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Chef Wayne Walkinshaw presents plated perfection at Valley Lodge & Spa #DineJoziStyle #TravelJoziStyle

Chef Wayne Walkinshaw presents plated perfection at Valley Lodge & Spa #DineJoziStyle #TravelJoziStyle

Chef Wayne Walkinshaw presents plated perfection at Valley Lodge & Spa.

Valley Lodge & Spa is a jewel in the Magaliesburg that is a deserving travel destination for any discerning traveler.

Unfortunately, I found their dining options unambitious. The food has always been good, but for Valley Lodge & Spa to become a foodie destination of note, they would need to upscale their country buffet with some serious foodie cachet to reflect their cosmopolitan country ambiance,
I returned to Valley Lodge & Spa a second time after hearing talk that their newly appointed Executive Chef, Wayne Walkinshaw, was attracting a new genre of customers; specifically foodies. I recall enthusing (on my radio show) about how sublimely balanced his Lemon Butter Calamari was as it was a harmonious balance of astringency and luxuriance, but I think I was more amazed at how they managed to keep it so succulent and tender on a bain-marie. There was an obvious elevation but it lacked the X-factor in terms of foodie fabulosity.

Chef Wayne has subsequently introduced a plated menu that I was compelled to review.

Could the proverbial country buffet at Valley Lodge & Spa really become a plated gastronomic treat?

Menu
~ Amuse Bouche of Parmesan Choux Pastry with Salmon, Goats Cheese & Beetroot Carpaccio
~ Rooibos & Citrus Smoked Springbok Loin with Charred Figs, Arugula & Deep-fried Feta
~ Prawn Tempura & Waldorf Salad with Caramelized Onion
~ Champagne Sorbet
~ Duck Leg Confit, Roasted Cauliflower, Black Garlic Puree & Whisky Marmalade Sauce
~ Beef Fillet Mignon & Roast Oxtail, Forest Mushrooms, Roasted Garlic, Truffle Oil
~ Baked Bar One Cheese Cake with Artisanal Ice-Cream & Amaretto Creme Anglaise
~ Friandise: Carrot Cakes, Turkish Delights & Chocolate Bon Bons

All meals were paired with wine.

~ Amuse Bouche of Parmesan Choux Pastry with Salmon, Goats Cheese & Beetroot Carpaccio

Our eight course menu began with a Parmesan Choux Puff Amuse Bouche which was a tasty teaser. It was the lightest pastry containing the winning combination of salmon and avocado juxtaposed against the saltiness of the goats cheese and the sweetness of the beetroot carpaccio.
Other guests at our table thought that they would have preferred a puff pastry for added textural contrast, but I was more than satisfied that the dish delivered exactly what the menu intended. I think think Chef Wayne was highlighting flavours over textures so you had the softness of the cheese, avocado, and salmon, cushioned in a little choux pastry.

~ Rooibos & Citrus Smoked Springbok Loin with Charred Figs, Arugula & Deep-fried Feta

I would have expected the smoked Springbok to be my favourite dish, and it was in that moment of time, but there were still another six courses to follow.
Nonetheless, I loved the gaminess of the springbok loin which was delicately smoked with rooibos and citrus paired with the bitterness of the arugula and the sweetness of the figs, especially because the flavours were true to their natural form.
The deep-fried feta cheese was a novel treat because they resembled croutons, and had the taste and texture of a crouton, albeit with a cheesy centre. It was also an interesting reference to the previous dish where we had soft goat’s cheese and now we deep fried cheese.

~ Prawn Tempura & Waldorf Salad with Caramelized Onion
The Prawn Tempura was the star of all the dishes for everyone at the table. It was a big, fat, juicy, succulent prawn – and who doesn’t love a big, fat, juicy, succulent prawn? It was served with a Waldorf salad, which also attracted a lot of praise because it wasn’t drenched in a heavy mayonnaise. It was a crisp selection of cabbage, celery, apple and grapes with a deliciously astringent mayonnaise dressing.

Interestingly, Lawrence McGrath, General Manager of Valley Lodge & Spa, was concerned that the salad may have been too sweet as they’d been reworking the recipe to strike the right balance between sweet and sour. The first thing I commented on was how much I enjoyed the astringency of the salad alongside the richness of the prawns.

