hand of Executive Chef Darren Badenhorst who has governed the helm since 2012, and knows all the ropes yet continues to cut through culinary casts. The annual American Express Platinum Fine Dining Awards, an example of such.
The winemaking is in the sound custody of Cellar Master Matthew van Heerden, whose philosophy not only reflects South Africa’s unique diversity of terroir, but places high emphasis on sustainable farming methods.
Known for outdoor dining, the prepossessing views are the piece de résistance of the restaurant; but if you’re there at night or in the winter months as we were, the tree lights and flickering log fire create a mystical view from the warmth within.
High-backed leather chairs draw the eye to the centre, and away from the dark grey hand-plastered walls, while deeply recessed windows frame the pretty views.
Crisp white linen napery criss-crosses the table tops and the polished glasses and cutlery gleam with service.
But there’s is so much more to the Estate with a gallery, tasting room and accommodation for guests to stay over in splendour should the return trip to wherever seem too daunting.
Leading off The Restaurant the wine tasting bar dominates the centre of the room, struck by galvanised steel and tractor seat bar stools, softened by a fireplace and upholstered chairs.
Fine art on a plate
By incorporating cutting edge techniques into his classical culinary repertoire, Chef Darren Badenhorst’s style is signified by unexpected bursts of flavour, and an uncanny ability to meld diverse flavours – caviar being the silver thread in our four courses.
Starters were local tuna yukhoe, spiced guacamole, burnt tomato crème, yuzu caviar, potato korokke and toasted black sesame truffle;
Intermediates consisted of baby courgette spindle and sphere, tempura kale, wild herb and whipped tarragon crème, river sprout pesto cups, charred asparagus, pickled mushroom and soba texture;
for Mains, we ordered two different dishes – the first being slow cooked Karoo lamb neck, roast garlic, and parsnip puree, minted halloumi, charred baby broccoli shoot and varieties of pea; the second being pork crackling encased in line fish, barrel smoked pommes, pea sprout salad, cucumber and pickled seaweed terroir coastal foraged samphire;
Desserts were Condensed milk teurgoule-style sago pudding, frozen pistachio crème, shaved coconut and basil; and summer berry “ice cream sandwich”, whipped raspberry parfait, rose macaroon, pistachio praline crumble, tonka and hibiscus meringue and citrus cranberry tea gel.
All of which were stunning, and beautifully complemented by the Grande Provence Cabernet Sauvignon.
Speaking of his plating style synonymous with art so fine, Chef Darren Badenhorst “draws inspiration from art when composing dishes making sure all elements harmoniously play together to paint a picture before and during the meal.”
I maintain. Fine dining is a form of art and an art form, albeit edible.
Until September, guests going for lunch can enjoy two-courses with a complimentary bottle of Grande Provence wine per couple, for only R395 per person, at The Restaurant. Equally for dinner, three-courses, with a complimentary bottle of Grande Provence wine per couple, for R595 per person.