An Exquisite Culinary Journey at La Petite Colombe in Franschhoek
Opening a second restaurant within a group is always a daunting process. Expectations are going to be high from the moment the doors open and comparisons are bound to be made. And, while there are flavours and a flow to things at La Petite Colombe that will remind you of its sister restaurant, La Colombe, it is its own unique, stand-alone experience. The new restaurant is smaller in size (and name) but not in presence, and, as expected, the gourmand menu delighted at every turn.
The Location and Look
The team could not have picked a better spot than Franschhoek to open La Petite Colombe. As the heart of the French corner of the Cape, it is a destination for foodies and wine lovers from across the world. While it seemed sad to lose the stalwart that was The Tasting Room, La Petite Colombe brings its own unique and next level dining experience.
The restaurant decor is neutral and the subtle colour palette of creams and beiges gives a relaxed yet stylishly contemporary feel. The space is fronted by concertina glass doors that open out fully and overlook a simple garden of lemon trees. Hand painted ceramics hang on the walls but beyond that, it is left up to the food to wow, which it does.
The kitchen at La Petite Colombe is headed up by John Norris-Rogers, previously in the kitchen at La Colombe. He is supported (albeit at a distance) by Chef Patron of La Colombe, Scot Kirton, and Head Chef at La Colombe, James Gaag. John has made a permanent move to Franschhoek to run the restaurant, and, if the menu now is anything to go by, he and his team can expect a very busy season to come.
The full gourmand menu is 11-courses (if you include the palate cleansers and amuse bouches) and the wine paired menu showcases some absolutely exceptional and rare wines.
Just as you are seated the very first bite arrives. A beautiful ceramic oyster shell holds an oyster amuse bouche with dill and compressed apple. It is just one mouthful but it is so immediately delicious, that your palate is woken up and shifted into gear in an instant.
The actual menu starts with a bread course, which is, of course, never just bread. Warm, crispy sourdough is served with home churned butter, which is topped with sesame and roasted yeast dust. The roasted yeast has a malty, cheesy flavour that will have you scraping out every last dab of that butter.
To whet the appetite further, a second amuse bouche of Cape Malay pickled fish, atop smoked snoek and piccalilli is served on a thin wafer.
In a menu as crafted as this, it is very hard to pick stand out courses, as there are very seldom any that disappoint. Most often it comes down to personal taste and preference and the tiniest minutiae that separate them.
Fable Mountain Jackal Bird 2014 was an amazing partner to the first course of Asian-style Norwegian salmon; a delicately light dish with bites of crispy tempura avo, tiny cubes of kalamansi gel (Asian citrus fruit) that are cut with staggering precision, miso mayo and cucumber. The creaminess of the avo and the richness of the salmon are offset by the tart freshness of that citrus gel.
The Springbok tataki is also an exceptional dish and one that I really couldn’t get enough of. Slivers of the tenderest Springbok are just lightly seared and served with the unmistakable flavour of an unctuous chicken liver parfait. A dehydrated pistachio sponge looks as though it will be soft and light, but surprises with its toastiness and adds a crunch element. Jerusalem artichoke espuma, burnt macadamia shavings, rum-soaked pineapple and red wine pickled shallots, all add to the overall flavour. This course was paired with Radford Dale Black Rock 2014, a Swartland wine that just knocked our socks off.
Each dish is conceived and plated as a miniature work of art and it takes a few minutes to appreciate the small nuances and details of each one.
To Cleanse the Palate
A palate cleanser mid-meal does not often necessitate a mention but this one definitely does. Pineapple sorbet is topped with shavings of toasted coconut and lime zest and is served with a vial of coconutty Malibu fizz. It took me back exactly a year to the day when I was sunning myself on a tropical island holiday. It’s always amazing when a simple mouthful of food is able to invoke such a strong connection. For just a blissful few moments I was transported back to the sun, sand and swaying breeze of the tropics.
I was pulled back to the real world with a trip to the kitchen for the “Meet the Chefs” part of the menu. In La Colombe style, this is the more interactive part of the menu. Chef Kieran took us through a Ramen Bowl course; sous vide pork belly in celeriac master stock, a pinch of wild garlic, dashi and a sticky soy reduction at the bottom of the bowl, which is stirred through to incorporate and season the broth. A perfectly poached quail egg and hand rolled noodles complete the dish, which you’ll eat with chefs tweezers for a bit of fun.
Accompanying this course is another very special wine, Stonybrook – Heart of the Lees, a Sauvignon Blanc, which if you haven’t secured a bottle, you will only be able to enjoy while they still have it on the menu at La Petite Colombe.
It’s all in the detail
Courses that followed were all divine in their own right – each with unique detail, thoughtful flavour and faultless execution. The dish of BBQ quail with langoustine (fine dining ‘surf & turf’) had the most perfectly steamed baby mussels and a crunch from popcorn, as part of corn served three ways.
The citrus glazed line fish was complemented by a swirl of sauce with a hint of vanilla to lend an aromatic sweetness. The seared wagyu and braised brisket dish came together with a delicious burnt thyme espuma and delicate yet rich sweetbreads.
The attention to detail is exceptional, not only from the kitchen but everyone involved, from the servers to the sommelier and manager to hostess – everyone works together in a symbiotic motion that is impeccable and makes the whole experience seamless.
Getting to the end of any degustation type meal is bittersweet; you’re filling up but you also don’t want the experience to end. It also puts a lot of pressure on those last courses – they need to be light enough to finish off a long, complex meal but also sweet enough to round out and leave a lasting memory. These dishes ticked all the boxes.
The ‘cheese course’ is a savoury Asiago cheese catalan (set custard) with the sweetness of whisky-poached pears, an absolutely sublime roasted pear ice cream and dehydrated Japanese cheesecake.
The stone fruit dessert was ideal for a spring day and was both balanced and refreshing. The rose geranium meringue brings a sense of childhood with its Zoo Biscuit-like flavour. The fruit was juicy, homemade yoghurt added creaminess and a nougat gelato lifted with cool freshness. Something about the combination of flavours took me back to a little patisserie in the south of France, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, but in my scrawled notes I wrote, “love love love!” And I can’t think of a more accurate way to sum it up.
The menu at La Petite Colombe follows a similar structure to La Colombe but no two dishes are the same. What you love and appreciate about the original restaurant, you will find echoed at this one but through its own interpretations. The intricate dish conception, the meticulous plating and the focus on flavour are the foundations and the service and experience are the finishing touches.
The final thought (after the signature box of sweetie treasures) is a copy of the menu signed by the chefs – it’s a smart take-home memento of a fabulous experience and a gentle reminder to book again soon.
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