Hotel restaurants face the dining paradox of guests wanting to eat with the locals, and locals thinking that only hotel guests can can dine in their restaurant. Ironically, most hotels would welcome outside guests to enjoy their cuisine.
Athol Place is a five-star boutique hotel in Sandton whose restaurant deserves to be on your ‘to dine’ list because they offer refined dining that is unpretentious, accessible, and, most importantly, delicious. I especially appreciate their focus on freshness, flavour, and yet there is still a creative flourish of the unexpected that will pique even the most jaded of foodies.
This is fine-dining stripped of outré pretension where guests can relax, enjoy good food, and leave wanting to return.
Spending the night would be an optional extra.
Athol Place has always been on my bucket list, and yet despite numerous opportunities to attend events being hosted there, I always had other commitments that prevented me from attending. If only I had known, those commitments would have been cancelled in a heartbeat. As luck would have it, I found myself attending three events within the space of two months at Athol Place, and all I wanted was more.
Fortunately, I was sent to review their hotel as a travel destination; which I would highly recommend for local and international travelers, but the highlight for me an opportunity to preview their new menu.
The menu attached to the invitation included a green soup with garlic and kimchi, springbok loin with pickled radish and goats cheese, a very eclectic sounding roasted kingklip with coconut, lime and lemongrass with chili caramel, and was to be concluded with a dark chocolate and cherry tartlet. It looked like a playful menu with enough room to go disastrously wrong if something wasn’t to your taste.
(I should just add that Athol Place offers a la carte menus, but on the night we went, it was a fixed menu.)
I generally don’t get excited when I see soup on a menu because I can make my own at home – not quite as well as Atholl Place, but certainly good enough for me not to want to order it in a restaurant.
The soup was served in glass Mason jars which highlighted it’s it’s pastel green colour, but it was upon tasting I discovered hedonistic delight. The soup was lightly creamed but still reflected the earthiness of fresh garden vegetables and the sweetness of peas. A generous mushroom stock added some backbone to the soup. The kimchi offered a delicate acidic counterpoint. Despite being a creamy soup, it remained refreshingly light as appetizer.
I honestly can’t believe that I’m raving about soup but it was truly delicious.
I later had the pleasure of meeting the chef who modestly admitted that the soup was simply the result using every green vegetable that she could find – with the exception of broccoli which would have been too bitter, but she refused to confirm or deny my suspicions about mushroom stock being the secret ingredient.
My only criticism was their decision to serve soup in those awkward Mason jars, which required inhuman dexterity navigating the jars at a ninety degree angle to extricate some soup on a spoon. Serving soup in a soup bowl would have avoided an inelegant dining experience because nobody wanted to throw their soup back like one of those instant soups that some people seem to be so fond. After watching other people hungrily navigating their Mason jars with their spoons, I decided to extend my pinkie, raise my jar to my lips, and sip my soup to my enjoyment.
UPDATE: Athol Place have informed me that they’ve replaced the Mason jars with soup bowls to avoid further inelegant dining situations in their restaurant.
The starter of smoked springbok loin was served with creamed potato and and deep-fried goat’s cheese. Some people don’t like venison because of its richer, gamier flavour, but the springbok had such a clean taste that you could literally just taste wild grasses with a hint of smokiness. The meat was quite lean so the pureed potatoes added a creamy element that anchored the dish while the deep-fried goat’s cheese added a textural contrast and saltiness.
A few minutes prior, my partner and I were saying that nothing could beat the soup but the springbok loin certainly rose to the occasion. However, nothing could have prepared us for the next course.
A symphony of coconut, lemongrass, limes, and chilli caramel that allows the roasted Kingklip to take centre stage at @atholplace_hotel_and_villa. Upon presentation, it looks like a deconstructed Thai green curry – and the ingredients allude to the same, but there are so many contradictions between expectation and appreciation that I consider it to be possibly my favourite dish of 2017 – and certainly one of the most thought provoking. #DineJoziStyle #DineJoziStyle
The roasted kingklip, which was served on an artful display of coconut, lime, and lemongrass sauces, literally blew my mind. Firstly, I expected a glorified Thai curry based upon the ingredients. Secondly, the lime and lemongrass sauce was presented separately from the the coconut cream both for visual effect and to highlight their flavours independently from each other. I loved the tone on tone green and white colourations on my plate.
Flavourwise, the dish was as far removed from a robust green curry as a Chicken à la King because it was so subtly flavoured. I loved that Athol Place could re-interpret the bold flavours of lime, lemongrass, and coconut into a dish that was so subtle and sublime. It also showed respect for the delicately flavoured kingclip.
I was so enraptured by the flavours that I almost overlooked the chili caramel. I have a low-threshold for chilies as anything that makes me sweat while I’m eating is a no-no, and the novelty of a chili caramel wasn’t something I was looking forward to. Fortunately, it was a gentle dusting of crushed chilies and caramel that accentuated the fish like a sprinkling of salt and pepper – albeit sugar and spice on this dish. I thought the chef demonstrated incredible culinary prowess to create such a delicate dish from such strong flavours.
If I had to name my dish of the year for 2017, the kingclip at Athol Place would certainly be it.
Following the soup, starters, and mains, I could easily have foregone dessert, but decided it would be sinful not to indulge further considering how the previous dishes had exceeded my expectations on so many different levels.
Dessert was a dark chocolate and cherry tartlet served with pistachios, a sour cherry sorbet, and a strawberry macaron. The tartlet was delicate in presentation but packed a rewarding crunch against the dense ganache filling. Contrary to being sweet, the chocolate ganache verged towards being mildly bitter and indulgent, while the cherry sorbet added some sweet and sour relief. The strawberry macaron was a perfect cocoon of meringue filled with a delicate strawberry coulis. Although I initially thought I could have skipped dessert, I found myself debating if I could ask for a second portion, but decided that everything in moderation was the order of the day, and there is a fine line between excess and gluttony, but I did mention to the chef that I could easily accommodate one for breakfast the following day.
Athol Place deserves a special round of applause for their swift and unobtrusive service. There are more times than I care to mention when one has to wait for what feels like hours between courses, but at Athol Place there was only the most leisurely pause between courses.
Athol place deserves to be included on your ‘To Dine’ list because their creative use of ingredients will keep your curiosity piqued and elegant portions ensure that no one is leaving wanting more.