Monday, November 12, 2012

Dinner at Five Hundred, South Africa's best new restaurant


Famous South African chef David Higgs,
of the Saxon Boutique Hotel,
talks to Travelife from his kitchen,
over pre-dinner champagne.
Last night we had a most wonderful dinner in Johannesburg, living a TRAVELIFE, in the Saxon Hotel, South Africa's top boutique hotel, to get a preview of the creations of David Higgs, one of South Africa's most famous chefs.

There are basically two top hotels to stay in, in Johannesburg.

The beautiful Westcliff hotel

The Westcliff, which is run by the Orient Express hotels group, and the Saxon Boutique Hotel. The Westcliff is a grand, elegant and traditional hotel on a hilltop. It's lovely and it's everyone's favorite classic venue for the grand milestones in their lives. Meanwhile Saxon is hip, contemporary and ultra-cool.

They're both wonderful, and it depends on which type you prefer. But look no further than either of these two, for the best hotel experience in Johannesburg.

Scroll down to read more...



A GREAT CHEF

Back to David Higgs. David Higgs used to be at the helm of Rust en Vrede, located about an hour outside Cape Town. It's one of the top restaurants in the world according to the S. Pellegrino annual ratings three years in a row. The last S. Pellegrino rating (2011) pegged Rust en Vrede at #61.

In May he moved to Johannesburg to oversee all the cooking at the Saxon Boutique Hotel and Villas, and especially for its new fine dining restaurant called Five Hundred.

This was our first course of locally-sourced crab 

GRAND OPENING NEXT WEEK

Five Hundred is only opening next Tuesday, but already it's gotten great fanfare in Johannesburg because David Higgs really is an internationally-famous chef.



Also there are a lot of good options for dining in the Cape Town area, but much fewer in Johannesburg. The opening of Five Hundred next week will completely change the dining scene in Johannesburg, and this will most definitely rank among South Africa's top restaurants -- and most certainly it's top new restaurant.


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We couldn't eat at Five Hundred itself, of course, as the restaurant is not yet ready. But as soon as we got to the Saxon, which is breathtaking beautiful in a very chic contemporary way, by the way, The Boss and I got a glass of very good champagne and we snuck into Five Hundred on the second floor of the hotel for a sneak peek and to say hi to David. We're both foodies so this was a real treat to meet him.

At Five Hundred, there was David and his team working out the last minute details. We said hello and also discussed a little bit about the tasting menu that David had created for us for dinner.

TIME FOR DINNER

Champagne, champagne, and more champagne...


Then we went back down to what is serving as a temporary restaurant -- although it is very lovely as well -- and began our evening in the company of two industry contacts of mine in Johannesburg. I'd arranged for The Boss and I to have dinner with them and it was most appropriate to choose what will soon become South Africa's best new restaurant as the venue. We both wanted to taste David Higg's food.

Chef David Higgs explains the menu to us

What an enjoyable evening it was. The company was excellent and we all laughed and talked, literally all night.

We'd woken up at 3 AM yesterday and stayed out all day, so we were really hankering for an early evening. But last night, we got home at midnight because the food was excellent and company was wonderful as well.

Saxon's sommelier will be
the first Master Sommelier in South Africa


We had a seven-course meal, and it was literally a foodie version of heaven, accompanied by wonderful local wines that the Saxon's sommelier had personally picked to ensure the wonderful marriage of food and wine.

TOO MUCH EXCELLENT WINE




Neither the Boss nor I drink very much in general, but last night, I think we drank every single glass put in front of us.

On the way home, we were discussing the wines, and we both agreed that the local Riesling (2011 Riesling Close Encounter from Paul Cluver) to start and the third glass of champagne to end were the standouts.

We loved this first wine
with our first course of crab 

I also very much liked the 30-year-old port that the sommelier had chosen to accompany a very innovative cheese platter of Reblochon cheese made in France and South Africa.

Francis, the master sommelier, brings us some
delicious 30-year-old Port.
Perfect with a cheese plate including
South African and French Reblochon cheeses.


The Boss sat across me and I looked inquiringly at him with every course served to check how he was enjoying. As I've already written, he's normally very hard to please. But he looked like he was in seventh foodie heaven, so we three ladies were quite relieved.

Oh I would go back to Johannesburg just to eat at Five Hundred again.  Last night we didn't exactly eat at Five Hundred as we're a couple of days too early; but we had sort of a preview of their food.

LAST NIGHT'S TASTING MENU

The last of too much delicious champagne last night

I'm posting the menu from last night and a couple of photos below. And in between the food and drinks, we talked about life in Johannesburg and in South Africa in general, as well as about the merging of different cultures and influences. This is truly a rainbow nation.

These two ladies also gave me about 50 new ideas for travel destinations in the African continent, which distressed me no end last night.

There I was 36 hours into a two-week epic luxury food and wine experiential trip to South Africa, and I was already mulling new destinations for next year in my head -- because of them.

Our fish course was a cold-water fish caught off the Western Cape

I said to them teasingly: "I will not thank both of you. You're not going to make me sleep tonight, with all these new travel ideas."

Sure enough, I woke up at 130 AM, wrote a blog entry and went back to sleep at 3 AM, and woke up at 630 AM here in Johannesburg. So not ideal. But that's what thinking about a wonderful TRAVELIFE does to you.

WOW, AN ACTUAL COMPLIMENT.
AND IT MUST BE THE WINE.

And maybe it was all that wine; but towards the end of our meal, as we were all talking about food, The Boss actually told the two ladies having dinner with us, about me: "By the way, she cooks very well."

An innovative and delicious dessert
of Granny Smith apples and caramels in different forms

I can tell you that I almost fell of my chair because The Boss is more often teasing me than praising me. So I said to the ladies: "He usually never says things like this. It must be the wine."

We four had a very merry time indeed. A wonderful 36 hours in Johannesburg, and just another day-and-a-half in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.

We loved this springbok wrapped in slices of beef.
It tasted like veal.

Chef David Higgs' Tasting Menu for us

Walvis Bay crab
A rolled crab salad 
with sous vide egg yolk and grapefruit emulsion

Crayfish
Poached crayfish with blood sausage and chorizo

Kabelijou
Pan-fried kabelijou 
with chardonnay and white asparagus risotto

Springok
Springbok wrapped in smoked beef
with foie gras on fried malva

Reblochon
Creamed reblochon with apple and pistachio puree

Cinammon and Apple
Cinammon mouse 
with granny smith apple sorbet and caramel popcorn 

Petit fours





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