Who knew such an elegant fine dining restaurant was sitting tucked away inside a boutique hotel in Johannesburg? I certainly wasn't expecting it!
But one evening, I found myself perched atop a plush high back chair within a glass-encased dining room at a table dressed with thick luxurious linens.
Ladies and gents, this is Amuse-Bouche, the 2017 winner of Luxury Hotel Restaurant in the Regional category, located at Fairlawns Boutique Hotel & Spa in a suburb of Johannesburg.
Amuse-Bouche is headed up by Executive Chef Jandri Niemand who took over the kitchen reins earlier this year. Although I didn't have the chance to meet him in person (for good reason, as he had just gotten engaged the week I visited!), Chef Jandri graciously took the time to do our #caviarcuts Q&A, which you can read here.
(If you want to read about the hotel experience, just click over to the full review here.)
Style & Service
Amuse-Bouche is located in the Manor House and overlooks the manicured back lawn. The style is modern with just a touch of traditional, much like the overall aesthetic of Fairlawns Hotel. It's not a large restaurant (after all, the hotel itself only has 40 suites) but there's plenty of space between tables, ensuring you're not bumping elbows with diners next to you or overhearing conversations meant to be private!
During the day, the dining room feels like a solarium, bright and cheery with that glorious South African sun warming up even the coldest of days. Eating breakfast here was a treat and a wonderful way to start the day. The evening brings about a completely different ambiance, where the dining room emits a warm welcoming glow from the inside, acting like a beacon for the rest of the hotel grounds.
The service was excellent and attentive from the moment we arrived. One of the gestures I truly appreciated was the host pulling a small stool next to my chair so I could place my clutch on it. How many of us ladies have struggled with this exact situation, where you don't want to put your bag on the table or the floor, so you end up awkwardly wedging it between you and the chair? These are the service details that matter!
When I asked for the sommelier, there was a slight moment of hesitation between the server and the host, who then told me the sommelier wasn't in that evening. However, they recovered quickly and gracefully by having Amine (the super bartender I had met earlier) come over instead, who offered his suggestions for wine. In fact, Amine then took over our table for the rest of the evening and I wouldn't have guessed at all that it was his first time doing service (which he only admitted later on).
Although we sat down for dinner later than intended, service was never rushed, nor were we made to feel like we had overstayed our welcome, even when all of the other tables had cleared out. As a former restaurant industry person, I know this can be one of the worst things at the end of a long night when all you want to do is go home, so to the Fairlawns dining staff, thank you for your gracious hospitality!
Nibble & Quaff
The menu is small but well-curated with dishes to accommodate most palates. It somehow manages to be both adventurous and safe, with just enough variation to keep someone like me interested (I always want to try something new) while maintaining traditional familiarity for the less adventurous.
For the appetisers, my eyes skipped right over the soup and salad and fixated on the dish named Birds Nest. Described as foie gras pate served in a crispy potato nest, with asparagus, a poached quail egg, and truffle, I was intrigued. Although the potato threads proved a bit difficult to eat in a lady-like way, it was an interesting combination of textures and flavours and it left me wanting just a bit more.
The second appetiser was scallops served with lumpfish caviar, edamame beans, white wine sabayon, and preserved lemon. The scallops were cooked perfectly - tender and not at all rubbery - and all of the elements on the dish complemented each other nicely. The tanginess of the lemon against the saltiness of the caviar against the delicate sweetness of the scallop...This was the clear winner of the two starters.
Our main courses were springbok (a game meat, like venison) and lamb. The springbok was the more traditional of the two, with carrots, parsnip puree, potato confit, and jus de cassis. It was comforting and familiar, one of those perfect cold weather dishes. The lamb was prepared in a Middle Eastern marinade and served with labneh, cucumber, butternut, spinach tian, apricot, and chili bites. It may have been just a touch overdone (a little past the requested medium) but no matter - the flavour profile made it a refreshing change from the usual lamb pairings.
Finally, onto dessert. Despite my insistence that I was "so full", I polished off the 85% pretty easily - a dark chocolate parfait with salt baked beetroot, goats cheese, and orange gel. The dark chocolate was balanced out by the savouriness of the cheese and the beetroot, keeping it from being overly rich. Visually, it was the most stunning of the evening, with pops of colour from the flowers and leaves used to accent the dish.
The other dessert that caught our attention was the Cheese. We were expecting a traditional cheese plate to come out, with the individual ingredients (goats cheese, grapes, nuts, preserved figs, gorgonzola, pear preserve, smoked peppadew, cottage cheese, and lavash) spread out for nibbling. Not even close! Three little spheres arrived neatly lined up on a plate, each an amalgam of the elements listed on the menu.
If you're hoping for something different, you'll love the creativity of this cheese course. If you're expecting the typical layout, well, you might be disappointed initially but once you open your mind (and your mouth), you'll likely change your mind.
As for tipples, Amuse-Bouche has a Diamond Award-winning wine list, as well as a full bar. We started our evening off with pre-dinner drinks in the Muse Champagne Room (Perrier-Jouët Brut for me, naturally) and worked our way through a bottle of Boschendal 1685 Merlot during dinner.
All in all, I have to say, what an elegant dining experience. This isn't one of those buzzy, hip restaurants with a vibe, or a see-and-be-seen kind of place. The clientele probably skews on the older side and you'll be in the mixed company of refined travellers and locals in the know about this hidden gem. It's more classy, less sassy; a place you retreat to when you've grown weary of the city's bustling restaurant scene and simply want excellent food and service in an intimate setting.
Amuse-Bouche is open to non-hotel guests, making it a fantastic way to get a taste of the 5-star service of Fairlawns Boutique Hotel if you're not quite ready to pull out the credit card for a night's stay with all the trimmings!
So slip on a trusty LBD (I wore a classic Ralph Lauren and paired it with a vintage Rodo tapestry clutch), channel your inner Duchess if you can, and don't forget to start the evening with champagne!
Disclaimer: The Caviar Spoon ReBelle was hosted by Fairlawns Boutique Hotel but all opinions expressed are our own.
1 Alma Road, Morningside, Sandton, Johannesburg