A Tweet by Chef Franck Dangereux about his Chef’s Table yesterday, with a link to the 8-course menu, caught my eye on Twitter earlier this week. Given all the good things I have read about The Foodbarn of late, and the excellent summer weather forecast of 35°C, I booked a seat for the lunch. Although pricey at R595 excluding the tip, the eight course meal, paired with six sets of Groot Constantia wines, with two vintages of wines for five of these, was a proverbial Feast, true to the promise one sees visually on the wall as one enters the restaurant.
The table for twenty was festively set with white table cloths and overlays, a selection of glasses, and a material serviette, with yellow daffodils and white roses in the centre. The walls are painted in a unique blue, and this colour is picked up in chair covers for outside, and inside the cloakrooms. On the walls are photographs of Chef Franck with other chefs, as well as three handwritten letters to him from Oprah Winfrey, Juliette Binoche, and Leonardo DiCaprio. We were a mixed bunch of lunchers. I recognised writer Donald Paul (who looked like Chef Franck’s brother), and Guy Kebble. Boela Gerber is the winemaker at Groot Constantia, leading the wine tasting, and he has been at Groot Constantia for the past eleven years, and recently became a member of the Cape Winemakers’ Guild. Brand new Sales and Marketing Manager is Grant Newton, who attended as well. Everyone got on well, most not having met before, and Chef Franck came to sit down as well whenever he could get out of the kitchen, photographing and tasting his dishes. Cleverly he made some of the guests change seats midway through the lunch, and this gave me an opportunity to ask him some questions, and for new connections to be made. Chef Franck welcomed all, and asked us to be adventurous in trying what he was serving us, and to have an open mind. He pulled out all the stops in his first test, being an amuse bouche of frogs legs, which very few present had ever eaten. It was served well flavoured with garlic and sprinkled with parsley, which most described as having a taste similar to chicken. Boela introduced the two Groot Constantia Sauvignon Blancs, a 2008 and a 2011 (R94 estate price). He said that the consumer expectation is to drink this wine variety as young as possible, laughingly saying they are demanding a 2013 already! The 2008 tasted of green pea and asparagus, while the 2011 had fresh tropical granadilla flavour notes. These two Sauvignon Blancs were paired with Chef Franck’s oysters with a terrine of seaweed and cucumber, a beautiful dish served with aioli and tobiko (roe from flying fish), and most preferred the younger Sauvignon Blanc. Open to a challenge himself, Chef Franck was able to conjure up alternative dishes for two guests who were allergic to shellfish, requested at short notice on their arrival.
An interesting contrasting combination was seared scallops which were served with crispy pig’s trotter samoosas, and served with a star anise jus. The rich Groot Constantia 2007 and 2010 Chardonnays (R138 estate price) were paired with this course. Boela said their barrel-fermented Chardonnay is very popular, and they only produce 1500 cases. This variety sells out every year. The best dish by far was the pan-fried foie gras, which was served with Japanese mushrooms and pineapple, with a subtle liquorice jus. The unusual pairing of this dish with the dessert wine Grand Constance 2003 and 2009 (R366 for 375 ml, estate price), the latter pairing particularly well with the foie gras. Boela told us that they tried to reconstruct the original sweet wine developed on the 327 year old wine estate, conducting research to check how it was made originally. They work with raisins which were ‘vinified’. It has resulted in a caramel flavour. Bread was brought to the table for the foie gras, but was not toasted, and melba toast or brioche would have suited the dish better. To give the meal a break, a colourful ‘Drinking boozy sorbet’ was served, which was a refreshing watermelon and vodka sorbet.
At this point I could chat to Franck, and he told me that he came to South Africa about 20 years ago, originally using the country as a base to travel, settling at Constantia Uitsig, where he worked for ten years. He started The Foodbarn six years ago, it containing a deli too initially, but he has moved that to another part of the centre, serving light meals too. He told me that he has broken the mould of fine dining, and he likes the journey and irreverence of it. He looks happy, in his shorts and T-shirt, and says he is having fun. He wants his customers to be happy at his restaurant, and for them to bring their children and their dogs. His clients come from Constantia, Hout Bay and Noordhoek, Fishhoek and Kommetjie. In winter his food cost goes to 47%, but his restaurant does about 60 covers, breaking even financially and his staff stay in training when they remain busy. We laughed when he said that he cooks the food and his business partner Pete de Bruyn ‘cooks the books’! His favourite restaurants, not that he has much time to go to them, are Bizerca, and new Thai restaurant Erawan in Wynberg. We chatted about MasterChef SA, and Chef Franck said that he likes Chef Bennie Masekwameng, for being kind to the contestants. He knows Chef Pete Goffe-Wood. He praised the camera work and production quality, but said that he hoped that the food quality would improve. I explained the MasterChef Masterclasses to come, which Top 18 finalist Guy Clark had told me about (interview to be posted on Tuesday). Grant Newton came to chat, and told me that he has a diverse background for his new job at Groot Constantia, having owned his own restaurant, having run a Social Media consultancy, and worked at the previous SFW (now Distell), the university of wine, he laughed.
I have never tasted Swordfish before, and it had a definitive taste, without bones (a childhood fear), which Chef Franck served with braised radicchio, a member of the chicory/endive family, and a red wine jus with persillade (a chopped garlic and parsley mix). Given the stronger taste of the fish, the flagship Groot Constantia Gouverneurs Reserve 2003 (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend) and 2009 (Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc blend, at R233 estate price) were a perfect pairing. A ‘steak au poivre’ (pepper steak) was presented with Cambodian black and red Kampot (peppers), and pomme Sarladaise (sliced potatoes sautéed in goose fat, and then sprinkled with garlic and parsley). This dish was paired with 2004 and 2010 Groot Constantia Shiraz (R133 estate price), spicy, peppery and elegant, his favourite wine to serve with a main course, Boela told us. As if we had not eaten and drunk enough, an elegant glass of ice cold Groot Constantia Cap Classique 2008 (R150 estate price) was served with an unusual quince carpaccio and quince sorbet, which had been placed on top of a refreshing lemon panna cotta, a perfect end to a perfect long meal.
Chef Franck is clearly a sauce man, and creative in his unusual ingredient combinations. He told us that he would not tell us about his dishes, as they should ‘speak for themselves’. However, he uses unusual ingredients and a number of culinary terms, so it would be interesting to have an explanation of each dish. The service from his staff let him down, when a waitress stretched across us to place a fork on a number of occasions, and the requested water and ice refill needing a number of reminders. It is advisable to not eat for a number of days before coming to a Chef’s Table at The Foodbarn, and to not have any dining plans for a few days thereafter, there is so much food to eat! One should also not have to be anywhere after the lunch, as ours lasted from 12h00 – 17h00, even Chef Franck having to leave before the end, to see his son play rugby! The Foodbarn logo promises 100% passion, and handmade real food – Chef Franck and his kitchen team deliver 100%!
The Foodbarn, Noordhoek Farm Village, Noordhoek. Tel (021) 789-1390. www.thefoodbarn.co.za Twitter: @TheFoodbarn, Tuesday – Sundays Lunch and Dinner. 50 % off a la carte menu dishes Monday – Friday lunches until the end of April. Wine and food pairing evenings in winter.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage