Not having been to Johannesburg in 25 years since moving to Cape Town, it was now or never to get to five hundred before Chef David Higgs leaves on 11 December. I combined the visit with meals at Mosaic at The Orient, DW Eleven-13, and Cube Tasting Kitchen.
While I will write a detailed review about each restaurant, I have done a summary headline comparison of the four restaurants, to make it easier to select a restaurant for a special occasion or a top-level dining experience in Johannesburg:
Booking: via Messenger to Chef David Higgs, email confirmation on booking, and via Messenger by Chef David in late afternoon.
Location: The Saxon Boutique Hotel, Saxonwold, beautiful fairytale feel via lighting and trees at night.
Arrival: Friendly, professional, seated in the lounge, immediately greeted in German by Food & Beverage Manager Marco, and water organised. Problems with Wifi quickly sorted out.
Decor: Hotel decor is an African/Asian mix, restaurant (with separate lift entrance) very black interior, Asian carpet. Open kitchen with five chefs and two interns. Spacious table placement. Clever overhead lighting per table, best ever seen, excellent for photography. Best quality napkins ever experienced.
Menu: beautiful yellow leather-bound, with tear out pages, and pages for notes! 6-course R1125/R1800 with wine pairing; 6-course Vegetarian menu R1125/R1800 with wine; 4-course R 900/R1500 with wine pairing (cheese course extra R145 for six cheeses and R185 for eight cheeses). Note: no choices for 6-course menus, three options per course for 4-course menu. Palate cleanser and friandise additional courses on each menu. Wine pairings not listed on the menus. Coffee extra.
Service: I expected perfection. I found it with the most unique service of the chefs bringing their dishes to the table and explaining each element (sometimes too fast). Shown around hotel after service by Chef Candice. I did not find matching service by the Restaurant Manager, nor with the Sommelier. Forgot to send friandise to table. Impressive white glove cutlery placement.
Ideal for a very special occasion evening out.
Mosaic at The Orient
Booking: made with Mari Dartnall via email, very efficient communication, necessitated accommodation booking too, and transfers between hotel and Johannesburg booked.
Location: about an hour outside of Johannesburg, near Hartebeespoort Dam, technically in Pretoria, in the middle of nowhere.
Arrival: Mari greeted me on arrival, and showed me to the very spacious 5-star room. Beverages in bar fridge part of accommodation price.
Decor: Moroccan-inspired The Orient hotel, designed as a castle, the interior decor reflects the theme, combined with the love for Art Deco (and work by Gustav Klimt in particular) of Chef Chantel Dartnall. Attention to detail impressive, everything is thought of.
Menu : rolled up and tied with ribbon. 5-course Market Menu R735/R1110 with local wines; 10-course Grandé Degustation Menu R1200/R1665 with mainly imported wines, inclusive of friandise, palate cleanser, and coffee. Special pre-dinner themed tastings cost R1500 inclusive of the degustation dinner. Staying over part of the treat, R4000 per room per night. Wine pairings not indicated on the menu, and were slow to obtain.
Service: very willing to please by Mari and Chantel, and nothing is too much trouble. Big gap between these two, and the staff, who commendably have been trained up from early beginnings. Sommelier Germain Lehody not always easy to understand. Misses a Restaurant Manager. White glove cutlery placement. Wifi/internet worked on arrival, but not thereafter for the rest of the stay.
Ideal for a very very special occasion, and should be booked with the accommodation.
Booking: telephonic, sms confirmation/cancellation requested the day before. No communication with the system, other than ‘Yes/No‘, possible.
Location: the only disadvantage, being at the back-end of the Dunkeld Shopping Centre, as there is no signage to the restaurant on the front end of the Centre for first-time visitors. Kind clothes shop staff directed me.
Arrival: GM Mario greeted me and took me to the table. Very friendly.
Decor: once inside, one cannot see the parking outside, as blinds close off the restaurant windows. Spacious table layout. Glass enclosed kitchen visible at a distance. Unique baobab-tree decor inspiration. Most outstanding restaurant bathroom ever experienced.
Menu: A la carte menu (starters R120 – R145, mains R145 – R205, desserts R70 – R90); 8-course Degustation menu R550/R750 with non-alcoholic beverages/R950 with wines. Includes coffee. Wine pairings indicated on the menu.
Service: impressive explanation of the Noble Late Harvest served with one of the desserts by GM Mario, showing real passion. Waiters open the door to the cloakroom when they see you heading there. Water glass regularly filled up without requesting it. Perfect wifi.
Ideal for special and business lunches (only restaurant open at lunch), and for special occasion dinners.
Booking: telephone bookings discouraged, prefer to be done on website. Email confirmation 24 hours before. Post-dinner questionnaire to measure satisfaction. Menu sent by email, and food allergy information requested. I requested replacement of eel.
Location: non-signage building on 4th Avenue, Parktown North, two outlets Cube 1 and Cube 2, each with two chefs, seats about 25 each.
Arrival: very abrupt staff on pavement, with lists, telling one which restaurant to go to. No introduction of how things work on arrival. No menu provided unless requested.
Decor: very basic, three posters on the wall, seating runs towards the open kitchen. Very dark interior in seating area.
Menu: 10-course ‘Tasting Progression‘ menu, includes coffee, R700. Not licensed, BYO encouraged, and wine type recommended per dish. No options per course.
Service: kindly allowed to photograph in the kitchen for light. The very cautious manager Roché relaxed over the course of the evening, and sent her security man to walk me back to the guest house around the corner. One of the two chefs bring the dishes to the table, and explain each ingredient patiently, despite the pressure to create the next dish. Head Chef Darren O’Donovan very kind and accommodating. No wifi.
Ideal for fun eating out with friends.
A comparison of cost per course, without beverages, is as follows:
five hundred R 140 (8 courses)/ R150 (6 courses) per course
Mosaic R 147 (5 courses)/R120 (10 courses) per course
DW Eleven-13 R68,75 (8 courses) per course
Cube R70 (10 courses) per course
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.whalecottage.com/blog Tel 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@WhaleCottage Facebook: click here