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.”
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