Ryan’s Kitchen serves “small plate” menu

IN the nine years since he’s been back on home soil, and the four years since opening his very own establishment with his wife Lana, local chef Ryan Smith has really made a name for himself amongst critics and those who dine out on a regular basis, alike. Now, having recently relocated, and slightly expanded their restaurant Ryan’s Kitchen, as well as opened for lunch, the sky seems to be the limit.

Following stints in kitchens all over the world, including the Royal Astoria in St Petersburg, Russia, where he met his now wife; Ryan and Lana opened Ryan’s Kitchen in Franschhoek in 2010. Ryan was presenting creative cuisine, full of robust flavours and strongly influenced by South African heritage. None of that has changed, except to say that he has now found a new home in the Place de Venôdme, or ‘white elephant’ as he affectionately calls it.

Having made some respectful changes to the original heritage building, there are clear distinctions between the old and new in the space, which flows seamlessly as an open-plan area, aided by vast windows on all sides. Pale teal walls have created something of an oasis inside, and the décor is subtle. Wooden chairs and tables are unfussy, but there’s drama in the choice of light fittings which add a contemporary kick to an otherwise classically festooned space.

“We were helped by our friends who own Ebony in town,” says Ryan, “but otherwise we did the décor ourselves”. Paintings of butterflies from the local art gallery adorn the walls, and should visitors be interested, are also for sale.

The couple has created a bar in the back area, where guests can pop in, in the late afternoon for a glass of bubbles, or one of the delicious cocktails and a snack. And there is also ample outdoor seating in the courtyards that flank the building.

Lana takes control of the wine list, which features predominantly Franschhoek labels, with some Swartland, Stellenbosch and Wellington options and a few foreign wines added to the mix too. “We’re very proud of our wine list… it’s a good range, something for everyone” she says, passionately.

The kitchen is still open plan, and much to Ryan’s pleasure, a little larger than his previous workspace. Asked if he ever feels scrutinised, being observed whilst at work, he explains that it’s something to which he has become accustomed and now enjoys. “I was very concerned about being open plan originally, especially as we were one of the first places around to do it,” he says. “But every now and then you have a chance to look up and watch the dining room, and I really enjoy the silence of it now“. “When we’re busy I don’t even notice people,” he adds.

The couple are very thankful that their regular patrons have been supportive of the move. As Lana describes, “our regulars really felt for us when we had to leave our previous property, but now they see the place and are so genuinely happy for us”. She says that they felt overwhelmed at first, by the amount of work to be done and because they had a tight deadline to ready the space for opening. “To hear that customers can’t wait, it’s amazing and still takes me by surprise,” she muses, adding that they are very happy with how it turned out.

Not limited to just the interiors, Ryan is a dab hand with colours on the plate too, as well as textures. The difference now is that the offering is small plates, allowing diners to enjoy more variety. “What we did before was more traditional, and it worked well, but being able to serve smaller versions of what we did for dinner is a lot more approachable and sociable,” says Ryan of his new style. “We’re still serving good food,” he enthuses.

The menu is innovative and every dish reveals Ryan’s flare for drama, with a distinctly South African flavour. “I try to approach things from a historical, cultural perspective,” he explains. His love of spices is evident- star anise, cinnamon, cumin seeds and other bowls of spices are even pictured on the menu itself, along with a quote by Roopa Gulati that seems to embody the spirit of the restaurant, well. It says, “From hearty African staples to Cape Malay curries, fiery Indian masalas and European mainstays, modern South African kitchens are a melting pot of world cuisines”.

The menu is divided into four sections, namely salads and vegetables; meat and poultry; fish and shellfish, and dessert. Diners can pick and choose as they wish, or alternatively there is a chef’s choice, five-course menu (only if the entire table orders it), and it can be enjoyed with or without wine pairings. While the menu changes bi-weekly, there are a few staple choices that remain.

Renowned for his soufflés, there is always a form of this fluffy favourite, be it sweet or savoury, on offer, and there are also some very unique flavour combinations that are his signature, more so than any particular dish. Liquorice often makes an appearance, served, for example as a purée with Springbok loin, beetroot espuma and orange glaze (R100). Chocolate and tarragon go surprisingly well together and it’s a flavour marriage that he has always enjoyed serving, this time in a mousse, with caramel crunch and milk ice cream (R75). “I’ve always done a version of pickled fish,” says Ryan, and he’s now serving it in a moreish broth of Cape Malay spices with the novelty of presenting it in a paper bag.

Cheerful service brings beautifully plated dishes to the table in waves, and the fact that Ryan and Lana have commissioned a few local ceramicists, including Diana Ferreira, Mervyn Gers and David Walters, to make the majority of the crockery, just shows the level of attention to detail the two invest in their establishment. “It’s just the two of us now, and we’re very hands on,” says Lana. “The bottom line is that we can make decisions about something and just do it now,” Ryan elucidates, adding, “As a chef, I’m always trying to do something more, better, different.” The sky is definitely the limit.

Open Monday to Saturday, lunch 12:30 – 14:30; dinner 18:30 – late; (soon to be open for afternoon snacks and drinks.) Ryan’s Kitchen is situated in Franschhoek at number 1, Place Vendôme, Huguenot Road. Bookings are advisable, call (021) 876 4598 or email info@ryanskitchen.co.za  For further information visit www.ryanskitchen.co.za

Author: PR Officer

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