Have you ever had a surprise menu before? Does it make you feel a little nervous or are you someone who is happy to brave any potential unusual ingredient or taste?
I’ve always been keen to try new things and as I’ve got older I’ve become even braver. Which is why I wasn’t worried, when we entered The Tasting Room and were told it was a surprise menu.
Eight courses with matching ‘drinks’ pairings…it certainly was rather exciting…
Starting with a simple sparking rose…nothing too unusual about that. We relaxed in simply decorated dining room with walls adorned with African art, a room intended not to be too showy when the food is at the forefront of the experience.
Our first nibble was onion skin coloured with beetroot and preserved lime, the idea was to pile the snow-like cheese on to the onion skin and eat it all together.
Next came a selection of snacks and we were instructed to eat them in a certain order. It was a very clever selection of nibbles and the chef had taken standard favourite sweet treats and subverted them into savoury. On the silver tray were a duck skin cracker, a macaron made from rooibus, a barley madeleine, and a cupcake made from prawn and avocado.
Plus chilled foie gras masquerading as chocolate.
I’m not going to lie, I certainly prefer my cupcakes more of the red velvet variety and I prefer a macaron flavoured with vanilla but I really enjoyed trying these innovative flavour combinations and my favourite was the cupcake.
Bread was served uniquely in a pilchards can… I thought this was a little random, La Colombe served their tuna amuse in a can but bread in a pilchards can doesn’t quite make sense. However, the sweetcorn bread tasted lovely and it was served with a caramelised butter from the restaurant’s own cow Daisy.
And the eight course tasting menu began with Eugenia fruit made into granita and mixed with pistachio and fig.
Now, when I found out there was no menu for me to take a picture of, panic slightly set in and I started taking notes on the courses on my phone. Unfortunately, a desire to actually enjoy the meal with Mr Silver, plus far too much wine meant I didn’t take notes right up to the end. Also I’m writing this now three weeks after we went, so apologies for some vagueness! Fortunately, we were given print outs of the menu at the end, so I did have something to go on!
A different drink was served with each course, this one looks a little cloudy because it’s actually an unfiltered wine, meaning it retains more of it’s true flavour and character.
While Mr S sips his wine let me tell you a little more about The Tasting Room… the restaurant is located at the Le Quartier Francais, a small boutique hotel right in the middle of Franschhoek village. It was of little surprise that food was so interesting and innovative as the restaurant has been voted number 72 in the world, making it South Africa’s second best restaurant after The Test Kitchen.
Rather interestingly our menus divided for the next course into a kind of his and hers selection.
I received confit tomato and potato tumbleweed with buchu, an African plant used as a herb.
Mr Silver’s dish was simply entitled ‘broccoli, broccoli, broccoli’ in other words, broccoli three ways…or broccoli made interesting!
The chef at The Tasting Room is Margot Janse who has worked there for eighteen years garnering awards both nationally and internationally. Margot doesn’t like ‘bland’ or ‘safe’ food and instead tries to inject an element of surprise and a touch of magic into every dish.
Our menus converged once again for the next dish:
Leaving us to enjoy the octopus salad with radish and cucumber below with the accompanying glass of Graham Beck brut zero 2008.
Once again our menus diverged and I received yellowtail with red cabbage and spanspek (South African cantaloupe) salsa.
With a crisp glass of wine.
Now unlike at The Test Kitchen, our waitress was pouring full measures of wine so you can see how all this wine, coupled with the menu divergences meant I gave up on note taking half way through!
While I tucked into my yellowtail, Mr S recieved a salted farmed kabeljou, a cod-like fish that had been sous-vide and was served with black mussel and charcoal.
Much to his delight, he received a beer along with it rather than another glass of wine.
Next I received Joosetenburg duck in salt, boere kinders, buckwheat and kapokbos (wild rosemary). My poultry course was served with ‘4 incarnations of the grape’ and rather than wine I received a pretty (strong) cocktail.
Mr Silver had Paradyskloof quail’s nest with buffalo yogurt and braised seeds, the black dust is burnt potato powder. Rather than a cocktail, he drank a mellow glass of red.
My meat course was mushroom and cocoa nib blue wildebeest, brinjal (aubergine), parsnip and sorghum (a grain). It was beautifully cooked and a fine example of how Margot uses local and indigenous African ingredients.
Now surely I need another glass of wine?
I must say with all this wine, we definitely couldn’t finish the glasses, I do hate wine wastage but I wanted to be able to remember this incredible meal, not to be carried out of the restaurant!
The Tasting Room had been even harder to book that The Test Kitchen, they would only take reservations one month in advance and hotel guests take priority. The wonderful concierge at La Residence secured us our spot, so I’d definitely make sure you use a contact or connection to get a table.
Mr Silver had baleni salt, roasted peach, confit pig, mung bean, sunflower, artichoke petals and fynbos caramel for his meat main.
And wine…more wine.
I have to greatly admire Margot Janse, our two menus were incredibly inventive and the dishes change on a daily basis in order to use the freshest ingredients; there were so many different dishes and so much variety.
Udderly delicious caciotta, quince, fermented turnips and smoked honey.
Each with an full glass of wine…
And finally, dessert and I don’t need to tell you the sweet course was served with yet more wine.
Mine, Madagascan chocolate with cape lemon and holy basil.
And for Mr S, something rather exciting…
The waitress presented a white chocolate dome coated in coconut….
To reveal our final surprise…coconut ice cream infused with honeybush. Honeybush is most commonly used in herbal teas but Margot takes indigenous ingredients such as this and puts them to new uses.
Every course at The Tasting Room was inspired and innovative and everything was complimented so beautifully with the wine. So. Much. Wine…
The Tasting Room
Le Quartier Francais
Cnr Berg and Wilhelmina Streets