BILLY SUTER headed for Gauteng to enjoy the 10-course, Spring-Summer menu at the five-star Mosaic. It is one of South Africa’s most acclaimed fine-dining restaurants in one of the most unique, beautiful, art-laden boutique hotels in the country, The Orient. It was his second visit to this breathtaking getaway that peeks from treetops and resembles a Moorish castle.
I WAS like a kid anticipating Santa, a birthday, the Easter Bunny and New Year’s Eve fireworks, all rolled into one, when I recently hit the road with my partner to take up our invitation to stay the night and dine at one of our favourite getaway spots in the country.
Not unexpectedly, it turned into the highlight of my year, as was the case in October 2018, when I first visited the gorgeous, tranquil escape that is The Orient in Elandsfontein, some 20km west of Pretoria.
Impressionist artists and interior decorators were commissioned to channel the early 1900s and perfectly conjure 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 bubbly and a trio of dainty and fragile canapés, 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 currently carries the theme “Sakura (The Fragility of Existence)’.
The menu is in a colourful, floral folder bound with a satin ribbon, and contains details of the dishes, wines, breads and some fascinating poetry and prose – great for perusing later – in which more detail is given about the ingredients and inspiration behind each menu item and wine pairing.
This loving attention to detail is the work and passion of chef Chantel, 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. In addition, she was named Best Lady Chef in the World by the Best Chef Awards in 2017. More recent awards, among many collected over the years for the restaurant, include the LaListe nods for Best Wine List 2019 and Top 200 International Selection 2019 as well as Wine Spectator’s Grand Award 2019.
“I want to captivate my patrons and involve all the senses, with flavour, texture, beauty and elegance, transforming the act of eating into a sensual experience. This is why I am always there and in charge when the restaurant is open,” says Chantel on Mosaic’s website.
Before the meal is served, she visits each table to chat passionately about her food, genuinely relishing feedback and questions from guests.
Chantel strives to fully involve taste, smell, texture and touch, to keep her guests inspired and revitalised, she says. There is no denying she is a master of attention to detail and hugely imaginative plating, incorporating nature into her dishes in clever ways that see fragile herbs and flowers emerging as so very much more than just garnish.
Central to her philosophy is to show the inherent value of freshness and seasonality of ingredients, either from the earth or sea.
A graduate of the Prue Leith Chef Academy, who has worked in top restaurants throughout Europe, Chantel opened Mosaic in 2006, with her father.
Diners there 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 Grande Degustation menu involved not only excellent wine pairings with each serving, but also different breads (small servings, note) coupled with different butters. An improvement on service from our first visit is that a waitress now presents a trolley with various bread choices early in the meal. Before, one would receive different breads and butters to compliment each course, which was a little overly fussy and led to overindulging.
Butters are now in a trio of paper tubes on the table – our options were Mosaic’s signature anchovy and caper; rosemary and vanilla; and cinnamon and honey – and also available are salted and unsalted farm butter. Bread options included peppercorn hibiscus ciabatta, caramelised leek brioche, mushroom truffle and thyme bread, and cranberry, rosemary and pear cheese bread.
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, having learnt from our first visit to this restaurant, 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 a tidbit of smoked snoek, a small curl of salmon with a divine crunch of wasabi crystals, and a small line-up of dainty mushrooms and flowers that looked like they had been plucked from a children’s story book. The bottom plate contained a creamy, very yummy carrot puree.
The first course was grand and a visual delight. Titled Jewels of the Sea it really was a treasure of a pleasure – a marriage of oysters, creamy tapioca and a decadent spoon of salty Sturgeon d’Aquitaine Caviar, served in two sections: in a foam in a small glass dish and in shells. Bliss with a glass of excellent 2013 Crystallum Clay Shales Chardonnay.
Up next was another dainty dish called ‘Fiddleheads and Forest Ferns’. A favourite of mine, it comprised small segments of asparagus in a citrus cream with white balsamic honey. It was sublime, especially served with one of my favourite wines of the evening: a 2013 Oak Valley Semillon.
Up next was Jardin d’Algues: confit langoustine, bisque and seaweed salad. It was, however, my least favourite dish of the evening, being way too salty in parts for my liking.
‘By the Great Oak’, served up next, was also a great-looking dish, comprising a hugely satisfying wild mushroom ragout, decadent Kaya Letu Black Truffle and Pommes dauphine (tiny, crisp, deep-fried potato puffs).
On to mains. My partner had only good words about his perfectly medium-rare wedge of Purdon Wagyu Angus beef from the Eastern Cape, served alongside braised tongue, while I was very happy indeed to skip the pigeon choice to instead opt for the fish. Abalobi was on the menu but Chantel explained that reserves were low on the estate, so she had used European sea bass as a substitute. Served with butter bean bellingots and a side sliver of razor clams, it was delicious!
The next serving was another favourite of the night – the amusingly titled “Blink-blaar-wag-‘n-bietjie’ which looked like a fragile dessert with its pumpkin seed granola, local bees’ wax honey cream, lattices of dark and light chocolate and, the cherry on top, crumbles of 36-month-matured Charles Arnaud Comte. I was in heaven with this one.
And so on to puds… and what a joy to again find ‘Heffalumps and Woozles’ on the menu. I had raved about it when I first visited Mosaic and was delighted to try it again.
The pud is 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, cake stars, tiny flowers – and small golden gumboots, filled with ice-cream, that are arranged on the plate to be at the end of a trail of ‘snowy’ footprints.
My partner went for Spring Blossom, a merry mix of colourful blossoms, cherry mousse and white peach compote which he relished. But mine was the winner, by far.
Followed by coffee and a branch decorated with sweet treats – miniature macaroons, transparent lollipops and flower-topped liquorice (all of which we took back to our room for later) – the meal was, once again, a memorable experience. A must for anyone wishing to celebrate a special occasion.
Getting back to The Orient… 10 different, exotically themed suites are available. 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).
……….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.
MEAL COST: Budget about R2 000 a head for the set menu and wine pairings.
MOSAIC AND THE ORIENT BOOKINGS: (012) 371 2902
THE ORIENT WEBSITE ADDRESS: www.the-orient.net
THE ORIENT EMAIL ADDRESS: email@example.com OR firstname.lastname@example.org
THE ORIENT FAX NUMBER: +27 (0) 86 512 1748
THE ORIENT POSTAL ADDRESS:
PO Box 55450