Franschhoek experience fit for a queen… (if you know, you know)

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AS I drove into Franschhoek along first the R44 then the R45, I was enchanted by how lush and green it looked, courtesy of a wonderfully wet winter and a deliciously damp spring. We’re into the downhill stretch of December and this very week I wore long sleeves and put an extra blanket on my bed (which still has the feather duvet instead of the lightweight summer one).

While I’m enjoying the cool weather I know the world is divided into those who do, and those who cannot wait for the scorching sunny days of summer. There have been some of those, with more on the way, but for now I’m relishing the mild temperatures.

My first stop on this particular journey was Haute Cabrière, before checking in at Le Quartier Francais, part of the Leeu Collection, and set one block back from the main road. As such, it is an oasis of tranquility, although I did hear the Sunday morning motorbikes.

I was shown around the property, noting details like hedges of star jasmine (with which I am currently obsessed) and the shaded area with the giant chess set. After being relieved of my luggage in my luxurious room, with a private patio, I slipped into something more comfortable ie squishy slippers aka feet pillows and went to lounge by the pool with a glass of wine.

Later, I was ferried to Leeu Estates to drink bubbles with a special friend, before returning to Protégé for dinner. The restaurant is on the same property as the boutique hotel, and also where breakfast is served. Épice, sister restaurant and the setting for an exceptional spice adventure for the palate, is opposite. Also linked is an Everard Read gallery, which is a considered space showing the best modern and contemporary artworks by southern African artists. All linked by a series of pathways, you can visit them all without stepping off the premises. Should you have a yearning to see the world, there are tables out front of Protégé where you can sip your coffee, or wine, while watching from behind big sunglasses.

Dinner was the chef’s spring set menu, comprising four small plates plus one main course dish. Add the beverage pairing for R250, something I always recommend. It was lovely to see Kelvin again, who had attended to me on my last visit. It is indescribably special to be welcomed back to establishments such as these.

The first course is the toasted sourdough bread made by angels and brought directly from heaven to your table, with hummus, smoked paprika, virgin butter and olives, with Rijk’s Brut 2016 from Tulbagh. It’s followed by the famous Korean fried chicken with coriander and buttermilk dipping sauce, which I truly wish could be ordered as a main course. I am that crazy about it. The Asian pork roti with miso aubergine, chipotle and kimchi comes at the same time; the drink is a litchi, lime leaf and lemongrass cocktail with vodka, a perfect foil for the delicate heat of the food.

My notes for the next course are rather amusing: “This is a life changing pairing – wow”, I wrote, cryptically. It was also the only note I made that night. The wine was Richard Kershaw’s Smuggler’s Boot white blend (2018), and the dish was tuna tataki, with ssamjang, green apple, miso lime crème and sesame. Best you go there and discover it for yourself; this was a couple of weeks ago now and I am no further help in this matter.

Main course choices included carrot risotto and grass-fed (always grass-fed, please) beef, and line fish with chimichurri, chorizo and baby squid, which is what I chose. The silver fish was cooked to perfection; it’s a phrase often bandied about but in this case entirely sincere. The wine was Great Heart Chenin 2020, from Mullineaux in the Swartland, so typically ample of the region.

Amazingly, I woke up the next morning, in the massive bed which could accommodate me with space to spare in every direction, with an undiminished appetite. So it was back to Protégé for Arnold Bennet – smoked haddock and scrambled eggs with Boerenkaas and hollandaise sauce. Utterly delectable, and a pot of green tea balanced the richness. Look at the pic below –  is it not a thing of beauty? And more of that toasted sourdough too.

The breakfast menu includes house-made granola, fruit, yoghurt and honey, croissants with Black Forest ham, Boerenkaas and preserves; and main dishes such as the standard egg, sausage and bacon, eggs Benedict, a bagel with smoked trout and crème fraîche, and smashed avocado on toast.

Unfortunately I simply didn’t have the belly capacity to dine at Èpice this time, but I did manage to make the time for a back, neck, shoulder and foot massage at the spa at Leeu Estates, during which I pleasantly drifted into almost-sleep…that moment between worlds where you are aware your breathing has become slow and shallow and just seconds away from a full-blown snore/snort and you frighten yourself awake, and scare the therapist too.

And for the first time in all my hotel stays, where I’ve often left behind books finished while there, I discovered in my room a book by an author I have read and enjoyed (twice) before. What a luck! Yes, of course I travelled with my own book, but I deliberately didn’t bring a second because I was self-disciplining myself to do some work. Obviously that didn’t turn out quite as planned, but the outcome could not have been better. I’ll simply have to go back to return the book…

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PHOTO CREDIT: Bianca Coleman ©

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