It may sound like it’s in a small mall, but The Village Market Centre is actually a large shopping complex, with Le Troquet attached to one side of it, granted with its own entrance, but still a very incongruous relationship for this venerable (since 1983) owner-run French diner.
The spacious interior recreates an old village feel with fake eaves and pillars, imposing furniture on the dark carpet-square floor, and red and white gingham cloths on the tables along with plastic roses. The walls are a dark red, so its all rather serious, but lifted by the humorous cartoon sketches of Parisian street life.
The space needs customers and felt too big on a quiet night but at the same time the padded nature of the space makes for easy conversation and the larger tables for groups do not invade your small table experience. Annick, chef Gilbert’s wife, is the Gallic-toned hostess and it’s clear that return customers are the norm. Chef-patron Gilbert was regrettably not there on the night, as I have heard he is the soul of the space.
I was introduced to the specials: ox tripe, fresh mussels, also fresh kingklip (which makes one realise again how often this ubiquitous fish is cooked from frozen). I went for the French onion soup to start; it was gelatinous in texture, appropriately slow-cooked for richness and depth and with the proper cheese gratin on top (R38). My main of kingklip was recommended with bearnaise sauce, an interesting use for this sauce and one that worked even better than with red meat. The very salty fish arrived on a plate that was super-heated and this did not help the fact that it was likely too well cooked to start. Finely chopped parsley was the old-fashioned garnish and fries, served from a silver platter, were too dark (R123).
Other classics to sample are the shellfish soup (bourride), the chicken liver paté and, naturally, snails. The mains are meat-heavy, with fillet the favoured cut embellished by green or black peppercorn sauce, mushrooms or Roquefort. The “casseroles” include “La mesclane de poulet” – chicken breasts rolled in ham and gruyere and served with a cream cheese sauce – which is as retro as they come; or the lamb with white beans and a chilli-tomato sauce. A dessert of crepes Suzette, which they flame at your table, is just the way to round a meal here out.
Eating here is fun as a time-warp, while its popularity proves the role of great hospitality – and the tables celebrating special occasions proves that in South Africa, French food counts as haute cuisine, no matter its bistro roots.
For: Classic casual French cooking
Against: A brooding space inside a nondescript mall.