by Matthew Sterne
on January 7, 2011
“The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why and Where phases. For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question ‘How can we eat?’ the second by the question ‘Why do we eat?’ and the third by the question ‘Where shall we have dinner?’” – Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
A miraculous kiss of life for the Grande Dame of South African Hotels. First the Mount Nelson gave us the Planet Bar. Now welcome the Planet Restaurant in all its glory. Even Tatler magazine would be proud of this debutante.
Without doubt the most spectacular dining room in South Africa, the Planet Restaurant would give New York’s finest a run for their money. Only the shell and glorious original features of the erstwhile Colony Restaurant remain – the lofty, vaulted ceilings, arches and grooved columns will certainly leave you feeling like Lord Nelson himself (with limbs intact Inshallah). In fact, Lord Nelson could have made good use of the hand-bag rest that was brought to our table as we sat down – not a midget’s foot stall as I initially suspected. A classy touch.
Something dramatic was required to breathe modern and sophisticated new life into the Mount Nelson. This is it. Over R8million was spent refurbishing the restaurant. As the name suggests, there is a rather cosmic theme. The carpet was printed from a genuine image of the galaxy while the ceiling lights twinkle in an ethereal galaxy above. I love the fact that they’ve gone for a bit a theme – brave indeed among today’s homogenised offerings. And although a couple of things would not be out of place in Planet Hollywood, overall they’ve pulled it off with suave aplomb. They also have the most comfortable chairs in city.
Two tasting menus are available as well as daily chef’s recommendations. Commendably, there’s a “Vegan Journey” and a regular “Journey” menu both charged at R380 per person for a minimum of two people – six courses each. A very reasonable price compared to the other tasting menus around. Each wine recommendation for the tasting menu is priced separately so you can dip in and out of the pairing at your leisure. The wines are chosen by sommelier Carl Hubbel who bears an uncanny resemblance to Heston Blumenthal. There’s also an extensive a la carte menu. I’ve eaten here twice now – the first time I had the journey menu and latterly the a la carte.
Things get under way with a complimentary glass of Genevieve MCC and a few canapés – a very nice touch indeed and befitting of the occasion destination (so there’s no need to have a pre-prandial aperitif in the Planet Bar where a Martini will set you back R70).
By far my favourite thing on the menu is the slow cooked free range egg with local cured ham, mature gouda and a pinotage reduction. The preparation is all highly scientific and none too riveting, but basically the egg cooks for thirty-five minutes so that yolk and white cook to the same silky smooth consistency. Very Italian. Very delicious. The ‘Tomato Variation’ with a tomato jelly, cloud, sorbet and basil was deftly presented and rather different, but probably not something I’d order again. Another recommendation is the duck and quail terrine with foie gras, date purée and green bean salad – rich and delicious.
The wine list is extensive with a good selection of wines by the glass. It’s categorised by style of wine, such as ‘rich and concentrated reds’. Look out for ‘The Great Reserve Red Wines’ – an impressive selection of well aged South African favourites. We splashed out on a bottle of 1999 Mont Du Toit – a heady blend of Cab Sav, Merlot and Shiraz and definitely worth the R450. It really was exceptional and was the ideal accompaniment to the waiter’s recommendation – the flame grilled beef fillet with sautéed exotic mushrooms, potato foam and mini fondants. The meat was superb, but if I’m going to be critical, it was lacking in flavour for R170. The foam should have been a lot more earthy and the flavour of the mushrooms far more intense.
The cheese board was locally sourced and delicious if a little limited with only five cheeses to choose from. Pick of the puds was the Whiter Shades of Pale. A sort of deconstructed Ile Flottante and indeed out of this world.
The Planet Restaurant is not cheap, certain things are great value, others are expensive – the wine list is certainly quite pricey (the cheapest bottle of Sauvignon Blanc is R215), but the specials and journey menus are good value and there’s also a decent price range (R65 – R165 for starters and R95 – R295 for mains) – so if you need to be frugal, you can be – but no abalone, crayfish and asparagus served with a crayfish velouté and smoked corn vinaigrette for you! I’ve no doubt the Planet Restaurant will go from strength to strength and take its place among South Africa’s elite. It’s perfect for a special event, so get thee there at warp speed…