Restaurant Review – Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire, Intercontinental Festival City, Dubai

City of the super-rich, Dubai would be incomplete without the plethora of restaurant offerings from some of the best known chefs in the world.  From Alain Ducasse to Zuma (brainchild of German chef Rainer Becker), the glittering city really has it all.  Spoilt for choice, we opted for Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire, at the Intercontinental Dubai Festival City, to celebrate a birthday.  Gagnaire’s aim is to bring reflections of the delightful French dishes served at his three star Michelin restaurant in Paris to the Middle East.  In this endeavour he seems to be succeeding and Reflets is Time Out Dubai’s ‘Restaurant of the Year 2013’ – for the third year running.1

Bearing all this in mind, we booked months in advance and even felt a little bit chuffed when we managed to get a table relatively easily.  Along with our reservation confirmation came some very strict instructions about dress code and a warning against tardiness: “Due to the numerous booking requests, we would be grateful if you could join us at the time mentioned above.  If you are late we kindly request that you inform us by calling us …. Please note that unless advised, we will hold your table for 30 minutes past the allocated seating time…”  You can well imagine our panic when, half an hour before we were due at Reflets, we hadn’t even managed to call a taxi.  This culminated in a frantic, highway-crossing, metro-hopping run-around and we eventually made it to Reflets fifteen minutes late.  Imagine our surprise to find it totally empty.

We were graciously, if somewhat formally, greeted, and perhaps due to us looking a little frazzled, it was recommended that we enjoy a drink on the terrace before dinner.  From the tantalising cocktail list, we opted for strength over length.  The Dirty Martini came out a clear winner.  Whilst having our drinks, the maitre d’ brought out our menus.  Ladies, be warned, you will be given menus sans the prices.  Perhaps a blessing in disguise given some of the jaw-dropping numbers.  The menu was as beautiful as one would expect, and the concept behind the food interesting and original.  Rather than choosing various courses you pick your key ingredient, and several reflections and variations on this ingredient are presented.  Naturally, these are no ordinary ingredients.  Neither are they locally sourced.  A tasting menu is also available.

Into the dining room, which is quite lovely.  Pearly walls, a shock pink carpet and candyfloss chandeliers contrasted with wooden panels and huge mirrors.  Being so empty, however, the space felt huge and quiet.  We had a browse of the large wine list, eventually selecting french wines, though wines from all four corners of the globe are on offer at Reflets.  Our chilled pouilly fumé was accompanied by ‘menu cards’ explaining each of the dishes we were to have.  In my opinion this is an inspired idea.  These dishes are highly complex, and the cards serve as reminders of all those tiny, but vital, elements of each dish.

Three dishes were particularly outstanding.  Here is a verbatim description of each, cribbed from the menu cards, with a few of my reflections:

Foie gras du canard – Ballotine of duck liver “au naturel”, Dunky Pinky, crispy bread crust.  Raw chocolate Mélissa Ringo way.  Red croquettes, croquette sablées.”  This take on foie gras was masterful, with several different styles and techniques presented on one dish.  The gorgeous, rich, bitter chocolate proved the perfect accompaniment for the delicious foie, with hits of acidic red fruit to make the palate dance.

Langoustine – Langoustine Terre de Sienne, seaweed brioche like French toast.  Custard of tarragon.  Steamed like a Dim sum, énoki mushroom, red radish and Pardailhan turnip perfumed with rice vinegar and olive oil Manni.  Slightly raw, salt/pepper, Hoegaarden beer syrup, blood orange.  Grilled langoustine, eggplant from Florence, nori seaweed.”  This plate, reflections of langoustine, was perfection.  Langoustine is a sweetish shellfish, and the deft pairings of the meat with stronger flavours like turnip and blood-orange united the three preparations into one fabulous starter.

Agneau du Quercy origin France.  Rack of lamb roasted with oregano, and glazed with tomato juice; coated garlic, braised baby turnip, grilled spring onions.  The leg seared “minute”, pimentos puree, semolina perfumed with argan oil.  Clear broth treated like a couscous.”  Though all the dishes were excellent, this was probably the very best of the lot. It goes without saying that every variation of lamb was perfectly cooked, and the dish was served with a wonderful, deep rich jus and complemented by a bowl of fine, crystal clear lamb consommé.

