Franschhoek is alive and well, exciting new restaurant plans announced by Chef Darren Badenhorst!



While some restaurants have closed down or remain closed until October, there are exciting plans for new restaurant openings and take-overs I learnt in Franschhoek yesterday.  While the La Colombe Group has a strong presence in the village with three restaurants, it is about to be overtaken by Chef Darren Badenhorst, who will own four restaurants by the end of this year, and will be running two further ones too!

Already having a strong relationship with Mr Analjit Singh of the Leeu Collection, in having opened Le Chêne restaurant at the flagship Leeu Estate, Chef Darren was offered the space of the former Marigold/Epice belonging to the Leeu Collection. In having found a trusted partnership with Chef Ryan Shell, who worked in Franschhoek some years ago, he was able to accept the offer to open a first truly Asian restaurant in the village, to be run by Chef Ryan, and to be called Oku. The name means oak tree in Japanese, an apt name for Franschhoek.  The preparation plans for this restaurant include taking out the faux grass in the little square of this building, and to remove large palm trees, planting finer palm plants to fit in with the theme. Inside the restaurant a decorative effect over the windows has been removed, letting the greenery from outside and the light come into the space. The wall colour has been lightened from the former brown, with a light blue tinged white, chairs are in light wood and blue upholstery, and tables are being custom-made for the restaurant by Edmund Viljoen, who was a Chef at The Fat Duck in Bray in his previous career.  The space is intended to create an atmosphere of relaxation for its diners, and of being cared for. The restaurant will seat about 34 diners. The restaurant entrance will return to the front door on Huguenot Street. Dim Sum, Ramen, Tempura, Bao Buns, and Koji confit duck and more will be offered. Oku opens on 14 October, coincidentally the same opening date of Le Coin Français in 2017 and Le Chêne in 2019.


Just as they were planning Oku, the opportunity to take over the Franschhoek Boutique Gallery space in the same Square arose, and as Sushi was not considered for the Oku menu, they accepted the challenge to open the Yama Sushi Emporium in the space in December. The Oku kitchen is so large that they can split it into two, to serve both Oku and Yama. In Yama they plan to set up a retail section too, one being able to take home sushi, and buy other related items such as Japanese hard-crafted knives, Japanese fire-burnt pottery, chopsticks, bonsai trees, art, and cooking ingredients and equipment. Yama will offer indoor seating, as well as outdoor seating in the Square outside, 24 pax in each section.  Pergolas with demisters will be erected in this area, to become an all-day sitting area for locals and tourists.


Chef Darren is in the kitchen at Le Coin Français, currently offering Lunch and Dinner on Fridays and Saturdays, and Lunch on Sundays. These operating times will be amended as the international borders open again. He has renovated his kitchen, sharing that he has learnt from the Leeu Collection to invest in regular upgrades. Le Chêne too has been changed, an open plan kitchen having been created at the Leeu Estate restaurant, a bar has been added in the Library room and connects to the restaurant now, the floors have been redone, and a Deck extending from the restaurant to the lawns now offers a 180 degree view onto the Franschhoek mountains. The renovations at the Leeu Estate hotel are extensive, so the property is closed for business until they have been completed, likely to be by the end of the year.  Le Chêne is in the capable hands of Chef Olaf Foster.


As if the above is not enough to keep Chef Darren busy, he has accepted taking over the running of TukTuk, a Leeu Collection restaurant and brewery. His Le Chêne team will head up the restaurant initially, while it awaits the reopening of Le Chêne. Having been strongly Mexican and masculine in its menu design, Chef Darren has recognised the need for a more balanced menu to appeal to women too, and has decided to offer five dishes each representing six countries: Germany, the UK, the USA, Mexico, Italy, and India. Good news is that the Churros will remain on the menu. A pizza oven will go onto the terrace, and a pergola is planned for the terrace too.  CBC will continue to make the beers.


Chef Darren also shared that he will take over the hospitality services for Leeu House. Initially it will focus on in-house guests only, but over time it is likely to open for visitors too.


Chef Darren indicated that an even bigger project is lying ahead that he could not yet reveal the details of.  I was so impressed with what Chef Darren shared with me yesterday that I went back to see him in the afternoon, to gift him a bottle of ADHARA extra virgin olive oil from Fraaigelegen Farm in Tulbagh, in recognition of being such a restaurant star. I have challenged Chef Darren to create a collective restaurant group name.


Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein, My Cape Town Guide/Mein Kapstadt Guide, CAMPS BAY CLEAN. Instagram: @Chrissy_Ulmenstein @MyCapeTownGuide

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