The Maslow Hotel’s acclaimed Lacuna restaurant in Sandton is creating some foodie treats that will replace the winter chills with some gourmet thrills from Wednesday, July 1, until Friday, July 31.
They’ve decorated their restaurant with a Christmas in July theme while Chef Jason Millar has created a special three-course meal for either lunches or dinners. The menus will vary with each week but there will always be a choice of three starters and mains. The desserts will vary, but promise to be a (Lindt) chocolately treat. You also get a complimentary cocktail from the bar.
I received a media invite; and despite vague details I agreed to go because it was The Maslow Hotel after all, so great things were expected, and even better was delivered.
We were warmly greeted by former Miss South Africa, Claudia Henkel, who is now a PR and Communications Manager at Sun International. She escorted us to the cocktail lounge where we were offered a selection of hot designer winter cocktails (purposefully anything but Gluhwein!). I opted for a green-tea and pear cocktail that was laced with enough gin to erase any chill!
Our nine course tasting menu proceeded as follows:
The courgette velouté with tapenade and croutons was the ultimate in understated elegance. It had a subtle courgette flavour with a light touch of cream. It was refreshing enough to tempt the palate without being too heavy to kill your appetite and taste buds. I loved it on its own, but for people who prefer a bit more kick, the saltiness of the tapenade popped on the taste buds. It was an unusual combination but a surprisingly brilliant one. The croutons could have been crispier but nothing to complain about either.
The salted cod fritters with hot macerated tomatoes followed a similar theme. The subtly flavoured fritters were moist and flavorsome- with the freshness of the ocean encrusted in light golden shell. If they verged on the bland side (for some palates, but not mine), the macerated tomatoes offered an astringent contrast that brought the dish into the 21st century. It was anything but a humble fish cake!
Moving into bolder territory… the raclette fondue with garlic bread and truffle brought on the applause from almost all diners. The garlic bread was strongly flavoured and had a very definite crunch. It was a textural contrast to the preceding dishes that reminded diners that you were going to need to sink your teeth into The Maslow’s menu. Raclette cheese has a pervasive aroma that might not appeal to people who don’t enjoy strong cheeses, but it called to me. Fortunately, our party of four, appreciated the depth of flavour of the cheese and its creamy fondue base. I could have eaten it as a soup with a spoon- but it was a fondue. It could have been served with extra toast to match the quantity of the fondue as we all tucked into the dinner rolls to clean out the fondue pots. My only niggle is that the fondue pots were served to be enjoyed by couples, so double-dipping garlic bread with friends was neither a culinary or hygienic highlight.
I enjoyed the suckling pig ravioli more than what I thought I would have- pasta is the kiss of death for me, but the generous ratio of pork to pasta allowed me to finish it without being overwhelmed with pasta. The pasta on its own was perfectly el dente, filled with a meaty chunk of sweet pork that literally melted in your mouth. The highlight of the dish was the bizarrely enjoyable and equally contradictory grapefruit & chicken jus. Its flavours were equally bitter, sweet and sour- and very moreish. Put that in a cup and I would drink it neat. It’s a mindful combination of flavours that will have you thinking twice before you like, and if you do, why?
I don’t get excited about eating soup in restaurants, so the bouillabaisse soup with crusty bread was nice but I was indifferent towards it. Nothing wrong, but nothing exciting either. Just soup. Unlike the courgette veloute which really wowed me for all the opposite reasons.
The braised oxtail, horseradish mash and baby vegetables was a real treat as the meat melted in my mouth like butter. It is one of my favourite comfort meals in winter, and the Maslow’s didn’t disappoint. It was deliciously rich and mellow in flavour and perfectly paired with the horseradish mash which had just the right amount of zing to it. I always make mine in a rich tomato base but after the Maslow’s oxtail, I am going to experiment more without tomato.
The Lancashire lamb was cooked to perfection. It was buttery soft and melted in your mouth. It was a bit too fatty and rich after the oxtail, and seemed like a poorer cousin in comparison, but it was a great dish in it’s own right. It also stuck out a bit like a sore thumb in conjunction with the other dishes in that it was more homely than elegant, so I would have preferred if it was omitted from the menu on the night but would still have it again at a different time. It was topped with finely sliced baby potatoes and pickled cabbage. I quite enjoyed the contrast of the pickled cabbage juxtaposed against the fattiness of the lamb but half our table felt it was too much of a contrast for their liking.