After the first two courses, most of us were already sated, though with a fair bit of peer pressure, some felt obliged to have a dessert.  We ordered two – an ecuadorian chocolate soufflé and a sicilian pistachio nut soufflé.  For soufflés, they were both enormous, and interestingly served in bowls rather than a ramekin as is more usual.  They were also utterly delicious, with accompaniments of melty chocolate ganache, white chocolate and a variety of sorbets and marshmallows.

Thereafter the proverbial ‘wafer thin mint’ arrived at our table, a glass cube full of chocolate, marshmallow and a personalised message for the birthday boy.  Along with some delicious espresso.

The service, of course, was second to none, and all of the staff were very knowledgeable about the food and wine.  Given that we were the only customers in the restaurant most of the time, we had their undivided attention.  We never felt stifled, or that any element of service had been overlooked.

There seem to be four important ingredients which make a dining experience truly pleasurable:  Amazing food and wine (and plenty of it), excellent service, the company of one’s nearest and dearest, and a restaurant humming with the sounds of people enjoying themselves.  Our meal at Reflets delivered on all but one, and I am still at a loss to explain why it was so empty.  I can’t imagine it is due to the prices, this is Dubai, after all.  Perhaps Saturday is the wrong night to go, given Sunday is ‘Monday’ in Dubai, however other friends went a few weeks after us and it was also empty then.

I highly recommend Reflets, which certainly seems worthy of its Best in Dubai title.  Go with a large, loud group of friends, as you may well have to create your own atmosphere.  If you succeed in doing this, you are in for an exquisite meal which ticks all the boxes.

You can contact Reflets on + (0) 4 701 1111.

The review was sent to the restaurant on 16th October 2013.

1.  http://www.timeoutdubai.com/restaurant-awards-2013/awards/40074#.Ul1UalDKwrg

Bubbalicious Brunch, Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort and Marina – March 2013

Dubai is a city of extremes.  It can be quite difficult to get one’s head around the contrasts, which are glaring.  Walking along the Marina, you may be struck by the juxtaposition of a fully-clad Emirati family eating a sobrietous dinner, with a rowdy bunch of self-tanned English girls falling-about in microscopic dresses – as lacking in decorum as they are in clothing.  It was with these first impressions, and on an absolutely beautiful day, that I joined the well-heeled flock of expats making their weekly pilgrimage to “Brunch”.  Brunch is an institution in Dubai, and takes place on Friday.  Ironically, and in another extraordinary contrast, Friday is the sacred day for most local Emirati people, who generally practice Islam and pass this time with reflection and group prayer (Salaat-ul-Jumma).1  For everyone else, it is the start of the Weekend Baby!

We were fortunate to have a booking at the Best Brunch in Dubai2, Bubbalicious at the Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort and Marina (One of many international, super-luxury hotels).  We descended – slowly, in a queue which snaked down the gleaming staircase – into the exquisite marbled brunch area, where we had to make the first of many difficult consumption decisions.  Was it going to be a) the bottomless Champagne option (as much Möet et Chandon / Laurent Perrier as one can drink), or b) the marginally cheaper bottomless Prosecco and Cava option, or c) the bottomless soft-drink option?  We opted for the first, as it was someone’s birthday, and were provided with bright red wristbands so that everyone would know about it.  I didn’t spot a single brunch guest sporting the light blue ‘Softdrink’ wristband, with all things non-alcoholic eschewed as the weekend festivities got underway.  We were then guided betwixt and between a very large number of tables into the garden, where we had pride-of-place at a white-draped round table in the shade with views of the sea.

Glasses filled with ice-cold Möet, we ventured back inside to get the first of many courses we were to eat that day.  Everything is self-service, and you can eat as much or as little as you please.  We hoped to sample a bit of everything, but when confronted with such an extraordinary quantity of the finest foodstuffs in the world, it was difficult (though most pleasing) to figure out where to start.  I can’t possibly describe all the edible wares in this review, so I’ll give you my “5 of the Best”.

