The Balata Restaurant in the Fairway Hotel is reputed to offer the best cuisine that the Johannesburg hospitality industry has to offer. Marjorie Dean finds out if its reputation meets her discerning expectation.
Winter evenings in Johannesburg don’t really tempt one to go out, especially with the ongoing risk of power cuts. However, Tourism Tattler’s invitation to take my husband out for dinner at the Balata Restaurant, in the Fairway Hotel on the Randpark Golf Course was irresistible.
The Fairway Hotel, part of the Guvon Hotels & Spas group, was built just before the Soccer World Cup in 2010. The Brazilian team were among the first to enjoy the many amenities offered by this excellent addition to the Randburg neighbourhood. The hotel is an attractive modern design, light and airy in summer, yet cosy and welcoming in winter. Its tucked away location, close to main roads and the freeway, but far enough away to be untroubled by traffic noise and pollution, is very appealing in a city where most hotels offer views of nothing but other buildings. Guests at The Fairway wake up to views of the fairways, greens and mature trees of the beautiful golf course.
We arrived on a frosty Friday evening, found parking easily in the large secure car park, and were greeted by the courteous reception staff, who guided us to the Verve Bar, en route to the Baleta. Verve was busy, warm and packed full of fun and laughter from a slightly older crowd. This was Happy Hour, Fairway style. A cosy fire, comfy chairs, great snacks, cheerful but unobtrusive music and local people relaxing and enjoying the end of the work week.
We were escorted through to our table for two in the remarkably quiet restaurant, immaculately laid, and with comfortable upholstered chairs. At this point I have to confess that we already know the Baleta well. It’s a favourite place to celebrate family occasions and entertain friends to the spectacular Sunday buffet lunch. At R185 per person, that’s amazing value for money, with quality as well as quantity of food. Resident chef Jean-Pierre Siegenhalter is a genius, and he and his young team turn out a veritable banquet every Sunday to suit all tastes. But if you want to partake, you have to book early. The good folk of Randburg have already discovered this venue with enthusiasm, and it’s a full house every Sunday!
However we had not been to Baleta for dinner, and the à la carte menu was a delight. There were so many interesting items listed, including specials for that week, that it was quite difficult to choose. The wine list was also excellent, offering a choice of excellent whites, reds, rosés and sparkling to suit all tastes. Having chosen our main courses we settled for glasses (huge!) of Douglas Green Chenin Blanc/ Sauvignon. It was a crisp and fresh accompaniment to a winter menu.
For starters I chose a Thai Prawn and Papaya salad, while Colin had a Sweetcorn Soup. Both were delicious, the prawn and papaya salad had a subtle blend of light spices, while the soup was liberally flavoured with succulent shredded chicken.
Our main courses were the justly celebrated Belly Pork – succulent and nicely garnished with a medley of caramelised apple, celery and potato with apple jus, so well presented that all the different flavours could be tasted and blended into a delicious sauce; and a superb piece of seared salmon, cooked to perfection, served with a blend of vegetables vichysoisse. Truly scrumptious winter food, but light on the palate and the digestion.
After this our friendly waiter Fransco, suggested we try the winter puds. Again there was a mouthwatering selection, including old favourites such as malva pudding (always excellent here), toffee pudding and ginger biscuit cheesecake, as well as a superb cheeseboard, but we settled for banoffee tart, which was delicious.
The always dapper and charming restaurant manager, Yves Forget (pronounced for jay in the French manner as he hails from the famous city of Chartres in France), came over to chat. He runs a smooth-as-silk operation here, backed up by a well trained team. It’s a justly popular restaurant where you get consistently top quality food, wine and service, in the European style, with no pretensions.
The Fairway also has excellent conference facilities, a spa and with its own pretty chapel, has become a popular choice for stylish weddings. In summer, the patio and verandah opening onto views of the golf course, offer a delightful light lunch menu. And there is nowhere better for a great business breakfast.
The Fairway Hotel also hosts the Guvon Academy – an accredited training provider for Tourism, Events and Hospitality certification. No wonder then that the Fairway Hotel has developed from an elegant newcomer to a firm local favourite, and the Baleta matches the hotel’s popularity, where you know you will get a special experience. It offers the best of South African hospitality, and that is a very high standard indeed. We’ll be back!
For more information visit www.thefairway.co.za/balata