BILLY SUTER takes up an invitation to dine at one of South Africa’s most acclaimed restaurants in one of the most unique, beautiful, art-laden boutique hotels in the country – a getaway that peeks from treetops and resembles a Moorish castle.
INNOVATIVE, inviting, inspirational and quite incredible… some choice words to describe the feast for the eyes and tastebuds that is the unforgettable experience of a lingering set meal with wine pairing at the multi-award-winning, fine-dining Mosaic. It is in Elandsfontein, some 20km west of Pretoria.
Pampering and quality service is on another level at this art nouveau-themed restaurant up the stairs at the delightful, Moorish castle-like, five-star hotel that is The Orient. It’s cradled in the 280ha Francolin conservancy in the Crocodile River valley, where a number of walks are available to visitors who have the opportunity to encounter wildlife including a variety of buck and two giraffes.
Mosaic is an eye-pleasing merging of impressive art and sculpture, carved-wood furniture, etched-glass art features, a cosy outdoor nook with water features and lush plant life, and beautiful, colourful glass window art.
Top South African Impressionist artists and interior decorators were commissioned to channel the early 1900s to create the restaurant, conjuring an air of romantic intimacy with booth-type seats and two private dining rooms.
One’s culinary journey begins the moment one enters through the grand wooden doors of The Orient and turns to any of the three lounge areas flanking and behind the entrance foyer’s two large wooden staircases that wind around and above impressive temple pillars.
There, while enjoying some bubbly and a trio of dainty and fragile canapés served under miniature glass domes, one can admire a superb assortment of antique furniture, varied artefacts, and paintings and sculpture by both local and international artists. I loved the 100-year-old-plus piano and the Tiffany lamps.
Ushered to the restaurant upstairs, one is seated, presented with a hot napkin and then handed the menu, which carries the theme ‘Natura Naturans’ (The Earth Laughs in Flowers). It will be available until April, 2019.
The menu is in a colourful, floral folder held together with a satin ribbon, and contains details of the dishes, wines, breads and also copious notes and some poetry – great for perusing later – in which more detail is given about the inspiration behind each menu item and wine pairing.
This loving attention to detail is the work and passion of chef Chantel Dartnall, a charming and attractive woman whose mother, Mari, is general manager of The Orient and also Mosaic’s Maitre D’. Chantel’s father, Cobus du Plessis, is The Orient’s cellar master, an avid art collector whose treasures bought over the years are displayed throughout the hotel, restaurant, grounds and the museums to be found in the lush gardens.
Chantel has twice been named South African Chef of the Year by the Eat Out Restaurant Awards – first in 2009 and again in 2014. In addition, she was named Best Lady Chef in the World by the Best Chef Awards in 2017.
A graduate of the Prue Leith Chef Academy, who has worked in top restaurants throughout Europe, she opened Mosaic in 2006, with her father, and always enters the restaurant before the meal to chat with diners at their tables. She discusses the menu, answers any questions, and one learns of her penchant for beautiful plating and selecting choice porcelain to best showcase her fine dishes.
She is a sparkling personality and chats passionately about her use of organic and seasonal produce, and of bringing nature – edible herbs and flowers – into her meals. And, boy, does she do so with great flourishes of creative flair.
Her degustation menus are designed for diners to enjoy a careful, appreciative tasting of various foods, focusing on the gustatory system, the senses, high culinary art and good company.
Chantel has gone on record to label her style of cuisine as ‘botanical cooking’, taking a natural, earthy approach. Her creative use of edible herbs and flowers takes into account not only taste and beauty but also medicinal properties.
Diners at Mosaic have the choice of a Market Degustation menu or Grande Degustation menu, both of which have much in common, with extra luxuries afforded the more expensive option.
Our menu involved not only wine pairings with each serving, but also different breads (small servings, note) coupled with different butters for each dish – a variety including, among others, multigrain loaf with sunflower and calendula butter; spring flower tuilles with anchovy butter; and mushroom, caramelised onion and thyme roll with wild mushroom truffle butter,
The culinary adventure started with what the menu calls ‘A Small Prelude’ – mosbolletjies served with a warm, liquid parmesan dunking sauce. Slightly sweet and very more-ish, but there was a long road ahead so my partner and I had only a small sampling.
The amuse bouche was a delight, offering four dainty, mini amuse bouches in one. Called ‘My Bento Box’, it featured a top plate of delicate garden peas in a pod, ‘spring marshmallow’ and pickled carrot and, once the top plate was lifted, a surprise in a bowl beneath that contained a titbit of smoked snoek.
Up next was a dish called ‘On the Vine’ – mini tomatoes of assorted colour on an edible vine with sweet basil and aged balsamic. I have never tasted tomatoes as good as those.
‘Under the Sheets’, served up next, was one of the best-looking dishes of the evening and I was very much looking forward to it. A cluster of langoustine wrapped in white peach, prettily presented on pink hibiscus petal, it was served with a morsel of pink peppercorn hibiscus loaf with olive oil cream. My partner raved about it, but I was a little disappointed. The different textures just did not do it for me.
