Having had a Valentine’s dinner on Sunday evening at Grande Provence, and having been spoilt there, I had no intention of having another dinner last night.  However, when I saw the 5-course Valentine’s Day menu at Café Benedict on Franschhoek’s main road the day before, I decided to go there for Valentine’s Day, it being their first dinner, at a cost of R200, inclusive of a glass of sparkling wine by Dieu Donné.  Café Benedict is owned by Robert Maingard – he is the landlord of the new Franschhoek Centre too, and owns about half of the Franschhoek main road.  Dieu Donné wine estate and restaurant is one of his properties.

I was impressed with the trouble that the restaurant went to to make everything look beautiful and romantic, especially as they had not had any advance bookings.  But sitting outside, and being in the same centre as the new fancy “Woolworths”-style Pick ‘n Pay, with tourists walking past looking for somewhere to eat, the restaurant had almost reached capacity an hour later, an attraction for the tourists (mainly European, and who do not make much of Valentine’s Day) in that they were allowed to order off the a la carte menu as well.

I have written about Café Benedict before, just after it opened about six weeks ago.  Since then, a new menu has been introduced, in A3 size, and offers an all-day breakfast, salads, sandwiches, and ”Early dinners”, served between 4 – 6 pm.  A sweet little Valentine’s Day card was on every table, with a photograph of two children and a bunch of roses, with the following introduction: “It gives great pleasure to welcome you to the first of many dinner events.  Please lean back, stress less, drink more, eat contently and fall in love.  There is no greater love than that of food.  So why not?”  And this I did – Chef Llewellyn’s meal was a feast of passion, cleverly thought through to make the meal special, and excellent in its execution.

The tables and chairs are white, and I missed a tablecloth in honour of the evening.  Everything else was outstanding – a tall candleholder with a candle floating in a red liquid attracted attention to passersby, and gave every dish served a rosy glow.   A silver underplate with two sets of St Tropez cutlery, as well as a spoon and a fish knife, a black serviette presented with a red ribbon, and good quality glassware gave the table setting elegance.   Craig brought a jug of ice water to the table, with slices of lemon, and strawberry pieces, to suit the colour of the day.  Chef Llewellyn and the waitress both wore red tops in honour of Saint Valentine.  

Craig brought the glass of sparkling wine, and took my order for the main course, a choice of three (kingklip, steak or lasagne).   The Dieu Donné Brut Blanc de Blancs 2009 is almost sold out, and its 2008 predecessor is listed on SAA’s in-flight winelist.   The first course was called a Grecian Kiss, and was a slice of tomato, cucumber, an olive and feta presented on a toothpick on top of a shot glass, and Craig said I should eat it first and then drink the homemade olive oil and strawberry balsamic in the glass.  Then followed a deliciously spicy smoked tomato gazpacho, with vodka and celery crème, perfect for the 27°C evening in Franschhoek.  I loved the lemon and basil granita, served as a palate cleanser with a beautiful long elegant spoon, and it made me feel that it was doubly refreshing, both the lemon and the basil having a wonderful fresh taste.  My ‘linefish de provence’ (kingklip) was served with an excellent fennel and ‘champagne’ foam on warm francillion crush (French crushed potatoes) minus the mango mousse it was meant to have as well.  I am not usually a fan of fennel, but it was a wonderful marriage with the kingklip.

The piece de resistance, however, was the wonderful assiette of desserts, served on a two-tier high-tea style holder, with a collection of sweet treats, mainly in red, and Chef Llewellyn decorated the glass shelves of the holder to add to the Valentine’s theme, and used flower petals and raspberries on it as well.   The dessert selection contained tiny pieces of rose geranium jelly, chocolate cake, rumbles (wonderful date, Marie biscuit and chocolate balls rolled in pink coconut flakes), fruit salad, ice cream in a dark biscuit case, and a berry yoghurt slice with a brandy snap, which I enjoyed with an excellent LavAzza cappuccino (R15).    One can experience some of the dishes which were on the Valentine’s menu, including the linefish (R85), on the a la carte menu.   Other main courses include duck, chicken and prawn curry (both costing R85), and sirloin (R95).   Salads range in price from R40 – R60, and more unusual ones are Mediterranean couscous with slow roasted lamb, marinated chickpeas, and a grilled prawn and calamari salad.   Café Benedict is not licensed yet, but will make wine available when the next door wine shop opens at the end of the month.

Chef Llewellyn is a chef to watch – he is passionate about food, and ‘his’ Café Benedict, having been given free reign by Mr Maingard in the running of the restaurant.   I fell in love last night - with the food of Chef Llewellyn at Café Benedict, just as he invited his diners to do in the Valentine’s message on the table. It is a shame that they close at 18h00 at the moment, but I think that the walk-in success of the Valentine’s dinner may have shown Chef Llewellyn how well he could do if they stay open later, to include dinner.   Café Benedict is the restaurant in Franschhoek which offers by far the best value for money.

Café Bendict, Franschhoek Centre, 23 Huguenot Road, Franschhoek.  Tel (021) 876-4404.  Website still under construction.  Twitter: @BenedictCafe  Monday – Sunday.

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