Franschhoek is one of those towns that seems to have been translocated from somewhere in Europe into South Africa. The main road with its incredible collection of art shops, coffee shops, and restaurants is always filled with more people speaking le French or da German, than English. This little town is also home to many of South Africa's top restaurants. To open a restaurant here shows great courage. To survive as a restaurant here, shows excellence.
As the last rays of a lingering Cape summer day turn the sky orange and pink, we arrive at Le Bon Vivant, where we've been invited. We're greeted by a garden setting turned magical by twinkling candles set atop white-decked tables. The tepid evening air is alive with the buzz of beetles and the content conversation of diners enjoying their pre-dinner drinks.
"I always dreamt of opening a restaurant,” says chef Pierre in his continental accent. "And so I decided to open this restaurant when I came here from Netherlands," he continues. "I opened in 2001, and I'm still here!"
That in itself is testimony to Le Bon Vivant. Any restaurant that survives, even a year in this culinary capital of the world, is amazing. To not only survive, but to be fully booked, as it is tonight, after 15 years, is incredible! This I'm looking forward to.
We decide to go for the "carefully designed 5 course surprise dinner”, and what a surprise it turns out to be. I won’t spoil the magician's secrets, because they are incredible, so I'll lift the lid on just a few.
“It’s beetroot sorbet topped with cheese and cumber,” says Joyce our waitress as she lays down a fascinating display before us.
“Is this sweet or savory?” I wonder as I bend over to inhale the interesting aroma. In anticipation I dip my teaspoon in to begin my adventure of culinary surprises.
“It’s swevaoury!” A blend of slightly sweet, refreshing beetroot challenged by tangy cheese. And so begins a sensational (in the literal meaning of the word) experience, as each course arrives in a dance of flavours and visual splendour, carefully paired with an appropriate wine.
Beef, foie gras praline, and potato lattice paired with a Jordan desert wine. Now that's a surprise. Sweet wine with a savoury course, as art and taste dance together. Salmon ceiviche, pickles, saffron froth, dumplings and Black Forest froth paired with Rupert and Rothschild’s Terra Del Capo. I feel like I'm violating one of Picasso’s works of art as I lift my fork tentatively to taste this dish. Contrasting textures and temperatures leaves you guessing - leave you wanting more.
And so the courses continue to arrive in a dance of flavours and visual splendour before finally climaxing in a sweet finish that is only experienced, not described.
As I settle back after five sensational courses, beneath a starry sky, the orange glow of the candles causes shadows to dance across the table cloth as if in celebration. The quiet chatter of guests mingles with the singing of the night insects. I think to myself, “This is joie de vivre - the joy of living.”
For millennia man has wanted to fly, but has been held back by his innate fear of death by forceful impact. So I’m not sure why we didn’t think of kite surfing years ago. Standing on the beach at Langebaan, one of the best places to kite surf in South Africa, I’m in awe of the serious air time the kite surfers - or are they flyers - get. It’s a blend of sport and art, hip-hop and ballet.
“Hi, I’m Shaun,” the friendly guy behind the counter at The Kite Lab greets us with a smile. “Josh is going to really enjoy this,” he says. Josh has long wanted to learn to kitesurf, and has spent endless hours mastering his power kite, enjoying being dragged through the sand and water in the quest for the thrill. The Kite Lab, in Langebaan says it is “South Africa’s number one kitesurfing lessons and gear centre” so they seem the obvious choice for the next step in Joshua’s flying adventure.
Soon Josh has his kit, and is headed down to the beach along with his instructor. “I’m George (pronounced in some indecipherable Greek way - which really makes this Greek-styled village feel authentic), I will be teaching Joshua,” he says. “When the conditions are right,” George continues, “we train at Shark Bay.”
“Hmm,” I think to myself, “I’m glad the conditions are not right - the name sounds ominous.” Later I find out it’s a name given for harmless sand sharks that come their during certain times to mate. “But today, because the wind is a little bit light,” he says gesticulating towards the wind which seems to be blowing pretty hard as far as a Durbanite is concerned, “today…we will learn here at the main beach.”
While Nicky and I relax on the beach, Josh and George begin the first of his two 3-hour lessons, flying a kite. He’s taught how to control it, what the power-zone is, reading the wind, and loads more. He seems to be mastering this, so we wander off to grab a beer at Pearlys overlooking the beach. This is the life! When we return Josh has upgraded. He is now attached to a real kitesurfing kite and is learning to control it on the beach.
“Josh will now let the kite pull him in the water, without the board,” George explains. “But he is very safe. I will talk to him with the radio,” he says pointing to a radio that is attached to the head gear Josh is wearing. I’m really impressed by Kite Lab’s training system. Not only does this radio provide a safety system whereby the instructor is always in contact with the student, and there is a rescue boat also on patrol that can be radioed at any time to pick up a wayward student, but it also puts the instructor in the student’s head. What better way to learn, than have your instructor giving you instructions all the time while you’re mastering your manoeuvres .
Soon Josh is having serious fun as he’s dragged like some hyperactive seal through the sea. Every now and then he manages to manipulate the kite and he leaps right out of the water, while all the time George runs along the beach issuing instructions.
“Tomorrow,” George says, “Josh will use the board.”
I can see he’s really excited about that…Josh, that is - and George too!
The weather does not play nicely and so “tomorrow” turns out to be the “day after tomorrow”, but soon Josh is back in the water, and this time he has a board strapped to his feet too.
“It’s important for him to understand the kite first,” George explains, “and then he can focus on the board.”
We watch as Josh begins to master standing. It reminds me a bit of when I learned to ski - it takes time, but as Alan who is the founder of the Kite Lab said earlier when we spoke to him, “once you’ve learned you never forget!”
By the end of his second lesson Josh is getting up and beginning to experience the thrill of the ride.
Houston, we have a problem. The bug has bitten. It’s like giving cake to a sweet'oholic. Josh has tasted the thrill, the power, the adrenaline of kitesurfing…he hasn’t flown…yet, but he knows he surely can. For now he’ll have to wait, because our time here is up, but he’s already plotting his return.
“Josh,” a friend asks him a few days later, “what has been the best thing you’ve done on your year-long holiday adventure?”
Without hesitation he answers - “Kitesurfing!”