Monthly Archives: January 2013

Potatoes, Glorious Potatoes!

I love potatoes. I declared as much on screen when my sister Zizwe & I appeared in the inaugural season of Off The Menu with Ainsley Harriot, on (then) BBC Food. Yes, I confess, my Come Dine With Me SA appearance was not my BBC debut… back in 2004 a younger, more innocent and more effusive me waxed lyrical about my love for potatoes in various forms on Off The Menu. Alas, it was also not the last time I failed to win a cook-off on TV…

So, today, as I struggled through a treacle-slow Monday, I knew the one thing that could help me face the rest of the week was potatoes for dinner.

I’m an emotional eater, and thus an emotional cook. I needed starch, fat, pork. I confess I was daydreaming about my dinner for most of the day. My Twitter co-wifey Julie (we share a love for drool-inducing Common who, in case you didn’t know, loves me back) inspired me to go for potatoes; she tweeted me about the bhajias, chicken and lamb sausage she’d had for lunch and I was disgustingly jealous (not the sort of jealousy you’d expect within such a close-knit and loving family unit).

I remembered a couple of weeks after my Christmas Eve eve brunch (on 23 December, during which I hosted my family for a meal) that I’d forgotten to do my potatoes in duck fat like I’d been planning for a few weeks before. I blame that on the sudden explosion of my oven insulating glass which threw my menu out completely. Consequently I felt it necessary to take advantage of the Woolworths festive food & food gifts sale, and was fortunate enough to find a few tubs of duck fat at their Rivonia Boulevard store.

Then, of course, whenever I need a bit of a treat, there has to be bacon. It didn’t help that earlier in the day I read about the New York restaurant that specialises in bacon desserts (yes – bacon for dessert!). Lovely hot, crispy, salty, lip-smacking bacon… *stares into distance with dazed look on face*

Ok, enough rambling. Time for some cooking. The ingredients:

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(I don’t know if you can tell – I do a great deal of my food shopping at Woolies.) I got two types of potatoes for variety, but ended up preferring the colour, texture and taste of the Nicola Mediterranean potatoes. I opted for the baby onions in the hope that that they’d be sweeter.

So, real quick – I washed and sliced the potatoes, keeping their skins on, and finely sliced the onions. While I was wielding my knife, I had the bacon rendering away in my wok.

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Sinful though it may seem, yes, it is necessary to stick streaky bacon in oil, or the bacon fat doesn’t release its oils (this, after all, is the definition of “rendering”).

Next, I took the crisp bacon out, let the oil and fat cool down somewhat, before tossing in the finely-sliced onion, a generous teasponful of crushed garlic, three finely-chopped anchovy fillets (you can leave these out if you have anchovy issues), and a generous dose of freeze-dried tarragon (I forgot to buy fresh herbs):

Oh wait, I don’t have photos of that. Understandably so, as frying onions are somewhat dull. Moving on…

Next I threw in a large dollop of the duck fat, and in went the sliced potatoes, of which I do have a photo:

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Can I just talk about the sound of potatoes frying in fat? Food frying in vegetable oil has a bit of a high-pitched whine to it… potatoes frying in a mix of sunflower oil, bacon fat and duck fat has this deep, almost resonant gurgle to it… the fat foams up about the vegetables in a sort of bubbly foam… it’s a beautiful thing.

Anyway, like I was saying, fry the potatoes in the fat. Season them – I used black lava salt almost on a whim, but it turned out to be a spark of brilliance when it came to the tasting; the black lava salt manifested as tiny crystals of savory goodness on my tongue. Back to the cooking – turn the heat down a bit, as that will help prevent the onions, tarragon, anchovies and garlic from burning. Turn the potatoes in the pan (or wok) frequently.

You’ll tell that the potatoes are ready when the translucence goes right the way to the centre of the potatoes. Take them off the heat, drain, and crumble over the crispy bacon reserved from the bacon fat rendering right at the beginning.

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I needed even more pork (hey, it was a long day) so I served it with some pork bangers (also on special – buy two get R25 off! – I can’t resist a deal!), mayo, green chilli elixir, and absolutely no vegetables.

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Bon appétit mes amis 🙂

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The Maslow – Sandton

I love luxury. I’m a sucker for it. I have tastes beyond my means, but my relative lack of means doesn’t prevent me from seeking the finer things in life.

It’s my desire for all things glamorous that led me to accept a friend’s invitation to visit the newest hotel in JohannesburgThe Maslow Hotel in Sandton (a rather costly and lengthy refurbishment of what was formerly The Grayston hotel in the same location), a few days before it’s official opening on Monday.

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First, some background. Those of you who survived a semester of Economics 101 will recognise the hotel name as a reference to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a theory which I’m personally convinced is a descendant of the Elizabethan Chain of Being (thanks High School English teacher), but I digress. The point is, the name implies that the hotel is at the apex of away-from-home desirability.

That last sentence doesn’t really make that much sense, but let’s soldier on.

Immediately after I drove into the hotel grounds and parked, a very helpful porter came up to me and welcomed me to the hotel. Alas I was not fortunate enough to be checking in to the hotel for a stay so he didn’t have any bags to carry for me, but he accompanied me into the lobby with some friendly and light banter, which immediately made me feel attended to.

The Lacuna Bar

We started off at the Lacuna bar, and made a point to order as many items on the menu as possible. After all, we had a rather important role of test driving the bar before it was open to the public. (A difficult job, but someone’s got to do it!)

Alas the signature cocktails weren’t available just yet (delicious as they sounded), so I started off with the Strawberry Ginger mojito. Great idea, but I hope as the bar staff settle into their roles, they will begin to add a touch more ginger to the drink. Some fresh ginger garnish would also go down a treat.

I think this may be an appropriate time to explain why I don’t have a photo accompanying the above review of my tipple. Confession time: I’m a novice blogger. The company was so good, and at the time I was settling down for my first drink I had no idea I’d be blogging this (I was inspired as the night went on), and so neglected to take photos. Forgive me. I blog and learn.

On to the next. For my next drink I free-styled. As the birds chirped away in the garden (Yes, birds! chirping! In the heart of Sandton!), I walked up to the bar and asked the fantastic Elvis to add some vodka to my cucumber & mint collins (which appears as a virgin drink on the menu).

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Genius!!! If I say so myself. That should be added to the proper menu – everyone knows that cucumber and vodka go devilishly well together.

The Lacuna Bistro

This is where it got really, really good. So I managed to find a photo of the chef, Raynor, online (gotta love the internets):

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We were served at dinner by the amazing Samone. I can’t say enough good things about her – she was attentive (but not overbearing), made amazing recommendations for meals, and overall was an absolute delight. (Somebody give her an employee award and put her in some sort of employee development programme!)

I started off with the crab fritters. I cannot stop thinking about the crab fritters. I dream about the crab fritters. A crisp, golden crust with a delicate, soft crab interior which tasted just like the sea (which is the biggest compliment I can give for seafood). This just might be what a crabby patty tastes like. The presentation was amazing… but you’ll have to take my word for it as I gobbled the fritters down (and those of one of my dinner companions too) before I could take a photo. They were served with an artful caesar salad with possibly the best caesar dressing I’ve tasted in a Johannesburg restaurant (although I dare say my home-made dressing still tastes fresher). The only disappointment was the lack of croutons on the caesar salad, which would have added that extra zing to the dish.

I must also mention the cream of cauliflower soup which Samone advised one of my dinner companions was a very good choice. When the chef Raynor came to our table (the first time – he came twice; we felt very well attended to!) I interrogated the poor man about his method, but I couldn’t help it – it was unbelievably creamy and flavourful. Cauliflower has never tasted so good.

An honourable mention too to the paella starter. It was absolutely delicious. The person at my table who ordered the paella was understandably reluctant to share it, but it’s one of those dishes which, the moment you taste it, lights up your eyes and makes you almost purr in delight. It’s a generously-portioned starter, though, so if you have limited tummy capacity, you may want to order this as a main.

For my main course I had the Maslow signature burger, because I love me a good burger. Sigh. I must confess that I was disappointed. I ordered my burger medium-well but it came well done. For me, the magic of a burger is where you bite into it and it tastes like a delicious steak… only minced. There was nothing outstanding about the burger. I don’t know what would make it better – a better cut of meat (preferably one with a bit more marbling to ensure the burger is juicy)? A signature sauce on the burger to set it apart from every other burger out there? I’m not sure what can be done to improve it, but I think the chef needs to work on this to ensure that a meal that bears the title of the bistro’s “signature” is worth of it.

After the delicious starter and the main (including tasting everyone else’s mains, of which the porcini mushroom and home-smoked venison risotto was an absolute stand-out), I didn’t have space for dessert. One of my dinner companions always has space for chocolate, though, and so ordered the XXL something-or-other chocolate dessert (apologies for the misnomer; it tasted good but all I remember of the name is the “XXL” bit).

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That XXL chocolate dessert thingy was so damn good, we only remembered to take photos when it was mostly finished. It was a chocolate sponge (possibly with chocolate ganache and chocolate mousse filling; I may have to go back and order it myself to be sure – oh the burden) on a white chocolate “plate” with that zebra-chocolate garnish you see in the photo above. It was, quite simply, magnificent.

If I had to do the meal all over again, I’d probably have the cream of cauliflower soup for a starter, the paella starter as a main, run around the block so i could have the XXL chocolate dessert to finish, and order some crab fritter starters to take home for a late-night snack.

The Accommodations

I must point out at the outset that I didn’t opt for the proffered tour of the hotel which means the only room I saw was possibly the standard hotel room in which my friends were staying. Queen-sized bed, flat-screen tv, Nespresso machine, and a decadent shower visible from the bedroom though a glass partition, the room made clever use of space despite the fact that the designers must have been constrained by the layout of the hotel that previously stood on the site. The room also had a balcony overlooking the garden, allowing for a private outdoor space which would be a perfect place to enjoy a glass of wine as the sun sets.

In Summary…

Would I go back to The Maslow? Absolutely. Would I recommend it to friends looking for a hotel in the Sandton area? Most definitely. Is it perfect? No, not yet. But it’s a new hotel, and I was there for a sneak peak. It can only get better, and I should be so lucky to be present to witness its flourishing.

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