Le Quartier Français is rated 36th in the world on the San Pellegrino Worlds 50 Best Restaurants 2011 listing. No mean feat for a small boutique hotel in the valley village of Franschoek, part of the Cape winelands of South Africa.
Love is abundant here, though not necessarily included – honeymooners flock there, but don’t let that put you off; the architecture brings to life a bygone era. If you need to forget the pressures of Old Europe, throw your iPhone in the pool and bask in the brilliant white with blue trims surrounded by a wooden veranda. It oozes old style French homeliness, a little surreal, tranquil, like a movie set when the crew have wrapped.
The feeling of European ancestry is steeped throughout. Nestled between the valley and the winelands Franschoek was first inhabited by French Huguenot refugees in 1688. It was then that the love affair with food began and has continued to emanate throughout the region. Many of the refugees were allocated farms and named them after their regions in France. These farms have traditionally been turned into wineries.
Over the past twenty years the village has experienced a boom and become a sought after place for people to visit. Creativity and quaintness are all around with art galleries, boutiques and of course restaurants in abundance. In order to drum up an appetite you can wander through the tree lined streets or visit one of the many festivals such as the Franschoek Bastille.
For the more adventurous traveller there is hiking, horse riding, golf and cycling. If you are really brave you can paraglide, taking in the views of the mountains housing the Hollywood –esque sign in big white letters stating ‘Franschoek’. Just in case you needed reminding where you were hurtling towards at great speed.
Exhausted from the beauty and exercise you can retreat to the comforting presence of Le Quartier Français. It has an array of rooms to choose from including nine luxury auberge rooms, two petit garden suites and Four Quarters suites. Each room has an open fire that will be set upon your request (and a hot water bottle made up for you if you desire).
The colours are vibrant and stylish, baroque with hint of modernism. Most of the rooms encircle a central courtyard and you can enjoy your breakfast on the veranda over looking the pool in the luscious gardens. Wifi is in every room and notebooks can be borrowed from reception.
The hotel also provides a screening room where you can enjoy a private and complimentary movie. The treatment room offers a myriad of different experiences for the mind, body and soul and cooking classes can also be arranged with the chefs from ‘The Tasting Room’
Speaking of the ‘Tasting Room’, this has to be the piéce de rèsistance.
The Tasting Room Restaurant will literally give your taste buds and imagination a run for their money. World renowned chef Margot Janse creates wonderful flavours with African ingredients, all locally sourced. The African Surprise Menu comprises 9 dishes. Each dish is served with a wine to compliment it, fully articulated by the waiters who have a clear understanding of the wines. They should do, they are sent on a course every year to brush up on their skills.
The dishes are wide ranging and varied, such as Dalewood Huguenot Cheddar and the Wonder Bag, Samp Buchu Sunflower which is served in a bag with green beans, the story behind this is that when the electric went off, as it often did, the heat in the bag would continue to cook the beans. The Tasting Room is a culinary experience not to be missed, if you make it to the end in one piece you are given a souvenir menu to take home (even if you don’t make it, you get one for effort).
The Common Room on the other hand, has a more relaxed atmosphere. Lunch is served in a tapas style and is just as tasty.
Susan Huxton has been the owner for 22 years and lovingingly built the hotel to support the 80 year old restaurant. She coined the phrase ‘culinary capital of South Africa’. The hotel was built to allow people travelling to the restaurant to have too much wine and a place to lay their head afterwards. Everything about Le Quartier is thought through and family driven including the wonderful suggestion of donating 5 Rand from every bill to a local orphanage.
The wine served also comes from the family vineyard. The family farm- Morêson is an exceptional vineyard that hosts the Bread and Wine Vineyard Restaurant. Lunch can be eaten in a relaxed atmosphere, sipping wine, with stunning views of the valley.
To hark back to its French roots, a very typical saying is ‘La vie est trop courte pour boire du mauvais vin- in English, “Life is too short to drink bad wine”. If you visit Le Quartier Français, these words will never have to pass your lips.