IF our national flower is the protea, our national vegetable is you-know-who and our national sport is soccer … I mean rugby (hey, you guys can fight it out, I prefer boules), our national meat has to be lamb. Whether it’s cooked on the braai, on the spit or in a potjie, roasted in the oven, turned into sosaties, into a Durban curry or a Cape Malay breyani, it’s the one meat that unites our dark carnivorous hearts. Lamb was on the menu at two launches I attended recently. One was a new theatre restaurant, the other a regular summer spitbraai on a wine farm.
On the eve of the annual South African restaurant industry ‘Oscars’ we were hosted by a man who owns one of Franschhoek’s finest restaurants. You may have heard of it. But probably not. But we weren’t at Mange Tout last week. We were in the private dining room of the Mont Rochelle manor house just up the winding farm track.
A new breeze has shuffled through Le Quartier Francais at Franschhoek where owner Susan Huxter and chef Margot Janse have tweaked the premises of the former Ici and revitalised it as The Common Room, a place where Franschhoek locals (and visitors) can hang out.
In that quiet that follows, there is the sound of a poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks badmouthing his girlfriend. On a pavement corner there is a trio of coloured boys singing in perfect harmony, with a hat at their feet, while bands of tourists march by unseeing, with their eyes on the next gourmet thrill.
This land is quite different from the usual serried vineyards of these parts. It is sparse and seems dry, and the plants neatly spaced in the garden are still small, with only the promise of the harvest to come a year or more from now. Fyndraai restaurant celebrates the region’s three culinary traditions – the veldkos of the Khoe who lived on this land 2000 years ago with their Sanga cattle and fat-tailed sheep, the Cape Malay tradition of the slaves of the white farmers, and the boerekos and Dutch food of the farmers themselves.