Franschhoek bears a rather weighty reputation as a foodie scene and is also a shining star (one of the brightest) in the Cape’s constellation of wine regions. With more than just a handful of the city’s very best and consistent award-winning restaurants located within her tranquil valley and along the main street of her charming town, hungry visitors with a hankering for fine dining are well and truly spoilt for choice.
Ryan’s Kitchen veers ever so slightly off the path these top notch, gourmet restaurants have created, serving guests food that is quintessentially South African but with masterfully crafted and contrasted flavours and textures, and presentations that are almost sinful to destroy with knife and fork.
Décor and ambiance
Located right at the start of Huguenot Road, Franschhoek’s main commercial artery, Ryan’s Kitchen is a cool, contemporary space that’s elegantly decked out with Africa-themed art, warm industrial elements like large light bulbs and copper metal trimmings, and hand-crafted wood furniture and pottery. The kitchen is the heart of the operation, and at any time and from any vantage point within the restaurant interior, guests can look over to the open kitchen and watch the master magician himself, putting together his creations.
The overall effect is a tranquil and aesthetic space in which diners can enjoy a sumptuous, multi-course meal; but one that is also engaging as you’re encouraged to interact with the chef himself, whether it’s to strike up a direct conversation or to watch him perform his magic. The restaurant also features a beautiful outdoor terrace ideal for warm spring days and balmy summer evenings.
The wine and food menus
We took a seat inside by the window and perused the wine menu, which is an ode to Franschhoek’s fabulous wine scene that also pays due attention to its smaller, boutique wineries. We each ordered a glass of La Bri’s clean, yet creamy (and slightly biscuity) Chardonnay 2017 and then – with successive gasps of delight – read through the menu, of which there are two: (1) an à la carte option and (2) the Tastes from South Africa menu.
Every dish of the latter (and almost every dish from the former) featured something uniquely and quintessentially South African, from the chicken and coriander bobotie starter to the cheese platter that packed aged boerenkaas (farmer’s cheese), toasted mosbolletjies, and confit kumquats. And if it’s not the combination of ingredients that are uniquely home-grown, then it’s the ingredients themselves: indigenous, locally sourced, and a testament to the country’s bountiful farmlands and ocean.
The Tastes from South Africa menu (R625 without wine pairing and R925 with) is quite simply a must-try for anyone from outside the country and, in my opinion, anyone from within its borders too.
Our five-course meal
Our first course was the perfect introduction to this proudly South African menu and one that set an exquisite high note for the rest of the meal. It was a rich, creamy smoked potato and Bovril velouté (yes, Bovril) served in an elegant glass tube, which accompanied two mielie-pap croquettes perched upon a plate, nay, a sea of golden chakalaka sauce. The dish also came with a basket of soft, fragrant caraway roti, which we used to mop up the chakalaka sauce and creamy velouté.
Next up was tuna carpaccio, beautifully presented and generously proportioned with a fascinating combination of flavours lent by autumn kimchi, apple-cucumber marshmallow, and avocado mousse.
My absolutely delicious main course was Springbok – succulent, medium rare medallions of Springbok loin with pickled red onions and confit potato slices served on a complex flavour base of salted white chocolate and Pomelo gel. Dishes like this always raise the question: why don’t more local restaurants serve venison? In addition to being incredibly flavourful and low in fat, it’s a far more sustainable way to farm and would return some of our gorgeous landscapes back to their indigenous glory.
I say that, of course, and in the next breath ask my partner-in-dine for a bite of her main course: the Karoo lamb shank… a dish so tender that all you had to do was look at it and it practically fell apart like a love-struck teenager.
With stomachs close to maxed out, Chef Ryan took it upon himself to sneak in an extra course for us to taste – which I can’t say I was too upset about because it was the prawn tempura with prawn tapioca crackers, green sweet chilli mayonnaise, and granadilla atchar.
By this stage, I was a sip of wine away from needing to be hospitalised for “food coma”, but there was no way I was going to leave without dessert! I ordered the pistachio soufflé – an enormous serving that could have catered to two – with a velvety dollop of rosewater ice cream that was so delicious and tasted so much like zoo biscuits, it transported me back to my childhood.
Now that we were officially in the moist grips of the afore-mentioned food coma, it was time to bid farewell and make the long journey back to Cape Town. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: Ryan’s Kitchen is truly a must-try for visitors to South Africa who would like to sample our country’s unique flavours and ingredients, and also for locals with a hankering for traditional favourites with a gourmet twist. The service was excellent, and Chef Ryan and his team truly delivered an “Out of Africa” gastronomical experience.