Feasting in Franschhoek – Protégé chef Jess van Dyk’s favourites

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A WEEKEND of eating and drinking wine at some of Franschhoek’s finest restaurants, while based at a luxurious estate…no wonder people keep saying they want my job.

As a guest of Leeu Collection, I arrived at my first stop on Friday afternoon: Protégé. There have been movements and relocations during the past year but this one is still where it always was. Its former neighbour, La Petite Colombe, has moved up to Leeu Estates, and Epice took its place. Read more in the links.

It was a fine day for a table outside, and chef Jess van Dyk had selected a personal five-course menu of her favourites for me, curated to take into account a dinner at Epice later. I was welcome to curtail it at any time, but that would have been an impossible decision. I was in for a penny, in for a pound (and probably a few kilograms on the belly too).

First things first: Always a glass of bubbly. Protégé does wonderful small plates now, in shareable sizes and affordable prices. On Sundays from 4pm, all dishes on the menu are R75, which is attractive for locals and a welcome adaptation in the absence of international visitors. Small plates doesn’t mean small on quality and presentation, however.

The Cape Malay squid (below), for example. So pretty was it, I had to admire it from all angles for a while before eating it (the pause long enough to cause the concerned waiter, Rui, to come over and ask if everything was all right). The dish includes spiced apricot, lemon atchar and coriander.

Along with the gamefish tataki (yellowfin tuna, below) with coconut, shallot samba, crispy leeks and lime dressing, both were paired with Groote Post Seasalter 2020. Before this came the bread course – sourdough with spiced chicken drippings studded with soft buttery garlic cloves, olives, Korean fried chicken wings, and a coriander and buttermilk mousse. It’s difficult to choose a favourite with a meal such as this, but I could live on the bread dipped into the drippings alone, and it’s no wonder the chicken wings are winners. The pairing is Hey Joe Wit beer, from the brewery down the road.

The fourth course Jess had selected for me was Wagyu dumplings with water chestnuts, shiitake mushrooms, peanuts, daikon, spring onion emulsion and smoked bone broth. It was paired with Miles Mossop “The Introduction” 2019 red blend.

The description of dessert read “salted chocolate, cocoa nib, passionfruit” but it was about 10 levels more complex than that, including dehydrated chocolate mousse. Who even thinks of trying that? Quite amazing. I salute the creativity.

Protégé may well be casual, but at the same time it’s accessible fine dining that won’t break the bank.

For more information, click here.

PHOTO CREDIT: BIANCA COLEMAN ©

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