The Place: Generally I find there are three types of high-end restaurant diners. The regulars, indulging in a preferred style of cooking from a favourite chef. The fashionables, most interested in the fuss around a new restaurant. And the true food lovers, enthusiasts cautious of fads who are open to educating experiences, like this one.
Chef Chris Erasmus left the heritage cooking of Pierneef à la Motte restaurant to start his own place. Foliage is his take on forest-to-plate eating. It’s high on wow factor and relatively low on fine-dining prices.
Despite fire-engine red walls, art and smart leather chairs, there is an organic feel to the décor and Mervyn Gers tableware incorporating pine needles and tree bark. Upmarket Franschhoek locals and tourists eat off bare wooden tables. You’ll see family groups (kids are accommodated) although this menu isn’t pitched at young diners.
The Drinks: Franschhoek dominates a decent list with Reyneke’s organic label as the house wine, and a few treasures from the likes of Sadie. We drank glasses of Two Dogs a Peacock and a Horse Sauvignon Blanc (R35) and Chamonix Cab Franc (R60).
The Food: Labelled food always raises eyebrows. I know diners who love Foliage, but find its menus weird. For Erasmus, foraged edible plants and mushrooms are an essential part of beautifying plates, flavouring stocks and reducing food costs on a small, seasonal menu rich in free-range meat and game. Most starters are R65 to R80, mains R115 to R135, and desserts R50 to R60.
With a similar pragmatism applied to finding creative uses for animal bits, Erasmus’s chefs are coached to identify this wild produce – around 70 per cent of Foliage’s fresh greens are foraged from rivers or forests. An open kitchen means Erasmus or well-schooled waiters can also field diners’ queries.
A green soup of frothy broad beans, peas and horseradish root (R70) tasted vibrant with spring freshness and luminosity, against salty, puffy eisbein crackling. Fiddlehead and wild pea shoots alongside were picked outside the kitchen (I saw Erasmus return in boots).
An outstanding salad combining warm sweetbread pieces with smoky, cured warthog rib rounds, potato and moist squid, with soft-cooked red pepper and tomato, and crunchy hazelnuts (R75) had no mass-produced leaf packs from Woolworths. Instead, a riot of flavours and textures in tasty ‘forest greens’ (dandelions, wild watercress, goosefoot, chickweed and sweet lupin) alongside perky beans and broccoli.
More traditionally, a main of velvet-soft Wagyu beef shortrib (R165) all shiny with jus intensity, partnering ‘wood greens’, an open onion crispy-fried, and potato mash spiked with sour wood sorrel stalks and horseradish. Delicious.
You can have fun at Foliage too. A comforting Black Angus beef butter curry (R135) delivered fiery flavour depth on clumpy ‘krummelpap’ fenugreek-infused maize, with hits of preserved lemon.
Earthiness dominated an al dente charcoal-grilled sliced pear dessert (R50) alongside creamy fennel sabayon. Caramel sweetness from candied walnuts, with nutty, spiced balls of acorn – yes – frangipane cakes.
The Verdict? This is adventurous food that’s also technically skilled, tasty and beautiful. Scan the menu for black pudding to wild game bird terrines, alongside Asian pork belly broths, boerbok shoulder and tongue dishes, or creative tripe and trotter interpretations. Trust the chef and you’ll find plenty to enjoy.
FOLIAGE RESTAURANT, 11 Huguenot Road, Franschhoek. Closed for Sunday dinner and Tuesdays. Foliage, Tel 021-876-2328.
This review appeared in The Times on 3 September 2014.