I often find that when it comes to dining outdoors the setting either makes a hero of the food in front of you or bullies it into insignificance. On a blue-skied afternoon in April last year, I ate a meal where the majestic surroundings put the wholesome, uncomplicated cuisine on its shoulders.
We were on our way to an afternoon wine tasting, driving an hour or so inland from Cape Town to Franschhoek, past dainty, whitewashed cottages and deep into the expansive, soothing beauty of the countryside, where we had a reservation (much needed – book ahead) at La Petite Dauphine’s Café BonBon. We ate in the shade of towering oak trees surrounded by purple-blue hills, while regally plumed cockerels scratched around, gimlet-eyed, for crumbs. In this beautiful garden there are lime trees in abundance and rosemary planted in gravelly terraces, while the interior has a rustic Mediterranean-cum-Californian-vineyard feel.
I’d eaten star-rated Asian-fusion cuisine in the sea-scented air of Cape Town’s smartest postcode – Camp’s Bay – the evening before, but the food felt fiddly and pretentious. I was ready for something rather earthier to fortify me. We each started with a perfectly chilled almond soup dotted with gleaming green olive oil (R55, about £3), mopped up with freshly baked walnut bread and followed by a tenderly roasted rump of lamb (about £9), which we matched with a bottle of La Petite Dauphine rosé (about £6). This is typical South African food; big on flavour and portion, familiar but freshly executed, no-nonsense but elegant.
Good as the savoury dishes are, what Café BonBon is really – and rightly – famous for is its cakes. Evidence of this strikes you immediately as you arrive and are confronted with a lime-washed sideboard heaving under the weight of immense, layered sponges, cheesecakes and fruit pies towering with icing; an image that’s likely to stay with you as you navigate the generous proportions of preliminary courses.
After much deliberation we opted to share a tangy lemon-meringue pie (about £2.50) for dessert, which arrived with a come-hither wobble of its lemon-jelly base and voluminous meringue balanced atop – in all its fluffy glory. If it weren’t for this lunch at La Petite Dauphine I doubt that the rest of our wine tour would have been so memorable. It’s a picturesque and laudably generous place in which to sensibly line your stomach.