Glorious hilltop dining at The Westcliff

It’s always a wonderful surprise to wake up to the endless views of Johannesburg from a luxurious Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff suite, and the creative food offering is equally surprising.
Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff

Late arrival and early departure on a tight schedule meant little time to fully explore the hilltop property occupied by the Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff, but what a wonderful surprise to wake up to the promised views of the northern suburbs from my luxurious suite.

Dinner and breakfast was served in a restaurant that you could enter via a glass elevator if you really want to make an entrance. Aptly named The View, this destination is all about those legendary vistas that inspired its name. Think purple blooms as far as the eye can see when the jacarandas come to life in spring.

We opted for the three-course menu, resisting temptation when Chef Daniel Payne hoped to spoil us with five. He assured us that the grammage of protein was the same over both options and that the five-course affair simply comprised smaller bites.

Wary of not being able to do justice to all the delicious fare, we happily awaited the start of the feast. Payne immediately set the tone with a flourish of amuse bouche presented in a cloud of flavoured dry ice that, when doused with hot water, emitted an alluring scent. Once that dissipated the big reveal was a sago cracker, made from sago pearls, blanched, coloured with squid ink and dehydrated. “When you put it in oil, it puffs up. It’s so awesome. I get carried away with the smallest things!” he says. The cracker was accompanied by a marinated Mozambican prawn, dill custard, saffron mayo, and yuzu pearls.

Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff

Creative cheffing

How does he accomplish that level of experimentation? “I get a lot of ideas, like you saw with the butter… no-one is doing it like that. I’m so proud of it.” Payne is talking about presentation unlike any I’ve ever seen. The butter looked like an icing sculpture, but in fact was shaved into a shape reminiscent of the tiny flowers it was decorated with. “That was one of the first changes I made when I took over. I sourced the farm, Mooberry Farm, and adopted a cow called Batabele. We get fresh unpasteurised cream on a weekly basis and churn it to make our fresh butter.” Payne stops for a moment, hesitant to share too many secrets.

All the bright ideas are not his alone, he adds. “It’s a collaboration with the team. Every week they have to come up with something that could be used on a dish on the menu. It can be anything. A dip, a puree, just a little something.”

All ingredients are sourced locally except some of the proteins. “We get all proteins in fresh, which is very important. We can’t get fish such as our European or Mauritian sea bass locally, obviously, but I do make sure it is sustainable. As for the microgreens on your plate, we have a farm growing them for us,” he adds.

Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff

On the menu

I chose the European sea bass for my main course. It was delicious, prepared simply with olive oil, salt and pepper, just the way I like it. “Because of how fresh we get it in, I want you to taste the fish as well as the complementary flavours,” says Payne.

The sea bass was served with pureed pears, cucumbers, sea vegetables and mussels. A sauce that graced the centre of the plate was ocean spume made with oysters, and garnished with a little wakame. “The ocean spume is very fresh and clean, not overwhelming,” says Payne. “And the sea vegetables are something special. They don’t necessarily grow in the sea but they are succulents, almost like the cactus family. The samphire are sea asparagus (the longer ones on the plate), then you have your ice leaf, surrounded by ice crystals, which is quite exciting, and salty fingers. They’re very unusual, and nice for people to try. It’s a great experience.”

My globetrotting foodie partner was impressed. “The standard here is high,” he says. He opted for the Angus beef for his main, with pureed morogo (African spinach), red berry gel, compressed beetroot, zucchini and a bone marrow jus to finish it off.

“It’s the French appeal of the food that I really do enjoy, ensuring that you can taste every ingredient in the flavour,” says Payne. “Nothing is overpowering and everything is well balanced. It takes a bit of restraint. I like that approach to French cuisine.”

We just managed dessert, which comprised textures of coconut, strawberry and rice – think coconut rice pudding, coconut jelly and coconut sorbet. The After Eight dessert was a mouthwatering flexible chocolate ganache, apple parfait, minted milk cloud and peppermint chocolate sorbet.

And for something a little different, the Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff encourages guests to visit Pre-View bar, where Payne and restaurant manager Takunda Mposhi have prepared an array of dishes and cocktails to suit the season. Toast the change with a Jacaranda Gin cocktail and start to unwind, slowly.

For more information visit Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff’s website.

By Debbie Hathway

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