Chef Piet Huysentruyt, founder and owner of Likoké one star Michelin restaurant in France, has lifted the bar of the cuisine served in Franschhoek, with his two-week pop-up restaurant at his The Conservatory, which finishes off on 15 March. It impressed with the unusual and creative combination of ingredients, and the presentation of the dishes.

About a month ago I had been invited to a media preview of the Likoké pop-up restaurant, prepared by Chef Piet with the assistance of one local chef, served as a stand-up canapé lunch. It already impressed, in how Chef Piet presented his dishes, and hearing from him his controversial cuisine culture, which almost cost him his restaurant career, closing down his Belgian restaurant when the locals did not support him at the time, in serving pig trotters and langoustine, still one of his signature dishes. He closed down the Belgian restaurant, and switched to a career as a TV show chef and writing a plethora of cookery books, before opening his Likoké restaurant in Les Vans in France, which was awarded one Michelin Star too. The restaurant name reflects the nickname which the locals called his father when he had a coffee plantation in the Belgian Congo, before he and his family had to flee that country due to political unrest. 

New French pop-up restaurant Likoké brings Michelin Star ’Food Porn’ cuisine to Franschhoek!

Chef Piet and his son Chef Cyril now run the restaurant jointly and the latter is very much in charge of the pop-up, with three colleagues from the French restaurant and four local chefs. The local chefs were understandable nervous initially, but Chef Piet advised them to not be stressed. The front of house team is local, but it is Chef Piet who has things under control, regularly visiting each table and checking that all is in order. He adds an extra touch of information to each dish, a huge plus for a writer like myself. 

The wedding and event venue had been transformed for the pop-up restaurant, into three sections. On arrival, one enters a Lounge style area, with occasional chairs at the fireplace, over which hangs a funky artwork by Belgian artist Isabelle Scheltjens, on loan from The Boutique Gallery, owned by fellow Belgian William Vaesen. On the opposite side is the coffee and beverage bar, serving Terbedore coffee, from the distinctive Franschhoek-roasted coffee packs I saw at the counter. Over the bar counter were stuffed heads of warthog, gemsbok, and springbok, and a stuffed  duiker stood next to one of the partitions. 

Screens of white branches on blocks separate the dining area from the entrance section, without blocking one’s ability to see an action in the restaurant overall. Lunches are kept small, with only 20 guests, and just more than 30 for dinners. The pop-up restaurant has been fully booked to date, and it is the Franschhoek locals from whom the interest is coming in particular, word-of-mouth creating the interest in particular. Wooden top tables with a black metal base were laid with a linen napkin, beautiful cutlery by Robert Welch, and a water and wine glass. Chairs are tan leather in a tub shape. Chef Piet told me that the restaurant furniture, as well as crockery and other requirements, were supplied from Europe-based suppliers. They will probably stay, to be used for future pop-ups. 

The third section flows from the dining area without a separation, the uncooked courses meal preparation and plating happening on a long table at the far end, closest to the Kitchen. A menu printed on cream board listed 13 courses, but I counted 17 courses in total. A number of the dish names are a fun play on words. The meal costs R1250, with wine pairing costing R650 extra, and unlimited water R35 (no tap water was available). The menu mentions that bills cannot be split, and that tables of six or more diners attracts a 10% service charge. Credit card payments are not accepted for more than R20000. Barbara Lenhard and Florian Gast of Opulent Living sat at the neighbouring Table. It is through them, and their Chefs who Share event in Johannesburg two years ago, that I met Chef Piet, who cooked with Chef Candice Philip from the Saxon Hotel for the table at which I was seated. Chef Piet’s fun side came to the fore when I entered the make-shift kitchen of the Johannesburg City Hall to photograph some dishes, and saw him dancing with Chef Candice! I only discovered last week that Chef Piet was on the TV show ‘Dance with the Stars’. 

