Brassy, energetic and classily cosmopolitan, the new addition to The Peech Hotel mixes Gallic joie de vivre with snappy Jozi-style customer service in a glammed-up setting. Melrose meets Montmartre on a dinner menu that’s just the ticket for that special date – the red wine poached figs are guaranteed to melt the hardest of hearts.
Most Joburgers have moved on, but the splendidly re-energised Peech Hotel is still one of Joburg’s more covetable treasures – especially now that it’s redefined its food and wine offering. Owners James and Vicky Peech have set up another restaurant: An intimate 40-seater venue that’s situated in the hotel’s original heritage house overlooking the main entrance with chef Freddie Dias, previous head chef of The Pot Luck Club, at the helm.
Basalt, named after a dark fine-grained volcanic rock that sometimes displays a columnar structure, is low-lit and atmospheric – just the place for a midweek date night. The cavernous space is sexy and lush, decked out with an eclectic mix of furniture that’s armed to charm. There’s parquet flooring, charcoal walls, sumptuous upholstery and touches of copper. Come here for five-star service, supreme hospitality and the chance to eat upscale savoury custard (or anything you fancy) in beautiful room that’s a prize ticket for romantic assignations.
Grab a leather bar stool at the plush bar and get things off to a racy start with a round of signature cocktails or chilled vodka shots. Then, bag one of the sultry nooks for a tryst over some big-hearted food. The simple menu, consisting of only five starters, five mains and three desserts, is a celebration of Freddie’s Portuguese roots and his time in Mexico and France. It has a focus on sustainable fish, game, game birds and vegetarian dishes, but don’t panic – even if you’re not sure about your date’s dining preferences yet, you can’t go wrong here. We recommend the intricately balanced ceviche with squid ink tiger’s milk, pickled radish, marinated cucumber and crispy quinoa as well as the exquisitely plated Japanese savoury custard with broad bean, mint and lemon to start. Either way, expect fine-tuned cooking with add-ons … and a serious wine list to boot.
Next comes our favourite part – the carefully rendered, offbeat mains that are guaranteed to soothe curious palates. The pan-fried line fish is particularly delicious, with zesty cauliflower and lime butter with the mustardy kick of curry leaves. You can also soak up the exotic thrills of risotto with 10 vegetables and fresh Parmesan, Mexican-inspired pork belly with Ricarda Negra, charred asparagus and toasted almond molé, and other culinary delights. The desserts are bound to impress your Romeo or Juliet too. The Sweet Citrus Burst with Crema Catalana, naartjie granita and lemon leaf snow is a surefire hit for a showy date night, while the Red Wine Poached Figs with smoked chocolate mousse, date cream and almond praline is subtly nuanced and bursting with unexpected flavours. There’s also a cheese platter for two – a spread of hard, soft, goat and blue cheese, candied walnuts and baguette.
At Basalt, it’s all about luxuriating in smart food aided by cosseting service … it’s irresistible for couples and canoodlers and has something for every amorous encounter. Starters are between R85 and R120 and mains range from R150 to R210. Basalt is open for dinner only from Tuesday to Saturday from 18h30 to 23h30 but doesn’t take walk-ins, so bookings are essential. Go on … let this sensuous spot help you set the scene to impress that special someone!
The Peech Hotel, 61 North Street, Melrose
011 537 9797