  1. Foie gras and Charcuterie.  But not any old foie gras and Prosciutto di Parma.  This was a 5 metre long counter, a la Parisian market, with several preparations of foie gras.  Plain, fried, pȃte du, enhanced with red berries, various alcoholic infusions and a selection of ‘lesser’ delectables like chicken and goose liver pates.  As for the charcuterie, the star was an entire, aged Jamon Iberico, wafer-thin slices of which were cut for you by the obliging chef in starched whites.  There was also an endless selection of saucisson, coppa, prosciutto crudo, salami, chorizo and, and, and…..
  2. Three Types of Oysters.  An abundance of the luscious delights from far-flung climes, with any number of fabulous accompaniments from lemon and lime wedges to weird and wonderful sauces, or served in shot-glasses with very strong alcohol.
  3. Sushi and Caviar.  An exquisite, and massive, spread of every type of sushi one can think of.  Prepared sashimi, tartare, ceviche, maki, California rolls, futomaki and if none of these were to your liking, chefs on hand to handle special requests.  Otherwise, you can always pass-over the sushi in favour of a whole tin of caviar from the selection.
  4. The 40 meter cheese bench.  It extended down the length of the two brunch halls and physically separated them in half.  Here, there was a vast selection of every cheese you have heard of, and many of whose existence you were blissfully unaware.  From the runniest, smelliest and mouldiest to the hardest, milkiest and most colourful, it was the stuff that dreams are made of – literally.
  5. Shellfish.  A three meter glass-fronted display of fleshy lobsters, huge langoustines, several types of crab, lesser-known bugs, selections of prawns and other bright-orange crustaceans, with an array of mouth-watering sauces.  It was all claws, tentacles and pincers, something akin to a prawny-pin-cushion.

And so much more, oh so much more (pictured at the end of this review).

 

The 40 meter cheese bench

The 40 meter cheese bench

 

Cheese continued

Cheese continued

The shellfish counter

The shellfish counter

Needless to say, this is not only about quantity, and the quality of the food was simply fabulous.  Everything was prepared to perfection, and many edible items like meats and pastas could be cooked to order.  The service was also charming, and our Champagne glasses were always full.  The atmosphere grew progressively more festive, no doubt fuelled by the large range of tropical cocktails and craft beer on offer (did I forget to mention, more booze?  And all part of the buffet…).

So, final impressions through a haze of Champagne…  This brunch was utterly spectacular; not only for the wonderful food, but the sheer, unfathomable luxury, quantity and seemingly endless over-indulgence.  Looking back on it now, it all seems rather like a dream, and a bit hard to believe that one was actually there, especially as I write from my Johannesburg flat.  I would recommend that when visiting Dubai one should make the most of this opportunity.  It is expensive, a real guilty pleasure, and anyone with a strong social conscience who has witnessed some of the poverty the world has to offer may find it somewhat overwhelming.  However, for the foodie, the big drinker, the international adventurer, a trip to Dubai -the capital of excess- would be incomplete without it.

1.  Ahmadiyya Muslin Community.  Salat Friday Prayer (Jumma).  www.alislam.org/books/salat/10.html

2.  Time Out Dubai.  10 Best Dubai Brunches.  www.timeoutdubai.com/mobile/gallery/30979-10-best-dubai-brunches

You can contact Bubbalicious on: + 971 (4) 399 4141

A mixologist (you can't see him behind the cloud of liquid nitrogen) prepares frozen Jaegermeister spheres to go with the mojito pearls.  All served in silver spoons, naturally.

A mixologist (you can’t see him behind the cloud of liquid nitrogen) prepares frozen Jaegermeister spheres to go with the mojito pearls. All served in silver spoons, naturally.

More shellfish

More shellfish

One of the bread trolleys

One of the bread trolleys

A fraction of the pudding

A fraction of the pudding

The Polo Bar at The Westcliff Hotel – Review – 19th February 2013

Pink-hued and perched on top of the Westcliff ridge, The Westcliff Hotel has become a Johannesburg landmark of luxury.  Most have visited at one time or another during the establishment’s illustrious history, and many have followed its fortunes over the years.  Formerly owned by the Orient Express Hotel Group, The Westcliff has now been sold to a private buyer.  Orient Express will officially vacate the premises around mid-2013.1   A group of us recently went to The Polo Bar – the casual bar and restaurant of the Hotel – for drinks and dinner.

