THIS little gem of a restaurant is such a well-kept secret that many southern suburbs locals don’t even seem to know about it — but those who do consistently rave about it.

It is at the Rondebosch train station in a row of shops with window frontage in the style of English village retailers; inside is just one compact room. The walls carry colourful art, the tables are white-clothed and the windows are richly draped to create a very intimate space in the style of classic European restaurants.

The welcome is warm and relaxed and, thanks to the small scale, it is always possible for the patron-chef, Joszka, to come out from the tiny kitchen to tell you about the menu, which follows the classical theme with a compact selection of time-honoured dishes from the French cookbook.

First courses (all at R55-R65) include favourites such as baked Camembert, carpaccio of Springbok, and salmon and avocado salad. We tried one starter that is even more timeless: fresh asparagus with Hollandaise.

The spears were beautifully cooked and fat, while the Hollandaise was probably the best I have tasted in recent memory, perfectly illustrating the delicious simplicity of this dish. Our other starter was the "exotic mushroom selection" in a rosemary and sherry cream with a puff pastry — again all was just right. And still on the table was the ramekin of duck pâté served with the bread, which was a triumph in itself.

Joszka had told us that the confit of duck had just come out of the oven, so this was a sure bet; the other main chosen was the crisp pork belly served with a pear and sage sauce (R120). The pork was, once more, just right, the crackling shattering and the meat tender, while the sauce was pure in flavour. The duck confit, a generous portion at R130, was served on an orange and honey sauce reminiscent of à l’orange and was another hit. Perhaps working within the limitations of the brigade and kitchen, both plates came with the same potato croquette, while a side of seasonal vegetables was cooked à point.

Other mains were fillet of beef Bordelaise, grilled east coast sole, and pan-fried tiger prawns in a chilli and garlic cream — only a choice of five, but clearly five the kitchen have mastered.

To place a full stop on this mastery of the classics, the chef’s crème brûlée was a textbook example (R48).

Cargills offers a pretheatre menu for orders before 7pm of R130 for two courses, which is superb value, and it is truly the ideal venue for a private or business gathering.

FOR: Expertly cooked classic dishes.

AGAINST: Quiet and intimate — not for the "high" society set.

RATING: Four-and-a-half stars out of five

*JP Rossouw is editor of Rossouw’s Restaurants, the independent guide to dining in SA. All visits are made unannounced and are paid for. www.rossouwsrestaurants.com