My fine dining streak had subsided recently. I’d begun that boring spate of sticking to more casual eateries and places I would hedge my bets on a million times over, which also involves not straying too far from home. So when I entered the new La Petite Colombe on Women’s Day, I felt that flutter of excitement I only associate with a fancy restaurant. The slate was clean and so ready to be wowed with silky carbon dioxide fog, delicate foams, plates arranged with little layers of soil, and elegant miniature portions involving scooping up various purées and jellies to turn each bite into a cacophony of flavour.
La Petite Colombe did more than just wow, they succeeded on every front, revealing a finely tuned and robust off-shoot restaurant, that firmly makes its mark, distinctive from its older sibling.
La Petite Colombe, opened its doors right on schedule on 1 August, with young chef John Norris-Rogers, leaving his post at La Colombe Silvermist, and heading up the Franschhoek kitchen. The kitchen brigade was hand-picked by La Colombe chef proprietor Scot Kirton and head chef James Gaag, who will be working together with John to keep the two restaurants symbiotically linked in both standard and execution.
As we entered, the flow of the space immediately felt serene. The one end of the restaurant has its full width in glass foldable doors, allowing fluidity between the indoor and outdoor seating, as well as transferring much sunlight into the restaurant, on the rather cool day. The gentle glide of service and space is matched with stone hues of the walls and seating and a beautiful light wooden Herringbone floor, encompassing the same air of class felt at Silvermist, but with less rigidity.
Dishes begin to arrive starting with a crispy sourdough and home churched butter with a thick layer of sesame and roasted yeast dust, and then an amuse bouche of Cape Malay pickled fish, smoked snoek, piccalilli and salsa verde on little slices of toast, and finished with a tiny slice of radish. What a beautiful dish, sitting over a miniature rock pool scene, seducing us with mellifluous fog, and awakening the taste buds with a kick of salt and curry.
From there on it was smooth sailing, beginning with an Asian style smoked salmon with aubergine, miso, kalamansi, avocado and cucumber, which felt like the tuna can equivalent at the original La Colombe, but only more colourful, the start of Spring on a tiny white ceramic stage. A totally ebullient dish with the added generosity of battered avo, humbling it.
We were asked if we wanted to do the “meet the chefs” course, which I then realised was the reason why people kept crowding at a counter extending from the kitchen, throwing back what looked like broth. This broth is actually a pork belly ramen finished with a poached quail egg, which is enjoyed with one of the chefs. It adds a nice ceremonious element into the mix, giving the experience a bit more edge and distinction. The broth is also most certainly a highlight on the menu.
The next couple of dishes steer towards ‘classic La Colombe’ with barbeque quail, and then mains decided on either seared wagyu or citrus glazed kingklip, which I’m sure would leave little room for hesitation for any meat eater. This was the case for my dining partner who praised every inch of the dish, which I concurred – cooked precisely medium rare and slicing like butter, it’s served with braised brisket, sweet bread, Soubise, burnt thyme and sherry, proving that sometimes conservancy is best.
The fish matched with a creamy parsnip puree, peas, baby marrow, pea shoots, asparagus and pancetta. Again the simplicity of the dish was its strong suit, a pairing of harmonious ingredients, that, although have sang this song a thousand times over, have it down to a fine art.
The dessert didn’t do much to excite on paper, but if there’s any course you want to be a surprise, it’s the finale. Assembled on grey stone, the delicate arrangement included stone fruit, almond, yoghurt, geranium and Valrhona Dulcey and nougat, yielding subtle flavours of toffee that matched the tartness of the nectarine. It was almost too pretty to eat, but I managed.
I can imagine the weeks leading up to the 1st of August, being immensely tense. With La Colombe behind it, La Petite Colombe opened riding on a great deal of expectation. Would they be as good? Could they stand apart but still embody that crucial essence we associate with Scot Kirton’s food and service? Well yes, they can and they certainly do.
It was like watching a restaurant that had been open for years, its flow so polished, fervour being the only clue to their infancy. But it was this enthusiasm that added to the overall delightful experience and it was shared by all staff, from the wonderful sommelier to the cheerful waitrons. Couple this with excellence in dish after dish, and a space that puts you right at ease, and you could easily have Franschoek’s best restaurant.
*Take advantage of their Winter special which features a four-course menu with some of the dishes mentioned above for R395.