The food was initially served quickly, but this was understandable with the number of courses to be served. Four Amuse Bouche dishes were served, some arriving simultaneously, such as the first two, called Deli’cious, consisting of two charcuterie (supplied by Neill Jewel from down the road) types: Sun-dried figs wrapped in pastrami, and sundried mango wrapped in cured ham, with vinegar mayo; and the most creatively presented carrot and passion fruit, as well as beetroot juices, served in pipettes, place in a vine branch into which holes had been created to hold them! No local chef has brought the Vineyard into his or her restaurant in this manner, in my experience. The charcuterie was served on a wooden board, complementing the vine pipette holder. The dishes were mainly brought to the table by Chefs Cyril and Taha, the latter having worked at Likoké for four years already, having grown in the Kitchen over this period, Chef Piet shared privately. 

Chef Taha brought the next Amuse Bouche dish to the table, a bowl of the Belgian speciality of mussels and frites, served with a sauce of white wine vinegar, and smoked celery and onion mayo. Unusually, we were not asked about our dietary requirements upfront, and therefore I had to return my mussel dish, being allergic to this seafood type. Within minutes the kitchen had whipped up an alternative, of popped potato giving the dish texture, rocket cream, and rice noodles, served in a patterned bowl to complement the dish. 

A mushroom Amuse Bouche was based on a Belgian waffle, onto which was placed pickled shimejii mushrooms, champignon mushrooms, plum gel, and blueberry. It was served on a circular wooden plate, on top of a round bowl, on a bed of thyme. 

The link to Africa, and Chef Piet’s father’s tenure in the Belgian Congo, was through the moambe dish Amuse Bouche, a chicken stew and Moambe sauce presented as Bitterballen, dusted with spinach powder, and presented on a bowl of uncooked black rice. Given that the previous dishes were served cold, it was a surprise to bite into the very hot centre of this dish. 

A new section of the menu offered more substantial dishes, after the four starter Amuse Bouches. The first was the very striking ‘House inn’ Trout’, a play on words linked to Chef Piet’s surname. It was Franschhoek trout, tomato, and basil, served cold. The tomatoes had been marinated in tomato juice, with a compote of tomato stuffed inside the tomato, served with a cream of sundried tomato, basil granité, oil of basil, with marinated tomato juice poured over the dish at the table. It was light and refreshing, and one of the most attractive dishes on the menu. Chef Piet told me that it had taken three days to make the tomato water, to recure the tomatoes with basil, garlic, citrus, and lemongrass, and to smoke the Franschhoek trout. 

The following dish had a mouthful of a title: ’Once upon a time a pig trotted and a langoustine swam’, referring to his signature dish from the early days of Chef Piet’s cuisine career, being controversial not only because of the seafood and pork combination, but also due to the pork offal, which many customers at his first restaurant were sensitive to eating. It was a generous multi-item course, with a potjie in which the curry trotters had been prepared, dished into a stone bowl topped with a curry taco and the content of the potjie, a bowl of cold langoustine served with radish and a consomme, served with toasted ciabatta bread with chives and garlic (tasting just like a braaibroodjie grilled on a Braai Fire) on a bed of straw, and deep-fried focaccia with Parmesan cheese and olive tapenade, served on a skewer made from a stick, and placed on a wooden log! The consommé was poured at the table from a teapot filled with rosemary twigs. This was a very busy course, and I had to keep my wits about me to follow Chef Taha in his – at times – fast explanation of it. 

Another bread course arrived, perhaps overkill, as we had just been served two bread types with the langoustine and pig trotter dish. It was a slice of sourdough presented on a bed of straw with homemade butter with Goji berries. More slices were offered, but I declined, having all but cut bread out of my diet. It was at this stage that I visited the bathroom, and on my return found a fresh napkin, a professional touch. 

Another meat and seafood dish followed, called ‘Oxtail Greens’, which consisted of oxtail covered by a very thin slice of sea bass lightly salted and seared on a gas fire, a green sauce made with 14 herbs, asparagus, burnt avocado, baby beetroot leaves, caper leaves, dill, pea shoots, baked onion, pickled onion, onion mayonnaise, and guacamole. I liked the design of the plate on which this dish was presented. 

