19 Huguenot Street, Franschhoek. Tel: 021 876 3772. reubens.co.za. Mains R110-200. 440ml local craft beer R30-40
This is Reuben Riffel’s flagship restaurant, at the eastern end of Huguenot Street in Franschhoek. Despite being a place you go to treat yourself to a fancy dinner, the restaurant is delightfully unpretentious – think paper menus, minimalist furnishings and smiley staff. In summer there are tables out on the patio (Franschhoek is an awesome place for people watching) and in winter, the fireplace makes it an inviting way to get out of the Franschhoek freeze.
I have to say I was a tad sceptical about Reuben’s. I once had lunch at the O&O branch and was underwhelmed, while friends had commented that the Franschhoek restaurant failed to wow them. Happily, I found the food pretty damn good – and the beer selection impressive.The menu is fairly compact – something I’m always a fan of. Nothing worse than a place that ‘specialises’ in pad Thai, pizza, sushi and Cape Malay. That said, the menu definitely manages to give a nod in the direction of a few global cuisines, with mushy peas and gnocchi starring on the same plate or curry coming with a side of tempura veg. This is definitely fusion food, and while recipes from around the world are represented, it’s Asia that claims the greatest influence. Try the signature dish – oven roasted pork belly with Asian mushrooms and a fabulously complex chilli-lime caramel (no Robertson’s spice in sight ;-).
When I’m reviewing a restaurant, I like to test out the servers’ knowledge by throwing some random questions at them. The waiter at Reuben’s more than passed my test, able to tell me where the beers were from, to recommend something for someone who like a bitter brew and making food and beer pairing suggestions (“If only we had the Van Hunks pumpkin ale”, he said, “I think it pairs really well with the chicken and prawn curry.”) Staff know the dishes inside out and can make solid recommendations when it comes to food, beer and wine. There was also a sense of amiability and chattiness that is often absent in high-end dining spots – I’m definitely a fan.
Of all the many eating establishments along Franschhoek’s main road, the reason I chose to eat at Reuben’s was of course its superior beer selection. But even though I expected a good range, I was still damn impressed with what was on offer – as well as 10 ‘big lagers’ in the bottle, the beer menu (oh joy of joys – a restaurant with the beers on the menu) features Stellenbrau on tap, three Devil’s Peak ales plus a few bottles from the imported &Union range. But wait – there’s more! The specials board advertised not only the seasonal dishes and desserts of the day – one was entirely dedicated to yet more beer. The range changes, but when I was there included brews from Lakeside, Wild Clover, CBC and Citizen, plus bottled imports from BrewDog, Duvel and La Chouffe. Definitely some superb food beers to be found on this menu – and at surprisingly reasonable prices too.
There’s no denying that beer is considered wine’s poor cousin when it comes to what you drink with a nice dinner, so it’s utterly refreshing to find a good restaurant that gives beer its due respect. The food is tasty, the service is friendly, the beer is varied and you can actually afford a second pint, since Reuben’s don’t hike up the costs just because of their name and location. If you’re a beer-foodie, add it to your list for the next time you’re in the Winelands.