About Me

I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

13 May 2016

Ivory Elephant


In the hallway of Gabarone's Sir Seretse Khama International Airport, there is an amazing elephant sculpture made of tusks - reclaimed from elephants that died naturally (as opposed to poaching reclamation). The plaque talks about the sculpture being a symbol for the fight against poaching - a stark contrast to Kenya's recent mass burning of elephant tusks.

I am not too sure of what to make of it - on one hand, it is a beautiful sculpture; but I am not too sure that this can really pass as anti-poaching message. Surely, the current buyers of ivory artworks would be even more determined to own something from ivory and not less after seeing this sculpture?

11 May 2016

Mosaic

I first read of Mosaic when it stormed to the top half of the annual Top 10 list of restaurants in South Africa. The restaurant is the real attraction of the Orient Hotel, and its relative remoteness means that staying over after a long dinner is preferable.

Mosaic was definitely the best fine dining experience I have had. Compared to Test Kitchen, I found the food more playful, interesting and yes, more tasty. Compared to Harrford House, the experience was warmer and more intimate. The decor keeps with the hotel's overall theme, with many intimate booths instead of tables. The service was excellent- managing the right balance of being always available to fill the glasses, and giving enough space to enjoy the experience.



The dining experience starts even before you enter the restaurant - a small tart with black truffle and a vegetarian wrap in rice paper. Deceptively simple, yet an amazing start.


Together with the freshly baked bread, the first of the appetizer courses appeared - a line of biscuits/breads with a few different mouses; and the highly memorable butternut macaroon. No really, even after the full meal, the butternut macaroon comes up as one of the highlights. This was followed by "corn on the cob" - a playful take that forever mars any future corn on the cob.



The chef, Chantell Dartnall, then personally came around to go through the menu and the highlights. To give a measure of how good the service was, not only did she remember that M is a precatarian, she also went through the rest of the menu to ensure that there were no issues with any of the other items. The current menu - Roots & Shoots - is itself a work of art, and in addition to the main menu, there are additional pages detailing individual items such as the components, the inspiration behind the menu item and and even the source of the key ingredients. There are actually two menu options on offer - the Market is approximately 6 courses while the Grande is approximately 9 courses. We had the market and it was just over 3 hours; not sure I will ever have the appetite for the Grande!



The last of the appetizers was the beautifully presented Tuna ceviche topped with salmon roe. It was the best ceviche I have had outside Peru.


The first course was a beetroot course in approximately 5 different preparations. M absolutely raves about this course - and the beetroot mouse was amazing. The salt crusted beetroot, which was sliced tableside, was equally impressive - and was the first of a few playful menu elements.



The second course was my favorite - not only for the amazing presentation but also for its incredible taste. Fava beans, courgette and peas have just never tasted better.


The next course featured an amazing contraption. A repurposed coffee percolator, with some fresh vegetables was used to heat up and infuse a seafood broth which would eventually go over a scallop dish. The hot broth made some of the drier ingredients on the scallop dish perk up, bringing the dish to life. The broth was amazing - the preparation even more so.




Apparently the scallop dish was not suitable for precatarians, so M had a langoustine with tomato dish. 


Next was a palette cleanser, of a carrot sorbet and candied carrots. M loves carrots, so this shot up to the top of her favorite courses for the evening.


For the main course, I had the roast goose breast and goose liver, while M had the butter poached halibut. This was my least favorite course - it was not bad, just not as memorable as the other courses.



The desert course had two options and featured a spork. The first option was a chocolate course with a cake, ice cream and other chocolate pieces. It was a good desert, but not as spectacular as the "Recipe for Desert" - a deconstructed almond cake, together with a side of mango and passion fruit jelly (in the eggshell), almond milk (in the bottle) and rose essence (the love potion). Put it all together and eat - absolutely spectacular!



There was offcourse petit fours and coffee to end off the spectacular meal.


Mosaic was an amazing experience, and a great meal. To paraphrase the words of the sommelier, "anyone can make amazing food with great ingredients, true skill lies in making amazing food with humble ingredients". Mosaic was an experience that I want to repeat- again and again.

08 May 2016

The Orient Hotel

Building a boutique hotel outside Attridgeville would not make much sense in most times - but the Orient Hotel is more of a destination on its own; not just a hotel. Set inside a private reserve, the hotel provides a peaceful gateway, a short distance from Johannesburg. The hotel is offcourse best known for its restaurant Mosaic, but while you are there, visiting the Tienie Pritchard Museum is definitely worth while, and you can take walks in the reserve also.


The hotel is set in an oriental theme, but not in a tacky fashion (ala Monte Casino). Underlying the theme, it is clear that it is the 21st century. Each room is decorated to a theme of a current or fabled oriental region. I had initially booked "Nineveh", but was upgraded to "Samarkand". It's 5 star luxury complete with absolutely fabulous service.









Room rates include a great breakfast in the morning. It starts off with freshly baked pastry and a fruit smoothie.



This is followed by a course of four small dishes - fruits, oats, smoked salmon and a berry panna cotta. 


The main course was French toast with ham and basil pesto for me, and a mushroom egg bennedict for M.



Yes, it's an expensive getaway but Mosaic is definitely worth staying over for.

01 May 2016

Tienie Pritchard Museum



The Orient hotel is full of sculptures from celebrated South African sculptor, Tienie Pritchard, including a full blown museum dedicated to his works. I didn't know of his works, although I have seen his "George Harrison" or "The Miner" statue many times outside Eastgate Mall. The museum gives a run down of his many works, with photos and details of works that are not on display. There are some stunning pieces and it's well worth a visit.






30 April 2016

Dullstroom

Dullstroom is well known as fly fishing destination and it is a great destination for a relaxing weekend in general. The village itself is quite small with a few shops; and it can also be a great base to explore this part of Mpumalanga. We stayed in a self catering farm chalet (Dullstroom Cottages), a few km out of town; and that was really part of the charm. I don't think it's a place that merits a return visit if you are not into fishing; but definitely works for a few days away.

Art of Food

Having "gourmet" as part of your name usually implies trying very hard to be posh, but not quite getting there. Art of Food in Dullstroom lives up to this stereotype- it's more Tashas than Test Kitchen. The food is very good, and very well priced; but portions are quite large and so is not very conducive to a multi course meal. Of the three dinners we had in Dullstroom, this was the best - so if you are staying over in Dullstroom- make a reservation.

Pilgrims Rest

Pilgrims Rest lies on a spectacular twisting mountain road between Graskop and Lydenburg - and it's a great drive despite the potholes and slow trucks. Sadly, the town itself is a bit of a let down. Not all old houses and buildings need to be maintained - and this is one such case. There are the requisite curio stalls, some restaurants and pubs, and a great pottery and glassware shop. Maybe, I just don't find the era interesting, Pilgrums Rest is a nice curiosity; but it's nothing special.




29 April 2016

Curio D'Afrique



Graskop is a strange location to have a shop specializing in African Art - not just the curios that every tourist attraction hosts; but really impressive sculptures from across the continent. But there is a steady stream of visitors that go to God's Window and surrounds, so there is a market.

The quality and range of items is amazing - masks, fertility artifacts, statues, bead work, sculptures - it's worth visiting just to see the great range of artwork. And the prices are very reasonable - in fact for some items it may be cheaper to drive to Graskop, stay the night and buy the artworks than buy equivalent works in Johannesburg.