Dartnall’s childhood dream of being in the kitchen started to take shape in her high school hotel and catering class at Pro Arte Alphen Park and again at Prue Leith Chef’s Academy. But it only really came to fruition when she faxed through her CV to Chez Nico at Ninety Park Lane in London after following the advice of a younger George Calombaris, of later Master Chef Australia fame, whom she met while represented South Africa at the World Association of Young Cooks. Dartnall spent two years in London learning the art of fine dining from three Michelin starred chef Nico Ladenis and one armed, two starred chef, Michael Caines, only to return to be a waitress at a tiny newly opened deli in Pretoria called Carlton Café Delicious, sandwiched between a hairdresser and a hardware store.
A month later however, she found her way into their kitchen and would spend every free moment working on her own food vision and having tastings with friends while Mosaic and the Orient were being built on her family farm where she grew up. In the end, all the hard work and planning paid off, as four months after the Belle Epoch themed restaurant and Moroccan inspired boutique hotel opened in October 2006, they won their first American Express Platinum Fine Dining Award (and they’ve carried on winning every year since then) and found a steady home in EatOut’s Top 10 list.
“I was very young when I opened Mosaic and had no experience running my own restaurant. To a certain extent you’re quite unsure, you never know how people are going to react and you’re constantly wondering if you’re doing the right thing. But Franck [Dangereux] told me just before I opened that if you cook from the heart you will always have people that enjoy your dinner with you.”
Dartnall says she still follows his advice after all these years by cooking with love and ingredients she finds in tidal pools while she’s on holiday or when using leeks in a dish called African Aromas from her latest menu, Tabula Rasa. The dish has an accent on the plate designed to look like the branches of an acacia tree and is a balanced act of Red Hartebeest venison, soetdoring smoke, baby turnips and a dusting of aubergine and madumbi skin.
“The entire plate is smoky and quite African. Interestingly enough I’ve never done anything with that many African ingredients in one dish before. The leeks are there because nothing else has quite the same accent on the plate; between their bright green bite after just being blanched to it’s earthy naturalness of flavour. So, yes, that’s where missing leeks go.”