Foraging and Foliage: finding fine food in Cape Town’s Franschhoek

Foraging for wild ingredients is on-trend in kitchens across the world, and one acclaimed chef is bringing a taste of the wild to his Franschhoek restaurant in the heart of the Cape winelands.

Franschhoek has long been one of the culinary hotspots of the Cape Winelands, the wine-growing region an hour’s drive from Cape Town’s city centre. With its long French heritage many of the restaurants here tend to be inspired by France and classical continental cooking.

Chris Erasmus, chef of Foliage restaurant, finds his inspiration a little closer to home: in the hills around the quaint winelands town of Franschhoek. Erasmus has a strong ‘field-to-fork’ philosophy that informs the food at Foliage restaurant. His meat and fish are sourced from ethical and sustainable farms and producers, while the backbone of the menu comes from the ingredients growing wild.

“At Foliage, anything goes and we build the menu around what’s growing now, what’s available, and we play with that,” says Erasmus.

That could mean wild mushrooms in Cape Town’s Autumn (March to April), flour made from hand-collected acorns, or an incredible Waldorf salad using fiddlehead ferns collected from the high slopes of a nearby Cape wine estate.

While the ingredients at Foliage are sometimes unconventional, the food isn’t. Foliage is a bistro at heart and although the menu changes almost daily you’ll always find comfort food with bold flavours on offer at this restaurant: think risotto of wild mushrooms and lardons of local bacon; perhaps steak tartare given a lift by Cape Malay spices, the traditional flavours brought over by the slaves in the early years of Cape Town’s history; don’t miss the pan-fried yellowtail, a firm-textured local fish, served with a pesto of dandelion and pumpkin seeds alongside local waterblommetjies, a flower that grows wild in farm ponds.

The cooking techniques and ingredients at this Cape winelands restaurant are accomplished and innovative, but there’s a welcome lack of pretension on the plate. The open kitchen lets you glimpse the top chef and his crew at work, and Erasmus is always on hand to explain the menu if needed.

Is this the most famous restaurant in Franschhoek? Not yet. Is it one of the best? Absolutely.