COME have a meal at Monneaux, they said. We’ll throw in a night’s accommodation, but please focus on the restaurant, they said. Very well. This is how it went down.
Monneaux Restaurant and Franschhoek Country House & Villas are tucked discreetly behind mustard yellow walls which I’ve passed a million times on the R45. I’ve been to Grande Provence, the neighbour on one side, and Terbodore Coffee on the other. Not once did I suspect what beauty lay behind these gates. I’ve not been to the south of France but this is how I imagine it; my friend Lovely Lorraine says she has been to that part of the world, and I am not wrong.
The gardens are exquisite, a riot of lavender and lemons, creepers and archways, water features and fountains with mossy faces, and butterflies flitting about. The building which houses the restaurant was once a perfumery, I am told, and lemons were used extensively in the fragrances which is why you’ll see urns and pots of them everywhere.
Monneaux has inside seating which can be opened up when the weather permits, as well as a large shaded outdoor dining area. Steps lead up to a lawn and one of the many water features, which demanded we take photos with our glasses of welcome bubbly, the L’Ormarins Brut Classique. All the wines on the list come from the Franschhoek Valley, which is a wonderful way to showcase the region.
The staff waited patiently for us to return to our table to look at the menu. On this subject it must be noted that every team member was simply marvellous, from Clifford who welcomed us and who was back on duty the following morning at breakfast, to Nerbert who served us and threw back his head and laughed delightedly when I showed him the photo I took of him, to the housekeeping staff who lit the gas fire in my villa and brought me a kettle to make tea because one of my failings in life is not being able to work a Nespresso machine, and Emmanuel who drove me in the courtesy shuttle up to Haute Cabrière and fetched me again. All of them.
The menu is divided into four sections (five if you count the side dishes). It’s printed on a loose sheet of paper so you know it’s going to change often. It begins with snacks, which you can order to stave off the hunger pangs until your starters arrive…bread, fried chicken wings, chicken liver parfait. The starters are called small plates, so a lazy meal of these with your choice of wines under the shade of the patio could well be one of the better ways to spend an afternoon.
I ordered the locally caught skipjack with sesame and lime dressing, avocado and wasabi. It’s exactly the kind of dish and flavours my palate adores and I was not disappointed. With it I drank a glass of the Anthonij Rupert Chenin Blanc. My friend had the poached pear with gorgonzola and pain d’espices. I can’t for the life of me remember the red Clifford paired for her, nor with her main course of Karoo lamb rump, because I am shocking at taking notes and I’m deeply sorry for that.
My main course was hay smoked Oak Valley beef short rib with carrot, dukkah and dill. The meat is smoked in the smoker which stands outside the restaurant, pulled and then packed back together. My wine was Holden Manz Vernissage, a Cab, Merlot, Syrah blend. I had another glass for dessert. The Karoo lamb was served with courgette ribbons stuffed with aubergine, and black garlic. My friend loved these accompaniments, finding them unusual but working well with the meat.
We decided to have our dessert outside – a Valrhona rich dark chocolate mousse with passionfruit, coconut and honeycomb. Chef Calvin Metior, who is brand new to the restaurant, came out to check his smoker, and he mentioned he had already made the breakfast sausages for the next morning. Which is why I made sure I had them (flipping delicious). Apparently, he makes the bacon as well, and some of the charcuterie.
And so on to the overnight stay. I was upgraded to an opulent villa with gold sequinned scatter cushions on the sofa, but from what I see on the website, the standard and luxury rooms are just as gorgeous. I felt very posh swanning around in my robe and slippers, and although it wasn’t really that cold (despite a bit of cloud and drizzle), the fire added to the cosiness . The balcony with wrought iron railing from the bedroom overlooked a small orchard of citrus, and if I’d leaned just a tiny bit further I would have been able to pluck my own grapefruit.
The location on the outskirts of the village make this a perfect base for an extended stay in Franschhoek, especially with the shuttle service which can take you to all the wine farms. I wish I could have stayed longer because I didn’t have a chance to do the pool area justice. I was impressed by the water bar setup though – a huge ice bucket filled with bottled water, glasses, and of course, plenty of lemons.
PHOTO CREDIT: BIANCA COLEMAN ©