Winter could become my favourite time for many reasons, one being that it’s in the cold that I visit all the three-plated restaurants in the JHP Gourmet Guide™. At the end of July I experienced an unforgettable evening at three-plated restaurant, world-renowned The Test Kitchen. Early in August I headed to Jozi for a long weekend that started with a memorable dinner that defies description, and an overnight stay at The Orient Hotel.
From the minute you arrive at the gate of the Francolin Conservatory, you feel the woes of your world dissipate, and the effects of nature take over. After the warmest welcome from Mari Dartnall, who runs the hotel, and viewing our Marrakesh suite, I sat and relaxed over tea with Chantel Dartnall, to catch up on her whirlwind year. A year of well-deserved accolades – after being awarded three plates and receiving the inaugural SWISS Culinary Innovation Award at the launch of the 2018 JHP Gourmet Guide™, she set off to Poland to collect the title of Best Female Chef in the World two days later. Committed to being a serious rather than celebrity chef, she has turned down TV series offers but met the demands of all the interviews that go with the turf, in addition to being present for each service in the restaurant.
Chantel’s prize from Swiss International Air Lines was two business class tickets to Europe for a culinary adventure of her choice. A few months later Chantel and her mother, Mari, flew from Johannesburg via Zurich to Paris on SWISS Business Class, for a trip of a lifetime. Well rested after enjoyable travels and some gourmet in-flight meals, they began their European adventure. A highlight was the personalised cellar tour and tasting of the Taittinger Champagne House in Reims, France, with the Mosaic team. Chantel then went on to spend five days working in Yannick Alléno’s kitchen at his renowned restaurant, Alleno Paris, which holds three Michelin stars. It is no surprise that she combined food and wine in her travels, as Mosaic is renowned for their exceptional food and wine pairings and extensive wine collection. This experience will ensure that Chantel remains inspired to constantly innovate in her kitchen, no doubt winning more global awards.
As the sun set we walked around to make our acquaintance with the giraffe, water buck and other residents of the reserve. Soon it was time to sip a glass of Champagne Dominique Boulard & Filles and savour canapés before moving into the beautiful Belle Epoque-style restaurant for an evening to remember. Sommelier Moses Magwaza took us through our paces with the wine pairings, and Chantel and team carefully explained each nuance of the dishes, from the breads and butters that accompanied each course, to the last delicious morsel of the ‘heffalumps and woozels’ dessert, a fun nod to Winnie the Pooh. Her infamous ‘sea mist’ will always be a stand-out dish for me, and the fish served in its edible net, will remain etched in my heart forever. Returning to our suite we found a book of Rumi quotes to end the evening, and a white, fluffy teddy bear with a label saying ‘please take me home’ waiting for us. The attention to detail is world-class – in keeping with the destination dining that keeps locals and visitors in awe. It was hard to say goodbye…but we set off for a family-filled weekend that included a delicious lunch at The Culinary Company (and some super shopping), a lively, noisy and supremely delicious breakfast at Pablo Eggs Go Bar, and a rather raucous Greek feast at Parea Taverna in Illovo.