With summer has come longer days, hotter sun and better reasons to drive off into the countryside for leisurely lunches. Although country restaurants in Gauteng are a-dime-a-dozen, I feel that top class spots, serving fine cuisine, are few and far between. I had eaten at Roots numerous times, and it was high time to go and get reacquainted with this spectacular place.
Sprawling sedately alongside a large lake, Roots sits at the epicentre of Forum Homini, a boutique hotel which embraces the remarkable heritage of the Cradle of Humankind. A subtle structure with grassed rooftops, Forum Homini blends into its natural surroundings. Warm-hued woods pick out gorgeous vistas across the lake, and vast glass doors circulate light and veld-scented breeze. Roots exudes understated chic; luxurious materials, simple cutlery and fine-cut glassware lend to the feel of country oasis. Happily seated at one of the prime tables on the wooden deck, overlooking the glittering lake, we ordered G & T’s and got down to the menu.
Roots offers a uniform tasting menu which changes daily, depending on seasonality and ingredients. They are very accommodating of dietary requirements and preferences, which will be noted when you book. Sunday lunch is generally 6 courses. The restaurant boasts a well-stocked cellar and there is the option of having “wine teasers” with your meal. This is really worthwhile, giving one the chance to have a specially selected wine with each course.
We started off with roast pear and chestnut soup, prawn toast, orange puree and cauliflower. It was cleverly presented, with all the components beautifully arranged in a large bowl, the soup poured over these at the table. The dish was paired with a Weltevrede “Vanilla” Chardonnay, 2011. I was quite taken with this wine – it had a rich, vanilla taste which complemented the fruity undertones of the soup. The second course was roast monkfish and octopus, served with pea and mint, grilled cucumber, braised fennel, broad beans, liquorice and lime confit. This was paired with a Bouchard Finlayson Blanc de Mer 2011 and was a light and appetising course.
One of my favourite dishes was up next: A medley of quail, crayfish and pork belly with squid-ink jellies, verjus and roast parsnip, served in a smoked tomato and prawn broth. The gamey-salty quail, sweet, tender crayfish and soft, buttery pork belly made for a luxurious combination. The dish was gorgeous, a tantalising tease for the senses. The accompaniments brought the individual elements of the dish together. Squid-ink jellies were a particular touch of genius – black cubes adding colour and texture, their unique flavour serving to offset the richness of the other components. With the quail we enjoyed a Thunderchild Red Blend, 2008. Many probably haven’t heard of it – a well-made wine with a good cause. Originating from the Robertson region, Thunderchild is the product of a community project established to raise funds for a local orphanage. These orphans are the “Thunderchildren”, many of whom come from stormy backgrounds.
The ultimate was the meat course: Duo of springbok with red cabbage puree, capers and anchovy, parsley potato and mushroom mille-feuille and sauce charcuterie. This dish was exquisite in every way, beautifully presented and utterly mouth-watering. The springbok was perfectly pink and juicy, with the tastiest crust of capers and anchovy. Vegetable components were prepared with skill, the flavour balance wonderful. Topping off this succulence was a heavenly sauce – rich, meaty and with a real depth of flavour. This is game at its best, a brilliant combination.
The main course was proceeded by a tasting of goats cheese, served on brioche rounds with salted caramel, grapes and rose. Salted caramel is high-fashion food at the moment, and it was interesting to taste it with cheese. I found the combination a bit sweet but my fellow diner thought it was delicious. The cheese was expertly paired with a De Krans Cape Ruby Port, the sweetness of the port balancing out the caramel and adding another dimension to the dish. Desert was a Roots Chocolate Plate consisting of chocolate delice, white chocolate sorbet, mint, passion fruit, coffee, pomegranate and brandy snaps. Once again, the presentation was immaculate and the dish a success, the brandy snaps a welcome textural contrast from the softer chocolate components.
The service at Roots was generally good. Staff were attentive and accommodating, the wine stewards particularly interesting and knowledgeable. I was a bit disappointed that some of the dishes were not explained to us as they were served – always preferable when there are several, artful components to any given course.
There are few things more pleasant than enjoying a good meal, delicious wine and great company. Add to this fantastic, hot weather and a vista of raw, African veld. One can almost see the heat swirling outside, yet Roots is cool, comfortable and inviting. This is a most sublime environment in which to savour some wonders of country cuisine just outside Johannesburg.
2 aperitifs, 2 tasting menus, 2 wine teasers, 2 glasses of wine and 1 espresso came to R 1150.00 including tip.
You can contact Roots on +27 (0)11 668 7000.
This review was sent to the restaurant on 28th November 2012.