Flight to Jozi for high-end cuisine, not only for humans
Her name was Hazel and she was a real cutie. A bit doddery on her old legs, but with eyes that saw sweetly into your soul and a demeanour that brought out the generosity in you. I bought her lunch.
Meeting Hazel was a highlight of a trip to and from Joburg to experience first class in-flight service that morphed into my first ever stay in a dog-friendly hotel. Hazel is a pooch. She is the dog-in-residence at the Home Suites Hotel in Rosebank, one of several inns that are in the same stable as Lift Airline, who invited me to fly their King Shaka (Durban) to Joburg route when it transpired that their premium class fare is not available on my local route.
Dogs, it turns out, are also welcome on board Lift flights, but there are rules. Only small dogs are allowed and you have to buy them a seat. They spend their flight in a box under said window seat, after routine hygiene rules have been met. I did not spot any pooches on the flights, but that they are so hidden away probably explains that.
I was surprised to encounter dear Hazel at reception, sleeping under the desk, on my arrival at Home Suites Rosebank. I’d not known about the doggie habit until that moment. She opened her eyes, we made eye contact, and by lunch time the next day I was so besotted that I bought the old dear lunch. I was equally surprised by the warmth and charm of the hotel staff, every one of them; a rare change from the customary remoteness of hotel staff.
There’s an entire doggie menu at the hotel’s little eatery, the prices ranging from R45 for a portion of “Lil’ Nibbles” (apples, scrambled eggs, chicken or biltong) to R145 for a “Hazel Sunday roast”. I took the hint. Hazel would have her choice of roast beef or chicken with mashed potato, carrots and peas, “all in a rich gravy”. I popped back to reception to sound her out. Everything about her demeanour screamed “chicken!”, so bird it would be.
The chefs took their task very seriously, whipping up Hazel’s lunch as if she were a human customer, and plating it up with aplomb. There was even personal table-side (okay, floor-side) presentation.
There had been other choices. I was torn between the Doggie Bowl (cubed lamb, rice, butternut, seasonal veggies, R115) and the Happy Happy Meal (cooked liver, mixed veggies, quinoa or brown rice, R105), but Hazel did not seem like a quinoa or brown rice kind of gal, and lamb might have been a tad heavy for lunch. There was even a Doggie Dessert of “pupsicles” (frozen yoghurt ice pops, R60) or “puppuccino” (vanilla dog-friendly ice cream”. There was no onion in anything, obviously.
The humans had some decent food too. My old mate Darryl Accone joined me there for lunch and a good old natter. Butter chicken skewers with roti and sambals; creamy prawn and squid pot with paprika cream, followed by a succulent and crispy half-deboned chicken and beef fillet with a mushroom sauce. Good grub, though we were both eyeing Hazel’s roast dinner with interest. And your dog is welcome to join you for lunch, but check first whether there are Ts and Cs.
The previous night I’d been to Clico Boutique Hotel, in Rosebank, where seasoned Jozi chef Dario de Angeli offers an extraordinary variety of fare, from pizzas at the poolside to a fancy tasting menu full of delicious delights. You can also take a middle route, choosing from the regular starters and mains menus. Starters such as kudu carpaccio, Vietnamese prawns or chicken chipotle and black rice; mains from tandoori chicken or pork belly to duck breast with five-spice jus.
I did not experience the pizzas from their “400 Degrees at Clico” option, but if the weather had played ball a few hours at the poolside with a “The Queen/La Regina” (portobellini mushrooms and Italian ham) or a porchetta (spicy pork loin and shoulder, chilli honey, fennel, salsa verde) sounded like heaven. Let’s store that for a summer visit.
The Vietnamese prawns starter did in fact come out as the first course of the tasting menu. This vibrant concoction included coconut milk, sesame, cucumber, ginger and chilli, with lime, coriander and garlic chips. With so many flavours, things could fall apart, but the centre held perfectly.
Okonomiyaki, which followed, was a Japanese pancake, a sweetish dish of honey-glazed pork with shrimp (again), scallions, cabbage, dashi, bonito custard and sesame (again). Chef Dario’s preferred flavours were crystallising.
The tandoori chicken that followed was creamy, with subtle tandoori spicing. There was a mango and mint salsa, cucumber salad for freshness, coconut somewhere, and onion vinegar preserve.
Luckily, portions were not too extravagant, so there was room for the beef fillet with yeasted cauliflower, fennel, peas, asparagus, truffle potato and a green onion and apple slaw. Again, the chef’s penchant for brightness and freshness on the plate and on the palate was clear.
The meal ended with a coconut and smoked pineapple panna cotta. There was a liquorice syrup, cashew butter and a caramel tuile.
The following night, I finally got into Wandile Mabasa’s talked-about Les Creatifs restaurant in Bryanston, third time lucky, but I’ll tell you all about that next week. In the meantime, there was the flight back to Durban (more strictly, Ballito) and the chance to use an airport Slow Lounge for a second time. The King Shaka International incarnation is impressive but the OR Tambo lounge is huge, more like a series of lounges and food stations and/or bars in each. If this was how the other half lived (I normally fly economy, like most of you), I was liking it. One could become accustomed, let’s say.
The onboard food that was the purpose of the flights? This was pretty and pleasant food and a cut above your usual in-flight meal, a diversion from the passing terrain way down there. It’s served in a three-cavity oblong platter with a starter to the left, main in the middle and a pair of chocolate truffles (dark brownie, white cappuccino) to the right. The little salad of tiny cubes of honeydew melon salad with a red onion pickle, whipped feta, mint and pecan nuts was remarkably fresh for on-board food. The main event was a circular pap tart made with cream cheese and herbs, topped with pulled lamb. The menu is the work of MasterChef SA winner Shawn Godfrey.
A cabin crew member took on the role of the chef-at-the-pass, arranging the food and garnishing it, before presenting it at your seat. His little flourishes helped the flight pass by.
I wondered if there was a doggie menu but forgot to ask. There was an empty seat next to me. I glanced under it, just in case. But I’d resisted the temptation to take Hazel home with me so she was presumably still at her perch below the reception desk back in Rosebank. DM