A maestro enters the kitchen

Confit salmon with charred citrus, dill custard, buttermilk labneh fennel, salmon crackling and salmon roe.

Confit salmon with charred citrus, dill custard, buttermilk labneh fennel, salmon crackling and salmon roe.

Published Feb 11, 2024


Oyster Box Grill Room

Where: Oyster Box Hotel, 2 Lighthouse Road, uMhlanga

Call: 031 514 5000

The Oyster Box has a new exec chef in Daniel Payne, who comes to the hotel from the Westcliff in Johannesburg. The Glass Guy and I were invited to his first wine tasting dinner, featuring the wines of Thelema outside Stellenbosch. No pressure.

Payne’s love for food began at the age of seven while cooking with his mom and gran. After training at the International Hotel School, he joined Johannesburg’s Four Seasons Hotel ‒ The Westcliff as chef de partie and was part of the opening team at Flames Restaurant. He soon worked his way up to exec chef at the hotel. Along the way, he has been involved in numerous culinary competitions, and spent time at the Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat in France, gaining experience in its Michelin star restaurant Le Cap.

He believes the inspiration for a dish can come out of anywhere. “Walking through crunchy autumn leaves can ignite an idea, or a smell will trigger a food memory. It can come from a suggestion or a tradition,” he says.

Something to look forward to.

Canapés out on the terrace are always a treat. Not only do you have beautiful views of the ocean, and everyone dressed in their finery, glass of good crisp sauvignon blanc in hand, but we were treated to mouthfuls of deliciousness.

A selection of canapés. The king crab is in the foreground followed by the steak tartare, foie gras macarons and cauliflower bitterballen.

As someone who likes their oyster unadulterated, chef’s treatment with yuzu, gin and cucumber granita was inspired. It kept the wonderful freshness of the oysters intact. We all loved the steak tartare made with black angus, and served on top of tiny crackers with capers, red onion, chives, radish and quail yolk and topped with Cru Royal (grey) caviar. That was a heady combination but it worked brilliantly.

Oysters with gin, yuzu and cucumber granita.

King crab remoulade with apple, dill and citrus too was inspired. Foie gras served in a liquorice macaron with apricot chutney was interesting, even if the Glass Guy thought there was a shade too much sweetness. And the cauliflower bitterballen with romesco sauce and tempura cauliflower leaves were pretty –‒ and pretty tasty too.

All that could have made a meal on its own, but we were called to the Grill Room for starters and soon had a lovely, lightly buttered glass of chardonnay in hand.

Chef’s salmon confit was exceptional. The salmon had first been cured and then put through the confit process. It had a texture akin to gravlax without the heavy flavours associated with it, coming through as very fresh and clean. It was paired with charred citrus, dill custard, buttermilk labneh fennel, salmon crackling and salmon roe. We were in heaven.

After a refreshing palate cleanser of mango sorbet with citrus gel and line segments came the wagyu fillet. This was topped with slices of fresh truffle and had two sauces, a velouté of cep and a powerful sauce Périgueux –‒ a sauce made from beef demi-glace, truffles and Madeira wine. It was served with watercress purée and fresh broccolini and lovely crisped-up squares of pomme Anna. The fillet was perfectly cooked, and all those wonderful earthy mushroom flavours packed a punch.

Wagyu fillet with a velouté of cep and a powerful sauce Périgueux.

It needed a big, bold Bordeaux blend to stand up to it, the merlot being a little skinny.

Chef surprised us with dessert. A chocolate panna cotta topped with flavours of raspberry, rose and blackberry and a little dark chocolate lid along with some edible gold. Another beautiful dish. While edible gold certainly makes a dish look impressive, it is tasteless. But not that raspberry coulis which kicked everything up to another level. It went well with a not-overly-complicated cabernet sauvignon.

We finished an evening of exceptional food with good espressos and little petit fours. The kitchen is in excellent hands.

The hotel organises monthly wine pairing dinners, or Wine Wednesdays as they call them, usually on the last Wednesday of the month. The next features the wines of La Vierge in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley on February 28. They start at 6.30pm on the Terrace, for 7pm in the Grill Room.

Chocolate panna cotta with raspberries, rose, blackberries and edible gold.

The cost is R990.


Service: 4


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