I attended the grand opening of Aurelia’s at Emperor’s Palace a few months ago and was astounded by the sheer quality of the food as well as the service at a gala event of such proportions. Over 150 invited guests and members of the press ordered from the a la carte menu and were all served at the same time. It was seamless.
But, what lingered in my mind, aside from the gorgeous food and service, was the memory of their dazzling outdoor area, surrounding a stunning pool and fountain as well as the realisation of their ridiculously close proximity to the airport – it is the perfect escape for anyone with a layover at OR Tambo. They actually offer a free shuttle to and from the airport, between 6am and 11pm, leaving every 20 minutes from just behind the Intercontinental Hotel.
Aurelia’s is a gorgeous spot with plush interiors and a manicured exterior that’s spacious and inviting. Breakfast consists of an enormous, high-end buffet that often serves up to 400 people, dinner is a sumptuous a la carte experience and lunch is a more laid-back affair, but executed with serious panache.
I visited Aurelia’s with my partner to experience the lunchtime menu.
The menu comprises a selection of R35 tapas as well as pages of small plates, big plates and gourmet sandwiches and burgers, and, of course, dessert. The tapas options are diverse and tantalising: Saldanha Bay mussels in a champagne crème, barbequed pork spare ribs, crispy calamari, prawn wontons, deep fried olives stuffed with feta and anchovies…the list goes on. The small plates comprise mainly salads, which are all around R65. The gourmet sandwiches range from oak-smoked bacon, egg and caramelised onion to pickled roast brisket with Swiss cheese and sauerkraut and the burgers are all wonderfully indulgent, served in brioche buns with no holds barred when it comes to toppings. The big plates are varied, with aged sirloin steak, tempura-style battered hake and a squid ink fettuccini leading the way.
We decided to try out a range of tapas to start, followed by the battered hake and the pickled roast brisket on rye for our mains. For tapas, we chose the deep-fried, stuffed olives, falafel, prawn wontons, Saldanha Bay mussels and the Parma ham-wrapped figs with basil pesto. All of the tapas are served on beautiful, bespoke plates that look like large spoons – a tongue in cheek take on the notion of a ‘spoonful’ of tapas – each dish is exquisitely plated, with, generally speaking, three of the larger items served per ‘spoon’. The stuffed olives came in a generous pile, perfectly crisp and delightfully salty – such a treat.
The falafel were wonderfully rich and dense, the prawn wontons had unapologetically crunchy exteriors filled with delicate prawns and a sweet chilli and lime dipping sauce – delicious. My two stand outs however, where the mussels; served in a seriously rich, prawn and champagne sauce that was more of a luscious bisque, with fresh lemon and toasted sourdough and the Parma ham-wrapped figs that displayed the perfect balance of sweet to savoury with the added depth of truffle oil, basil pesto and soft cheese to bring the dish together – they were just heavenly.
Our mains, the battered hake and brisket sandwich hit the spot: the batter on the hake, simply made using sparkling mineral water, flour and spices, was so light and crispy that I honestly could have eaten a plate of it on its own. The hake was delicate and beautifully flaky and the homemade tartar sauce, thousand island sauce and coleslaw were fantastic. The roast brisket sandwich was simple, but satisfying, using top quality ingredients, all homemade, and all seriously good. My partner’s only criticism was that he wanted more brisket on his sandwich, being used to the New Yorker-style brisket sandwiches that are jam-packed full of meat.
The wine list is small but well curated, with interesting and different options throughout, at very decent mark-ups. My recommendations would be the Jordan Chardonnay and Saronsberg Viognier to pair beautifully with the tapas-style menu and lighter lunch options.
For dessert we chose to share the ‘lemon meringue’ which came presented as a work of art: a circle of lemon curd atop an almond biscuit surrounded by tiny droplets of piped meringue, gooseberries, blue berries, strawberries and edible flowers. To say that this dish was a bargain at just R45 is an understatement. It was the perfect ending to an exquisite meal.
Aurelia’s really is a special place, whilst Emperor’s Palace might just seem like another Casino venue, Aurelia’s offers patrons elegant surroundings, outstanding service and superb food at unbelievably good prices. Our lunch, consisting 5 tapas, 2 mains and a dessert, came to R360 excluding wine (and we seriously indulged). If you’re stuck at the airport, do yourself a favour and go there, and even if you’re nowhere near, make the journey, you won’t regret it!
- Kate Liquorish
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