It boasts an incredible team of chefs, strong management and offers excellent service that is nimble yet unobtrusive. The luxurious venue is conveniently tucked away in Craighall but feels like a countryside retreat- perfect for business travelers, romantic getaways and even a staycation in the city.
The Gardenia Boutique Hotel opened their restaurant last year, and have wisely decided to refine their offering before going on a massive marketing spree with Zomato. This was my first Zomato meetup, so the experience was both novel and fun. Overall, I had a great time: the food was good and the company even more so.
Our starter was an oddly paired smoked salmon and poached chicken dish. If anyone made the mistake of eating their salmon first, they quickly discovered that their chicken tasted oddly fishy. Personally, I would have preferred one or the other, but not both on the same plate. The salmon was served atop a bed of tzatziki that I just loved- the freshness of the tzatziki just cut through the richness of the salmon. I could have done without the chicken; both in conjunction with the salmon or on its own, because while some said it was smoked, I considered it poached, and not in a good way. My chicken was waterlogged and flavourless. Its only redeeming feature was the vanilla infused vodka dressing that really tried to brighten a dull dish. The addition of pomegranate seeds as a garnish only highlighted how incredibly bland the chicken was. Must admit though, the vodka dressing may not be to everyone’s taste, but it was to mine.
The starter was followed by a chicken and mushroom soup garnished with a herb cream and a generously sized cheese-straw. It hit all the right notes for me with a heady mushroom flavour and aroma. It was rich in flavour without being heavy on the palate, and was generously studded with chicken pieces. The cheese-straw added a little pizzazz to the presentation and a textural contrast to the soup.
Our third course was a perfectly cooked piece of fillet served with a Rosemary jus on a bed of finely sliced root vegetables. It was perfectly executed, as the fillet literally melted in your mouth because it was so tender and the Rosemary jus added a cheeky nod of flavour without competing against the fillet. I loved the vegetables and could have eaten them on their own. Some people may have preferred their fillet more on the rare side- mine was medium to well-done, but it remains flawless in my opinion.
The highlight of the meal was the rack of lamb, elegantly plated on a bed of mashed sweet potato and ginger, and served with a mint infused jus. It was a simple presentation but the combination of ginger and mint just worked for me in all the right places. naturally, I had to get the recipe from our host, Nigel, who was only too happy to share his secrets with me. A stunning combination of flavours that I will definitely be sharing with friends.
The second highlight of the evening was the wine pairing, which Nigel modestly claimed was not his forte, but he certainly made some excellent choices and explained his pairing authoritatively.
The waiters deserve a special mention because their service was impeccable as they expertly served meals, removed plates and refilled wine glasses without us even noticing. Considering that The Gardenia Boutique Hotel is trying to offer a fine dining experience, I would have preferred if the waiters had waited until everyone had finished their meals before removing plates. But, that’s a minor consideration considering that most people are accustomed to restaurants removing plates as if they were going out of fashion.
Between my four courses, and plenty of wine, I barely had room for dessert and could barely manage the teeniest sliver of Lemon Meringue, but they offered something for everyone with a traditional malva pudding, chocolate mousse and a cheese platter. The desserts looked tempting enough but I had to concede that there is a fine line between indulgence and over-indulgence.
One basic mistake that cannot be overlooked is that most dishes were served slightly warm. I know it was a freezing cold evening, but they could have overcome that by heating the plates or keeping food warm under salamanders until ready to serve. I’m not a stickler for being served hot food, but under the circumstances and considering their collective experience and aspirations, they could have anticipated that one aspect a lot better.
At the beginning of my review I said that The Gardenia Boutique Hotel‘s restaurant has the potential to become a destination of note for every discerning foodie in Johannesburg. I said that because virtually every dish demonstrated their technical proficiency, but lacked a creative flourish that would leave a diner inspired. They could afford to push their boundaries, and make people take notice. Their food was good but not exciting enough to make me want to return.
Overall, I had a great evening, their execution of dishes is testament to their prowess in the kitchen, but a more innovative approach to their menu would have more people returning to their doors hungry for more. Certainly worth a visit to compare them to other boutique hotels.