I felt my pulse diminish as we drove through the glistening gateway of the Orient Hotel and the Francolin Conservatory, but as I started thinking about the epicurean adventure that awaited, it quickened.
Mari Dartnall’s welcome is one of the highlights of returning to this property. She showed us to our room, Constantinople, which oozes charm and history. I set off in search of chef Chantel and in my crusade met new recruits, brimming with enthusiasm, in the kitchen. Minutes later Chantel and I settled in for a culinary chat about her recent restaurant experiences in France and Italy. I then listened spellbound as she shared the inspiration behind her ‘Elements of Nature’ menu.
After pre-dinner drinks and canapés, we were led into three-plated Restaurant Mosaic for the start of a spectacular experimental journey. It is here that nature, art, food and wine unite in glorious harmony. The bread-and-butter selection is worth waxing lyrical about, and it takes great willpower to resist as you know what is still coming. A cascade of visual art, flavours and textures followed. l merely share a few highlights as half the enjoyment lies in anticipation and surprise.
There were many surprises, like the ‘Mont Blanc’, an artful dish of ethical, responsibly sourced and crafted local foie gras, with compressed leek and a citrus confit. Based on the fact that ducks and geese eat more before they migrate for winter, these local suppliers feed lots of tasty nuts and seeds to their birds so that they may eat more, naturally. The livers are a third of the size of a bird that has been force-fed, yet cost the same, so it is still quite a rarity in SA restaurants. ‘By the Great Oak’ was a hearty dish for Chantel, who is known for delicate plating and light touch, and we loved each note of this robust dish. A pigeon dish was mysteriously presented (not yet on the menu), aptly applauded by both of us for its simplicity, yet complexity. My ‘Cynara’, the quail with artichoke and lavender was glorious, and my man’s ‘Ohmi Wagyu’, cooked on a salt rock, supreme. Orchidaceae, a dessert centred on Tahitian vanilla with orchid extract and tonka, provided a fitting finale to a dinner that dreams are made of. Each dish was perfectly married with a wine that did it justice, chosen with care and consideration from a cellar that boasts the best of local and international wines. There is a sommelier’s pairing, a connoisseur’s, an enthusiast’s plus a non-alcoholic pairing. Drooling over the printed menu too is a treat. Chantel has many talents, not only as a world-renowned, award-winning chef, but also as an eloquent scribe, and her presence at each table to introduce the dishes, adds another dimension to the experience.
After imitating an Olympian athlete to vault into the imposing but exquisite four-poster bed, it was with visuals of heavenly cuisine that I drifted into sleep. At breakfast the next morning we were invited to have a sneak peek at the private art collection in the new museum. It would take many hours to do it justice. The setting, garden, roof structure, airy spaces, lighting and placements yet again show the attention to detail and devotion to perfection that this family is renowned for. The many paintings by Adriaan Boshoff and other iconic artists took our breath away.
It’s always hard to leave the team at Restaurant Mosaic at The Orient Hotel, the perfect example of destination dining, well worthy of a flight – from anywhere in the world.