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Tim Atkin

The Wine-List Inspector

In the Western Cape, even a French restaurant has a South African accent

Tim Atkin | March/April 2013

Franschhoek is the foodie capital of the Cape. Walk down its pretty main street and you are never more than a few yards from a bistro, patisserie or café. This "French corner", founded by Huguenot immigrants in the late 17th century, still retains its Gallic flavour. The local winemakers call themselves "vignerons", while the town’s most celebrated restaurant is Le Quartier Français.

The name of the latter is misleading, however. The decor in the Tasting Room, the swisher part of the restaurant, is proudly African; the chef, Margot Janse, is Dutch; and, apart from a few Champagnes, the wine list is sourced entirely from the Cape. In fact, it’s even more specific than that. More than three-quarters of the bins come from the Franschhoek Valley itself.

Arrive here expecting a taste of St-Germain-des-Prés, and you’ll be disappointed. The food is more Klein Karoo wildebeest than magret de canard. But that’s no bad thing. This is one of the most inventive restaurants in the country, serving modern African-inspired dishes of remarkable finesse. The service is excellent, too: relaxed, professional and friendly.

One slight drawback is that there’s no à la carte menu, or even a menu at all. You don’t know what you are going to eat until five dishes are put in front of you. This makes choosing wines a little tricky, although the restaurant has a suggested pairing for each course. The fact that most of these are from Franschhoek is a further drawback. Quality is very mixed, so this is more of a lucky dip than it would be in other wine-friendly Cape locations, such as Constantia, Hermanus or Stellenbosch.

I was dining with a couple of friends, so we tried two different tacks. I had the five recommended wines; they chose two bottles from the list. Only one of Le Quartier’s five matches was a success—a toasty 2008 Stony Brook Semillon Reserve with curry-dusted yellowtail and dahl—while my friends smugly enjoyed the restrained, savoury 2010 Cape of Good Hope Chenin Blanc (205 rand or £14.50) from Citrusdal on the Atlantic Coast and the aromatic, peppery 2009 Eagle’s Nest Shiraz (580 rand/£41) from Constantia, a wine that wouldn’t look out of place in the Rhône Valley. They definitely fared better than I did—so I’d advise you to enjoy Le Quartier’s wonderful food and pick your own wines. 

Tasting menu, 620 rand/£44 per person (or 890 rand/£63 with five glasses); lqf.co.za

Where else to go and what to drink

LA COLOMBE, CONSTANTIA
A high-end restaurant in a romantic, vine-fringed setting. Tasting menu, 625 rand pp without wine
Best white: 2009 David Nieuwoudt Ghost Corner Semillon, Elim The ghost corner in question is the wilds of Elim, close to Cape Agulhas, famous for its shipwrecks. This zesty, herbal, minerally Semillon comes from one of the coldest wine regions in the Cape. 310 rand
Best red: 2009 AA Badenhorst Family Red, Swartland Adi Badenhorst is one of the leading figures in the so-called Swartland revolution. This savoury blend of Shiraz, Cinsaut, Grenache and Mourvèdre is remarkably light and refreshing for a hot-climate wine. 490 rand;
constantia-uitsig.com


96 WINERY ROAD, STELLENBOSCH
A relaxed classic, with an in-depth list from the Cape and beyond. A la carte, around 235 rand pp without wine
Best white: 2010 Ken Forrester FMC Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch Ken Forrester is seen as the king of Chenin Blanc, South Africa’s most distinctive white grape, and this is his most intense expression of it: rich and oaky, with notes of apple, vanilla and honey. 480 rand
Best red: 2009 Le Riche Cabernet Sauvignon, Stellenbosch Etienne Le Riche ought to be a global superstar: his Cabernets are among South Africa’s best. This structured, yet very finely crafted, cassis- and cigar-box-scented red is delicious. 290 rand;
96wineryroad.co.za

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