In Joburg, many tasting menus are a thing of sublime beauty and worth saving up every penny for. If you’re wondering which one you want to blow your hard-earned cash on, we highly recommend you book a table at Grei at The Saxon Hotel, Villa & Spa. Chef Candice Philip, who’s worked alongside some of the country’s best chefs including Luke Dale-Roberts, David Higgs and Rudi Liebenberg, has gone all out with Solstice – her new midsummer tasting menu inspired by the hotel’s heirloom garden that’s in full bloom and bursting with possibilities.
The Saxon is, in our opinion, Joburg’s top city hideaway. Once inside the five-star property’s immensely high walls, you’ll find it hard to believe that the city’s energetic epicentre is just minutes away. Not only are there 10 acres of pristinely landscaped gardens to explore and swimming pools to cool off in, but also several bars and restaurants. Loosely translated from Portuguese as ‘a society of people’, Grei blends chef Candice’s love of unusual pairings, passion for herbaceous flavours and signature style of intricately plated dishes.
This is a restaurant does things theatrically. The sophisticated, intimate space is marked with muted décor – think shades of greys stylishly offset by crisp white and mixed textures – and the mood is mysterious and seductive with its low lighting. The open kitchen is brightly lit like a stage and all the tables seem to point towards it to take in the chefs’ performance. Goodness, they like to fuss over you here – you know you’re in for a treat when your handbag gets its own little stool beside you at your table. Once at your table, you’re served a glass of chilled Laurent-Perrier champagne that’s delicate on the nose with floral notes reminiscent of perfume floating in the air.
Chef Candice runs three menus simultaneously – omnivorous, pescatarian and vegetarian – served with your choice of wine pairing, non-alcoholic pairing or no pairing. A vegan alternative is also available on request. Regardless of which menu you opt for, you’re bound to be blown away by the masterful cooking. But unless you have specific dietary requirements or allergies, we suggest going for the omnivorous menu with wine pairing, which highlights the three key flavours from each dish and features natural, succulent flavours plus unusual pairings.
Dishes are served by different members of the chef’s team and floor staff and kick off with snacks that arrive in an elaborate manner followed by a bread course. The first course is a highlight that demonstrates the level of skill and artistry for which Chef Candice has become known. The cold jelly made with tomato consommé, sun-dried tomatoes, wildflowers from the garden, wild garlic, marigold, fennel and pineapple sage with a water buffalo yoghurt with green tomato sorbet and basil oil on the side will leave your taste buds in a dance between sweet and umami.
The light and delicate beginning to the meal steadily gathers momentum with the second course, which is undoubtedly the dish of the evening: Chargrilled chimichurri prawns, laksa mayonnaise, shellfish powder and grilled nectarine finished with coriander shoots and flowers. The third course is your choice of pork belly, apple and fennel or duck, pine kernel and chervil – and you can’t go wrong with either. The fourth course offers lamb, sweetbreads and lovage or seabass, squid ink and parsley. For good reason, the former is a favourite on the menu: Chargrilled lamb loin and sticky sweetbreads with a buckwheat and lentil crunch and a pea and lovage purée. The accompanying wine pairing adds a level of depth and intensity.
Instead of the usual assortments, the fifth course – Huguenot, truffle and fig leaf – serves the semi-hard cheese in the form of a savoury, smooth-textured ice cream that will make you rethink what a cheese course should be. It’s a feast for the eyes and brilliantly balanced in flavour. The sixth course is a crowd-pleasing ending of white chocolate and lavender mousse with sourdough ice cream and spiced meringue shards, finished with lavender petals and Sevruga caviar that will slowly ease you towards the finale of the meal. Exquisite handmade chocolates and coconut ice round off a very special dining experience – you can’t leave the table without nibbling on a few.
The flavours are big and the portions sizes just-right – it’s happy-making from start to finish. What’s more, the service is perfectly on-point for the refined culinary experience. The floor staff – of whom there are almost as many as diners – move around like a well-choreographed dance troupe and are deeply knowledgeable about all aspects of the food and wine experience. The cost is R1,280 unpaired, R1,460 with a non-alcoholic pairing or R2,080 with wine pairing and is worth every penny. Don’t miss this new menu, which is only running until April!
Saxon Hotel, Villas and Spa, 26 Saxon Road Sandhurst
011 292 6000
Instagram: @grei_restaurant @candicephilip