I really would love to dedicate this entire blog to the love of my life. It has a rather sexy French (sounding) name and when my lips met her body, the world changed. I’m pretty sure Brian Epstein experienced less glee and less happiness when he first saw The Beatles at The Cavern. Anyway, this dessert (yes it is food!) blew my brains apart. The flavour! The texture! The everything. The way the everything melted and loved each other like it was Woodstock.
The dessert, called the Caramel Bavarois, was a delicate mix of caramel, raspberry, liquorice, decadent chocolate, honeycomb, citrus and I could swear that some ginger popped in there. Everything just made sense. I felt that each bite took you on a journey. I felt like Magellan, but instead of plundering all four corners of the globe exploiting its inhabitants, I was taken on this trip that assaulted my taste buds for the most selfish needs known to man. The chocolate quill enticed you to dig a bit deeper as you tucked into the caramel which was ever so slightly kissed with the liquorice foam. The painted on reductions and the raspberries invited you to delve deeper where, at the right moment, it oozed the exclaimable caramel. As I went deeper, the honeycomb and citrus infused, intermingled and caused me to go incoherent from delight. I reached a higher state of being at that point.
Oddly, I wouldn’t call myself a food lover.
This weekend I trekked to Mount Grace Hotel for a weekend filled with gourmet food and pampering. It was part of the #mountgraceblog campaign to show us bloggers what establishments like these have to offer.
In short, it was spectacular to the n-th degree and then some.
Mount Grace is nestled just under a peak of the magical Magaliesberg. These mountains have yet to truly capture me. I think this might be due to the real cheesiness of Hartebeespoort Dam which provides a gateway to the range. It seems to hit me as one of these destinations you’re forced to go to because you have two kids and an SUV and need something to do on a weekend. The drive to Mount Grace is marginally better than the one to Hartees on the R511/R512 as once you hit the R24 (not the stretch near the airport,) these undulating hills have a character that calms you in the weirdest Gauteng sense of the word. It’s not like the calming effect you have driving to All Days or to Bloemhof. It feels Gauteng. Drive it to figure it out. The last stretch up to the hotel feels like a rally stage. Again, Gauteng calm. It’s like the spa in your favourite shopping mall. Hidden within the hustle and bustle is this gem of serenity. And yoh, Mount Grace is the epitome of that serenity.
I got there in a bit of a tizz as the journey took much longer than I anticipated (thank you Roodepoort) but as soon as I arrived, I get whisked off into their spa. Mount Grace is pretty well known for the quality and range of treatments available. I love spa treatments but after being to Thailand, every spa you go to in Jozi seems like a rip-off. None of them manhandle you in the same way as a petite Thai woman can. Anyway, Mount Grace also has a something called an Afro Zen flotation tank where you are suspended in a bath whilst your life literally changes. Sounds promising but then again if you go for the right Thai massage, you will be changed as a person (just probably in a VERY different way!) I actually would like to try that one day (note how you’re unsure if I’m talking about the former or latter…)
We were treated to a Swedish Full Body Massage. This was much needed and honestly I loved it. After the spa, I was in this limbotic state of bliss. I was much calmer and very content with life. I’m guessing this is the sign of a good massage – so far, so good.
We were then transported back down the hill in the golf carts and introduced to our rooms. You can’t really walk around as the property is big – very big. That, and there are rabid baboons out for your blood. The rooms, or could I say villas are huge. I’m pretty sure it was bigger than Uganda. It came complete with its own espresso machine, a shower the size of Kampala, probably the most luxurious robe this side of Hugh Hefner’s closet and a hot tub. The bathroom was just massive. I walked around in it for a good few moments wondering why I was able to walk around this much in a bathroom.
A massage induces sleep but before I could cuddle into the mountains of duveted goodness, I get a tweet from Derek saying that Sam, Mitchell, Marlies and him had cracked open a few bottles of wine and were already plunged into the hot tub. So one espresso later, there I was.
