A long table, delighted diners, very tasty food accompanied by well-chosen wines and a good-natured chat with the chef and wine ambassador – this is what you get at the Leopard’s Leap South African Table.
Driving into Franschhoek is always a treat, with the blue-grey mountains etched against the cerulean sky, cupping a valley of green. And the promise of something delicious at the end of your journey.
On this particular clear but freezing day, it was lunch at the South African Table at Leopard’s Leap. The name conjures visions of a beautifully set table, clinking glasses, clacking cutlery, warm laughs and long conversations with friends and plates abundant with food.
I was not disappointed. A happy welcome from wine ambassador Lawrence and chef Christiaan Visser, a glass of Chardonnay Pinot Noir carbonated sparkling wine dancing on the palate, and we settle in. As the name suggests, it is an exploration of South African food, its diversity and its influences – a bit of a labour of love for Christiaan, really.
The table is long and wide, seating up to 20, and is placed in front of the bustling kitchen. Large video screens on each side show what is going on behind the pass.
It is a set three-course meal with wine paired by Lawrence. Christiaan, a Northern Cape farm boy, is exploring his heritage, and big helpings of traditional boerekos (farmers’ food) are the order of the day. These are recipes he learned from his oumas (grandmothers), and their old handwritten recipe books take centre stage on the table. You are invited to page through them. But they are 60 and 70 years old, perhaps older, and I decline; they are too precious.
Lawrence pours the first of the wines, a Leopard’s Leap Chenin Blanc 2023 and a Culinaria Chenin Blanc 2022; although the wines are the same varietal, they are unapologetically distinct. The Culinaria is richer, more ‘food-friendly,’ and able to stand up to Chris’s strong flavours.
They accompany the bread course. There is a roosterkoek and a sourdough; the jug of three-year-old culture is passed around for everyone to smell. It’s sour, but not entirely unpleasant.
Christiaan tells us that when the kitchen is closed, he takes the culture home to feed it.
Accompanying the bread is bokkom butter and an apricot coulis, setting you up for the sweet and savoury flavours characteristic of boerekos. There’s also a finger of wors, made in the kitchen of lamb shoulder and not stretched with grains, as Christiaan is careful to tell us.
There seems to be a ripple of a movement starting to swell in the Western Cape, with chefs and diners seeking a return to their roots and a place and time to explore their heritage. Chefs scour old cookbooks and give a new twist to half-forgotten favourites. ‘I remember this from my childhood; I love this! Why has it been so long since I last ate it?’
Chef Chris brings those memories back. And indeed, why has it been so long since you tasted a slap pap poffertjie?
The theory was long held that the food of the Cape colony in the mid-seventeenth century was heavily influenced by the spice trade, with the Malay slaves bringing their knowledge of cooking with spices to the colonial kitchens.
But just after the start of the new century, researcher Hettie Claassens turned all this on its head. In her year-long exploration of boerekos, the name given to Cape cookery, she found that in the slaves’ home countries, people were too poor to afford spices, and they mainly used chillies, turmeric and ginger.
Instead, the origins of boerekos were traced to Europe, with the main contributors being Dutch-, German- and French-speaking people. These cultures had strong roots in Roman, Persian and Arabian cookery. Hence the use of spices.
The chenins accompanied the starter too. For the meat-eaters, a chicken sosatie – the word derives from sous (sauce) and sate (skewered meat) – with those zingy little slap pap poffertjes that are made with runny maize meal, eggs, sweetcorn and smokey cheddar. And are delicious. A very finely done tofu replaces the sosatie on the vegetarian plate. Both have a sauce of mustard, sweetish-tartish-moreish.
Leopard’s Leap lives the philosophy of South African hospitality – convivial, warm and generous. These are not small plates of food; you do not go home hungry.
And on to the mains. For this, Lawrence pours a robust Leopard’s Leap Family Collection Heritage Blend 2021: 85% Shiraz, 8% Grenache and the balance of Cinsaut. It is an insightful choice. On the plate is ostrich fan fillet, the most tender cut from this giant of a bird, with an interesting marinade to do with balsamic and other chef’s secrets. For the vegetarian, a king oyster mushroom And not to forget the intriguing pickled spekboom.
The ostrich is a first for some, but it most certainly will not be the last.
For the last hurrah, Lawrence brings out Culinaria Muscat 2019. The delicate pink wine is naturally sweet, and naturally, I would like more. For his part, Chris ends with a flourish: brandy tart, homemade vanilla ice cream and candied pecans.
We wander out, filled with bonhomie and happiness, snapping pictures of our fellow guests, strangers just a few hours ago.
And that is the joy of the Leopard’s Leap South African Table: you may sit next to people you don’t know, but friendships are forged over plates of food and lashings of wine, and you linger a little longer, talking until the shadows stretch across the lawn.
- Times: Wednesday to Saturday, 1pm
- Cost: From R395, plus a 10% service fee
- Book: Online
- Contact: 021 876 8002 | [email protected]
- Website: leopardsleap.co.za