By BRUCE DENNILL
oneNineone / Hyatt Regency /Rosebank, Johannesburg
Fine dining often puts more emphasis on the “fine” than the “dining”, which means that the sort of restaurant guest who only goes to an eatery at the fancier end of the scale on special occasions – birthdays, anniversaries, promotions and so on – generally leaves knowing they’ve enjoyed something of high quality, but feeling slightly dissatisfied about the whole experience, their wallets considerably lighter than when they entered but their spirits not necessarily so.
The oneNINEone restaurant at the Hyatt Regency in Rosebank, overhauled as part of a R80 million refurbishment of the hotel, still has that new restaurant smell, pleasantly countered by the odours emanating fom the open-plan kitchen at its centre. It’s crisply decorated, with clean lines and enormously high ceilings, plus a private dining room sealed off behind glass; still with visual access to the chefs as they work.
Elegant decor is not necessarily a mark of a quality venue however, and it’s in the personality provided by Chef Shaniel Dinna that oneNINEone separates itself from the pack to some degree. He’s a Pretoria lad with a relaxed mien, and his approach to all the high-falutin’ culinary concepts on his menus is refreshing.
Elaborating on one of the embellishments to a dish presented at a recent press lunch, he smiled as he admitted that he was using only the delicate outer leaves of some fresh brussel sprouts because, “…nobody likes the whole thing; it tastes terrible”. It’s the sort of statement you might here in your neighbourhood pizzeria, where the proprietor is an elderly grandfather sort who’s known you since you were spilling creme soda all over his freshly scrubbed floor every Saturday morning. But there, while the food may have been made with love, it was made with relatively rudimentary tools using good, solid ingredients that were made into good, solid servings.
At oneNineone, the chefs craft each dish – and you don’t have to believe the venue’s marketing bumf on that score, as you can watch Dinna – good surname for someone in his position, innit? – and his colleagues at work as you sip a glass of wine from the restaurant’s extensive cellar. It seems unfeasible, the amount of effort that goes into a single plating. The chefs stop just short of getting out set squares and colour charts as they line up each portion alongside the next before serving them all to a particular table and again, the atmosphere speaks more of enjoyment and passion than enforced discipline (though perhaps it’s a combination of the two, which is what makes it sustainable).
The results of these labours, when they arrive in front of you at your table, give you that pleasingly pampered feeling needed to make any “event” meal a success, and the flavours are the equal of the presentation, which helps to take the sting out of the prices (R175 – R210 or so for main; not the highest numbers for this sort of quality, but still a little scary for the budget-conscious). And the sense of trying out something exciting is can be repeated, thanks to the refreshing of the menus once a quarter.