The Foodbarn’s Franck Dangereux chats happily while sidestepping a predominantly female team in a cramped restaurant kitchen, stopping to taste a fragrant mix of coconut milk, lemongrass and ginger. It’s late morning and menu orders are trickling in. “The food here isn’t too adventurous,” says Franck. “We’re in Noordhoek, after all. But we have offal on the menu – no restaurant within a radius of 30km is touching kidneys. We also have old customer favourites such as Karoo lamb with black olive and goat’s cheese quiche, and seared tuna with chermoula.”
The Foodbarn joins a tree-lined group of pubs, cafes and shops in a greater Cape Town suburb. Noordhoek mothers arrive for brunch with toddlers and prams, neighbours on horseback trot past to a pristine beach, and sightseers access Chapman’s Peak drive towards Hout Bay. The day’s specials are chalked up on a blackboard barn door, with à la carte offerings on casual clipboard menus. “I miss working with foie gras and the more expensive produce,” admits Franck. “But there’s less pressure and more fun. I want to train these kids to become passionate about food. They’re so keen to learn.”
It’s a big shift from the sophisticated plates, flawless service and elegant surrounds of La Colombe, where Franck spent 10 years making his mark on the local and international food territory. “It’s nice to work in a lower price bracket without the pressure of diners spending R500 to R800 per head, with expectations and attitudes to match. It’s challenging to always do that.”
Former customers have tracked him down though. “We’re now open three nights a week, and booked a month in advance. It’s serious food but without the bull. There’s no amuse bouche and sorbet and petits fours at the end. It’s been madness, running a restaurant in these conditions. But we’re having more fun. Some guests come smartly dressed; others come with sand on their feet. It’s great,” he says.
Franck grew up in Cannes, and attributes his love of cooking to being part of a French family who valued meals eaten together and regularly debated which bay offered the best fish for the bouillabaisse.
“I moved to Cape Town in 1994 and started working at Constantia Uitsig. After one-and-a-half years, La Colombe was created [in 1996]. It was an amazing adventure – my dream – and everything I wanted to do at that time. There’s a certain degree of arrogance in a man’s life. I’m not sure what I set out to achieve, but I did want to achieve that,” he reflects. We’re interrupted by two grinning boys, seven-year-old Xavier and four-year-old Elijah, with their mother Sammy following behind.
Their easy banter with kitchen staff suggests they make regular appearances. “Now I want to be with my family,” smiles Franck. “The Foodbarn just happened. I was having coffee with the previous owner and she asked if I wanted to buy it. My partner Peter de Bruin is an old friend, and was involved in restaurants a while back. “We’ve kept the bakery and developed products for the food store. We’re selling olive oil from a small producer. We’ll bottle our own blend soon,” he continues. “I’m working with Tim, the baker. We’re using rhubarb for the fruit pies; we’ll make cherry pies too. Florentines, fudge, chocnut squares… I’ve developed the baguette so that it’s crispy and light, to meet French standards.”
Elijah reminds Franck that the family is very hungry. The chef is joining them for a late lunch once he’s finished orders for a big table. Two plates of flash-fried noodles with mussel fritters and Thai lemongrass cream are sent to a small outdoor area. Next a main course of ostrich with pesto and ceps under a gooey layer of gratinated Parmesan. Nibbling a homemade chip, Xavier mentions that his favourite dish is kingklip samoosas with tom-yum sauce. “They like chilli, both of them. Our favourite at home is roast chicken with a really hot chilli gravy,” Franck grins. “We’re all chilli-holics,” adds Sammy.
Chocolate is obviously a hit with the Dangereuxs too, as velvety chocolate marquise smears have found their way onto Elijah and Xavier’s faces. Surveying other tables, Franck looks content. “I’m using my seasonal ingredients. And I’m doing everything I can in the simplicity of my kitchen at the moment. I don’t want to be part of that fine-dining race any more. I’m done – for now at least! But as we become more comfortable with our restaurant, as our team becomes more settled, it may change. You can never say never.”
The Foodbarn, Noordhoek Farm Village, Village Lane, Noordhoek. 021-789-1390. Open daily from 8am – 5pm from Saturday to Tuesday; 8am – 4pm, and 7pm – 9:30pm for dinner on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.