~ Champagne Sorbet
The Champagne Sorbet was a nifty little palate cleanser that successfully retained the effervescence and dryness of champagne – so even though it was a sorbet and was made of sugar, it wasn’t like eating muscatel flavoured sorbet. It was a really light and refreshing palate cleanser that did the job beautifully.

~ Duck Leg Confit, Roasted Cauliflower, Black Garlic Puree & Whisky Marmalade Sauce

I’m calling this the wildcard course!

While the previous courses expressed Chef Wayne’s commitment to natural, organic flavours, the Duck Leg Confit with Roasted Cauliflower, Black Garlic Puree & Whisky Marmalade Sauce ventured boldly into exploring a darker narrative.

I cynically assumed that this was going to be one of those showoff cheffy gastropub dishes that demonstrated creativity at the expense of style and substance, but I was wrong, because, in essence, it was simplicity on a plate with a nouvelle twist.

Firstly, I love duck. It is quite easily my favourite dish. The Black Garlic Puree was a first for me. Trust me, if I had known than black garlic existed, I would have known about a long time ago. I wouldn’t trust myself with a jar of it as I once polished off a jar of roasted garlic with a tablespoon. I’m addicted to garlic!

Black garlic is not that exotic. It’s your common garden variety garlic clove that has undergone a chemical process – google it! However, black garlic is being featured in many top end restaurants. It has a distinctly garlic flavour and aroma but with an umami mellowness and a balsamic brightness. It was an absolute first for me.

I would be hard-pressed to choose a favourite dish but the Duck Leg Confit would probably be it. You have the richness of the duck leg confit underscored by the garlic puree, served alongside some smoked duck crisps, and heaven of all heavens, a whisky marmalade sauce. The duck alone was simplicity personified, but when savoured with the marmalade you appreciated that Chef Wayne was creating some culinary alchemy. The smokey undertones of the whisky paired beautifully with the duck and the garlic, while the citrusy, sweetness added a deft stroke of brightness.

~ Beef Fillet Mignon & Roast Oxtail, Forest Mushrooms, Roasted Garlic, Truffle Oil

The Beef Fillet & Roast Oxtail with Forest Mushrooms, Roasted Garlic and Truffle Oil was just perfection on a plate where the ingredients were allowed to express themselves organically.
The beef had a clean pastoral flavour which was complemented elegantly by a delicate mushroom sauce. By contrast, the oxtail was richly flavoured, stripped off the bone, and served as a terrine. It was the yin and the yang of how dramatically the two meats tasted in comparison to each other. Both were excellent on their own, both worked well with each other.

Even the menu was a simple explanation of the ingredients without flowery descriptions. I loved that there wasn’t a gel, mousse or foam on my plate

~ Baked Bar One Cheese Cake with Artisanal Ice-Cream & Amaretto Creme Anglaise

Who doesn’t love dessert and who doesn’t love chocolate? What I really enjoyed about this dish was how all the flavours played with each other.

The cheesecake was served with ice cream and amaretto crème anglaise on the side. Then you got coffee and chocolate, what a winning combination with the amaretto in the crème anglaise. I thought all those flavours married together so beautifully and I loved the presentation. And added bonus is that it wasn’t overtly sweet.

On my radio show I said it was a simple presentation, I’m going to retract that statement, and say I think it was an effortless presentation.

~ Friandise: Carrot Cakes, Turkish Delights & Chocolate Bon Bons

I had enjoyed an elegant sufficiency, but at the risk of over-indulging, I declined my friandise, but other diners enjoyed theirs – and finished mine!

Wayne is ticking all our boxes in executive chef requirements to further enhance the attractions to our four-star lodge, which has undergone superb upgrades over the past 6 years and his alchemy in creating a delectable dining experience is certainly complementing our award-winning lodge and spa.
Laurence McGrath | Valley Lodge & Spa General Manager

I often recommend that if people they’re going to drive out to Magaliesburg they should stay at Valley Lodge & Spa because it’s really such a luxurious destination.

Now I tell people that it is worth the effort to travel to Valley Lodge & Spa just for the dining experience. (It’s about an hour’s drive out of Johannesburg.) If anybody chooses to disagree with me I challenge them to drive out to Valley Lodge & Spa and I’ll happily pay for their petrol. Maybe not in this lifetime but in the next lifetime.

Visit www.valleylodge.co.za.

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