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Wednesday 17 April 2013

Is this the best place to eat (and stay) in South Africa?

I'm always a bit wary when the same place is recommended to me by several different people. 
I like to think I enjoy something a bit different.

But the multiple-award-winning Le Quartier Francais more than lives up to the accolades and awards it has won over the past few years - thanks to the hard work of proprietor Susan Huxter and chef Margot Janse. 

If you want to be right in the centre of the action in the prettiest of all the South African wine villages, you cannot look past this little gem in Franschhoek, known to locals as LQF and part of the exclusive Relais & Chateaux group.

Right on the main street of the former Huguenot township, a chic spot dotted with cafes and gourmet stores, LQF comprises a small luxury hotel in typically relaxed Relais & Chateaux style along with a pair of top-notch restaurants.

There is a selection of accommodation options, all luxuriously furnished, with the suites looking onto the central courtyard and swimming pool particularly attractive. The staff, as is so often the case nowadays in South Africa, are spectacularly efficient without a hint of obsequiousness. And, of course, there is free wifi along with all the other effortless comfort, like massive beds and superb bathrooms. 

The Tasting Room, where chef Janse creates serious food with playful notes, also boasts a wine list comprised exclusively of premium Cape wines. It takes around 3 1/2 hours to work through the African-influenced eight-course tasting menu here (Tuesday-Saturday evenings only) but it is a sublime experience with a story behind each of the constantly changing courses. 

The Tasting Room has been ranked in the S. Pellegrino top 100 restaurants in the world for most of the past decade.

The Common Room is more casual, a place for snacking and enjoying a glass or two of local wines, perhaps from Moreson, which shares the same ownership. 

Several other restaurants and boutiques are just a short stroll away - making this an ideal base from which to explore the Cape winelands during the day but to return to at night. 

As is the case throughout South Africa, prices are almost ridiculously low. The five-course tasting menu at The Tasting Room costs around $60, the eight-course menu $77, or $15 more if each course is matched with wine. 

A winter package including two nights' accommodation, five-course Tasting Room dinner with wines, lunch at nearby Moreson winery restaurant Bread and Wine and a dinner in the Common Room costs just $360 per person. You wouldn't get a single night, room only, at a comparable establishment in Australia for that price.

Le Quartier Francais, cnr Berg & Wilhelmina Streets, Franschhoek, + 27 21 876 2151. 

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