It was about a year ago while attending the launch of Leeu House in Franschhoek that I heard about the plans for Marigold, the first authentic Indian cuisine restaurant in Franschhoek. This week I finally got to attend the media launch and taste the dishes they will be offering guests from this month.
I was incredibly excited when Leeu Collection announced the new venture, which would bring some fresh flavour to the little town that is currently dominated by French fine dining and bistro cuisine. I was, however, also careful of being too optimistic. There are many so-called authentic Indian spots in Cape Town and very few of them deliver the complexity and depth of flavour you expect. After working my way through several starters, mains and a dessert, I am happy to report that Marigold impressed on every turn.
The weather was absolutely perfect for a day in the winelands and I was rather thrilled to spend my Monday out of the office. When we pulled up to the new restaurant we were welcomed with a traditional Tilak greeting, where a dot of sandalwood and rice was placed between our brows, and bright yellow flowers were sprinkled over our heads.
From here we were served Bas Brut and delicious Punjabi samosas with a spicy dip, and given a chance to explore the new space before we sat down for lunch. The restaurant shares a small square with an art gallery and chocolatier, and its large glass windows overlook the little grass courtyard on one end, and Franschhoek main road on the other. Natural light floods into the airy, modern dining room, reflecting off marble tabletops and the smooth curves of wooden chairs, with bold geometric wallpaper and African-inspired fabrics standing out against the otherwise neutral, natural colour palette. With a fireplace at the center of the room and courtyard seating outside, I believe they will provide an equally comfortable setting through summer and winter.
We were soon ushered into the dining room, excited to get our first proper taste. Marigold offers a menu based on North Indian cuisine, served as small portions that are meant to be shared across the table. The dishes range from fragrant curries and biryanes to succulent meat dishes cooked in a charcoal tandoor that gives incredible depth of flavour.
Chef Vanie Padayachee has taken the helm in the kitchen. Originally from Durban, she most recently formed part of the team at the famous Le Quartier Français and has also been integral in the opening of various restaurants as well as a cooking school in South Africa. Chef Vanie has recently spent time in India experiencing the culture and cuisine first hand and wants to bring diners and experience that is authentic.
We started our meal with rotis and popadums, served with a mango achar. These feather-light crispy treats disappeared in seconds, and were quickly followed by two more starters. The first was Golgappa & Tamarind Pani, a common street snack in India. The dish consists of little balls made from crispy batter, filled with fragrant herbs and some other tasty bits. You pour the sauce inside the ball and pop the entire thing into your mouth. The result is a burst of sweet, spicy, fresh and zingy flavours that wash across your palette. Delicious!
The second dish, and one of my absolute favourites of the day, was Palak Chaat. It is basically battered and fried spinach leaves coated in a mix of spices with dollops of yogurt. I was hesitant at first but one bite and I was completely hooked. It was light, crispy, spicy, sweet, creamy and crunchy all at once; a explosion of fragrant elements that have been beautifully balanced.
After these we knew that we were in for a delightful dining experience. Our mains arrived soon after, turning our table into a kaleidoscope of yellows, reds and greens, with incredible aromas of spice blends rising from the bowls. There was Palak Paneer, a gorgeous Indian cheese dish covered in a fragrant spinach puree. I was torn between this and the Murg Makhani (Butter Chicken) with succulent meat covered in a beautiful, smoky curry sauce. I felt I couldn’t get enough of either, with a piece of paneer or butter chicken wrapped in naan or Laccha Paratha bread, smothered in delicious sauce and just a touch of raita.
We also tried some Lamb Biryani, presented at the table covered in puff pastry, which is cut open to unleash the intoxicating aromas that have been blending within. Another favourite of the day was the Nimbu Machli Tikka (Fish Tikka), which gave just the right amount of kick for those who love the heat.
I was thoroughly impressed with everything I tasted. Each dish packed a punch with flavour, all the meat was perfectly soft and succulent, and the spice was just enough to tingle your taste buds without completely overwhelming your palette.
To end off our meal we were served a dessert of Tandoor-baked pineapple, saffron crumble and coconut and fennel seed kulfi – which is similar to ice-cream. I found it light, creamy and refreshing after the main courses, a beautiful finish. Then there was just time a cup of coffee to counter all the Mullineux wines we tried with lunch, and instead of mints we were treated to some Mukhwas, a blend of fennel seeds and other fragrant spices that work as a digestive and help to freshen the breath.
I highly recommend you pop in for lunch or dinner at Marigold. If our experience is anything to go by, you are in for something really special.
Marigold, located on Heritage Square, 9 Huguenot Street, will be open from 8 December 2016, seven days a week for lunch from 12:00 to 15:00, and dinner between 18:00 and 22:00 (although times might change during the quieter season).