Driving in through the Francolin Conservancy in Elandsfontein, Pretoria, we are surrounded by the fauna and flora of the reserve. The spires of The Orient Hotel, in all its eclectic, Moorish glory, becoming more visible with every approaching turn. It’s from this moment on that the immersive Restaurant Mosaic experience starts taking shape.
We’re greeted at the entrance and taken to the recently launched art museum with the now somewhat normalised temperature check and record keeping before being gifted with a pocket-sized sanitiser — the only part of the day which reminds you of the stark realities of the world outside.
After a look around the museum, a glass of Piper-Heidsick in hand, it’s time for the real show: the culinary artistry of chef Chantel Dartnall. We’re here, after all, for the first taste of her new spring menu “Nasturtium”.
Being the foremost authority on SA botanical cuisine, it’s perhaps no surprise that Dartnall’s menus are often named after flowers. The concept for this one coming to fruition before the pandemic, as the chef points out, is quite apt, as the nasturtium flower — a natural antioxidant — is known for its rejuvenating and healing properties.
The menu itself is a look into the brilliant mind of Dartnall and her phenomenal world. Each dish comes complete with a story or memory, either from her travels or life on the conservancy. The dishes transport the diner from the river mouth of the Grootrivier to the market stalls at the Marché Président Wilson in Paris and back again to the gorgeous gardens of The Orient.
While the menu spins stories matched by the intricacies of the dishes, Dartnall shines most when restraint allows her to showcase her prodigious skill and technique to full effect. A gorgeous langoustine mousse complemented by savoy cabbage was a highlight — deceptively simple, it was a beautiful study of flavour and texture — aptly named Little Luxuries.
The rabbit, too, was a standout, Le Lapin embracing the nose-to-tail ethos, the dish comprises a roulade, pie and terrine all of rabbit — in Dartnall’s own words, a lesson in prudence and respect, no wastage and using as much of the animal as possible.
Wine is always a part and parcel of the experience; the cellar, which has won countless awards both locally and internationally, is helmed by cellar master Cobus du Plessis and head sommelier Moses Magwaza.
It’s an incredible exercise in pairing and even the most avid connoisseur is sure to be impressed by the tome of a wine list. From Alsatian Rieslings to specially bottled Elgin Pinot Noir, made for the restaurant by Paul Cluver, and Monbazillac dessert wine, each dish was perfectly complemented by the wine with which it was served.
A visit to Restaurant Mosaic is always a special treat, however, perhaps it has never been more so than after five months of lockdown. An exceptional meal and a magnificent afternoon spent reveling in exceptional food, fine wine and top-notch service. The perfect culinary escape.