Restaurant Review

Reuben Riffel's Franschhoek eatery is hard to fault

Crispy gnocchi and pork belly with chilli-caramel sauce are some of the standout dishes on the menu of this celeb chef's relocated restaurant

01 October 2017 - 00:00 By Jackie May

Driving home after lunch at Reuben's Restaurant, we dissected the meal, dish by dish, flavour by flavour.
We had a few complaints, not all of us agreeing on them: poor acoustics, too much chorizo in the springbok dish, a slightly too creamy polenta cake, and why, we wondered, does Reuben Riffel use paper napkins and not cloth ones?
Is laundering cloth napkins less sustainable than manufacturing paper napkins? I'm not sure. But the complaints were few and far between the compliments. We were nit-picking as we revelled in our post-prandial satisfaction.
Riffel relaunched his Franschhoek restaurant in a new building four months ago. For the first time he now fully owns both the restaurant and the building it's in.The most striking difference between this new space a few metres off the main road and the previous Reuben's Restaurant & Bar is its modern feel.
We entered through a mostly glass entrance hall. Although bright and airy with light-grey screeded floors, the restaurant is cozy.
You can't miss the painting of Abe Riffel, Riffel's grandfather. "I wanted my oupa to be here," the celebrity chef explained. "My grandparents lived in this part of Franschhoek, but then they had to move down to Groendal, so I wanted to bring him back to this part of the valley. Having my oupa's face here, in pride of place, is important to me."
Imran Railoun, our waiter, led us to a table in the middle of the room, and ensured the two children were immediately occupied colouring in their menus.
It didn't take long to select our meals from the wide-ranging menu. There is a strong French and Italian bistro-style inspiration, but some Eastern and a few local influences too. I insisted that we each order a different dish so I could sniff and taste as much as possible.
The starters were delivered swiftly. The poke bowl was a fresh delight. The main ingredient of Riffel's version of this Hawaiian dish is a beetroot-cured Franschhoek salmon trout. Combined with wasabi, pickled ginger, compressed cucumber, sesame and yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit) soy it's like a deconstructed sushi salad.
While the tuna tataki melted in my mouth, I found the grilled octopus tough. I'm used to eating softer squid tentacles. The hake fritters were round balls of freshness and the polenta cake was warm and comforting, perhaps a little too soft.
We didn't order many mains. The children ate "the best burger" (their words not mine). The man at the table ate a melt-in-the-mouth springbok steak served with pickled red cabbage and a nutty, honey sauce with bits of candied chorizo. He thought the chorizo superfluous. I didn't agree - I liked the salty chewiness. I had ordered a bowl of Saldanha mussels served in a creamy sauce thick with finely chopped fresh parsley.The dish none of us could stop talking about was the crispy gnocchi. It must have been the accompanying raw oyster mushrooms that made it taste and smell like a forest after rain.
For dessert we shared a peppermint crisp tart (yes really), a spiced crème brûlée with a pear sorbet and a special of fruit with a sorbet.
When I called to check on a few things, I was told the paper napkins are a good thing: hygienic, cheaper and Riffel believes they are better for the environment. The acoustics? A minor offence when the food is so good. The wine list is extensive. Next time I'll drink more, to lose any inhibition about talking loudly. Sometimes you do need to be heard.THE LOWDOWN
Vibe: Although this is fine dining there is nothing stuffy about the place. In fact it feels celebratory.
Price: Starters range from R65 to R125, mains from R165 to R255 (the grass-fed beef fillet), and desserts and children's meals are all under R100. We spent R2,000 (for five adults and two children).
What to wear: Reuben's food commands respect. Don't look sloppy.
People who'll like it: Foodies and anyone celebrating a special occasion will love this.
Hot tip: Don't plan to have a complex or intimate discussion - you won't hear the detail.
Address: 2 Daniel Hugo Street, Franschhoek.
Trading hours: Open Monday to Sunday, closed Tuesdays.
Bookings: Call 021-876-3772.
Food: 4/5
Ambience: 4/5
Service: 5/5
Value for money: 4/5

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