The Grillroom opened on the main road of Franschhoek, not far from the Huguenot Monument, in a historic building belonging to Franschhoek property mogul Trevor Kirsten, almost two months ago. The owner of the restaurant is Franschhoek restaurateur Matthew Gordon, who owns Haute Cabriere, French Connection (with Kirsten as well), and is a co-owner of Cotage Fromage on Vrede & Lust wine estate. It opened as a unique one-stop restaurant, butchery and vinoteque.
The building has an L-shape, and allows the restaurant to be divided into three separate sections – the main restaurant section has about 10 tables, and a welcoming fireplace for those cold Franschhoek winter nights. The butchery section is much smaller, whilst a private dining room upstairs can seat about 16 guests. The Vinoteque is also upstairs.
The restaurant interior is sparsely decorated, with some black and white photographs. Red light fittings dominate. Raw brickwork gives the restaurant a cosy informal feel, not as gourmet as some of the other restaurants on the same road in this gourmet village of note.
Before we looked at the menu, we are told about an extensive list of non-steak specials, mainly seafood ones, which seemed to contradict the “steakhouse” feel of the restaurant. The no-nonsense menu is a large A3, and introduces the restaurant: “It is a restaurant that takes pains to source the finest meat and age it to perfection. Only the freshest fish and shellfish from the sustainable list is served. Each plate is masterfully created for your enjoyment. Match this with a winelist of international standards and friendly, informed staff. All our beef is aged for a minimum of 2 weeks before delivery to us. We then wet age it in a vac pac for a further week before it gets put onto your plate. We only deal with one producer and our meat is fully traceable to its source to guarantee quality”.
The starter list offers a choice of eight starters, including a “modern day king prawn cocktail with avocado and spicy cocktail sauce” (nice generous portion of juicy prawns, 3 slices of avocado, and too many leaves, tasty cocktail sauce); salmon sashimi; mussels, chicken liver pate and Grabouw wors with chakalaka (a surprise!). Four salad options are offered, ranging from R 48 for a roasted butternut, beetroot, tomato and chickpea salad with humus, to R78 for a seafood style salad.
The mains are served with delicious crispy thin cut French fries (a Gordon speciality, I have been told, with his mussels), baked potato with sour cream, black mushroom couscous, or savoury rice. In addition, stir-fried vegetables were also served. Fillet steak is served in 200 g and 250 g cuts, at R115 and R135, respectively, sirloin and rump R98 for 300 g, 300 g Hanger steak at R88, a 500 g T-bone costs R115 and a 300 g Rib eye steak R105. A range of sauces can be ordered for an additional R18. A choice of bastings and of rubs is offered, according to the menu, but was not asked by the waitress (we only saw this after we had left). My rump steak had a strong peppercorn taste to it, and burnt my mouth when I bit onto the peppercorns. I expected it to be served plain. My colleague’s spicy chicken stirfry dish, a special, was to her liking, and was not too strongly spiced.
Venison is also served, two springbok dishes cost R 125 and R 135. Beef, ostrich, lamb, chicken and vegetarian burgers are offered, costing R65 – R95. A list of favourites, such as duck (R125), lamb shank (R95), veal chop (R130), ribs (R110), baby chicken (R95) and calamari (R90) can also be ordered. Fish is treated as a daily special, but Norwegian salmon is regularly available at R130, as is a mussel dish. Subject to availability, prawns, crayfish, langoustines, and seafood platters can be ordered. Dessert choices are limited to creme brulee, chocolate mud cake, pear tart tatin, chocolate spring rolls, at about R40, and a cheese board.
An A3-sized winelist offers an impressive selection of 160 wines, about half of them being from Franschhoek. The list has a very brief description of the cultivar offered, and lists the region in which the wine is made. Unfortunately the vintages are not denoted. All 15 wines-by-the-glass are from Franschhoek wine estates, and are most reasonably priced at about R 25 for the red and white wines. I was offered a tasting portion of the Eikehof Shiraz first, without asking, and then a generous glassful was poured. Champagnes are stocked, ranging from R 395 for the Tribaut Brut Rose to R995 for the Bollinger Special Cuvee. Cap Classiques are reasonably priced between R140 – R240, Sauvignon Blancs cost R95 – R250, Chardonnay R90 – R350, Shiraz R95 – R950, Cabernet Sauvignon R95 – R795, Merlot R125 – R285, and Pinotage R120 – R495. A range of dessert wines is also available.
The Butchery of The Grillroom sells 3-week aged beef to take home. Fillet costs R143 per kg, rump and sirloin R80 per kg, Boerewors R48 per kg, Rib Eye steak R84 per kg, hangar steak R58 per kg, and T-bone steak R88 per kg. The Vinoteque sells all the wines that are on the winelist, as a wine shop, and restaurant patrons are invited to select a wine from it for their meal.
The Grillhouse will give locals and visitors to Franschhoek a different style of wining and dining – no-nonsense in an unusual building – historic on the outside, and modern facebrick inside , with friendly staff. It is a big space to fill. One wonders how all the restaurants in the village will keep going in winter, when we were one of only 2 tables on a cold wintry mid-week evening.
A request for a photograph to be e-mailed to me for the review was actioned immediately that evening, which is commendable. A follow-up visit for a cappuccino and pear tart tatin (requested with real cream) over the Franschhoek Literary Festival allowed me to try a dessert, and to meet Dominic Dear, the GM of the restaurant, with a professional and very friendly touch. The Head Chef is Geraldine White, previously from Dieu Donne in Franschhoek.
The Grillhouse, Heritage Square, Huguenot Street, tel 021 876-2548. www.thegrillroom.co.za (no content).
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com.