The Michelangelo Towers in Sandton, Johannesburg, has relaunched its restaurant. It is now called Parc Fermé, after the secure parking area at Grand Prixs where great sports machines are readied for the race. Ironically, the only vehicles parked on the almost deserted street when I visited one night recently were two police cars and an ambulance.
The restaurant boasts a new chef, Atma Mahadea, from Mauritius, a new cocktail bar menu, a sushi station and glittery vinyl banquettes. The website calls the new decor “the very essence of classic meets contemporary”.
That may be so, but over my table there was a slight strobe effect. Merely a malfunctioning light, I thought, perhaps they have not solved all the problems yet. There is also a large section in which smokers can loll around on couches.
The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and supper and also does room service for the Towers, which explains why the menu is extensive.
Mahadea (34) is from Vacoas in central Mauritius and has cooked his way around South Africa, including at the Pearl Valley Golf Estates near Paarl and Emperors Palace Hotel Casino in Kempton Park, Johannesburg. He also did a stint on a cruise ship, which is something he does not remember with fondness.
He says Mauritian food “is like Indian food, but we make it in our own way. Our food is more yellow.”
Other than the curries — vegetable (R90), prawn (R150) or chicken (R130) — you would be hard-pressed to label the menu as Mauritian.
Rather than sticking to this or any other type of cuisine, Mahadea includes something for everyone.
There is lobster thermidor (R250), duck breast with noodles (R130), penne with bacon (R75) and venison carpaccio with a little pile of ratatouille and shavings of parmesan (R60). In fact, Mahadea says he will cook you whatever you want.
His curries are served with papadums, yoghurt, cucumber and, Mrs Ball’s will be pleased to hear, a little of her chutney. He does not combine his own curry powder, but uses the stuff that comes from their supplier.
Showing me around the kitchen, Mahadea pulled a steel tub out of the fridge holding his “Creole spice”. It had tomato paste and fresh tomato, chopped onion, chilli, dhania, ginger, soya sauce and a lot of lemon juice. A whole baby panga (red snapper) is basted in the sauce, then wrapped in a banana leaf and baked (R130).
Mahadea is big on garnishes; in the corner of the kitchen a cook was spinning sugar over a wooden pole before scrunching it into balls for the chocolate fondant. There was also a tray of parmesan tuiles for the beef fillet and a bowl of fried capers for a good salad with baby tomatoes, steamed broccoli, lettuce and roasted peppers (R65).
He had made a tray of amuse-bouches for the evening. They were in big shot glasses with spicy yellow dhal and a miniature crostini with chopped tomato, onion and a shaving of parmesan balanced on top of each glass.
Mahadea makes an excellent, finely textured peri-peri sauce with white wine, chilli, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic. This alone is worth the visit.
By Matthew Burbidge for Mail & Guardian online