The beef filet re-iterated the Maslow’s technical proficiency when it comes to cooking meat. It was minimally seasoned to showcase the meat’s nutty flavour and like the oxtail and the lamb, succulent and moist. I really don’t think we needed knives to eat our meat because you could cut through it with a fork.
Chef Jason takes great pride in his food and ensuring that his guests are well looked after. He is wonderfully engaging to talk to (so much so I’ve invited him to be a guest on JoziStyle), passionate about new ideas and open to feedback.
While our table was high on (well-deserved praise) praise, I felt it would be a disservice to him and the establishment not to mention the lows of our evening- which was the fluctuating levels of service:
- Between our eight courses, we either got cutlery before or after the food was served, it was either placed on the table or passed over to us like we were at a roadside diner. Not an issue, but this is the Maslow.
Ladies were sometimes incorrectly served after the men (which I am a stickler for), and someone complained that the staff served from the left instead of the right (which I’m not a stickler for).
I ordered a Coke. I ordered that Coke three times- and asked the waiters to remind the waitress that I was still waiting for that Coke. One probably shouldn’t order a Coke at a fine dining setting but I wasn’t drinking wine (I was driving) and I craved some effervescent refreshment to cleanse my palate. I was tempted to go fetch it myself at one point but eventually three cans arrived.
All of our portions were perfectly sized for a tasting menu but probably a few too many options were presented. There were a few delays between courses, so after an hour one’s appetite is well sated, and the next course feels more like a labour of love than eating for the love of food. This probably won’t be applicable if you only have three courses, and although this was a tasting menu, I think they could have served the courses a little faster. But, that is a first world problem, however, I still think that the service could have been more brisk.
Oi vey! Not that I had room for dessert, but not to have tasted it would have been a sin. We were given strict (I don’t mean that lightly!) not to touch it until told to do so. It was a chocolate ball, about the size of a melon, proudly ensconced on a bed of chocolate soil. When everyone had been served, the restaurant managers weaved between dinners with two large silver teapots, and proceeded to pour an espresso / chocolate sauce over the chocolate ball, which then melted to reveal a scoop of ice cream. It was pure theatre to say the least, and reminded diners that they were dining at the Maslow. It was exquisite, even if I could add that the only word to describe how I was feeling was “stuffed”! The Lindt chocolate ball was a treat, the ice-cream a welcome addition, the chocolate soil was a heavenly contrast, but the molten espresso / chocolate sauce that melted the chocolate and merged the soil was nothing short of gratuitous decadence. God knows that I love my job, but this reminded me why. I couldn’t finish my dessert, not for lack of trying, but I gave it my all. Talk about living to eat instead of eating to live!
I must add that I really enjoyed the company of my fellow guests. A fellow Radio Today Johannesburg presenter, Chris Avant-Smith, added a lively commentary throughout the evening about all the dishes, he was accompanied by Bronwen Kerry, creator of B Sharp Entertainment. I invited my good friend Deborah Kirk, Marketing Manager, South African Institute of Architects (SAIA), to be my date for the evening, so between all the talk about food, journalism and decor, it was a fantastic social outing. Adjoing our table were journalists from Business Day and Radio Kaya, who re-iterated what we were enjoying about the evening. It was a great evening of fabulous friends, divine food and some social (#business) networking!
In the true spirit of Christmas (in July), as we were leaving, we were invited to choose a chocolate gift from Lindt under the Maslow’s Christmas tree, and given a gift box from the Maslow, it really was a magical finish to a wonderful evening.
Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, I loathe receiving branded gifts from corporate sponsors, otherwise it looks like I live in a house sponsored by television networks, but I was thrilled to discover that the Maslow gift was a an unbranded designer coffee mug that will always remind me of the Maslow.
My only regret is that I never took a selfie of myself with Claudia Henkel- but when you see how gorgeous she is, you’d understand why nobody wants to be compared alongside her in a photograph.