Franschhoek’s wild child
Claim to fame: Chris Erasmus is South Africa’s pioneer of foraging
Reason to go: The unusual edible marvels that grow in Franschhoek’s forests
To look out for: Inventive vegan dishes with vegetable juice pairings
On the fringes of Cape Town, Franschhoek, Afrikaans for “French Corner”, is the gourmet capital of South Africa and one of the oldest towns in the country. Foliage, in its center, is a high-energy, contemporary, bistro-style eatery that celebrates forest-to-fork dining thanks to the generous offerings of a chef who takes great pride in sharing his personally foraged finds. Try picking enough wild things to feed a whole restaurant, and you’ll see, this is a labor of love!
It was fine-dining ennui that prompted Executive Chef Chris Erasmus to open his own restaurant in 2014. Having helmed the kitchen at the historic, swank establishment Pierneef à la Motte, he needed a space where he could showcase his own culinary philosophies. Donning his rubber boots every morning, he heads for the Franschhoek hills, climbing ravines and walking along waterways to pluck treasures in the forests and search for Mother Earth’s wildest, perkiest ingredients. His team turns the fine and free (!) produce into new age plates. Menus are tweaked daily by this inspired kitchen brigade, depending on what bounties are discovered. Pickling and preserving, skills Erasmus picked up from his mother are also part of the game. Starters could well be creations along the lines of forest mushroom risotto with cultured cream made of buchu, the heather-like South African shrub. Bold beetroot is charcoal-roasted and tossed into a salad of turnip, fennel and lemon, dressed with 17-year-old vinegar, apple and parsley puree. Meatier mains take the form of slow-smoked duck dumplings tucked into a spiced broth bowl with charred corn and root vegetables. For the adventurous, num num, or natal plum, and malva-glazed sweetbreads accompany a warm chickpea salad, black pudding, porcini and pine ring mushrooms, spiced dried fruit puree and fresh forest herbs. Flowers are celebrated and can take center stage at the end of a meal where geranium and honey are combined to form an iced nougatine with salted caramel custard and hazelnut ice cream.
Service is smooth and friendly, the open kitchen gives you an exciting glimpse of what’s about to arrive at your table. This is destination dining of sorts as Foliage encourages diners to stay over in the valley to best experience what the restaurant showcases. Relaxed and slow is the way to go in the food capital of the country!