It was a Ratatouille moment: the one where a single mouthful sends the dreaded food critic Anton Ego back to a moment buried deep in his wide-eyed childhood. Not that he and I have much in common – I do not write my reviews from a coffin-shaped study, nor do I claim to possess the sheer calibre of Monsieur Ego’s gastronomic expertise – but at The Foodbarn last week I came to understand the phenomenon Ego experienced when the first bite of the mussel fritters sent me tumbling back in time, to the mornings my mother would rush us off to school. Pisang goreng is a breakfast staple where I grew up in Central Java: sliced, battered, and deep-fried bananas. It was the very same batter, now lending its beautifully browned crispiness to mussel fritters of all things, that had sent my taste buds spinning down memory lane.
I had to sit back and ponder the implications. One was the obvious fact that The Foodbarn is not an Indonesian restaurant, and the other the seeming impossibility that the same lightly sweet batter used for deep-fried banana snacks could be paired with mussels. The mussels were served in the company of flat rice noodles tossed with bean sprouts, green onion, and shredded egg bits, accented by a creamy lemongrass and galangal sauce and offset by a crisp Chenin Blanc (Bellingham Citrus Grove Chenin Blanc 2012). Far from the common peanut-or-curry experience, it was a successful fusion of standalone flavour profiles garnered from different Southeast Asian countries which – quite ironically – tasted utterly authentic.
I didn’t get to ponder for very long, because what came next attained the same feat with a taste of North Africa. Although the grilled fish was a fillet of South African hake (with a flawless flake, no less), it was rolled into the collective flavour of the thyme-infused babaganoush and cucumber ribbons, warmed by aromatic cinnamon oil, and topped with black and white sesame seeds in a dish that could have come straight from Morocco. Here, another astute pairing with a fruity Chardonnay (Bellingham Ancient Earth Chardonnay 2011) highlighted all the brightly spiced notes in the dish.
This type of culinary artistry is surely not for the faint of heart. The dishes are created with bold yet meticulous strokes, every little component carefully nuanced before finding its place in a well-rounded ensemble. Not only that, the acute familiarity with ethnic flavours – not just a gesture or an imitation but a true sense of fluency in the way they are handled – points to a culinary master who can capture both depth and breadth into each microcosmic dish.
As it so happens, The Foodbarn is the crafting space of Masterchef Franck Dangereux who hails from France and has lived in both Southeast Asia and North Africa. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because he is something of a local legend, owing to his much-acclaimed history with La Colombe. But not even Dangereux and his daunting reputation can stand between you and his delicious creations. With a mission to “demystify fine dining,” The Foodbarn is a comfortable space where you can show up after a walk on the beach and, with your jeans still rolled up, sit down to enjoy a five-course meal. You can even sit up in the loft, right against the rafters of the barn which Dangereux’s wife has personally decorated with sky blue walls, bright red shutters, and rustic-chic items such as old frames and raffia-wrapped mason jars. The current specials include a winter menu in which Dangereux has designed each dish to go exclusively with a Bellingham wine as part of a 3, 4, or 5-course meal – all under R225.
And to say that Franck Dangereux knows his food is a gross understatement. The slow roast pork belly and leek risotto, which seemed in danger of sounding too familiar, featured a handsomely marbled slab from which a luscious fatty aroma mingled with the roasted flavour of the jus, atop a bed of risotto that boasted the simple power of butter, wine, and onion when teased into their best (note: the Pinotage pairing for this dish was my absolute favourite – with a peppery edge to cut through the richness but with a full-bodied finish to match). The goat’s cheese terrine was silky, almost flan-like in texture, served with glazed beetroot, greens, and a gently fragrant hazelnut vinaigrette. Essentially, the attention to detail at the gustatory, textural and visual levels elevated even the familiar to new heights.
Towards the end I had begun to court a nagging fear that no dessert could possibly top the meal. It turned out to be all for naught, as the restrained sweetness of the dark chocolate and vanilla millefeuille enabled the proper appreciation of fine cocoa, and the Earl Grey ice cream that came with my quince tart all but stole the show. And so it goes that in true Anton Ego fashion, I declare “I will be returning to [The Foodbarn] soon, hungry for more.”
The Foodbarn, Noordhoek Farm Village, Noordhoek
Hours: Lunch every day 12noon to 2.30pm; Dinner Tues to Sat 7pm to 9.30pm
(NB The Foodbarn also has a deli that turns into a tapas bar in the evenings!)
Contact: 021 789 1390 or firstname.lastname@example.org
See The Foodbarn’s website for their various specials: www.thefoodbarn.co.za. The 3/4/5 course food and wine pairing menu changes every week, with Bellingham wines paired for May and June 2013, and Nitida for July and August 2013.