This is where the crux of this weekend was formed. As much as I have gone on about how amazing the venue is and how I am going to go on about how great the food is, the experience is about the people and how you share your love of the luxury and the food with them. It’s a great feature of humanity that every single individual leads an existence filled with infinite interest. Each person has a story to share. These come in the form of full blown tales or even a passing comment that makes you realise something about yourself. The five of us shared a lot of laughter, experiences and anecdotes which was great. We also shared some rather sweet, but free wine. In hindsight, I’m blaming that…
Just before 19h00, we congregated outside the Rambling Vine Restaurant for some sparkling wine before dinner. The Rambling Vine is an award winning restaurant headed by Chef Frank Lubbe. His food is fine dining. What you’ve had before in Jozi does not count. Just accept it. The evening was dedicated to the marriage of beer and fine food. This is a seldom paired couple but we were assured we were in for a treat. The beers were provided by a craft brewer called the Dog and Fig. They brew specialised batches of sheer brilliance. Even to the few that have not acquired the taste of this beverage, the brews are formidable and well, excite you. The beers had tastes ranging from citrus to coffee to buchu. Actually none of the beers tasted like beer. Being small batched brewed, these do have an alcohol content of around 7% so the excitation could be because of that as well…
One of the greatest aspects of a meal like this is getting walked through the food and beers by the head chef and sommelier. It adds a wonderful element to it all as you are drawn towards the subtleties and intricacies.
The meal was split into seven courses with each being paired with a beer. The result was inexplicably fantastic. EVERYTHING worked. My unabashed ode to the bavarois could be repeated for each meal. I decided against looking at the menu and put full trust in the chef.
Round 1: Amuse Bouche
Sweetcorn Fritter served with Madagascan Vanilla Pod Ice Cream
The dish was sweet, yet not overpoweringly sweet with a great texture and the ice cream (good lord they made me eat ice cream) balanced it with the slight coldness which drove this dish to dizzying heights. The beer had massive fruity tones which is rather uncharacteristic for a beer. The beers are basically fermented in different ways which reveal different characteristics very much like a wine. The type of hops, barley and the soil used to grow it in all contribute to the taste. The dish provided a simple yet magnificent way to start the evening.
Round 2: Mushroom Consommé
Chicken and Wild Mushroom Consommé
So the Amuse Bouche was taken away and replaced with a plate of dry (magic) mushrooms and what looked like heroin in a syringe. I know that I was more than a few glasses of wine down but uh, what was going on? It turns out we weren’t being prepped for a drug orgie but a rather interesting DIY experience. A pouring jug of consommé was presented to us to be used to rehydrate the mushrooms. The syringe was a “noodle” mixture consisting of agar-agar, truffle oil, thyme and cream. The experience and the result were astounding. The consommé and mushrooms were perfectly flavoured with the extra dimension added by the noodles which caused rapturous applause from my taste buds. My only gripe was that the consommé was slightly cold by the time I gulped it down.
Round 3: Waterzooi
A light Seafood Stew of Scottish Salmon and Prawn steamed in a Fish Cream
Another interesting dish came in the form of prawn, crab and salmon dish complemented by a ball of Pernod flavoured green goo. We were instructed to begin our seafood dish then pop in the concoction halfway through then continue eating the meal. Which I did. And it was beautiful. The seafood, pre-goo, was divine. Perfectly cooked crab, prawn and melt in your mouth salmon. I obliged to pop the goo which rushed herbal intensity all through my personality. I continued with the fish and the perfection of the dish was made even more perfect. At this point, my mind tried to grasp how is it possible to make food that is as awe-inspiring as this. How do you go back to eating boxed hake or KFC after this? Anyway, the beer paired with this was bloody brilliant. It exuded this spicy taste which did not overpower the delicate texture of this seafood dish.
