The Dining Room is a pop-up restaurant run in conjunction with Aficionado pop-up bar. Although this is the second Dining Room restaurant I have been to, I found it quite different to the first. A 6 course menu will cost you R395 or R495 if you include alcohol pairing. The food is prepared by the catering company Prep’ed by Sasha.
The dining experience is quite intimate with the number of guests limited to 36. It was interesting that on the night everyone attending was in groups of two. The restaurant does a good job of arranging appropriate sized tables for smaller or larger groups. There were 18 patrons on the night but given that we sat on a four seater and a six seater table was vacant, the space did feel a bit empty.
The decor managed to encapsulate colourful, modern, romantic, cosy and intimate elements. Wooden tables with mixed match chairs were decorated with candles, a mini cactus and little plants. I loved the contrasting walls which both housed brown leather couch seating. Not only is it more comfortable it also makes the space feel more relaxed and less formal. One wall had gorgeous turquoise paint, frames and mirrors. The other had a wooden panel made of different shades of wood, mosaic tiling and posters that lines the top of the wall.
The dimmed lighting, candles and setup made for a romantic, intimate experience but the loud music from the speakers ruined that. Guests should be there at 7:30 and we got there at 7 since I wanted to take pictures (obviously). The waiters were a bit confused and took us into the secret dining area without the host explaining the background story. We left the restaurant area to sit at the bar because the room was way too cold. The bar was pretty dead, I wouldn’t recommend going early to get a drink beforehand. We were seated at 8 but still had to wait for other rude guests who were quite late.
For nibbles we devoured store bought pastry “taco chips” served with chive oil that has been mixed with maltose. The idea behind it is that the maltose changes the chive oil to a solid state which then melts into oil when eaten. The waiters didn’t explain this so I probably did not eat it correctly. I thought the chive oil was a dry artificial cheese that didn’t really go well with the tacos but as we were so hungry by that point we didn’t care!
First course: Chipotle Kebab. Chipotle grilled chicken kebab with balsamic pickled onion and jalepeno. I didn’t like the flavour of the chicken, there was not enough onion and jalepeno to balance the dish and the meat felt slightly tough. The bf liked it but I hate it when a chicken dish tastes essentially of just the plain flavour of chicken. This dish replaced the innovative first course of a Greek salad granita drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. I’m sad I didn’t get to try that, I’m pretty sure it would have been better than the chicken.
First alcohol pairing: The Owl & The Pussycat. Vodka, sugar snap peas, lime juice and martini bianco served with an origami boat. I don’t have a refined palate when it comes to alcohol – it tasted pretty much of a standard martini where I could taste a hint of snap peas. I liked the touch of the origami boat.
Second course: The Taco. Refried beans, roasted radish, creme fraiche, red onion and coriander served with an avocado icecream. It tasted similar to a very bland version of beans curry. I liked the smooth, creamy and slightly sweet avocado icecream but it didn’t compliment the taco. Overall the taco lacked flavour and seasoning.
Second alcohol pairing: Peach Infused Don Julio Tequila. A good brand of tequila with no hint of peaches coming through.
Third course: The Jar. Sous vide Norwegian Salmon, crushed potato, swiss mustard, sour cream, spring onions, chives, dill, roe, cedar smoked. The salmon was incredibly soft because of the sous vide technique while the potato provided a nice contrasting texture to the fish. The fish didn’t taste smoked, I think the smoke was used for a dramatic effect. The salmon lacked seasoning and tasted as any salmon dish should. An overall good dish where more sour cream was needed.
Third alcohol pairing: Le Fizz. Vodka, sparkling wine, elderflower and lime juice. I liked this drink and pairing the most, I felt that the fish needed lime, the pairing went well.
Fourth course: Ron Zacapa Braised Beef Short Rib. 48hr Ron Zacapa braised grass-fed beef short rib served on a cauliflower and horse radish purée with fennel chips. The boyfriend thought this dish was great and enjoyed it. It was the only dish that was a generous portion compared to the other tasting sizes.
Fourth alcohol pairing: Smoked Shiraz Sangria. Shiraz, fresh orange, lemon juice and lemonade. The sangria was served in a miniature jug with fruit served separately. A lemon placed on top of the jug prevented the smoke from escaping. Definitely good sangria and the smoke was again used just for effect.
I ate a vegetarian dish as I don’t eat beef. The dish had marinated artichokes, char grilled asparagus with goat cheese served on a cauliflower purée. It didn’t look or taste appetizing. The artichokes were soaked in lemon juice and not much can be said about the other ingredients. I think more effort could have been made for the vegetarian dish since I did inform them beforehand and it was the main course. I don’t eat beef but an alternative of lamb/chicken/fish/duck/game whichever was an appropriate cost alternative would have suited me fine. I can’t help but compare it to the previous Dining Room where chef Vicky Crease substituted beef for duck.
Fifth course: Liquid Popcorn with Caramel Froth. This yummy dessert is served warm in a shot glass. I love popcorn and I especially love diddle diddle caramel popcorn which the dessert flavours resembled. The start of the drink tasted better than the end due to the caramel froth with finish not being sweet enough.
Fifth alcohol pairing: Zacapa on the Rocks. Of course we couldn’t leave without trying Ron Zacapa out! This isn’t the type of alcohol I enjoy so I will just say it was smooth and didn’t burn.
Sixth course: Tres Leches. Spanish for three milks cake, it is served with a burnt white chocolate, Ron Zacapa creme and golden tulle. A delicious dessert where the hero of the dish was the creme which they could have been more generous with. The tulle was pretty but annoying to eat. It got stuck to the inside of my mouth.
Sixth alcohol pairing: Midnight Oil. Coffee, orange zest, frangelico and Singleton whisky. I hate coffee, put coffee and whisky together and it’s a nightmare drink for me. I personally found it way too strong and overpowering for the dessert.
The Dining Room is situated behind a faux bookcase door. Once inside there is no visible door which gives the impression of dining in a secret room. I thought the prices for food were good value for money. Paying R100 extra for the alcohol pairing is definitely a bargain. The desserts and beef short rib were great, salmon was good, the chicken and taco average. I had high expectations of the food and was left slightly disappointed. Lack of flavour, seasoning and stingyness of garnishes let some of the dishes down. The hosting could have been better in terms of selling the story but the loud music was a factor inhibiting this. All our food was served warm not hot which I hate – we were a small group, serving 18 people hot food is not a complicated feat. The serving of dishes was slow, with the food served first and then having to wait for your paired drink. Boy, oh boy do I hate smokers – we had to always wait for them to be back before being served.
I think dinner being served at 8pm is rather late, 7pm is probably a more reasonable time. After the last course the waiters disappeared and we waited 45 minutes to pay the bill. The excuse was they got confused because all the tables were two people, I have never heard such a silly excuse before. Seeing chef Sasha at the end was a nice touch but there wasn’t any one on one interaction with customers except for a friend of the chef who was hosted for the night. Lastly I find it extremely rude and mannerless that some bloggers/guest who eat a free meal don’t leave a tip for the waiters. Unless the event is a launch party, you are cheating them out of money they would have been paid.
The Dining Room is a different experience and overall I enjoyed it. If you are still up for it you can hang out at Aficionado bar after dinner. It is perfect for either a date or hanging out with a few friends. Reservations can be made by logging onto the Dining Room website. Be quick – it is only open until the 13 December, Thursday to Saturday.
Hop: Sandton Eye, Cnr Rivonia & West Street, Sandton
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