‘Ancient Grains’, the dish that followed, was a return to great form, however. It had small servings of rabbit loin coupled with sorghum and tamarind.
The next serving was my favourite of the night: ‘Francolin’s Forest Fungi’, a froth of wild mushroom rissoto and black truffle, with a beautiful artistic flourish at one end of the plate, depicting mini, dotted mushrooms and mini flowers. Loved, loved, loved it!
On to mains. I selected ‘Flavours of Indochine’, being suckling pig served two ways – on its own and also in a side bowl as a coconut curry with star anise. It was good, as was my partner’s very rich ‘Cherry Blossom’, featuring duck, cherries and star anise.
A cheese serving followed and we had the privilege of tasting a 36-month matured French Comte which was ab fab!
And so on to puds… and what a joy here. I opted for ‘Heffalumps and Woozles’, inspired by a song of that name from the 1968 Disney movie, Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day. The film, about a North Pole visit on a cold and blustery day, is perfectly depicted in Chantel’s beautiful dessert comprising almonds, minute honeycomb lace, tiny flowers – and small chocolate gumboots, filled with vanilla ice-cream, that are arranged on the plate to be at the end of a trail of ‘snowy’ footprints.
My partner went for the ‘The Earth Laughs in Flowers’ dessert which was also so prettily presented it seemed a sin to eat the art. But eat it we certainly did – I had a small taste. It is a flower-strewn medley of passion fruit, chocolate and violets. Yummy.
Followed by coffee and a sliver of a plate filled with miniature confectionary including miniature macaroons (which we took back to our room for later), the meal was an amazing experience. I would rate it as an absolute must for anyone wishing to celebrate a special occasion.
Getting back to The Orient… 10 different, exotically themed suites are available. In the Constantinople suite you can sleep on a real Maharaja’s four-poster bed, while in the Gujarat suite, which is where my partner and I spent the night, you’ll find all kinds of Indian treasures, such as old manuscripts and photographs hanging in intricately carved frames.
The Oriental theme continues throughout the hotel – from the shaded Palm Court with its slender porticoes, to the vintage-styled private Alhambra Cinema which I adored – all ornate trim, attention to detail and rich red velvet.
Note that The Orient is noted not only for its lush gardens and exquisite meals, but also for its museum celebrating the work of renowned South African sculptor Tienie Pritchard, whose sculptures are also dotted throughout the hotel. I will soon be writing a separate article on this, on this site.
The museum is a short stroll through the tree-lined gardens, where one passes couches and chairs on the lawn, and swings. Immediately before the museum are three other historic treasures – two classic old Rolls Royces and a Bentley, all of which are on show in separate garages that visitors can enter.
For many, however, The Orient’s big drawcard is its fine-dining restaurant which is noted as much for its wines as its meals, offering more than 75 000 bottles and nearly 6 000 different labels. The Mosaic Cellar sommelier is Kwazulu-Natal-born Moses Magwaza, the 2017 winner of the Eat Out Wine Service Award,
The Orient recently won the Best Hotel Wine List in the World for 2018, beating off strong competition from around the globe. Regarded as the sommelier’s version of Michelin stars, the World’s Best Wine Lists Awards is the most rigorous and prestigious wine list accolade in the industry. It is organised by the multi-award-winning publication, The World of Fine Wine, which assembles an independent panel of prestigious international wine experts to judge the various categories.
Mosaic also received a Jury Prize and a further five World’s Best Wine List Award accolades for its world class wine list and service.
The 2018 Fine Wine World’s Best Wine List Awards, now in its fifth year, honoured Mosaic in the following categories:
Best Hotel Wine List in the World 2018.
Best Long Wine List in Middle East and Africa 2018.
Best Champagne & Sparkling Wine List in Middle East and Africa 2018.
·Best Dessert & Fortified Wine List in Middle East and Africa 2018.
Best By-the-Glass Wine List Without Coravin in Middle East and Africa 2018.
Mosaic’s competition in the Best Hotel Wine List category included Amber at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental (Asia); Jonah’s (Australia); Grand Hotel (Europe) and The Barn at Blackberry Farm (North America).
……….THINGS TO KNOW………..
MOSAIC RESTAURANT HOURS: 12.30pm to 4pm for lunch, and 7pm to 11pm for dinner. It is open Wednesdays and Thursdays (group bookings only and a minimum of 10 people), as well as Fridays and Saturdays (lunch and dinner) and Sundays (lunch only). The restaurant is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
MOSAIC AND THE ORIENT BOOKINGS: (012) 371 2902
THE ORIENT WEBSITE ADDRESS: http://www.the-orient.net
THE ORIENT EMAIL ADDRESS: firstname.lastname@example.org OR email@example.com
THE ORIENT FAX NUMBER: +27 (0) 86 512 1748
THE ORIENT POSTAL ADDRESS:
PO Box 55450