We may all have watched the grand, monolith-like building that is The Leonardo rise and subsequently tower above the Sandton skyline, but few have been in the know about the intriguing new restaurant taking shape inside of it. It’s called Aurum and it promises to deliver an incredible new epicurean experience to Joburg’s culinary landscape when it opens its doors later this Spring.
The project has been conceptualised by Paulo Santo and is brought to life with the assistance of chefs Darren O’Donovan and Lisa De Beer. The trio re-unite after previously working together early in their careers. Santo went on to open Gemelli restaurant where he was executive chef and partner; while O'Donovan and De Beer went off to Europe embarking on a mammoth food and wine tour collecting inspiration for an, at the time, unknown project along the way.
Aurum is the Latin word for gold and as Santo explains, touches not only on the colour which features throughout but also to Joburg’s “City of Gold” moniker and the precious metal’s timeless appeal and association with luxury and quality – elements the restaurant is set to embody.
Walking into the restaurant the first thing you notice is the sheer magnitude of the space. Triple volume with majestic concrete arches that dramatically cut across the expanse of the 140-seater restaurant, it is reminiscent of a European train station. The main interior's dark wood, Namibian white marble and gold elements create a wonderful contrast against the industrial arches resulting in a space that is incredibly modern, yet also classically elegant. The centrepiece of the space is the service bar: a grand structure of wood and marble around which the restaurant is built around. It is from this point that your dining experience is likely to begin, a drink before dinner perhaps before heading to your table, or, you may just make a night of it with a small plate and cocktail.
The serious wine connoisseur will no doubt be drawn to the mezzanine level’s wine library – styled as such with bottles instead of books and big leather chairs in which to sit back enjoy a bottle off Aurum’s 99 bottle wine list. De Beer, will be looking after the wine offering and she hopes to create an atmosphere where guests are equally comfortable exploring and learning about new wines as they are relaxing with a glass of their favourite. Here, wine is not to be intimidating.
Looking to the menu, Aurum is positioned as a modern interpretation of European cuisine. It’s not fine dining, but it is contemporary and clean. Inspiration is drawn from different cities and areas and given a new twist. There’s a key focus on sourcing local ingredients, supporting local farmers and ensuring traceability. However, there is a compromise ... when necessity dictates, certain elements will be sourced abroad. O'Donovan explains that items such as truffle and caviar will be sourced abroad because "when you’re serving a product of that nature we want to let it shine and offer the best possible version of that ingredient to our patrons".
De Beer describes the food as “dishes that we enjoy both cooking and eating ourselves – it’s exciting but we’re not trying to recreate the gastronomic wheel. The menu will pay homage to spectacular ingredients and there will be restraint along with the excitement that people look for when dining out”. It is clear that there is a collaboration of collective experience at play with each chef bringing their own unique touch, experiences, knowledge and creativity to the table. The restaurant will feature both a day menu and evening menu allowing for two subtly different dining experiences while maintaining the Aurum feel and ethos.
For Santo it’s about providing a platform for these young talents to showcase their passion, allowing for a forward thinking space that is deliberate and strategic in what they do. It’s important that there is a sense of purpose. “A night out in a restaurant is emotionally charged – no matter what the occasion – there’s an opportunity to create memories” and they are here to be the catalyst for those experiences.
• The restaurant is situated in the 7th floor of The Leonardo Building on Maude Street, Sandton and is set to open its doors at the end of October.