When French Huguenots settled in the Franschhoek valley in the 17th century to escape religious persecution, they knew vineyards would thrive in this land. They were right, and today Franschhoek’s wines are known and loved across the globe.
But what these refugees couldn’t have known was that the Cape Dutch homesteads they built centuries ago would today house some of the best restaurants in the country. Now a historic town thanks to the meticulous preservation of the architecture, Franschhoek is fondly referred to as the culinary capital of South Africa – and with good reason.
The tastebud-pleasing, boundary-pushing eateries aren’t found along the town’s pedestrian friendly main road alone. Although the white-linen-covered sidewalk tables shaded by century-old trees are a good place to start, a food journey to Franschhoek takes you beyond the town and into the heart of its wine farms. A weekend of long lunches, laid-back wine tastings, and wonderful pairings of the two just became your next must-do trip in South Africa.
Where to eat in town
The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Francais: Featured regularly on international lists of outstanding restaurants, top chef Margot Janse’s unwaveringly impressive cuisine might have to be your very first dinner date. Sit down to a three-and-a-half-hour; eight-course tasting menu inspired by the exhilarating flavors and culture of South Africa. Add a wine pairing for wining and dining at its best.
Ryan’s Kitchen: If you’re addicted to MasterChef and fascinated by the process of preparing gourmet delicacies just as much as you love eating them, then Ryan’s Kitchen should be high on your dinner list. Watch chef Ryan and his team prepare intricate and innovative small-plate dishes in this intimate, yet contemporary, home-style restaurant. An outdoor terrace is great if you’re stopping by for lunch and prefer a less dramatic dining experience.
The Famous Franschhoek Pancake House: You might think it’s famous because it’s one of the few unassuming and homey eateries in town, but you would be mistaken. These pancakes are worthy of their reputation. Pick a savory filling (the spinach pesto, mushroom and cottage cheese will put a smile on any vegetarian’s face) or choose something sweet and light. It’s rather convenient if you’re planning a series of extravagant dinners. If anything, visit for a hot chocolate to poor your own, real melted chocolate, into the steaming milk.
Cafe des Arts: Few people can handle more than two days of back-to-back, rich, gourmet food. This is why the simple, rustic, country style menu at Café des Arts is so very inviting. Browse local art, relax in the courtyard and drink in the beautiful garden around you. In a town where everyone wants to be on the culinary hot list, Café des Arts is exactly the opposite.
Where to eat beyond town
Mont Rochelle’s Country Kitchen and Miko: It’s almost like a scene out of a movie – a France-meets-South Africa country restaurant, views across the vineyards and the towering mountains beyond. Even though you can see the town from where you sit, Chardonnay in hand, you feel like you’re far away in the countryside. The food only adds to your experience. The whitewashed Country Kitchen and its cobblestoned terrace awaits you for a languid lunch while Miko invites you to an indulgent, gourmet dinner. Book into the hotel, visit the spa and you’ll struggle to convince yourself that there’s more of the town to explore.
La Petite Ferme: A wine tasting followed by a scrumptiously satisfying lunch over a glass of the wine that you just had to buy at the cellar – now that is an afternoon well spent. Fresh, seasonal and local ingredients will dominate your rustic, yet contemporary plate. A small menu always shows that a kitchen is proud of their inventions. An excellent place for the children to tag along – a special kids menu tones the flavors down to their level.
Haute Cabriere: When a wine farm has its own heli pad, you know you can dress in your Sunday best and prepare to dine in style. The Cellar Restaurant – moody and magical inside, airy and sunny out – is renowned throughout town not only for the magnificent views down into the valley, but also its tasting menus. They believe neither a lunch nor a dinner should be rushed, and that organic, seasonal produce makes for the most colorful and artistically presented plates. You simply have to pair your spread with wine, and perhaps treat yourself to a glass of Pierre Jourdan while you’re at it.
Bread and Wine: Sourcing their ingredients from their own deli and homemade Charcuterie production, the restaurant on Môreson farm will satisfy that need you will have by now for honest, wholesome, food. Open for lunch only, it’s worth a booking. Stroll through the orchid nursery and do a wine tasting to extend your stay.
When you’re not eating…
Book yourself into one of the many homey farm cottages of you prefer being a little removed from town. Booking a boutique guesthouse in town means you can walk almost anywhere, as Franschhoek is small and easy to navigate.
When you’re not eating, sleeping or relaxing beside the pool or on your patio, take a walk to the chocolate houses in town or browse the many art galleries lined along the main road. This road culminates with the Huguenot Memorial Museum and monument. Admire the statue and learn a little more about how the French who lived here long before Franschhoek became the happily indulgent feast of food and wine it is today.