In terms of aspect and situation, The Westcliff surely reigns supreme, with some of the most magnificent views to be found in Johannesburg.  We have spent many a balmy night sitting on the Terrace, overlooking the sparkling infinity pool and admiring the distinctive Joburg skyline – concrete eyesores and those little quirks which give it so much charm included.   As for ambiance, The Polo Bar is relaxed, with old school décor, soft lighting and a treasure of memorabilia relating to South Africa’s history in the game of Polo.  It all feels very colonial, darling.

We started off with a round of drinks inside the bar, lovely to relax on those worn leather sofas and catch up.  We had beer and wine, but there is also quite an interesting cocktail menu, and a good selection of fine whisky.  We then went through to our table, inside but overlooking the pool.  The waiter gave us menus, and I was unsurprised to see that these had not changed a bit (I last ate at The Polo Bar in 2009).  There is a selection of tapas for starters, with pasta, salads, seafood and meat dishes for mains.

Three of us ordered the smoked salmon and potato cakes for a starter – they sounded light and flavorsome.  What a disappointment.  Uniform potato cakes (like those you buy frozen from a supermarket) with only the tiniest hint of cooked salmon inside.  There was not a ribbon of delicious, fresh, smoked salmon in sight.  Stodgy, served with a bowl of Wellington’s Sweet Chili Sauce, I cannot find a reason to recommend this dish.  Our other friend ordered much better: fried calamari with homemade chili jam.  The calamari was gold and crispy, smoking hot.  The fish itself was tender and tasty.  However, the homemade chili jam had the distinct flavor of Wellington’s Sweet Chili Sauce.

For mains, I had the beef burger of prime beef with avocado, cheddar and bacon, served with chips.  The burger component of my dish was absolutely delicious.  The patty was rare, tasty, tender.  All the accompaniments, strong cheese, smoky bacon and the cold, refreshing avocado worked well as an ensemble.  The burger bun was a little charred and generously buttered.  I was surprised at how good this burger was, possibly one of the best I have enjoyed for a long time.  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the McCain Home Fries which accompanied the burger – obviously made from frozen.  And oh, woe is me, this became much more evident when another diner received his fries and they were still freezing in the middle (admittedly the menu does not claim that the fries are homemade).  Others at our table had pasta and chicken breast burger.

For pudding we shared the ginger crunchie cheesecake with candied dried fruit relish.  It was very enjoyable, and the delicious, rich ginger and soft, creamy cheesecake was a pleasing combination.  Candied fruit added a burst of sweet and strong, complimentary flavors.  One of our table ordered the crème brûlée trio.  It was a little odd, three ramekins plonked on a plate.  When asked about the flavors, the waiter replied that the trio was mostly vanilla.  Nevertheless, the little custard bowls were said to be quite lovely.

In my opinion, the service at The Polo Bar has often been its downfall.  Several times I have been for drinks and waited thirty to forty minutes for service, and the same length of time for the bill.  Many have made this observation about The Polo Bar, and it could be the reason why some have stopped going at all.  On this particular occasion, the service seemed a little better than previously.  We didn’t wait an unreasonably long time for anything, and while it could have been improved in some aspects, the service did not taint the evening as it has in the past.

It seems unlikely that there will be much of a swansong for the Orient Express era, going out with a barely-audible fizzle rather than a bang.  It is also clear that very little has changed at The Westcliff over the years.  Efforts to mix it up with different chefs or dining concepts seem to have gone largely unnoticed – so the changes ahead have a great deal of potential – though little is yet known about plans for renovation and refurbishment.  If the Polo Bar, and indeed The Westcliff Hotel as a whole, holds fond memories for you, then it might be worth visiting again in the next few months.  For old time’s sake.

You can contact The Westcliff on + (00) 27 11 481 6000

This review was sent to the restaurant on 28th February 2013

  1.  Hotel and Restaurant Website.  2012.  Westcliff Hotel signs agreement to sell.  http://www.hotelandrestaurant.co.za/tourism/breaking-news-the-westcliff-hotel-signs-agreements-to-sell/

 

Overture Restaurant at Hidden Valley – Restaurant Review – 2nd February 2012

“In music the passions enjoy themselves” says Nietzsche.  “If music be the food of love, play on!” says Shakespeare.  If food is your passion and sheer enjoyment your pleasure, play at Overture, says I.  Yes, I have been quite utterly charmed by the overtures of Overture, the epicurean jewel in the crown of Hidden Valley wine estate in Stellenbosch.  An Eat Out Top 10 restaurant, we dined there recently with some friends from abroad, and what a culinary tour-de-force we enjoyed.

