He had me at ‘Chardonnay Reserve’. Other words mentioned were ‘lunch’, ‘Franschhoek’ and ‘Winelands’, all equally alluring. It amounted to a day decadently spent on Chamonix Estate at Racine, a Reuben Riffel restaurant, with Reuben’s resident sommelier and food and beverage manager, Ryan Bredenkamp.
Sit on the wooden deck under a canopy of trees, perfect for a summer lunch spent with good company, fine wine and an interesting and varied menu. Founded by Reuben Riffel in 2013, Racine, meaning ‘root’, is Reuben’s literal return to his culinary roots (it was on the Chamonix estate that he started his career in the kitchen).
True to his cooking style, the menu comprises fresh, unusual ingredients with an Asian influence that are rich in flavour and unique in concept. We shared the crisp salt and pepper squid to start, cooked to tender perfection, along with a confit duck terrine in Chinese BBQ with a dollop of miso mayonnaise. The beef tartar had its customary salty flair, without being too overpowering; a winner for sure. Starters were paired with the promised Chardonnay Reserve, a classic barrel-fermented and oak-matured Chardonnay that brought out the smoky flavours of the meal.
For mains, I was surprised to hear that glazed beef cheek was the signature dish. Not a common item seen on menus, I felt all the more intrigued to try it, and wow, it is worth the gamble. Possibly the most tender portion of meat I’ve ever enjoyed, the dish is served with ginger and black bean and a fluffy Parmesan pomme purée. Opposite me sat a colourful prawn curry with green chillies, served with grated coconut, basmati rice and a crispy poppadum.
The sommelier serving us suggested the Chamonix Cabernet Franc to pair with the cheek, and this unique varietal did indeed complement the slightly spiced flavours. We also tried the Troika 2012, a devastatingly delicious Bourdeaux-inspired blend. With that wine in mind, we moved on to dessert (three hours later) and shared the lime and ginger panna cotta. Light enough to round off the meal, but served with red wine jelly and lime curd, it’s a fruity mix that finished off our fully satiated luncheon to perfection.
The beauty of the Winelands is no secret, yet there are a few spots that remain hidden gems. Racine is certainly one of them. From the simple decor that’s intended to complement the natural surroundings rather than distract from it, the excellent service and well-trained staff, to the relaxed ambience that makes one stay a lot longer than imagined, a meal at Racine is a treat from start to finish.
Where Uitkyk Street, Franschhoek
Trading hours Tuesday to Sunday 12 noon – 3 pm for lunch, and Thursday to Saturday 7–9 pm for dinner
Contact +27 21 876 2393, www.chamonix.co.za