Exceptional dining demands a detour to Le coin Français
“This…” says Darren Badenhorst, gazing across the elegant linen-clad tables that fill the dining room at Le coin Français. “This is my culinary home.”
As both an award-winning chef and acclaimed restaurateur, Badenhorst may be the creative force behind some of the most successful new restaurants in the Cape Winelands, but it’s here on the bustling Main Street of Franschhoek that he is happiest; curating a fine-dining experience that speaks to the elegance of classical French cuisine, while paying tribute to the artisans, produce and terroir of the Cape.
Badenhorst is certainly no stranger to the Franschhoek valley. After moving to the Cape from his native KwaZulu-Natal he first made a name for himself behind the pass of The Restaurant at Grande Provence, where he spent a decade establishing the kitchen as a culinary tour de force in the Cape. In 2017 he fulfilled a long-held dream of owning his own space, and opened the doors to Le coin Français.
From the beginning, the focus at Le coin Français – which translates simply as ‘The French Corner’ – has been on creating multi-course tasting menus that blend classical technique with the flavours of Franschhoek.
“It was important for me that Le coin Français was truly a destination restaurant,” says Badenhorst. “I wanted to create a space where guests could really focus on the food, the wine and the complete culinary experience. I believe tasting menus are the best way to achieve that, and they allow me and my chefs to be as creative as possible.”
His instincts were spot-on, and before long the restaurant had clocked up a string of awards, from Eat Out and the Gourmet Guide locally, to international recognition by the World’s 50 Best Discovery, Haute Grandeur Global Restaurant Awards, and Tripadvisor’s Travellers’ Choice Award.
Today the eight-course tasting menu at Le coin Français – also available as an extended Chef’s Journey menu – takes diners on a culinary odyssey that encompasses Badenhorst’s career as a chef and restaurateur, seasoned with some of the finest regional produce.
While the techniques and culinary philosophy are unashamedly European in origin, Badenhorst is just as passionate about using local suppliers, from both the broader Cape Winelands and the Franschhoek valley, while wild ingredients add hyper-local bursts of flavour and discovery.
“During my years here I have developed so many wonderful relationships in Franschhoek. It has always been a central aspect of Le coin Français to champion those suppliers, farmers and winemakers that make this valley so remarkable,” says Badenhorst. “I try to create a golden thread of Franschhoek throughout the menu of Le coin Français.”
A perfect example is the fresh trout sourced from a local hatchery, which finds its home on the menu cured in beetroot and craft rum – the spirit distilled by a friend of Badenhorst’s in KwaZulu-Natal – and plated with a lemon gel, herb and buttermilk emulsion, and foraged micro herbs.
“I’m an avid fisherman, forager and outdoorsman, and it’s always easier to be creative with an ingredient that you’re passionate about, so I try and include those elements on the menu as much as possible,” adds Badenhorst.
“We focus on using the ingredients available all around us, so we do a lot of foraging,” adds Head Chef Miguel de Caries, who works closely with Badenhorst and is in charge of the kitchen day-to-day. “We’ll look for mushrooms in season. Many wild herbs are foraged in the valley. We try and take that local feel and throw a nice French twist to it.
“While the Le coin Français menu is broadly seasonal and evolves through the year, we are also mindful of the seasons within seasons,” says Badenhorst. “We never change an entire menu in one go; it’s always a process of testing and tasting and refining until we’re happy with new dishes that deserve their place on the menu.”
But there is one dish – just one – that will never leave the menu, regardless of the season: the remarkable plate of de-shelled langoustine atop a silky velouté of aerated Gruberg cheese and West Coast snoek, alongside wild vineyard shoots garden pea and pancetta risotto.
“In the early days of Le coin Français I took it off for one hour, for one service, and guests complained that the langoustine wasn’t on the menu,” laughs Badenhorst. “We put it straight back on, and it’s the only dish, in all my restaurants that I’ve never taken off again.”
The focus on detail that shines through on the menu is reflected in the elegant setting of Le coin Français, a space where a soundtrack of French jazz greets guests in an intimate space seating a maximum of 26 guests for each sought-after seating. Laguiole knives are meticulously laid on tables draped in fine napery, while charcoal linen chairs and elegant table lamps add a touch of contemporary sophistication, a foil to the ceramic pendant lights and striking central fireplace.
“The sophistication, the elegance, of Le coin Français is key,” says Badenhorst. “Everything we do is to an international standard.”
“Le coin Française is a destination,” adds De Caries. “It’s a place where you’re devoting your evening or afternoon to an entire culinary experience. We take that seriously, in creating a culinary adventure. We want to create memories for our guests.”
And as the valley looks ahead to the busy summer season, Le coin Français is ready to greet the influx of local and international diners who have already filled the booking sheet. The space has been freshly spruced up, from the soothing colour palette indoors to the refurbishment of the hugely popular streetside terrace.
Returning guests will also note the addition of a new upstairs space, where a mezzanine level has been transformed into a private room for up to 12 guests, where diners can look forward to a bespoke experience that adds a soupçon of exclusivity to the unforgettable experience of dining at Le coin Français.
“With the private dining room we wanted to offer a more intimate experience for small groups and exclusive gatherings,” explains Ephraim Gomani, Maitre d’ of Le coin Française. “Guests upstairs will have a dedicated chef, waiter and wine steward, and we are always happy to create bespoke set-menus unique to the occasion.”
Le coin Français by Darren Badenhorst is located at 17 Huguenot Road, Franschhoek.