Au Bouchon Rouge: a corner of Paris in the heart of the Swartland

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GOING back to Riebeek Kasteel after 18 months, most of those being lockdown, was a bittersweet experience. On the one hand, there are many places that have closed, or become other places; on the other, there are new and exciting things happening, particularly places to eat.

I’ve known Julien Debray for more years than I can remember, initially from Kasteelberg Country Inn & Bistro (which is still there). He’s now running his own brasserie, next door to the Royal Hotel (with which it is affiliated) and where the bottle store used to be. I still have a photo from a long-ago visit which ordered “Geen Stoepsittery/No Loitering”, to discourage booze customers from enjoying their tipple right there and then.

Today, you can sit on the veranda, as long as you like, at one of the cafe tables with rattan chairs so romantically associated with Paris pavements. Dip into the blackboard menu for an slow and easy lunch, or sip on a glass of wine from the small and reasonably priced list while you watch the world go by. Inside, there is a stunning wooden bar along one entire wall, which came with the premises. Obviously, the floors are black and white checks.

Craig Kwanda

Julien told me he is very happy to be cooking his own food, in his own establishment, out of a teeny tiny kitchen. He sources local and organic produce, and can pretty much meet all tastes (unless you’re after melktert or a traditional English breakfast). “We are a French Brasserie after all,” says the Facebook page. “We also trace our produce back to its source so that we always know where, when and how it originated.” All you have to do is ask, and Julien or waiter Craig Kwenda will tell you.

Which is how I know the goat’s cheese – warm and soft – with my fat plump purple fig on coppa, comes from Wellington. With paprika and a touch of mint, Julien said it reminds him of late summer in the south of France. How seductive…I also asked him to say “croissant” twice because, well, you know – French accent. He obliged with a knowing smile that said he completely understood my motive.

Julien Debray

I thought I’d go straight onto my main course of beef bavette – a cut you don’t see often on restaurant menus – but Julien had other ideas: a trio of cold prawns with aioli, and gravadlax filled the space with delicate, sophisticated and understated flavours. The bavette was served with ratatouille and chips. No wait, we should say pommes frites, right? Not French fries, quelle horreur!

When it came to dessert, I was in a quandary. There was fig tart tartine (how French can you get?) and apricot tart tartine. In theory I had no problem beginning and ending with a luscious fig. But apricots…Julien sorted it out by serving me both – the last apricots of summer, and a sweet, sticky joy.

For more information, click here. Riebeek Kasteel is less than an hour’s drive from Cape Town and perfectly achievable for a day visit. The places may have changed but the food remains well worth the drive.

PHOTO CREDIT: BIANCA COLEMAN ©

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