The next course was a surprise one, not listed on the menu. It was called ‘Meat the Chef’, which we ate outside on the terrace, at the fireplace, a couple from Somerset West, Barbara and Florian, and I, with Chef Piet. He told us that they are investing in South Africa, and not just taking the money of locals, and running back to Europe. Using our country’s concept of a Braai, Chef Piet had put one end of Shiraz barrel staves in the fire. On the burnt section he had placed cured beef sirloin, which had been vacuumed, frozen, mashed and cut into carpaccio, sprinkled with salt, and topped with caper vinaigrette. 

The main course was called ‘Biporki’, another meat and seafood dish. It was presented in two parts: a syrup-basted pork belly with crab mayonnaise, dried apricots, marinated grapes, puffed pork belly skin, topped with bobotie spices, giving it quite a strong curry-like taste, presented in the shell of a King Crab, on a straw bed. Part two was 24-hour cooked pork cheek with King crab, presented with snapdragon, cream of celeriac, Bobotie spices, cauliflower, kale, broccolini, cream of coconut crab tempura, fried bread, crab mousse, and finished off with pork jus. 

The meaning of the ‘Do the evolution baby‘ dish name was not explained, but it was also unusually presented, on top of a bowl of raw beetroot. The beetroot dish was presented as a sugar bowl, with yoghurt, and goats cheese, transferred to a plate and then smashed with a spoon, so that one could eat the contents. 

Malva tart was one of the four desserts. The Malva Tert was a Tarte Tatin, Chef Taha explained, made with caramel of salted butter, peaches (that looked like gooseberries to me), custard, a delicious tasting coffee ice cream, and salted chocolate
crumble, over which cinnamon was shaved at the table. 

Life gives you lemons’ was a lemon pie, with a meringue made with yoghurt, and samphire sea asparagus was an unusual ingredient in this dessert. I loved the colourful Spring look of the dish. 

Cookies from Rosemary’s sister’ was another odd dish name, and it took me some time to work out that this referred to the Koeksister dish, which was made from a fried Brioche, presented on a tray of smoked rosemary, on a structure of honeycomb, a very clever interpretation of one of our national dishes.

The most unexciting dish of all those that we ate was the last, called Deli Choc, being charcuterie in chocolate form, to balance the charcuterie we were served as the first Amuse Bouche. First brought to the table as unattractive sausage-like (not a good simile in our  Enterprising country at the moment) rolls, they were returned as four slices, on a dark background, each denoted with the ingredients inside the chocolate:  passion fruit, Black pudding, barbecued corn, and nuts, presented with name tags, in a shell. I ordered a dry cappuccino with it, and was surprised that I was charged for it, the exorbitant cost of R35 not listed on the menu nor informed verbally. 

While the taste and textures of some of the dishes did not come to the fore in all of them, the unusual presentation of the dishes impressed me greatly, especially in using natural elements such as wooden boards, shells, the straw, and the vine holder. The catchy names of the dishes were not all explained, partly due to the chefs presenting the dishes (what a nice touch) running out of time, or so it felt, making the explanation of the dishes too fast at times. There were some lost in translation moments between English, French, and Flemish with Chef Taha. But overall, the fact that we could be exposed to a pop-up of a Michelin one star restaurant in Franschhoek was exciting in itself, seeing the attention to detail. I would recommend that locals get to Franschhoek in the next few days, to eat at Likoké. I liked that at the end of the meal, Chef Piet said that he is nothing without his team. 

Likoké pop-up restaurant, The Conservatory, Happy Valley Road, Franschhoek. 28 February – 15 March. Tuesday to Saturday. Cell 0713659612. Click onto LOT to make the reservation. R1900 includes wine pairing. Instagram: @likoke @huysentruyt

Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein