Places that are fantastically bizarre and give in to the eccentricities of their creators are always top destinations during my travels. The Third Man Museum in Vienna dedicated to memorabilia from a 1940s black and white film and La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda’s house in Valparaiso, Chile filled with oddities from the poet’s life are two examples of unusual places that I adore. I stumbled across The Orient Hotel because of the reputation of the onsite restaurant, the Mosaic, and from the website I knew this hotel would be delightfully strange in the best possible way. Whilst I could have eaten dinner and driven home, I decided to spend the night. Luckily, my overnight stay could not have been timed any more perfectly. I had been without water for nearly 60 hours and at that point I was looking forward to a hot shower more than a decadent meal.
After my much needed shower, I wandered the grounds marveling at the juxtaposition of a hotel that resembles a moorish castle and has an award winning restaurant being located on a veld with game and walking trails; I saw giraffes and zebras. I stayed in the Katmandu Suite which was stuffed full of collected objects from across Asia. All the rooms are named after cities from Uzebekistan to India and while not overly plush, are perfectly comfortable. The owners are avid art collectors and have a small museum on the property dedicated to Tienie Pritchard, a South African sculpture who creates primarily female nude sculptures. This is the kind of place that reflects the personalities and preferences of the owners. It was gloriously strange and I literally could not stop smiling as every turn seemed to bring a new oddity.
Whilst the hotel was amazing, the reason for my visit was because I had a reservation at the Mosaic restaurant which was named one of the top ten restaurants in South Africa at the 2014 Eat Out Restaurant Awards. I am slowly making my way through the top ten and was eager to try the Mosaic because the chef had also been named the best Chef in South Africa. Chef Chantel comes to each table at the beginning of dinner to explain the menu options and greet diners. I elected to try the Discovery Degustation – a four course tasting menu with a wine pairing. The meal starts with a trolley of bread being rolled to the table so you can select your own bread basket. I often fill up on bread and tried to restrain myself, but the anchovy butter was incredible and I slathered it on every bit of bread. The first course was the aptly named Millonaire’s Nest Egg which came on a plate that resembled a birds nest and had three poached quail eggs with a truffle infused sauce. The second course had shellfish, but the kitchen graciously modified the dish to include vegetarian tortellini with a rooibos consume that was “cooked” at the table. However the star dish was the main, a perfectly cooked duck breast with a duck confit pie, and rich scoop of foie gras all artfully plated. I ended the meal with a cheese platter. The food was creative, perfectly executed, and dishes from the kitchen were nicely paced so despite the quantity, I didn’t feel too full. Thankfully, I only had to waddle a short distance back to my room.
The Orient Hotel is located on the Francolin Conservancy about 45 minutes from my house in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg. While I have grown quite comfortable driving around Johannesburg, I have made very few sojourns outside of the city. And, as I passed multiple carjacking hotspots signs in a seemingly remote area, I began to question my decision. If you follow the directions from Johannesburg on the website, note that whilst very straightforward the road is poorly paved and I would recommend not driving it at night, especially after a multiple course dinner with a wine pairing. Plan on spending the night. Plus, if you spend the night you get an additional meal from the restaurant – an incredible breakfast with probably the best oatmeal and poached egg I have ever had. For any foodies, this is definitely a restaurant to try while you are in South Africa.