We arrived at Overture on a hot Saturday afternoon, our appetites whetted by a pleasant morning of wine tasting at the gorgeous Stellenbosch estates.  Happily ensconced at the prime table, we took a minute to appreciate our breathtaking surroundings.  Overture is best enjoyed on a fine day – the view is quite spectacular.  A baking landscape pock-marked with irrigated blocks of vines, destined to become the Hidden Valley wines.  The overhead sprays hissed gentle wafts of cold mist, and some ice cold mineral water a l’estate was welcome and refreshing.  There is not much ‘interior’ to speak of, with tables placed in an outdoor, covered courtyard.  Décor and table settings are simple and unassuming, clean and crisp.  It’s feels as if one has walked into an oasis.

Our enthusiastic host and conductor for the day was ushered onto stage by an ice cold bottle of MCC, with which we drank to health, happiness and the menu.  There are several menu options at Overture, and these change regularly.  We all decided to indulge in the eight course tasting menu with wine pairings.

Our first course was salted yellowtail with watermelon, garlic emulsion and watermelon pickle.  This was a dainty plate of food, with the pickled watermelon skin a particularly original touch.  The dish was paired with a 2012 Hidden Valley Sauvignon Blanc.  Bold, salted flavours proved a perfect ‘overture’ for the symphony to follow.  The next starter course was sweet onion tart with smoked feta, Huguenot cheese, rocket, walnuts and beetroot.  This dish was absolutely wonderful, beautiful flavours and textures, buttery pastry and a delightful treat for the taste buds.  It was paired with Hidden Valley Chenin Blanc 2012 – floral and sweet elements striking a harmonious chord with the food.  Our third starter dish was beef carpaccio with balsamic onion, pickled vegetables and puffed barley.  It was quite an exceptional creation, rather like a small reproduction of the Sunday roast one’s mother used to make – tasting just like home, but served cold and skilfully presented.  It was sensational and well paired with the Pepin Conde Pinot Noir 2011.

Beef carpaccio with balsamic onion, pickled vegetables and puffed barley

Beef carpaccio with balsamic onion, pickled vegetables and puffed barley

There followed two intermediate courses.  The first of these was vine-grilled, homemade pork sausage with mielie tart, sweet mustard and cabbage slaw.  In my experience of tasting menus, this dish is extraordinary and unprecedented.  The components were presented on large wooden blocks, and we helped ourselves.  It was a marvel, flavoursome, generous, I barely know where to start.  The pork sausages were pleasingly spiced, the slaw served to provide a cold contrast and the mielie tart added a South African twist.  It was paired with Hidden Valley Pinotage 2011, the spiciness of wine and food in perfect balance.

Vine-grilled, homemade pork sausage

Vine-grilled, homemade pork sausage

There followed gnocchi with pumpkin puree, pumpkin seed and parmesan cream – served with The Foundry Roussanne 2012.  Another excellent dish, gnocchi light, pumpkin flavoursome but not too sweet.

Gnocchi with pumpkin puree, pumpkin seed and parmesan cream

Gnocchi with pumpkin puree, pumpkin seed and parmesan cream

The first main dish we enjoyed was roast hake with pomme puree, courgette, gremolata and sauce vierge.  Sauce of the virgin.  Not an amusing play on words, but a legitimate combination of oils, freshest herbs, lemon and tomatoes.  The fish was beautifully cooked, aromatic and the sauce added a little touch of magic.  Light and refreshing, and cleverly paired with Mimosa Chardonnay 2011.  The main movement of the masterpiece was confit duck leg, mushroom risotto, brussel sprouts and celeriac puree.  This was paired with the Hidden Valley ‘Sectets’ blend.  The pairing was excellent and it was yet another superb dish.

