A weekend in the wine lands

The rain had been beating down on CampsBay the whole week, and we were getting cabin fever. Friday finally arrived and the prospects of bad weather didn’t seem half as bad if the days could be spent curled up in bed or on the couch. However my better half, the brains in our outfit, had other ideas about how such a cold rainy weekend should be spent and come Saturday morning, I was whisked off to the wine lands.

We drove through the mountains and through spots of sunlight and rain until finally we reached Franschhoek, where we checked into the Protea hotel.

After unpacking we went for a wander around town, ended up (obviously!) at the chocolate shop for a Belgian hot chocolate and Black Forest cake for me. The rest of the afternoon was spent lazily relaxing and getting ready for dinner.

Dinner in Franschhoek is never disappointing. You can even buy cheese and crackers from the BP garage and it would taste better than anywhere else in the world; however, what we experienced at dinner that night could only be described as spectacular.

Grant (the brains) had recently (5 months ago) decided that he would progress (or is it regress?) to veganism (from being a vegetarian) and this had proven quite a challenge when it came to picking restaurants – even in Franschhoek.

He called up a couple of restaurants, including Le Quartier (which used to be my favourite over there) but they were closed and highly recommended Ryan’s Kitchen. I had never heard of this “Ryan’s kitchen” and was quite pouty about going to some place that I didn’t know, but off we went nevertheless, and what awaited us I just didn’t expect, at all.

Ryan’s is at the end-ish of the Main road on the right hand side. We crossed the green wet front yard and I felt like we were visiting with friends; warm lights glowing through the windows of the house, it reminded me of a time long past.

We were welcomed into the house by a beautiful woman with a hint of a foreign accent; Lana is Ryan’s wife and unbelievably the mom of two young boys. She walked us to our table in the dining room, which flows into the warm open-plan kitchen, I sat down and started looking around the room, beautiful home, I wonder if they live here.

Grant had called and spoken to Lana and Ryan when he booked because of the vegan-ness, he asked if they could make a plan for him. At first Ryan seemed a bit perplexed by this crazy vegan weirdness, but he patiently listened to Grant as he explained the no eggs, no milk vibe. We thought Grant would get a veggie curry or something typically easy to cook, perhaps even a carrot and a piece of potato, garnished with a blip of olive oil or something similarly bizarre. (You wouldn’t believe what people think when they hear vegan)

But Ryan had gone out of his way to create a masterpiece, and I think for the first time in five months, Grant forgot that he even was a vegan and that he had limited options when it came to food – and me, I was in food heaven.

The first course came out, looking like a kitchen-esque science experiment, with test tubes and vials, even a petrie dish with a scoop or a blob of light orange foam. I was sceptical at first, I can’t now come and tell you that I was all like “Wow this looks yummy!” because I was looking at the lot in front of me thinking “I hope Col Caccio is open till late”.

There is a scene in the movie Ratatouille where the rat explains what happens when tastes combine and he compares it to music and colours – this is the first time in my life I’ve experienced tastes like music. My mind was blown and I couldn’t compare what I tasted with what I saw – not even in the slightest.

I thought that the strange little starter was as good as the night was going to get (when it came to the food, of course) because the menu sounded queer and outlandish and for a while I couldn’t figure out what to eat – I settled on the quail (I don’t like quail, it’s bony and weird) as a main and for dessert I picked the Guava soufflé, which sounded like the most standard desert on the menu.

I watched the kitchen the way a kid watches cartoons, Chef Ryan doing the impossible. The energy in the kitchen was tense, as if they were performing open heart surgery, whispering shouted commands at the sous chef, never raising his voice to higher than a breathing whisper octave. Perfection with every deft movement when plating the food.

The dreaded quail arrived and it looked amazing, like fat quails that have been living in fat quail heaven. The quail looked nothing like any of the scrawny little bird blimps I’ve ever seen served.

The taste sensation was overwhelming and I recall that I had actual tears of joy welling up in my eyes at one point during the meal. The colours were beige and brown juicy yumminess in a pool at the bottom of my plate with blots of truffle and I was tempted to lick my plate when the food was gone.

When I hear soufflé, I see a tea cup size ramekin with a cupcake looking top hanging over the edge. The soufflé from Ryan’s kitchen is a proud, light puff of pinkish guava foam and she is large, no hanging over the edges, this soufflé looks as though she will just keep on rising if you don’t damn well hurry up and eat her.

About a third of the way through the soufflé, Lana came over to see how we were doing. She noticed that I had been eating my ice cream separately and promptly showed me how the dish was best enjoyed – she tipped the ball of ice cream into the soufflé and with a encouraging nod she said “Now you try again” I loaded my spoon with a little bit of each and popped it into my mouth… At that moment my mouth turned into a Madonna Concert and the soufflé was the music.I love food and I have never wanted to write songs about food, but that night I felt like standing on our table and singing about the food.

I couldn’t help myself, and I had to take pictures of everything – mostly to prove that it was real. I was dying to know more about the restaurant and the food; I asked Lana if she could sit with us for a moment and tell me a bit more. She did me one better and invited us to sit down with her and Ryan for a glass of wine after dinner service was done.

I had ordered an espresso and was yet again surprised, by another set of mini deserts that just finished me off. I had found food Shangri-La in little Franschhoek, and I met a real life kitchen warlock.

The other patrons left and the four of us sat till the wee hours of the morning, talking about Veganism, restaurants, food, hotels and Russia. Chatting and talking nonsense about children and life and having a good skinner as well. It’s been a long time since I have met such lovely people and I can’t wait to go for dinner to Ryan and Lana’s again.

2 thoughts on “A weekend in the wine lands

  1. Ryan’s Kitchen is a gem! We’ve had a similar experience earlier in the year when on short notice we decided to break away for what I thought would be a typical “date night” with the wive. Well, dinner at Ryan’s was anything but ordinary and has set the benchmark for us not just in terms of tasting menu’s, but in terms of the complete experience – the setting, the service, the wine, but more importantly, the food! We opted for the Chef’s recommendation which consisted of 6 or 7 courses and a brilliant wine pairing.

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