With countless incredible places to dine at in so many varied settings in the Cape we really are beyond spoilt for choice. Having visited some of the world’s top foodie cities I don’t think I am alone in being certain that in terms of value for money and the overall experience the Western Cape is unbeatable. I appreciate that’s quite a statement, nor have I been everywhere, but I stand by that bold testimony and will defend it ferociously.
I am not entirely sure what confluence of qualities seems to converge so exquisitely here in the Cape but I could hazard some guesses at the fertile soil, great weather, inspiring scenery, diverse populations and of course the alchemy involved in turning those grapes into ambrosia. The bar is set high indeed and I am sure any patron opening his or her doors would need a serious amount of self-belief and skill with so much magic and mastery going on.
This brings me to a recent visit to Franschoek and to the new “Petite Colombe”. Surprisingly enough, not many people know that “La Colombe” means “the dove” . Throughout the ages the power of symbols and icons has been used to great effect in conjuring up images of strength and beauty and I am fascinated at how effective this imagery can be (if one knows what it means of course ;-). La Colombe is no exception in this and whilst there is no picture of a dove to behold, the many emotions and ideas its name invokes are plenty. Traditionally the dove is a symbol of peace, but it is also a symbol of souls released from earth-bound duty. In fact, when a dove is seen, it is supposedly a clear sign of the soul’s return to celestial realms. If you have ever had the divine experience of eating at La Colombe in Constantia you may feel that this description is pretty fitting, as it is a truly heavenly experience.
A few months back a little bird told me that they were embarking on another little venture in the Franschoek Valley at Le Quartier Français. I didn’t even take a breath before I had squirreled out an email address to book a table in its first opening week. “La Petite Colombe” (or “little Dove” for those Francophobes) is nestled rather shyly at the back of Le Quartier on the main high street in Franschoek, but like most bashful personalities is full of surprises.
Talking of surprises one of the art installations in the main hallway of the hotel certainly had most of our party perplexed. I don’t want to start a debate here on the validity of this installation as an art form – needless to say it certainly had us all talking a great deal and a few of us did inquire as to if the young lady was feeling okay!
The décor and ambiance is exactly as one would expect. Classic and timeless, simple and stylish without any pomp or airs and graces making you feel instantly at home and relaxed. The dining room has two French windowed walls that can be opened to create the experience of dining amongst the lemon orchards in the valley and the weather was so superb on the day of our visit we were lucky enough to sit at a table with the winter sun streaming down gently upon us.
There is an Irish proverb that says, “Laughter is brightest where food is best” and I honestly couldn’t agree more. Wine of course always helps and one of our party chose a seriously fruity and heady Sauvignon Blanc for our meal from Ataraxia which was as lush as the surrounds.
The menu is extensive and along the same lines as its big sister restaurant in that there is a long version and a short(er) version to choose from. Set menu’s can make some people nervous, (you get what you get and you don’t get upset) but let me assure you that in this case you need not stress one iota. The ladies in our party chose the reduced menu and the gentleman the full so that we could all have the chance to sample every dish. Then we just sat back and let the dreamlike experience of our meal unfold.
Every plate of food revealed to us a story, from its provenance to its ambitions and whilst there were many flavours and textures in each dish, every part of it made sense. Some fine dining experiences give me the hunch that a squeeze of this or a shoot of that really had no real place on the plate. However the chefs at La Petite Colombe are exacting and thoughtful about every fraction.
Beautiful soft pillowy hillocks of stone-baked bread with churned butter and a roasted yeast sesame crumble that echoed “marmite”.
What would a 5 star dining experience be without dried ice? This pickled fish “amuse bouche” with a curried pickle delighted us all with its fun & playful tastes and textures.
The marriage of miso and kalamansi (a lesser known citrus) in this Asian inspired salmon dish was just as dazzling in flavour as it was in presentation. Those little mustard seeds you can spy on the plate exploded in our mouths!
I absolutely love Jerusalem artichokes and am always thrilled to see them on a menu as I feel they are seriously underrated. Those lunar looking green rocks were some kind of pistachio toasted brioche and the little chunks of roasted pineapple gave an explosion of fruitiness that balanced out the gaminess of the springbok.
Palette cleansers can also be a little pedestrian, but not this Alice in wonderland concoction. Leaving the choice for oneself to add alcohol or not to this mellifluous combo of sweet citrus and zing was cute and clever, not to mention enchanting.
There is a sense of calm and unruffled control that emanates from the kitchen and when we were invited to the “chefs table” at the kitchen opening we were all blow away by how quiet and composed everyone seemed. Alas I have no pictures of that course – giving the chef his rightful place at the centre of attention and focus, but it was a ramen & broth styled event with intense flavours and ceremony as we poured the broth from little teapots into our bowls.
Moving swiftly on to the next chapter………
Undoubtedly the star of the show for me this citrus glazed kob with pancetta and crunchy “pops” of toasted buckwheat was a perfect centerpiece for the slightly sweet creamy parsnip puree and crisp young asparagus.
The seared Wagu with braised briskit, soubise (a white onion french sauce) and burnt thyme was jam packed full of flavour and exceptionally tender as one would expect.
There were two options for dessert one with a more savoury profile boasting cheeses, honey & nuts and the second more fruity and light. Unexpectedly I preferred the more savoury cheese style dessert which was the perfect harmony of creaminess and tart.
A congruous grouping of fruit and floral notes with bites of nougat and velvety fruit gels.
I really didn’t expect to like this dessert as much as I did! The slightly acid taste of the Asiago (an alpine cows milk cheese) with the sweet mellow pear, herbal honey and caramelized pecans was just heavenly 🙂
The entire meal was an utter delight and although each course was petite the full menu would have been far too much food for some of us, so I would recommend the shortened version. Despite all the diverse flavours and components to the meal I finished feeling sated but not overstuffed and that is certainly one of the genius talents of the La Colombe team.
This little box of treasures was just darling, and those little gold nuggets were so delish a few found their way into my handbag so I could give them to my boys at home later, but shhhh….. don’t tell the restaurant!
In short – make sure you pay a visit here soon. We all know how busy these establishments get over season so book away I say! Franschoek may seems a world away but its really only a hop skip and jump and has much to offer.
Also – a small note on the photography. I am not a professional – I just love food and wanted to share each beautiful dish with you. More often then not when I visit these restaurants it’s generally with friends and don’t want everyone else’s experience tainted by my snapping away vociferously and continuously. I try to be discreet and just take what I can as best as I can 🙂
Let me know your thoughts if you visit La Petite Colombe!