It was then time for the grande finale – it was going to have to be something outstanding as the bar had been set so high.  And it was.  For pudding we had a vanilla and hazelnut praline soufflé with Tonka bean ice-cream.  Eating this soufflé was a joy – it looked so appetising, and there was something heavenly about the lightness and balance of flavours.  As for the ice-cream, it was a first for me.  Tonka beans are the seeds from the Kumaru tree, which is native to Central and South America.  They are small, wrinkled little chaps, but they have aromas reminiscent of vanilla, cinnamon and clove.  The Graham Beck Rhona Muscadel 2011 was a lovely accompaniment to this pudding.

Vanilla and hazelnut praline soufflé with Tonka bean ice-cream

Vanilla and hazelnut praline soufflé with Tonka bean ice-cream

The service at Overture was everything one would expect.  Waiters were all good natured, obliging and engaging.  There were no timing issues in terms of wine arriving after the food – something that seems to happen in even the very best restaurants.  Furthermore, we were delighted by the generosity.  We were given large tasting portions of wine, which made for a festive occasion.

As at the end of a perfect symphony, we left feeling uplifted and satisfied.  This is some of the most immaculate, creative and interesting food I have had the pleasure of eating in South Africa.  From the curtain raiser, to the crescendo and then the final movement, it was exquisite.  Standing ovation, says I.

5 tasting menus with wine pairing, 1 bottle MCC, water, a few glasses of other wine and coffee came to R 5250.00 including tip.

You can contact Overture on + 00 (27) 21 880 2721

The review was sent to the restaurant on February 26th 2013.

Coobs, Parkhurst – Restaurant Review Revisited and a New Menu – 20th February 2013

Four days ago the talented team at Coobs released their Autumn 2013 menu.  Excited about sampling the new offerings, we headed there last night with a friend from abroad.

I have already reviewed Coobs in detail, and have now eaten there several times.  Each meal has been excellent, charming staff and the situation of the restaurant is very pleasant indeed.

The new menu boasts some exciting, original dishes and – importantly – retains those old favourites that many have come to expect.

Starters introduce autumnal spices like vanilla and curry, as well as traditional comfort food: melanzane in a tin.  I ordered the pan-fried porcini served on chargrilled ciabatta toast with parmesan shavings and mange tout shoots.  I loved this dish, the mushrooms were meaty and flavoursome, and that perfect chargrilled crunch from the ciabatta was excellent.

Pan-fried porcini served on chargrilled ciabatta toast with parmesan shavings and mange tout shoots

Pan-fried porcini served on chargrilled ciabatta toast with parmesan shavings and mange tout shoots

Another in our party really enjoyed the free-range chicken liver parfait served with homemade fig preserve, a ginger syrup and melba toast.

Free-range chicken liver parfait served with homemade fig preserve, a ginger syrup and melba toast

Free-range chicken liver parfait served with homemade fig preserve, a ginger syrup and melba toast

The pasta dishes and mains on the new menu retain many of the flavours and ingredients which were used previously.  Some of the dishes have been overhauled – more spice, and winter vegetables have been added.  Culinary components have been adapted and there are exciting new choices to be made.  In terms of the old favourites, I was delighted to find that the farm-reared, organic, acorn-fed wild boar ragu (now with parpedelle) is still on the menu.  Pork still features prominently too, as does fish.

For mains, I ordered the pork bolognaise with white wine, red onion and fresh basil, served with millirighe.  I must commend Coobs on the perfectly al dente pasta – they always seem to get it right.  As for the sauce, it was scrumptious, with the red onion adding a crunchy tang I enjoyed very much.  The pork is sourced from the Coobs farm – Brightside, so it really delivers in terms of freshness and flavour.  Another new dish we tried was the acorn-fed pork cutlet, served with quince paste, scented pomme croquettes, apple puree and a brandy butter glaze.  This dish starts to hint at winter, and delivers that comfort-food feeling without being too rich.  The pork was tender and tasty, apple puree was quite fabulous and the dish well balanced.

Acorn-fed pork cutlet, served with quince paste, scented pomme croquettes, apple puree and a brandy butter glaze

Acorn-fed pork cutlet, served with quince paste, scented pomme croquettes, apple puree and a brandy butter glaze

The pudding menu also features some new additions.  Amongst these is a rhubarb tart with honeycomb and homemade vanilla bean ice-cream.  I sampled one of the new puddings, lemon verbena syrup cake with Cointreau ice-cream.  This dish is rather like the Coobs Japanese cheesecake in composition, but replaces it with a denser sponge and stronger flavours.  It was accomplished, and – a little tip – it goes beautifully with the homemade limoncello (not on the menu)!  The others had the churros – excellent as always.

