Eating in South Africa – Le Quartier Français
Le Quartier Français (the French Quarter) is a small, little inn owned by one Susan Huxter, situated in the French Huguenot valley of Franschhoek, in the Cape Winelands. Its formal dining room, The Tasting Room has made it on to the St. Pellegrino Worlds 50 Best Restaurants awards list every year, bar one, since the award was created in 2002. This year it is the only South African restaurant included in the 2011 Top 50 Restaurants, placed 36th overall and number one in Africa and the Middle East.
Unfortunately for us, The Tasting Room is only open for dinner service and we happened to be in Franschhoek over lunch as part of a wine tasting tour of a few towns in the region. Still, we decided to try our luck and went along to see if we could secure ourselves a table in The Common Room instead – the informal dining room of the Le Quartier Français establishment. Fortunately for us, they could just about squeeze us in for an hour with a little warning ‘we have to ask you to leave when our guests for that table arrive’.
The Common Room hails itself as the ‘local grazing ground’ and has three rules as stated on the back of a 3 page printed A5 sized menu – no whining, no swearing and no smoking. The decor is plush with dark tones of pink, orange and brown, with little chandeliers and arty posters on light-chocolate colour painted walls. The atmosphere is relaxed and informal.
The tapas-style menu presented to us is designed by Executive chef Margot Janse, one of the best chefs in South Africa, to serve as snacks that will encourage people to chill out, taste, share and enjoy good times in great company. The prices are very reasonable too, with the most expensive dish at ZAR40 (about £4).
I actually found the menu quite interesting with dishes featuring African inspired dishes such as fish pops with chakalaka ketchup and springbok bitterballen with apple mustard. The food was presented in a rather fun style and I like that the portion sizes were not compromised for price. I was actually quite full after our meal although we only ordered 2 dishes each as below, to share.
Satay spiced squid with peanuts and coriander.
Lamb frikadelletjies (fried lamb meatballs), flatkoek (square and flat deep fried doughs like the Chinese yau char koay) and raita.
Springbok bitterballen (meatballs rolled in batter and deep fried) with apple mustard.
Risotto with wild mushrooms, peas and buffalo labne (a cheesy yoghurt).
It was a fun meal, very casual and the food was all very well cooked. We probably could have sampled a couple more dishes, perhaps even tried out some desserts but unfortunately didn’t have the luxury of time. Maybe on or next visit to Franschhoek, I’d be tempted to book us a table at the more serious Tasting Room.
Price for plates as above including a portion of chips and an optional service charge came to R180 which is about £18.
Le Quartier Français is located at 16 Huguenot Road, Franschhoek, 7690 South Africa.