At new La Petite Colombe in Franschhoek, which takes over the space formerly occupied by The Tasting Room, chef-proprietors Scot Kirton and James Gaag are working closely with John Norris-Rogers, who has taken on the role as head chef of the new restaurant. The young chef, who worked closely alongside James at La Colombe in Constantia, impresses in this new role with beautifully executed food.
In a beautifully humbling beginning, it’s hard to not fill up on the sourdough bread that arrives, steaming in a clay bowl with a side of home-churned butter that’s covered in sesame and roasted yeast dust.
Following this is the amuse-bouche of Cape Malay pickled fish with creamy smoked snoek, piccalilli and salsa verde, in which these beautiful familiar flavours are presented theatrically on a bowl of seashells and dry ice. The second amuse-bouche is simply gorgeous in both looks and flavour. Soft ribbons of Asian-style salmon are dotted with aubergine, miso mayo, kalamansi, droplets of deep-fried avo, and wobbling umami jelly cubes.
Next is the barbecue quail in the form of a little lollipop leg and breast with plump langoustine, smoked mussel velouté, bok choy and corn. The dish is playfully finished off with a satisfying crunch of popcorn. On the meatier end of the spectrum, the springbok tataki has a satisfying saltiness to it, along with burnt macadamia dust, Jerusalem artichoke espuma, red-wine-pickled onions, and a luminous pop of green lent by a dehydrated pistachio cake.
Seared Wagyu rump with fall-apart braised brisket is taken to decadent heights with a rich, deep-fried sweetbread for mains. The robust flavours are wonderfully paired with the addition of soubise, burnt thyme and sherry velouté, and the garden of bright carrots and broccoli offers a fresh respite. The second main of citrus-glazed kingklip with a crunch of pancetta and buckwheat is cooked to perfection.
For palate cleansers, a cold, misted glass tumbler arrives, with a zingy pineapple sorbet, fresh lime zest and coconut shavings. You’re then presented with a small vial of coconut water to pour over the refreshing, icy mouthful. It’s quite ingenious, really.
The Meet the Chefs course sounds mysterious, but when the time arrives, your table is led to the open chef’s table in front of the kitchen, where you are greeted by one of the chefs, waiting to plate your next course. A small dome is presented with a pretty and intricate arrangement of pork belly scrolls, delicate ramen noodles, a perfectly poached quail’s egg and edible flower garnishes. The light, umami-rich celeriac broth is then poured into the mini ramen bowl and you are given chef’s tweezers to use as playful chopsticks. While some may find that savouring a meal in front of chef quite daunting, it appeals to those looking for more interaction and who are curious about the behind-the-scenes action in a fine-dining kitchen.
For desserts, one of the options is melt-in-the-mouth nectarines with almond, yoghurt and geranium accompaniments. The shards of Valrhona Dulcey add a creamy and toasty finish – which is fantastic with straw wine. For those who prefer things less sweet, the asiago cheese dessert will tick all the boxes. It’s packed with punchy cheese flavours and textures, with a hint of sweet pear and fynbos honey, candied pecans and a clever crunch from dehydrated Japanese cheesecake.
A small treasure chest of petit fours that resemble the richest jewels and gold precedes your bill. The chocolate and raspberry morsels are tart, while the rich sweetness of the golden nugget-like truffles dance on the tongue with popping candy.
The menu reads like a comprehensive directory with useful tabs for wine types, including old-world wines and fine and rare bottles. Local names shine bright and show off what the Franschhoek valley has to offer. Sommelier Billet Magara Jnr is knowledgeable and presides over the extensive selection, which also includes some generous wines by the carafe.
With a few of the team having moved from sister restaurant La Colombe, it’s no surprise that the service here is confident and professional. The Tasting Room’s welcoming manager Morné Wessels has also stayed on to ensure things run smoothly without a glitch.
Muted and subdued tones with plentiful natural light have transformed the space from The Tasting Room days. The fresh new space has been designed by architects Rohan Young and Beverley Boswell to create a beautiful, welcoming atmosphere that’s elegant and sophisticated without being stuffy. In summer months, the foldout doors reveal a sunny patio for lingering lunches, while a toasty central fireplace warms the room in winter.
A vegetarian gourmand menu is also available.