Clico have established a fearsome reputation for itsfive-star hospitality and excellent fine dining experiences paired with appropriate wine tasting. One would expect the service to be cold and distant, almost disdainful, but when you’ve raised the benchmark for excellence among Jozi’s foodies, you don’t need to fake an attitude when you have credibility.
I have always been aware of Clico because I take a shortcut off Jan Smuts to Rosebank Mall; mostly to avoid the traffic but also because I love the scenic detour to the Rosebank Mall, but when Johannesburg foodies voted it one of the top 10 Best Fine Dining Restaurants in Johannesburg for 2012 Clico really pinged my radar. The following year they were voted into the top 7th position; and subsequently, one of the top 25 Top Small Hotels as well as the Top Luxury Hotel lists in South Africa by TripAdvisor travellers for 2014.
Jeanette Schwegman established the hotel in 2006 with a vision to offer corporate guests and leisure-seeking tourists a tranquil retreat that was central to everything in Johannesburg. Clico is deceptively tucked away in the leafy suburbs of Rosebank but is less than a minute to Jan Smuts Avenue, five minutes from the Gautrain, and ten minutes to Sandton. If you’re thinking of staying at a commercial hotel, complete with its clinical formality, consider Clico Boutique Hotel for i’s genuine warmth, first-world luxury and exceptional food.
Just an aside, so many times I find writers use the phrase ‘warm, friendly service’ as a poor euphemism for ‘shockingly useless service that can barely be concealed by their blatant, grinning smiles’ because they don’t want to belittle people working in the hospitality who should know better but don’t.
The staff at Clico take a personal interest in their guests but they also mean business. Receptionists are responsive, porters are prompt and the waiters don’t overstay their welcome. Jeanette Schwegman has done an excellent job converting this 60-year old Cape Dutch building into a boutique hotel that enjoys international acclaim. What really impresses me is how much confidence she has in her staff and also the level of responsibility she delegates. I’ve often invited Jeanette onto my radio show on Radio Today Johannesburg, but unlike me she doesn’t punt herself, so I’ve interviewed her general manager, Sabine Seeger, and chefs Raymond Kokota and Andrew Green.
When Clico was voted one of the top luxury hotels in South Africa for travelers on TripAdvisor, Jeannette instantly credited her team for the success, “We are thrilled to be recognised through these accolades by our TripAdvisor guests and I am so proud of my General Manager, Sabine Seeger, and her sterling team.”
Sabine really is an excellent ambassador for Clico Boutique Hotel. She exudes the same understated elegance of the hotel and takes a personal interest in every aspect of your stay. I am naturally interested in all aspects of food and travel; and in addition to being a radio presenter I have secret ambitions of opening my own guest house one day, so I tend to ask everyone 101 questions about everything, Sabine was so generous with her time and her inside knowledge about the hospitality industry that by the time I had finished my inquisition with her I considered her a friend.
Clico is more than a fine dining experience, it is an education in presentation, taste combinations and wine pairings. I often wonder where their chefs find their creativity, and why other restaurants are still serving avocado Ritz, but Chef Raymond Kokota explained to me that they only use the freshest seasonal ingredients that are available to them on the day. Even he doesn’t have a menu planned until he’s sourced his ingredients. The tricky part is using ingredients it in such a way that it is still innovative,without rendering it unrecognisable, but still remains true to the ingredient . Clico’s food is exquisite to the point of artistry.
Just scan over this menu and allow your imagination to run wild until you get to Clico yourself and see what they have prepared for you:
Poached Scottish salmon served with leak fricassee, seared baby scallops and champagne sabayon; Honey glazed duck breast salad with orange segments, pomegranate, quail eggs and citrus vinaigrette; Grenadine glazed springbok loin with garlic pomme puree, brown mushrooms and berry jus; Black pepper coated beef fillet, pomme dauphinoise, spring vegetables, butternut puree and rosemary jus followed by Basil and strawberry pannacotta accompanied by chocolate coated brownies. And they serve it with wine!
Here’s my review of one night of fine dining at Clico Boutique Hotel accompanied by fine wine and my poor photography.
Poached Scottish salmon served with leak fricassee, seared baby scallops and champagne sabayon.
Salmon is my ultimate dish; steamed, smoked, poached or grilled, you can serve me salmon 24/7/365 without a complaint from me- I even envy wild bears in wildlife documentaries as they catch fresh salmon out of a river as they swim upstream.
They say that we eat with our eyes first, and upon presentation of our first course of poached Scottish salmon served with leak fricassee, seared baby scallops and champagne sabayon, I knew I was about to experience a voyage of visual and gastronomic delights. I wasn’t wrong. The buttery, sweetness of the leak fricassee was the perfect partner for the poached salmon, which literally melted in your mouth, followed by the more tactile bite of the baby scallops that echoed the seafood freshness of the salmon. The slight acidity of the champagne sabayon melts smoothly over your tongue as it cleanses the palate.
A sorbet would have achieved the same effect but a sabayon is to sorbet what a silk cushion is to a razor.
- The buttery, sweetness of the leak fricassee was the perfect partner for the poached salmon, which literally melted in your mouth, followed by the more tactile bite of the baby scallops that echoed the seafood freshness of the salmon. The slight acidity of the champagne sabayon melts smoothly over your tongue as it cleanses the palate.
Honey glazed duck breast salad with orange segments, pomegranate, quail eggs and citrus vinaigrette.
Ironically, duck is my second favourite dish, and not just because it was second on this menu, but because I prefer the gaminess of duck to the relative blandness of chicken. Duck is also incredibly rich and fatty so it needs to be prepared more precisely to achieve perfect results.
