Wednesday, December 28, 2011

La Regence (King David Hotel Jerusalem) 11/2012

La Regence is situated in perhaps the most prestigious hotel in Jerusalem which has been visited by most of the European nobility and heads of state including Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon and even Anwar Sadat and Mubarak and Barak Obama, before his election as US President. The restaurant is in a magnificent room overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem. In line with common practice in better restaurants a chef’s offering of green beans deep fried in batter with a topping of finely chopped red peppers arrived before the entrees. Nothing to rave about but quite a nice simple start. The restaurant is kosher which means that no milk products are available and meat and poultry can only be well cooked because of the salting process in making them kosher. It is not possible to have foie gras barely seared. Unaware of this at the time we ordered foie gras ‘praline’ (NIS85) and when the first serve was very overcooked and the waiter asked if everything was to our satisfaction told him truthfully it was not. He returned it, half eaten, to the kitchen and served a second portion. Here the praline was served with a piece of excellent foie gras their second effort was much better and their attitude greatly appreciated. My lamb sweetbreads with Ethiopian tahina was also seriously over cooked. I must say I tasted no distinguishing features in the tahina which was just like any other though a fraction firmer. A poor dish for NIS85. Salmon in ginger jelly and smoked salmon (NIS75) was a better alternative.
A palate cleanser of five spices was dominated by mint was unusual and effective. For mains Sandra had a fillet of beef ‘Financier’ with asparagus and Jerusalem artichoke, (NIS165) which they did manage to serve blue. It was a very nice piece of meat. An entrecote in red wine sauce (NIS150) was described by our friend as ‘mitzuyan’ Excellent. I had Norwegian cod on a carrot paste with green beans and peppers (NIS150) which was a fine fillet. It could not have been better. Ravioli filled with Portobello mushrooms in mushroom stock (NIS90) was a fine vegetarian option. We finished the meal with a very simple dessert of mixed fruit with zablioneand coffee and petit fours. This is a beautiful restaurant in a lovely setting that serves simple and rather unexciting food of the best quality.
Score: 14.25/20

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Tinga Lodge (Kruger National Park) 12/2011

Tinga is a private concession in Kruger National Park. They have two lodges, each with nine cabins which consist of a huge room with a bed which seems to be a bit bigger than king size. Moving around the room from the entrance on the left there is an eight foot long desk then on the side wall a large cabinet with a very well stocked refrigerator with free drinks and a tea/coffee making facility. Moving to the next wall there are about 10 metres of wall to ceiling windows that look out onto a private pool, a large balcony furnished with recliners, table and chairs. The whole lot looks over African bushland towards a river. Just looking out the window we have seen elephants, a hippopotamus, a lion chasing an impala and many colourful birds. On the next wall are cupboards and room for cases. On the next wall, which is right of the door, we come to the bed which is surrounded by mosquito netting and has an overhead fan. They also have two very effective Carrier air conditioners. This room leads into a large circular shower space with two separate showers with windows facing the bush .Adjacent there is a big bath and a double sink, vanity and wash area and a separate toilet and bidet. The tariff, about $750/ day includes all meals, and there is a ton of good food which I will come to soon, and six hours of game safari rides per day in well equipped Land Rovers with a skilled tracker and a guide. This was our tracker, Emmanuel.

The routine is a 0545 start after a drink and a biscuit. After a couple of hours we would stop for a snack and then continue until getting back to the lodge for breakfast at about 10 am. Lunch is often a buffet from 12.30 until 2 pm and dinner is from 7.30. Most guests retire by about 10pm. Meals are taken either under cover or in the open depending on weather and personal choice. House wine is gratis

Breakfast This is a simple affair with some cereals, fruit, cakes, and drinks. Adequate. We barely seem to have finished before it’s lunch time. This varied from buffet to a sit down meal. A typical menu offered two choices of starters, for example chilled gaspacho soup which had me scrapping the bottom of the plate or marinated Greek salad with mustard dressing and several choices of main, for example sweet chilli chicken wrap with straw potatoes or grilled Impala loin, sautéed vegetables and rosemary jus or pan seared butterfish, ribbon vegetables and tartare sauce or al dente penne pasta, tomato olive sauce. Desserts on this occasion were seasonal fruit or milk tart or a cheese platter. On another day there was a warm pea and mint soup or grilled pear salad with deep fried haloumi for starters. Mains included grilled baby quail with morongo phyllo parcel and sherry sauce which I had. It was remarkably tasty, there was plenty of meat on the quail which was great with the sherry sauce. The phyllo pastry bag was a nice surprise too.or grilled Tinga beef burger with hand cut chips or pan seared sole Nicoise salad and tartare sauce or tagliatelle with tomato basil sauce and dessert included a pecan tart.

Dinner was not dissimilar but they put on a special one for X’mas eve. Here starters included Vichyssoise soup with chopped chives, a tri of crostini, smoked salmon, marinated crayfish, smoked mussels with lemon essence. Warthog carpachio, which was similar to beef, with mushroom and parmesan shavings or nectarine and goat’s cheese salad with mint aioli. Mains were rack of lamb with rosemary crushed new potatoes and ratatouille, chicken supreme wrapped in Parma ham with carrot puree, sherry jus and red cabbage, fillet of Kingklip with sesame crusted prawn risotto, green beans and bisque sauce which was a super dish, or spinach ricotta cheese ravioli with burnt sage butter. In this particular dish there was a shortage of Parma and they substituted quite a lot of it with pumpkin which was not as good as it might have been. Desserts were a berry cheese cake,lemon meringue, mascarpone pannacotta, caramelized orange and almond tuille or fresh fruit.

We were astonished at the quality of the food here. Chef Teddy told me that she spent a year in a cooking school and worked for some time in a restaurant. The range of dishes she produced every day and the quality of the cooking is beyond my imagination. Her variety of sauces, of cooking styles and of menus produced in an very simple kitchen are a tribute to her skills.

Signal (Capetown) 12/2011

onderfully situated opposite the Waterfront mall, which is occupied by every sort of shop, Cape Grace Hotel (CGH) has harbour views from every room. The place has style and elegance. Boasting 400 whisky’s they offer various priced tasting experiences, as well as very reasonably interesting wine tasting session. The main dining room “Signal” named after the blast signifying 12 noon daily, is partly partitioned into several areas. Chairs are extremely comfortable.Tables are well spaced, set with double white cloths, and good cutlery.There are large shipping scenes on the wall and magnificent chandeliers. They are diminished in our eyes by having copper or china equipment hanging among the crystals. Breakfast is either a ‘Little Breakfast’ (SAR45, about A$6) of one cooked course, a Continental breakfast (SAR95) off a buffet which is the usual stuff with the added attraction of freshly shucked oysters. I had a serve of seven of the creamy beasts which retained a distinct flavour of the sea. Their ‘Full Breakfast’ (SAR160) included the buffet and a hot cooked dishes, mostly eggs with choice of all, or any, of bacon, pork or beef sausages, steak, kippers, grilled tomato, mushrooms, hash browns and baked beans.
The breakfast table.
Every thing was very well prepared. This is a steal at this extraordinary low price for a very fine meal. The buffet is the usual selection of cold cuts serials pastries and so on, all extremely fresh. The cooked meals were also very good and served quite efficiently.
Eggs Benedic

Poached eggs.Lunch included ox tail ravioli, saffron infused quinoa and chilled spicy tomato soup which was not over spiced and smoked tomato risotto stuffed squid, beetroot puree, bone marrow jus and crispy kataifi as starters. The risotto bore no resemblance to an Italian risotto being virtually a puree but, ignoring the name it was a great idea and a most appealing, very mild flavoured entrée. Mains were Malay spiced springbok loin, cumin crusted loin of lamb rack or home made tagliattle which was wonderful and one of my favourite comfort meals, fish and chips. Kingklip was very suitrd and was even better in it's very crisp beer batter. Unfortunately the chips were rather limp.
Desserts included Chocolate pave, blue berry financier and artisanal dishes cheese dishes. Once again the preparation of every dish we tasted was of the best quality. We decided to have a crayfish as the one we had the previous night, as part of a degustation meal had been so very good. Sweet and tender with fine fibres. This turned out to be a mistake. Instead of a whole cray, as we had seen others eating, we got nothing more than a very small tail. We also ordered this without carrots and beans but it came with them regardless. This photo exaggerates the size of the cray.Subsequently we spoke with the manager who promised that if humanly possible he would get crayfish for us for dinner the next night.This eventually resulted in two much larger lobsters, one Thermidor, with a brandy sauce and cheese and the other with a mornay sauce.

They were supposed to have been served with saffron rice. First plain rice and then some sort of pilau were sent out. No saffron was ever sighted. We then waited over 35 minutes for three scoops of sorbetwhich were a little gritty with small ice chips in them.


The degustation dinner is five courses for SAR425 or SAR625 with matched wine. There is also a vegan five course meal for SAR350 or 550. At about 8 SAR to one US or A dollar this is remarkably inexpensive. In our experience the wines alone would cost substantially more than these meals, including the food. The first course was pistachio crusted duck liver parfait with spiced apple espuma. This was very smooth and the apple quite sweet. The villera tradition brut rose nv had a light sweetness which went particularly well with this dish. If I had any complaint it was that it was a very small serve. Butter poached crayfish, crispy chilli salted sweetbread, sweetcorn puree and spiced tomato relish looked a lot on the plate but it was a skimpy serve with only half a small lobster tail. The tail was excellent and the Ruperrt and Rothschild Baroness Nadine chardonnay improved it particularly because the bland sweetcorn puree needed some acidity. Seared franchoek trout, potato gnocchi, caramelized fennel, orange gremolata and liquorice foam was new to us. The trout was fairly firm and quite salty. The gnocchi soft and fine. We loved the fennel but the gremolate needed a mass spectrometer to find it and the liquorice foam was, as far as I could tell, present only in spirit it had no substance and no flavour. Because the salmon came with a chilli marinade Sandra had a local fish, Kingclip, which has a cod like character with a firm white flesh which easily separates along the muscle plains. The flesh does not have any fishy odour and is moist and tender if not overcooked.The Rudera Robusta chenin blanc 2008 helped to make this somewhat disparate conglomeration of elements into a complete dish. It was aromatic light, and fairly dry. A winter melon and lime sorbet was an effective palate cleanser. The last of the main courses was a 21 day extra air dried sirloin, ox tail croquette, goats cheese cannelloni, carrot puree, pickled celeriac and juniper juice, served with a Constantia Sebastiaan 2000. This was lightly cooked meat, quite tender, and juicy, would not be out of place in any meat restaurant. We always make a point of asking for our meat to be as rare as possible which, sometimes, is far from rare. Finally dessert vanilla cream, crumble, cinnamon jelly and nartjie sorbet was served with a sweet wine with no sign of botrytis, or bitterness. It was the 2005 signal hill Vin de la Empereur. This was a meal where the wine matching was exceptional. Unfortunately the service was very slow. The staff were all charming despite being forgetful.

Offered a clean serviette after I spilled a little water was nice and expected but it never appeared, wrong orders were also delivered at times. They seem to have the chef plating every dish so we waited 35 minutes for three scoops of ice cream. This is a result of the way the kitchen is organized and the general policy of not starting to prepare the next course until the table is cleared from the previous one .They also have significant communication problems so a discussion and pre arrangement the previous night was news to the staff the next day.

Lesedi (Near Johannesburg) 12/2011

A short distance from Johannesburg there is a recreation of several different African tribal villages, Basuto, Xhosa Zulu for example. After a brief video presentation outlining some history of black Africa we were taken on a tour where we were told of village activities, as well as the routines the structures of life in each village, invariably including the bride price in cows, anything from 11 upwards. The tour concluded with a African buffet dinner utilizing old enameled tin plates, in a huge, happily decorated, room, after which there was an opportunity to buy hand beaded artifacts, statues, tie dye materials and other souvenirs. There was a variety of unusual, for us, foods including several variations of maize, some dry and fluffy like powdered white rice, others off the cob. Several salads and a house made corn bread was also available. Crocodile in a sweetish sauce, several varieties of lamb, ox tail, fresh tropical fruit, and a range of cakes. Half the things mentioned on their big boards such as emu, ostrich and African fowl were not available. This was a meal for all comers. There was no limit to anything except for ones appetite. All the main courses would have done well at most restaurants and, being a buffet one can only criticize one’s self for the presentation on the plate. It was regrettable that so many traditional dishes were not available. The evening concluded with music and dancing in an adjacent theatre.
This is another meal which can not be rated compared to restaurant experiences. There were few unusual dishes but what there was was interesting and enjoyable.