As you enter the Francolin Conservancy in the Crocodile River Valley, about 45 minutes from Johannesburg, a Moorish-inspired castle suddenly appears amongst the trees on the hillside, like a mirage. The Orient is a boutique hotel owned by Mari and Cobus Dartnall, who took their inspiration from the Spice Route, decorating the hotel and rooms in traditional Oriental themes ranging from Indian to Moroccan.
The restaurant décor, however, is Parisian Belle Époque and sitting down at our table, set for a feast with an array of cutlery and wine glasses greeting us, we were already delighted. Chef Chantel came to our table wearing her trademark impeccable black chef’s outfit and broad smile to share with us her menu. We were enchanted by her. And all this even before the food arrived!
All four of us chose the five-course Petite Degustation menu, the perfect choice to sample her meticulous approach to modern fine dining.
We were first tempted with a small jelly filled with petite flowers and vegetables giving us a glimpse into the incredible amount of detail each item on the plate receives. Next up was a cauliflower cappuccino with a composition of asparagus, celebrating produce from “The Garden”. “The Seashore” starter was all about different textures, from a tempura prawn to a black squid crisp, a sardine to a marine-inspired mousse. A delicate terrine was served next with a wild mushroom salad, reminding us of “ The Forrest”.
Just before the main courses were served, we were presented with “The Air”, a melt in your mouth thai lime and basil ice with a deep-fried basil leaf. I selected as my main course “The Ocean”, a piece of cape whiting served with a herb beurre blanc. It was one of the most sublime plates of food I’ve ever eaten! My dining companions ate a slow cooked pork belly with apple and mustard cream and the roasted duck leg confit. It was served with foie gras on the side and a caramelised foie gras and butternut sauce. We all selected the dark chocolate and pear opera torte as dessert.
Our table opted for the wine-pairing as selected by their sommelier, all internationally sourced wines. But on leaving the restaurant we caught a glimpse of their wine list, in a thick leather-bound book, probably the most comprehensive wine list any of us have ever seen.
The Orient Boutique Hotel
Francolin Conservation Area, Crocodile River Valley