The drive to Franschhoek for city-cuffed Capetonians is never a dull one. The mountainscape – moody or sun-drenched or morning-kissed – is so expansive and breathtaking one can’t help but feel awed. Vineyards and paddocks and farmhouses and trickling streams add to the charm before you’ve even arrived. Whether for wine tasting, French Huguenot history, classic façades, a creative culinary scene or five-star accommodation, a day or weekend or week in Franschhoek is most certainly not a dull one.
Arriving at Monneaux Restaurant on a glowing Sunday afternoon, fresh country air and out-of-season sunshine (despite it being ‘autumn’ in Cape Town, and despite desperately needing winter rain, we are still in shorts and dresses and off-the-shoulder blouses), we are immediately welcomed by its friendly staff. There is nothing as special as small-town hospitality.
At Monneaux, fine wines and contemporary cuisine are the core of the business, but it’s attention to detail and passion for flavour and service that is the heart of the experience. Set on the original site of Franschhoek’s first parfumerie, a heritage building dating back to 1890, and adjacent to Franschhoek Country House & Villas, the restaurant exudes European charm – with its own very unique, Cape classic flair.
Sip bubbles on the beautiful fountain terrace, a tranquil Provençal setting complete with draping vines and dappled light. Lunch and dinner are served at two seatings: 12–3 pm and 6–9 pm, and guests can choose from the chef’s menu (three to five courses, with or without wine pairing), à la carte or petite assiette, ‘small plates’. Bernard and I ordered the chef’s menu, three courses, with wine pairing. Note the portion sizes are generous, so the three-course menu served us well.
The menu, although showing strong French focus in recognition of its Franschhoek roots, is made all the more varied and delightful with obvious Asian influence and contemporary flavours. It’s the best kind of dining: experiental, considered and incredibly flavoursome. The wine list focusses on – but is not limited to – wines made in the Franschhoek Valley, thoughtfully paired with each course by knowledgeable waitrons. Should you wish for something different, or need advice on a suitable pairing, the sommelier or a member of staff is on hand to oblige.
The chef’s menu, which changes regularly and seasonally, represents the best the valley has to offer. Expect the likes of salmon sashimi with garlic ginger and Japanese mayo; pork belly with baba ganoush, crackling and red wine jus, or a beef fillet with beetroot, poached apple, candied pecan nuts and plum jus; and a crumbed brie with figs, nuts, caramalised beetroot and balsamic reduction to conclude.
To pair: Haute Cabriere Pierre Jourdan Tranquille as a light start, Antonij Rupert’s organic Protea Range and a full-bodied red from Allée Bleue, finished off with a spiced, honey-rich Ratafia (all available in the valley). Small plate options include biltong spiced lamb cutlets with baba ganoush and port jus (R65); Franschhoek salmon trout ceviche with toasted ciabatta and chimichurri (R60); tempura prawns with kimchi and lemon aioli (R65) and eggplant parmesan with Pomodoro sauce and basil pesto (R55). As you can tell, it is hearty dining with influences from Asia, India, Cape Malay and Europe – a positive dealbreaker for many!
Monneaux Restaurant is on Huguenot Road, as you’re driving into Franschhoek, just before Franschhoek Cellar (if you hit Franschhoek Cellar you’ve gone too far). The warm welcome, attentive service, beautiful, beautiful setting and deliciously prepared food makes it a must-visit, a place where East meets West and South meets North, all too seamlessly.
(And for those who need a place to rest their heads after three [or five] courses and plenty of wine, can book a night’s stay at Franschhoek Country House, right next door so you can roll on home).
Photography Bernard Myburgh Words Lisa Wallace