The duck was a little too rare for my liking but being open to new experiences, and like I mentioned previously, Clico is both a dining experience and an education, I ventured forth with an open mind. Chef Raymond had seared the skin to a slight crisp, the fat melted deliciously with the citrus vinaigrette, and even though I didn’t ask for it to be cooked longer, I’m quite glad that I can at least say that I enjoyed seared duck carpaccio. Once!
This dish still stood out for on another level. Notice how incredibly healthy this dish is served as a salad with orange segments and pomegranate. It’s a perfect meal for people wanting to lose weight, and also those who don’t, because it’s also packed with antioxidants and visual appeal. I still enjoyed this dish to the point where I’ve stolen the recipe for myself. It’s a perfect high protein, low carb salad to pack for lunch at the office maybe even substituting the duck for chicken or ham.
Grenadine glazed springbok loin with garlic pomme puree, brown mushrooms and berry jus.
Chef Raymond promised that the meals he created were constructed like a symphony, blending flavours that enhanced each other without conflict, and that each course would be completed with anticipation for the next.
He was so right. The springbok loin reiterated the gaminess of the duck but in contrast to the crispness of the salad, the loin was served with a lush potato puree. This was comfort food,served South-African style, that literally grabbed your taste-buds by the balls as the earthy richness of the roasted garlic, mushrooms and jus lulled you into an epicurean ecstasy. This is a meal that will elicit a sigh of delight as you close your eyes to appreciate the finesse of a simple dish prepared so exquisitely that you wished you could prepare it yourself at home. The sweet tartness of the berries and grenadine were a polite reminder that this is not home cooking, this is Chef Raymond cooking!
Black pepper coated beef fillet, pomme dauphinoise, spring vegetables, butternut puree and rosemary jus.
The portions at Clico are slightly too generous considering that one is enjoying a five-course meal but self-restraint is not an option because each mouthful is a delight. I could have skipped the fifth course but couldn’t resist pomme dauphinoise.
Clico must have a fetish for potatoes because they’re always included on their menus but never boiled, steamed, roasted or microwaved. A potato at Clico is elevated from ground level vegetable to queen of the prom. The potatoes I’ve seen at Clico are either served pureed (not mashed!) dauphinoise or fondant potatoes. I’m pretty confident that if you asked for a plain, boiled potato, Clico would oblige and still surprise you.
Notice how this dish isn’t a gargantuan portion, and that after three courses it was the perfect size. Concluding the savoury courses with a simple fillet was also an intellectual consideration. Following the visual, intellectual and emotional onslaught of the poached salmon with leak fricassee and baby scallops with champagne sabayon, glazed duck with quail eggs and citrus vinaigrette, springbok loin with garlic pomme puree and berry jus, the fillet was the little black dress of the menu: it was a simple dish, elegantly presented, that could still stand out on it’s own, and confirmed that a great chef doesn’t need culinary trickery to impress diners, just great technique.
Basil and strawberry panna cotta accompanied by chocolate coated brownies.
I was taught that it is bad etiquette to declare yourself full at a dinner table; even if it’s not, it should be, so lets just agree that even though I had eaten well beyond the point of satisfaction, there was no way I was declining dessert, especially the basil and strawberry panna cotta.
I love basil (favourite herb!) and strawberries (favourite fruit) and even combine them together into salads. They’re like the ying and yang of flavoursome combinations. Basil is earthy, manly and confident while the strawberry is flirtatious, sensual and feminine. They’re both deliciously fragrant and marry beautifully. Strawberries splashed with balsamic vinegar and black pepper is a refreshing alternative to strawberries and cream, a Caprese salad would be incomplete without basil (and tomatoes and mozzarella!) but a really wicked salad combination is tomatoes, strawberries and basil with a splash of balsamic. But that’s not Clico’s recipe, that’s mine!
Clico’s recipe is to combine basil and strawberries with cream to create the freshest tasting savoury dessert that will tantalize and delight juxtaposed against the most sinfully wicked chocolate dipped chocolate brownie. All tastes climax in your mouth like a culinary collision before marrying together in a harmonious symphony. Whoever said that dessert was bad for the waistline forgot to add that it was good for the soul.
I left Clico that night feeling culinarily and spiritually enlightened.
Actually, I didn’t leave Clico that night because my partner and I had booked ourselves into the hotel for a romantic getaway. It’s a perverse pleasure that I get when I don’t have the budget to travel beyond Johannesburg but desperately need a mini-holiday, I book myself into a local guesthouse, or boutique hotel, or any hotel that serve breakfast, for a 24 hour distraction from everyday life. Clico is a perfect getaway for South Africans, especially Johannesburgers, looking for a luxurious break from routine. It feels quite continental, like drinking wine from a tumbler.
Wine is like art to me- in that I don’t know much about it but I know what I like. All of Clico’s tasting menus are served with an optional wine pairing. It might be cheaper to stick to one bottle, or two, throughout your courses, but this is also an opportunity to experience new wines and explore how they pair with different meals. Clico only serves South African wines with the exception of Veuve Clicquot, Jeanette Schwegman’s favourite champagne. Like I said previously, Clico is more than a dining experience, it’s an education.
Clico is often booked in advance so you are advised to make a reservation. They also like to discuss your dietary preferences.
Clico is perfect for business travelers because they also have five-star conference facilities that I’m thinking of using myself for social media workshops.
I also love the comfortable lounge chairs in the restaurant- conducive to leisurely dining and conversation.
Clico was named after Veuve Clicquot, Jeanette Schwegman’s favourite champagne.