Weekend Wonderland… Klein Oliphants Hoek Hotel, Franschhoek

30 12 2010

For those of you who don’t know, Franschhoek is considered by many the crown jewel of the Cape winelands. It was only just the other day, but it already feels like too long since we visited the utterly charming Franschhoek boutique hotel Klein Oliphants Hoek on the idyllic Akademie Street. From the second we stepped through the front door, we felt like we were coming home.  Or rather, in the the endearing drawl of one very jovial American visitor, ‘y’all have made a great choice, you’re gonna love this place’ – and we did.

I find Franschhoek a rather intriguing little place for many reasons. One of them being that there is the might of the big brands who dominate the main street with their international accolades and world renown, and who keep generating more accolades and renown as a result. And whilst I am not for one moment intimating that their esteemed reputations are undeserved, what I am trying to say is that there are many hidden gems waiting in the wings who are well worth your time.

Klein Oliphants Hoek is just one such place. There is no out with the old and in with the new, characterless, flawless, precision-perfect stuffiness going on here. The Italian owner Renata Gaggio has injected into her pet project as much passion, flair and admiration for the history of the beautiful establishment as only an Italian can.

Built as a mission station in 1888, the hotel occupies a stunning position behind Franschhoek’s main road with a wonderful shaded terrace overlooking a huge fragrant garden and far reaching views to the mountains beyond.

Renata moved to Franschhoek 6 years ago from the illustrious Lake Como in Italy (home to movie stars including the likes of George Clooney), and fell in love with the wide open spaces and spirit of South Africa. After running another small hotel, Renata took over Klein Oliphants Hoek two years ago, and in that short time has achieved what many could only hope to do in a decade. From the timeless decor to the exquisite English-country gardens, there is, as Renata so enchantingly puts it, ‘a lot of love in zis leetle place’

And from the gardens Renata and her masterful head chef and Franschhoek local, Thurston Viljoen, produce a bountiful harvest of fresh herbs and vegetables, which I am sure is a very large part of what makes their wholesome Italian-South African fare so unspeakably delicious.

That, and a jolly good dose of fate I’d say. They are a compelling pair. Born and bred in Franschhoek, Thurston knew he was destined to be a chef as soon as he started working in a restaurant at the age of 16.  He learned his craft working alongside some of Franschhoek’s leading chefs, but gradually developed an individual style which brought him to Renata’s attention. There is a clear and happy accord between the two and their smiling and highly efficient staff; in fact they seem more like one big happy family.

And their big focus on the small philosophy exudes from every mouthful. Thurston and Renata’s food isn’t trying to be something it’s not. It just is. And it has a story to tell – one of Italian passion transforming Franschhoek’s captivating restaurant scene.

For a taste of Italy you can try the sensationally soft Gnocchi Pomodoro e Basilico o Crema di Asparagi or the equally impressive Ravioli Dello Chef – butternut and sweet potato layered between fresh hand-made pasta sheets with a creamy caramelized sauce.  If your taste leans more towards South African dishes, you can try the slow-cooked lamb shank with freshly picked garden herbs and roasted new potatoes or the pan-fried prawns on a bed of guacamole.  And for dessert nothing can compare to the baked chocolate pudding with an orange sauce or my pick of Chef’s Delight – Thurston’s famous chocolate cheesecake with its silky texture and subtle chocolate flavour.

The Restaurant, which seats 20 inside and 14 on the terrace, is open from Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner, but in reality the kitchen is never really closed as Renata and her staff are always happy to rustle up a gorgeous salad or a plate of Italian cheese with bread straight from the oven.

It’s no wonder the hotel has one of the highest visitor return rates in Franschhoek. I am hopefully headed back there early next year to work on some like her mama makes it gnocci and risotto recipes with Renata and Thurston, and I can’t wait.

To make a reservation at The Restaurant or hotel call: 021 876 2566 or email: info@kleinoliphantshoek.co.za
For further information visit the website: www.kleinoliphantshoek.co.za

Quaint church adjacent to the hotel

Rob taking time to smell the roses. As you do.


View over the garden from verandah and to the Franschhoek mountains beyond

Renata and Thurston’s gorgeous gnocchi




2 responses

30 12 2010

Looks awesome, so quaint, and the food sounds divine – wish we lived closer!!!

30 12 2010

Please book us in next time we are in Cape Town!:)

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