Bonus Round: Apple Sorbet
Icy Apple Sorbet served with Apple chip and Apple puree on top of Apple chutney
My knowledge of palate cleansers extends to dry crackers and water used between wine tastings. This was indeed the prettiest and tastiest palate cleanser ever. It had a bit of a Pokemon look to it but tasted of apple. However, the apple never overpowered. It showed its existence and winked at you but the contrast of the cold with the flavour meant it achieved its goal of readying my palate for the next culinary onslaught.
Round 4: Surf and Turf
Grilled Giant Scallop and Foie Gras served with Raspberry Coulis
Oh gosh this was so good. The beer and ingredient pairing released fireworks and cravings that have lasted for days on end! The rich yet pure essence of this dish danced around my mind. The raspberry caviar added that extra zest that makes me slip into daydreams all these days later. It really is hard describing this food. The combination is like a crafted Renaissance painting with such depth that the memory lingers on after the dish was long gone. I gulped this dish in record time and was left yearning for more. Food really can be drug-like. This dish was like my first hit and now the remainder of my life shall be in pursuit of finding a high like that.
Round 5: Beef and Stout Pie
Beef Shin Braised in Stewige Stout served with Homemade Puff Pastry and Wild Cepes
And then it got better. Finally, the main meal arrived and it still managed to exist at the dizzying heights laid down by the dishes before it. The pastry, the meat that was slow-cooked for seven hours in the stout, the wild mushrooms, the foamy reduction and the sauce provided a blueprint of what they serve you every day in heaven. My tiny gripe was the excessive saltiness of the sauce which is probably due to my slow removal of excess salt from my diet. Otherwise it was completely magnifique.
Round that makes you regret every dish you eat from this point on: Caramel Bavarois
Three Layered Caramel Bavarois served with Raspberries and Honeycombe from Mount Grace
I could go on and on and on and on and on about the dessert and how it has made my life so much better. Thinking back to all these dishes, there really must be some illicit drugs or a concentrated version of Woolworths dust that they sprinkled on it. The experience and the tasting was an event. It built to this peak and then leapt into the air to show how remarkable it was. When the chefs came out to bow, I really could not fathom a way how to truly thank them for this gastronomic extravaganza.
The night was far from over…
To the bar we went and then back to the hot tub in the pouring rain. We talked about Johannesburg and Malawi. We talk about Scirocco’s that come in the colour of a bra. We watched someone gracefully fall into the hot tub with such panache that I could hear harps playing as it happened. We boiled wine (just not really.) We wondered how far the Wimpy was from the hotel. We braved supercharged golf carts in the rain and we got a warning from guards at 2am whilst it was still raining. I also came up with the idea of a subway which still makes complete sense in my mind.
The next thing I remember was waking up at 08h00 and thinking: “Ah crap (except not using the word crap) I didn’t drink water.”
I missed breakfast.
I missed the walk through the mountains with the chef.
I blame this on the “public transport” golf carts taking forever to get to my villa and making me get to the restaurant just as it closed.
The hangover was the worst I have ever had but I did disobey my rule of ALWAYS drinking water before bed.
We sat outside and just took in the amazing that is Mount Grace through some extreme laughter and sponsored conversations. I just hung whilst waiting for lunch time which seemed (in my mind) to be taking the longest time to come. I sat with my rooibos and water and kept ruing life. Finally lunch arrived and it blew my brains apart yet again. Lunch was served at Twist Restaurant. This is another gem at Mount Grace which works as a buffet restaurant. I always benchmark buffets against the buffet I had at Sun City when I was 12. To me at that age, the buffet was the gods telling me it is possible to reach pure and utter perfection. I was in my element every morning savouring the taste of everything on offer. The memory has probably made the Sun City buffet attain an unattainable mythical status due to the gold-plating effect nostalgia tends to bring. This buffet probably matched the one at Sun City…
Look at the pictures! Just look at em! The meats were succulently made with the correct amount of tenderness with stunning accentuation from the gravies and sauces. The vegetables kept their juiciness whilst the freshness shouted at you in this angelic soprano voice. The seafood pot, which I sadly did not risk, made you not care about exploitation of marine resources. Yes, this spread made you believe that sinning is the correct way of life. It really was that good. They also made Yorkshire pudding which I tried for the first time. When you are hungover, this greasy monstrosity hits the spot and cures you in a jiffy. Unfortunately for me, I was beyond repair and I only tasted a few morsels before having to walk around for some air.
