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SecretEATS creates mysterious dining experiences that are filled with unexpected surprises.

You might be reluctant to attend a SecretEATS event because everything is a mystery until it happens, but you can rest assured that you are in very capable hands and the experience is incredible value for money considering the delightful surprises that await you.

SecretEATS is usually a dining-only option but they have expanded to include (optional) overnight accommodation at nearby travel destinations. Not knowing what you’re going to eat or where you’re going to sleep can be unnerving the first time, but you are in the capable hands of Darren Meltz who intends to convert intrepid diners into regular SectretEATERS who trust him with their time and money.

Our first secret was the location: Riviera on Vaal Hotel. We knew that the secret location was less than an hour’s drive from Johannesburg but the exact location remained a secret until the day before the event.

The Riviera on Vaal Hotel has recently been refurbished, so it is in pristine condition to welcome guests. Our room overlooking the swimming pool and views of the Vaal River was spacious and light. The staff are incredibly friendly and efficient from arrival to departure. Nothing is too much effort and they are more than willing to assist guests with any requests. The hotel also boasts a gold course, conference facilities, and a spa!

Our second secret was to meet for welcome drinks where an even bigger secret was revealed. We were informed that we were going on a sunset cruise on the Aqua Lounge on the Vaal River. Our cruise began with bubbles and canapes.

Chef Patrick Moirwagale prepared a tempting array of canapes that were paired with wines by SecretEATS’ wine partners Riebeek Valley Wine and Middelvlei. The canapes were intended to be paired with specific wines but the winemakers invited us to enjoy all of their wines with any of the canapes. Naturally, we did just that. Fortunately, there weren’t any long-winded speeches about provenance and history- just an invitation to enjoy lots of their wine.

The trout roulade with lumpfish caviar was light yet indulgent while the pork belly braised in orange and soy, topped with a pineapple confit and a sweet Indonesian soy glaze, showcased the chef’s flair with Asian flavours. The three-cheese bonbons were deep-fried in phyllo pastry and dipped in a red currant jelly for a moreishly cheesy bite. My favourite canape was the herby oxtail cooked in Pinotage that was served on steamed dumplings with a bone marrow jus- all the flavours of comfort food in a delicate bite!

The third secret was the dinner menu which featured ostrich carpaccio, herb-crusted rack of lamb, and a deconstructed tiramisu.

The ostrich carpaccio was smoked, served with a medley of mushrooms which were truffled, shaved, pickled, and even ketchupped. Adding depth to the umami of the mushrooms, chef Patrick included gorgonzola croquettes and parmesan shavings. It was quite an intriguing dish because one couldn’t decipher which component on the plate was delivering the expected flavour. You just had to embrace something of everything on your fork. A strawberry and grape vinaigrette brightened the dish with sweetness and acidity that complemented the cheeses and the mushrooms. It was a fantasy dish both in presentation and flavour.

The starter was served with Middelvlei Unoaked Chardonnay which complemented the smokiness of the dish beautifully. It added a hint of spice and earthiness while embracing the fruitiness of the vinaigrette.

The herb-crusted rack of lamb was an exploration of flavours that included a smoke-infused tomato fondue, pomme fondant, and a bright green olive salsa and lamb jus. Again, one could pick at each component of the dish to savour individually or enjoy their sublime flavours in combination. The star of the dish, for me, was not the lamb, but the pressed sweetbreads and crispy lamb tongue which added unexpected luxury and texture to every bite.

Mains were paired with Middelvlei‘s flagship Free-run Pinotage which boasts assorted berry aromas and flavours that complemented the natural sweetness and richness of the lamb.

Dessert was a deconstructed tiramisu that featured caramel macarons and espresso gel. I loathe meringues of any form so it was lost on me. It was also too sweet and would have benefited from more of the espresso gel. The saving grace for me was the liquorice ice cream which was aromatic and tantalising.

Dessert was served with a crisp Peter Cruyhoff Brut from the Riebeek Cellars Collection. The astringency was a welcome relief from dessert and reflected the freshness of green apples and the mellowness of oak and almonds.

The fourth secret was entertainment. Brother and sister duo Perfect Pitch Productions who performed a robust tribute to Billy Joel and Elton John. Their enthusiasm was infectious and had the crowd returning numerous times to the dance floor.

The fifth secret was breakfast. Instead of the usual hotel buffet breakfast, Chef Patrick prepared a substantial crepe that was filled with salmon, avocado, capers, and halloumi. It was an essential start to the day considering that we had one more surprise in store for us. Naturally, breakfast included bubbles in addition to fruit juices and coffee.

The sixth secret, and probably the most surprising of all the secrets, was a surprise wine-blending workshop where we received a brief introduction into the blending of wines before being tasked to create our own blend. Let’s just say that in the interests of perfection much wine was consumed to ensure that all our blends were perfect before being bottled for posterity.

The SecretEATS team created many memorable experiences during our time together. Each secret was perfectly executed without being rushed or delayed as they segued into each other. It was both a relaxing and exciting getaway and highly recommended.


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