Reuben’s is situated opposite Le Quartier Francais in Franshhoek – a tough competitor in the dining stakes and amazingly has only been opened eight months. Nonetheless this young entrepreneurial chef has carved out a definite niche and is rapidly building a reputation for imaginative cooking. The interesting twist to the Reuben story is that he’s a local boy who was lured home from England by Boekenhoutskloof’s Marc Kent and Vinimark’s Tim Rands – who backed the venture. Reuben Riffel scooped the Restaurant of the Year and the Chef of the Year in the 2004 Eat Out/Johnnie Walker Restaurant Awards and he’s creating quite a stir in culinary circles. The dinner menu is split between contemporary and classic choices and diners can enquire about the chef’s table where up to 10 people can enjoy a special meal served in the kitchen. Classic dishes include salmon trout fish cakes with poached organic egg, watercress and lime butter or grilled Indian prawns with chilli, garlic and wild rice. On the contemporary side there is pan-seared Karoo lamb loin chops with roasted fennel, sweetcorn and capsicum and tandoori lazed Franschhoek salmon trout with raita and Moroccan couscous. The front of house team is led by Reuben’s partner the ever attentive Mareika. Pre-dinner drinks were served in the funky Gooney Bar – which is actually the wing of an aeroplane (a triumph of form over function!). Being a lovely mellow Saturday evening we chose to dine outside in a Mediterranean-style courtyard strewn with white fairy lights, tables sheltered beneath the canopy of an ancient tree. In addition to the menu there were at least eight specials chalked up on the blackboard and diligently described to us by our waiter. A mix of Latino and Jazz played in the background just below the hum of diners (young and cosmopolitan). If the food is part of the allure of Reuben’s then so too is the décor. The dining room is a large high ceilinged space with an imposing Wharhol-esque painting of tomato soup can – with a ‘Reuben’ label – the opposite wall has Reuben’s looping signature -large and unmissable. The claim is that this is the first signature restaurant in the Winelands and its obvious that this is Reuben Riffel’s place and he’s staking his name on it.
Reuben’s also caters for children with a special menu “For Little People”.

Reuben’s, No 19 Huguenot Road, Oude Stallen Centre, Franshhoek, 7690. Telephone +27 21 876 3772 (booking ahead advised)

This is one of a trio of hotels – called The Collection – owned by Irish woman Liz McGrath. Plett itself is a busy town – the infrastructure is struggling to keep pace with its popularity, which makes for busy roads and parking difficulties. For all that it’s still relatively small and easy to walk around. The Plettenberg hotel is modern and bright – and just far enough from the main street to make it a haven of relative calm. The contemporary décor is a welcome change from the overtly African-themed residences on the tourist trail. Glass predominates drawing the eye to the stunning views over Plett Bay.
The Plettenberg’s restaurant, Sand, is a busy haunt and a popular spot for dinner and cocktails. We arrived for dinner and happily idled away an hour sipping a Mojita (rum, lemonade, lime and heavily laced with fresh mint) at the bar – the staff were attentive and chatty. Other diners clearly had the same idea as we collectively perused the menu and waited for the restaurant staff to take our orders. The laid-back atmosphere was also a welcome change. There is a tendency in South African restaurants to overdo the service promptness. You get the feeling that the meter is ticking from the moment you arrive, someone arrives for the wine order just as you’ve opened the menu and plates are whisked away as soon as your knife and fork rest side by side – regardless as to whether your fellow diner is still eating. So the relaxed atmosphere of Sands was savoured and we restrained our by now institutionalised habit of pre-empting the swiftness of the service by quickly scanning menus and making double quick decisions.
Liz McGrath (who also owns The Marine Hermanus and the Cellars –Hohenort) is widely regarded in South Africa for her flair for interiors and the quality of the service and standards at her hotels. She also published a cookbook in 2003 made up of recipes from the restaurants at her three hotels. The menu at Sands helpfully refers diners to the recipe in the cookbook so we asked for a copy to browse through while waiting for dessert. In any event we were tempted sufficiently to try the famous Crème Brulee’ from the cook book. A variation on the classic and the extent of its fame is not surprising. Although we were in a carnivorous mood the night we went Sand also has a reputation for seafood (not surprising given the location) and for an unusual romantic dinner the hotel will organise for you and your loved one to eat in the wine cellar surrounded by the best of South African wines (provided you can be trusted to concentrate on the other half rather than the tempting décor).

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