As we departed Twist, I stole a taste of the Turkish Delight happily resting in a nondescript silver tray beneath some chocolate hearts. The sensation I felt when it graced my taste buds was a feeling you feel just a handful of times in your life. Like on your wedding day or when your child is born. It made me question the world – how is it that this much flavour existed in a single 24 hour period yet has never reared its head before? Is this the real reason why the 1% exists?
Sadly, this is where the weekend ended. As I drove back, the memories of the weekend (sorely) filtered through my mind as I re-experienced the tastes and laughter that I had that weekend. The company was superb and so was EVERYTHING else. Mount Grace should be on your list of to-do things in Jozi. You will not regret a single moment of it.
When to go: Why don’t you go this weekend? It’s a GREAT place to go to spoil yourself but its best enjoyed when you go as a couple. It is not a family orientated hotel but this should not be an issue at all. You are spoiling yourself and your significant other after all. If you book early enough, you can get quite a great rate which will include breakfast at Twist. I’ve spent more staying at very functional (by that I mean boring) hotels on business so trust me, the prices are pretty impressive. The massages are not cheap but the quality is really up there and the treatments are worth it.
How to get there: The hotel is nestled in the Magaliesberg and is easily accessible from the R24 going west from the West Rand. When you’re leaving, do yourself a favour and turn right at the entrance and take the long way back to Jozi. After a few km, turn right onto the R563 then follow the signs towards Krugersdorp. It is stunningly picturesque and shall do a lot to ease your mind back into reality. Do not take this route on the way there! Take the route that they provide. Don’t argue.
Cost: It is a hotel and these prices are going to fluctuate depending on the season and whether you are reading this in 2017 or something. The prices are on the website and there are regular specials. Rambling Vine is a spectacular gourmet restaurant and is expensive but worth it. They are going to be doing food and drink evenings such as this and be prepared to pay around R450 per person. It seems a lot but it is COMPLETELY worth it – it’s probably under-priced as it works out to around £40. Go try getting a meal like this in Britain for this price.
Anything Else: Always drink water before you go to bed. Just do it. The hugest thanks must go out to Manley Communications. We used #mountgraceblog for the event. Relive the debauchery by checking that out. There were a multitude of blogs about the weekend. I must thank them ALL for filling in a lot of blanks for me!
- Jozilicious: http://travelfoodfunsecrets.blogspot.com/2012/04/mount-grace-bloggers-weekend.html
- Simply Delicious: http://simply-delicious.co.za/2012/04/23/mount-grace-blogger-weekend/
- Vanilla Blonde: http://baileyschneidersblog.blogspot.com/2012/04/mount-grace-bloggers-weekend.html
- Life and Everything in between: http://samrobinson25.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/this-time-last-week-mountgraceblog/
- Dear Max: http://www.dearmax.org/2012/04/while-you-were-playing-with-trucks-i-was-having-a-swedish-massage-and-an-eight-course-dinner/
- Spiced Weasel: http://spicedweasel.co.za/home/entry/mount-grace-where-relaxation-happens.html
- The Jade Lotus: http://thejadelotusbeauty.blogspot.com/2012/04/mount-grace-blogger-weekend.html
- Unseen World: http://www.unseenworld.co.za/unseen-world/entry/mount-grace-rambling-vine-and-the-closest-to-heaven-you-will-get-with-a-pulse.html
- Hotels South Africa: http://hotelssouthafrica.wordpress.com/2012/04/23/mount-grace-country-house-spa-hosts-bloggers-weekend/
- IOL Travel: http://www.iol.co.za/travel/south-africa/north-west/bloggers-and-wine-at-mount-grace-1.1293333