Franschhoek’s newest restaurant The Kitchen opens on Wednesday 16 November on Maison wine estate, in an elegantly renovated 1920′s cottage, decorated with Weylandts’ furniture, not surprising given that the farm belongs to Chris Weylandt and his partner Kim Smith.  The Tasting Room has been incorporated into the restaurant building, and Maison has become a relaxed home away from home of friendly people, good wines, and good food.

Yesterday I attended the opening of the new The Kitchen (could cause some confusion with the Franschhoek Kitchen at Holden Manz) and The Tasting Room (could cause some confusion with its generic namesake at Le Quartier Français) at Maison, Nina Timm and I being the only bloggers, with magazine food writers.  The function also celebrated the launch of the new Maison Chardonnay 2011 (only 2300 bottles produced, 7 months in barrel, and costs R120) and Maison Viognier 2011 (only 1000 bottles, R140).  The function also saw the introduction of new Chef Arno Janse van Rensburg and new Manager Julian Smith.  The opening is the culmination of an eight year investment, planting Chenin Blanc and Shiraz vines from scratch, with a small amount of Viognier and Chardonnay too, and for the Weylandts to build their dream home opening onto the vineyard.  The wine estate was closed for the past few months, while renovations took place.

We were taken through to the spacious Weylandts’ home, and offered a refreshing branded The Kitchen lemonade, in a reusable glass bottle.  I chatted to Chris Weylandt about his latest venture, opening a Weylandts’ store in Sydney, there being a different way of doing business in Australia, he said.  He would not commit to future expansion plans in Australia, stating that they would like to do Sydney well first before considering Melbourne or other locations.  Weylandts’ philosophy is one of Good Living, appreciating the good things of life every day, and living as nature intended, and this he has embodied on his property, having moved to Franschhoek from Camps Bay.  The Kitchen restaurant brand was launched at Weylandts in Durbanville in May, and there is one at their Kramerville branch too.

Winemaker (or ‘process facilitator’, as he calls himself) Antwan Bondesio, who studied viticulture and oenology at the University of Stellenbosch, and who has worked at Spier, Kaapzicht, Uva Mira and at Limerick Lane in California, took us into his 4,6 hectare vineyard.  They make wines from their own grapes, and don’t buy any of it in.  Chenin Blanc, Shiraz, Chardonnay, and Viognier proved to be the grape varieties suited to the terroir and soil on the farm.  Maison has made its first 100% Chardonnay MCC, on the lees for three years already, with another two years to go, Chris said.  They have also made their first port, as well as a Straw wine.   The total wine production of 30000 bottles will be sold via The Kitchen and The Tasting Room, the Weylandts’ stores, and at La Cotte Inn in Franschhoek.  Viognier is a difficult grape variety to grow, and susceptible to downy mildew, Antwan said, especially in this cold and wet summer weather.  The 2009 Shiraz has sold out already, and we tasted the young 2010 vintage.   The production of the Chardonnay and Viognier is so small that Antwan has personally finger-printed each bottle.

In the Tasting Room the Weylandt’s decor touch is immediately evident, with unusual ‘chandeliers’ made from wine bottles.  Outside, the garden space has been reduced, to create organised parking. I chatted to M&C Saatchi Abel’s Weylandts’ account manager and Twitter ‘friend’ Wouter Lombard, and the ad agency’s involvement showed in its professionalism of the function organisation and communication presented.  The agency is responsible for the Weylandt’s communication programme too, and I loved its simple logo for The Kitchen.  Looking out of the window where we chatted, I noticed herbs being grown, for use in The Kitchen.  The Kitchen eating area flows from The Tasting Room, with a wonderful view onto the lawn and vineyards. The restaurant interior can seat 30, and a good 20 more outside.