In my opinion, the new menu at Coobs is bound to be a great success.  The subtle interpretations of dishes and use of ingredients as the seasons change are all good signs – evidently, James is a chef who really puts a great deal of thought into what goes onto your plate.  Furthermore, I always feel privileged when eating dishes the origins of which can be so definitively traced.  It is a pleasure to know where ingredients come from, and to know that they have been raised or grown with care.

All-in-all, this new menu is not to be missed.  As the days get shorter, it is sure to delight and excite as much as ever.  Just writing this review makes me feel hungry – and I can’t wait to go back.  Highly recommended.

Prices:  Much the same as previously.

You can contact Coobs on + (27) 082 057 0328

James Diack replied and said:

“Hi Harriet,

Thanks so much coming to try our new menu and thank you for the review.

We are so glad you guys enjoyed it……
Look forward to having you again to try some other things on the menu.Regards,

James”

Clico Boutique Hotel – Restaurant Review – 16th February 2013

Boutique hotels and guesthouses are becoming ever more popular in Johannesburg, claiming to offer five star location, superior food and personalised service in a small, but beautiful and intimate setting.  Clico is one of the new kids on the block, and we went to try out their restaurant on Saturday night.

Clico certainly delivers on charm.  A gorgeous 1960’s Cape Dutch house in the heart of Rosebank, it’s all high ceilings, white marble floors and pops of interesting contrast and colour.  Our entrance was through the greenery of the front garden, and the views into the open house beyond were really inviting.  We were greeted with something bordering on enthusiasm – but not quite there yet – and ushered through to the small dining room (seating approximately 20 people at capacity).  Unfortunately this room rather disappointed me.  It was closed in by heavy curtains, and the televisions on the wall seemed an unnecessary eyesore – as if the room might double up as a sports bar.  I believe there is a fantastic courtyard garden outside, but we got no glimpse of that.  The soft candle light helped, and beautiful table settings with scented white lillies gave the room a romantic air.

The menu at Clico is short, and presumably the dishes are changed frequently.  The balance of meat, poultry, fish and vegetarian dishes ensures that there is something to please every type of palate.

We started off with glasses of Moreson MCC Rosé to go with our starters.  I had Mozambiquan oysters with a red onion vinaigrette.  The concentrated fresh-sea flavour that I love about oysters was there in abundance, and just a touch of sharp sauce complemented the dish very nicely indeed.  My fellow diner had the homemade butter and sage gnocchi.  This was a delightful dish.  The gnocchi were well made, light and fluffy, the butter rich and tasty.  Altogether flavoursome and generous.

For mains I ordered the T-Bone with vegetables and garlic polenta.  I am always a little hesitant about T-Bone.  It’s great in a steak house, but one needs to proceed with caution at a 5-Star establishment where there is a higher expectation of presentation and culinary execution.  My dish was as I expected but hoped against – an enormous slab of steak with barely enough space on the plate for the veggies and polenta.  I think it would have been better to prepare the steak and then remove it from the bone before serving – adding elegance and sophisticated presentation to an otherwise simple dish.  This notwithstanding, the meat was cooked perfectly, and it was very flavoursome.  My fellow diner had the duck breast.  Once again, I felt the presentation left something to be desired, requiring more finesse and technical skill.  Furthermore, the fat in the duck had not been rendered with sufficient care – making for a very fatty dish.  We had a Paul Cluver 2010 Pinot Noir with our main courses – the first time I had tried it, and it was rather good.

The pudding menu was also interesting and varied, with some creative dishes like the “chilled soufflé to share – keeping the Valentines spirit alive.”  We both opted for the chocolate fondant with crème fraiche.  The fondant was served in its ramekin, rather than turned out onto the plate.  The reason for this soon became clear.  This is one of the runniest chocolate fondants I have ever seen.  It was delicious though – not floury or eggy – just chocolatey and satisfying.

Image

Clico Chocolate Fondant

The service at Clico is friendly and smooth, with just one gripe.  The room is very small, and the waiters were talking to each other rather loudly – a bit distracting.  Apart from that, we felt well attended.

