The Tasting Room has been one of the most celebrated restaurants in South Africa for years, nicely located inside the Relais and Châteaux Le Quartier Français Hotel in Franschhoek, a charming village in the heart of the country’s wine region. Executive chef Margot Janse, who won numerous awards during her career, made this an internationally renowned fine dining destination. Margot Janse has recently resigned and the Tasting Room, unfortunately, closed at the end of April, however, La Colombe will establish a new restaurant with celebrated chef Scot Kirton and head chef James Gaag in place of it under a different name later this year. We were therefore rather lucky to be still able to experience Margot Janse’s 8-course African inspired surprise menu during our stay in South Africa!
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The restaurant only accepted dinner guests when it was open. Diners were led to an intimate dining room, overlooking a small garden. Its decor changed every year, usually during the winter month. We were seated close to one of the windows and were started off with a glass of Cap Methode Classique – Chardonnay/pinot noir – rose.
As an amuse bouche we were served a lime and onion twist that was covered in black pepper snow which was a rather unusual dish.
A plate of mini appetisers that followed was beautifully arranged on a wooden serving board and included red wine cheese bake, seaweed, prawn, foam and black rice crackers.
Sweet corn and parsley flavoured bread that was baked in a tin (a traditional way of baking bread in South Africa) and was accompanied with caramelised butter. The bread was light and fluffy and a nice side dish to our first course that was served next.
Sweetkorn potje, madagascan pepper ‘popcorn’ kohlrabi and black sesame which was topped with pea shoots. The kohlrabi was hibiscus infused which worked well with the sweet corn flavour. The dish was paired with a Cederberg bukettraube 2016.
The next dish that followed was called ‘broccoli, broccoli, broccoli’, a plate showcasing broccoli in many different ways and textures that included puree, crisp and blanched broccoli with some crispy cashew crumbs – it was paired with a Spionenkop sauvignon blanc 2013.
A warm salad of octopus, radish and cucumber was hiding under a sheet of sorrel nori when it came to the table where a consommé was carefully poured over to soften it. Octopus is notoriously difficult to prepare and was slightly overdone, however, I loved the presentation of the dish which was paired with Graham beck brut zero 2011.
Our knowledgeable waiter came in between courses to explain different local herbs and ingredients to us which were laid out on a wooden plate.
The west coast crayfish with sour fig came with a lovely and colourful butternut squash puree. The mint buttered crayfish worked beautifully with the other ingredients and the sweetness of the banana shallot. It was paired with a glass of 18 month oak matured Haut espoir chardonnay 2014.
The Paradyskloof quail’s nest with buffalo yoghurt and braised seeds was fun to look at. Most quail species hide their nests on the ground and this was a lovely reference to this game bird. The poached quail egg was covered in burnt potato with the different textures and flavours complimenting each other beautifully. It was paired with fram pinotage 2014.
The meat dish of the menu was Laingsburg lamb, braised carrots and burnt aubergine toast with a carrot puree that added a touch of colour to the dish and was paired with a glass of Waterford pinot noir 2015.
As we slowly neared the end of the menu we were served Hugenot cheddar, caraway crips bread, tarragon and watercress. A nice dish that was skilfully paired with a peppery saboteur shiraz, morvedere & cabernet sauvignon 2014.
The last dish that served as the menu’s dessert and signature dish was baobab, coconut, honeybush and caramel. We were told that the coconut dome represented an upside down tree which slowly melted under the hot caramel that was poured over. Our last wine was a ezibusiswendi straw wine 2009.
Our 3-hour meal ended with a few delicious petite fours and rooibos tea.
We very much enjoyed our evening at The Tasting Room and were amazed by the creativity and presentation of the different dishes, they were sometimes a little bit too adventurous for me but I would love to come back and try out the new restaurant under La Colombe – one of my favourite restaurants in South Africa!