The menu consists of ‘simplified food’, we were told, with tapas dishes, pizza, steak and more.  Only Maison wines will be offered, with Topiary Blanc de Blanc and Morena Rose Brut MCC’s, and Darling beer.  We sampled a number of the menu’s four tapas-style dishes and eight starters, some individually served and others shared on bigger wooden platters. Chef Arno studied at the Institute of Culinary Arts in Stellenbosch, and worked at Die Ou Pastorie, Terroir, Ginja, Shoga, and Myoga alongside chefs Mike Basset and Richard Carstens. I shared a table with Eat Out and TASTE editor Abigail Donnelly, You/Huisgenoot food writer Carmen Niehaus, Hannah Lewry from TASTE, and Peta Oshry from Fair Lady, and we teased Abigail about the highly sought-after information she has about the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant list. The wooden tables were matched with wooden boxes in which the bread baked by Chef Arno is served. The Wilkinson cutlery was folded into a material serviette, and hessian string tied them together.  The attractive white side plate was from a crockery range sold in Weylandts’ stores, and imported from Portugal.  

The first tapas dish was pink salt and pepper squid (R35), attractively served with a wooden spoon with the salt on the side. Other tapas options are smoked bone marrow (R35), Huguenot cheese served with grape pickle (R40), and Jamon and roasted olives (R65).  This was followed by two salads, the first being a shared cured salmon trout served with asparagus, watercress, lime dressing and plums (R75); and the second a colourful shared kudu bresaola, nectarine, rocket, cucumber, and lemon dressing salad (R75).  Lamb rack (R95), prawn tempura (R75), and gnocchi (R65) are some of the other starter options. Prime rib on the bone costs R140.

The wood-fired pizza had a welcome thin base, and was topped with Buffalo mozzarella, artichokes, and wild mushrooms (R85).  Working with Chef Arno at the lunch was Charlene Pretorius, who runs The Kitchen at the Durbanville Weylandts, having a most gorgeous smile.  The meal was finished off with the highlight for most of us, being a pecan and malt tart, gooseberries, and grape sorbet (R45), its verjuice content giving it  a ‘Fanta grape’ taste, according to most palates at our table. Other dessert options are a most interesting sounding tomato sorbet with almonds and basil meringues and goat cheese mousse; vanilla panna cotta with strawberry ice cream; and chocolate torte with fresh berries and berry frozen yoghurt. The staff were professional, their first opportunity to work as a team under the guidance of The Tasting Room Manager Julian, who has worked at the Twelve Apostles Hotel, Grande Provence, Waterkloof, with a short stint at Pierneef à La Motte.

I have found Maison a most welcome and friendly stop in and out of Franschhoek when the tasting room was managed by affable Guy Kedian.  With the opening of The Kitchen, and its easy relaxed atmosphere and good food, it will become a stop again on my regular visits to Franschhoek, when it re-opens next week.

Disclosure: We were given a straw basket (a very practical ‘goodie bag’) with a bag of lemons, a mini baguette, and a bottle of Maison Chenin Blanc 2009 on our departure, with a thank you note from Chris Weylandt, writing that his approach is one that ‘values simplicity, authenticity, and provenance’.  ‘The good life’ for him is farm breads, fresh vegetables, and great wine.

POSTSCRIPT 4/12: Maison will be open on Tuesdays from 6 December onwards, until mid-January.  I had a wonderful squid tapas dish today, and two days ago, at R35.  The cappuccino is excellent at Maison too, the coffee coming from the nearby Terbodore Coffee Roasters based on the Goederust farm outside Franschhoek.

POSTSCRIPT 28/12:  Today I tried Chef Arno’s foie gras parfait with grape jam, a wonderful combination.

POSTSCRIPT 22/1:  I tried the kingklip, langoustines (although I would have preferred it with the crayfish tail as advertised the day before) with coconut sorbet as a main course special, a very eventful lunch with blogger Clare ‘Mack’ McLoughlin making a spectacle of herself in harassing this regular patron.  Manager Julian did not allow me to pay, because of the disturbance she caused.

POSTSCRIPT 26/1:  The prices have increased at The Kitchen, the pink salt and pepper squid by 33% to R45, and the foie gras parfait by 15% to R75.

POSTSCRIPT 5/2:  The Kitchen at Maison seems to have become a local Franschhoek meeting place, or so it seemed today, a nicer alternative to meeting in the local Pick ‘n Pay!  At a temperature of close to 40°C a vanilla panna cotta and strawberry ice cream was very refreshing.

The Kitchen and The Tasting Room, Maison, Main Road, Franschhoek. Tel (021) 876-2116.  www.maisonestate.co.za Twitter: @MaisonEstate. Wednesday – Sunday 10h00 – 17h00.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage