At the Chef’s Table

2012-07-27 15:10

The Saxon has snaffled award-winning chef David Higgs. Gayle Edmunds tucks into his seasonal, flavourful creations

A little more than a year ago, Cape Town’s culinary loss was Joburg’s gain.

Eat Out’s 2011 Chef of the Year David Higgs resigned from the restaurant he helped found at Rust en Vrede wine farm and headed for Gauteng.

Higgs revamped the Radisson Blu Gautrain Hotel’s Central One eatery and then he was gone – a week before I finally turned up to taste his food. Very frustrating, though his menu was still in place and well executed, but it wasn’t quite the same.

This time, though, I caught him at the beginning of his tenure at one of Sandton’s most exclusive spots – the Saxon Hotel.

He is still changing the menu to reflect his own cooking character and is about to embark on a grand renovation of the kitchens that will result in a new, fine-dining spot and a more relaxed bistro feel where the current restaurant is.

A friend saw fit to have his birthday at the posh boutique hotel. He booked the coveted Chef’s Table, which is
a cosy space with two walls of windows that overlook the kitchen.

It gives nosy people like me, who like to know what everyone else has ordered, pole position in the kitchen.

From my vantage point, I could see the chef and his staff plating up everything, and it all looked good.

Also, the Chef’s Table gives diners almost unfettered access to the chef, and Higgs is a personable guy who is passionate about food, but more importantly, about getting back to cooking it. And he’s happy to chat about it.

Though not everything on the menu has yet had the Higgs treatment, we stuck to the items that had and enjoyed an all-inclusive foodie experience.

The sommelier decanted our wine into an array of decanters (a different one for each bottle) – one longer than her arm, another coiled up at the bottom like an elegant snake and blooming into a flute at the top.

The waiter was trained at one of Franschhoek’s top eateries and it showed. He not only knew the menu well, he had obviously tasted everything on it and understood the cooking processes included in the descriptions.

The amuse-bouche was a delectable parmesan mousse with cherries. I had the sweetmeat tortellini with mashed potato for starters – more-ish.

The veal was sweet and rich, the mash light and fluffy and the pasta delicate. One of our dining companions tried Higgs’s broccoli creation, which he admitted you had to like broccoli to enjoy.

I disagree, I bet even the world’s biggest broccoli hater would be hard-pressed not to finish it – it captured the much-maligned vegetable’s bright, light green colour, while also showing off its sweet, earthy flavour.

My main course was springbok with polenta and sweetcorn. Sweetcorn is arguably the world’s most boring vegetable, but Higgs’ dish married its bland sweetness and tough texture with the richness

of the springbok and the creaminess of the polenta to create a dish that sparkled with flavour.

I chose it because Higgs said it represented what was in season, an important factor in his cooking and an important global foodie trend. All my reservations were banished with the first bite.

The other members of our party tucked into the fish, one had the lamb and the birthday boy – a fellow chef – had the fillet, which was proclaimed to be, by the eater, perfection.

The fact that nobody among the rowdy six of us said a word for five minutes after the main course arrived is testament enough to the meal’s success.

Pudding was a no-brainer as there was Crêpe Suzette on the menu, a retro dessert that none of us, but one, could resist. The rogue in the party had a riff on another retro pudding – rum and raisin ice cream, and we ordered a chocolate dessert for the table.

While each person’s individual bill probably toted up to between R500 and R700 with wine, it was a unique culinary experience I would happily save up to have again and again.

It wasn’t just that the food was good, it was that the wine was perfectly chosen and poured, that the service was impeccable and knowledgeable and, above all, that the chef had created our dishes to maximise flavour, texture and presentation so as to invite everyone’s five senses to the party.

» Visit www.thesaxon.co.za to book or better still, visit www.davidhiggs.co.za
» Follow me on Twitter @GayleMahala

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