When people ask me where to eat out to celebrate special occassions I always ask them what their budget is. When they insist they want top-end dining by the best chefs in town the obvious restaurants always come to mind (Jardine, La Colombe, The Tasting Room, until recently Nova and The Showroom etc.) but for some reason I never think of The Foodbarn. I seem to have forgotten that Franck Dangereux is the man in charge in this kitchen. I seem to have forgotten that he was responsible for putting La Colombe on the international stage by being placed 28th in the world's top 50 restaurants in his time there. I visited on Friday night to see exactly why I had forgotten. And honestly, I couldn't find one reason.
I hadn't been to the renovated premises but upon arrival I was impressed with the much-improved layout. The deli area has been moved across to the other side of Noordhoek Village and now operates as an independent daytime venue. In its place there are more tables and a funky bar beneath gorgeous (too gay? Gorgeous?) chandeliers. Baby-blue screens are a nice accent and vintage kitchen accessories are framed on the walls. In one corner there is a "stage" set up with rows of chairs facing it. This faux-theatre is where Franck does his cooking demonstrations three times a week.
We were seated upstairs by our waitress Alex, who was full of energy and very knowledgeable about the menu. She offered us the usual still or sparkling water but what blew my mind was when she said "Or a jug of water with ice and lemon?" These are the little touches which make the big difference. In tough times when other restaurants are charging ridiculous prices for water, some even charging for tap-water, this was extremely refreshing.
We were there to try out the winter special menu which is made up of 3 courses and a caraffe of wine for R175. Between The Dragon, The Silver Bear, The Princess and myself we pretty much got to try most of the various options, which included: Starters of caramelised-onion tart with shavings of roasted-lamb, a tomato and aubergine terrine with bocconcini and fried goat's cheese with fig, blackcurrant jam and pumpkin seeds. I was a bit disappointed with the goat's cheese dish as I was expecting fresh figs but generally all of the starters were amazing - I was most impressed with the terrine. It was a perfect example of allowing food to speak for itself.
For mains, I went with veal trotters wrapped in savoy cabbage. Presentation-wise it wasn't the most attractive but it more than redeemed itself when I had my first bite. Absolutely delicious. The others had a wild mushroom and ricotta ravioli finished with truffle sauce and a rack of lamb with a bread and lemon crust. We made a bit of a spectacle of ourselves passing the food around like we were eating dim-sum in Chinatown but the food was so good and we wanted to taste it all. Besides, by now, the wine was flowing. The wine - we had an extra bottle after our caraffes were done...as you do, was their House Red which was only R78 a bottle and could have fooled a lot of posers who would gladly have paid twice that amount if it had a different label.
Desserts involved a cheese platter, a chocolate and almond biscuit with toffee sauce and a crepe filled with chestnuts and served with a milk sorbet (brilliant touch).
With obvious French influences, The Foodbarn reminded me a lot of Bizerca Bistro in terms of the unpretentious style of food. Both could charge far more and both make you feel extremely welcome. There are lessons to be learnt in service and quality of food that some of the more celebrated restaurants would do well to take notice of. Next time you are looking for somewhere to book, don't make the mistake I did of overlooking this place. It is pure class.
Give them a call on (021) 789-1390. The also have a pretty cool website: www.thefoodbarn.co.za