So, should you go and dine at Clico?  The food is good, and it will no doubt improve as the place starts to find its feet.  The same is likely true of the service.  The ambiance might be better during the day, and some access to the gardens would have added to this.  The problem is that it didn’t really have that *WOW* factor for me.  There wasn’t much history, much interest or much to make it stand out.  It was even a bit generic, almost that dime-a-dozen boutique hotel.  I’m sure there is a lot more to recommend Clico than I have mentioned in this review – these are my first impressions – and I intend to go back sometime to see if second sights change my first thoughts.

You can contact Clico on + (00) 27 11 252 3300

The review was sent to the restaurant on 19th February 2013

Simply Asia, Parkhurst – Restaurant Review – 13th December 2012

Simple yet scrumptious.  And a steal into the bargain.

As the Parkhurst restaurant boom continues booming, Simply Asia ups the number of oriental eateries on 4th Avenue to 3 (Ruby Sushi and Yu Me being the other two).  So, when considering these establishments, one finds oneself wondering how they are going to remain original, and provide variety for the eager eater.  Simply Asia is a chain restaurant (yes, another) which serves exclusively Thai food.  We went for a quick dinner a few weeks after it opened its doors.

Simply Asia is certainly simply decorated.  The interior is quite generic, and there appear to be few original or interesting touches.  The open kitchen – where one can see the Thai chefs at work – is a redeeming feature, but you have to be seated inside to enjoy this experience.  The outer terrace is a great place to eat during summer months.

Simply Asia, like many of the other new restaurants in Parkhurst, is having some regulatory teething problems.  The restaurant is still awaiting its long-anticipated liquor license.  So, for the mean time, remember to bring your own wine or other beverage.  There is no corkage charge.

The menu at Simply Asia is funky and brightly coloured, peppered with interesting facts about Thailand and Thai cuisine.  There is a really wide and interesting range of authentic Thai food on offer.  This includes a vegetarian section.  There is also the option to pick the heat of your dishes, and you may come across some Thai specialties which you have never heard of before.  Having all the food prepared by genuine Thai chefs serves to enhance the authenticity of the food.

For starters, I ordered duck springrolls (Po-Pia Ped) which were served with a sweet chilli sauce.  The fragrant roasted duck filling, scented with a touch of star anise, was delicious.  Unfortunately the pastry casing was thick and undercooked.  It wasn’t golden and crispy, but rather doughy and chewy.  I think I could do better on my stove at home.  My dining companion ordered a Khong Waang Raum Mitr, a 6 piece combo platter consisting of springrolls and some “chewy sweetcorn cakes.”  These springrolls were better than the ones I ordered, and the sweetcorn cakes were exactly as you’d expect them to be given the name….. Chewy.  Happily, the mains were much better than the starters.  I ordered an old favourite, Prawn Pad Thai (Phad Thai Goong).  It was really a treat, deliciously nutty and the prawns were cooked beautifully.  I simply love Asian noodle dishes, and this was comforting, filing and satisfying.  Nothing complex, just what I had expected.  My fellow diner ordered roasted chilli paste and cashew nut noodle with chicken (Ba-Mee Prik-Phao).  It really packed a punch, but was very enjoyable.

The service at Simply Asia was simply ordinary.  Not immaculate or particularly attentive and gracious, but fine nonetheless.  Food arrived quickly and we were given ample time to finish it, but we had to keep asking for things:  chopsticks and soy sauce, for instance.  This may just be a matter of inexperienced waiters, and I’m sure it will improve with practice.  Our waitress was generally pleasant and the service did not detract from the meal.

The great thing about a restaurant like Simply Asia is this:  What you see is what you get, and what you get is what you expect.  The Thai food is tasty, spicy, a feast for the senses.  It is interesting and unfussy.  You could pop in and have two courses within the hour, or you could have a casual yet festive dinner with friends.  Simply Asia offers something for everyone, and it is sure to become a popular local spot for a pleasant, simple and tasty meal.

2 starters and 2 mains cost R 200.00 including tip – this is real value for money!

You can contact Simply Asia Parkhurst on + 27 (0) 11 447 3037.

The review was sent to the restaurant on 24th January 2013.