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As Rosebank gets busier and bustlier, with buildings shooting up above the treeline and roads jam-packed with commuters, it’s good to know there’s a leafy bolthole available for those looking for an easy escape. And what’s even better is that this bolthole, the Clico Boutique Hotel, is serving up some delicious food from its restaurant. We chatted to Head Chef of Clico Restaurant Marnus Scholly to find out more about what’s going on in the kitchen, on the menus and on the wine list.

A little background

Marnus studied at the Chef School of Food and Wine in Krugersdorp before heading off to work full time. He’s worked at a number of different establishments across the country, from Roots at Forum Homini, Granny Mouse Country House and Hotel Izulu, to Singita Lodges and Savannah Private Game Reserve, where he became Head Chef.  He joined the Clico Boutique Hotel team about 18 months ago, and has been heading up the kitchen since earlier this year.

It’s about the experience

“To us, fine dining is more than just good food,” says Marnus. “It’s from the moment you arrive – getting received at your car, being brought into the restaurant, sitting in nice comfy chairs, and looking out into the gardens through wide-open doors. It’s building an atmosphere. You’re not just buying a meal, you’re buying an experience, and that starts with good food, good wine, good knowledgeable staff, and taking it through the whole meal.”

Food Philosophy

“Good cooking is memorable cooking. Simple food done right, that’s the basis of fine dining. You get a lot of pretty plates these days, but how do they taste? We want our lunch guests to come for dinner, and our dinner guests to come back again,” says Marnus. Keeping flavour at the forefront of the menu, the kitchen creates everything – from pastas to pestos, breads to pastries – from scratch. “It’s a lot of work! But it’s good – we like to create, put emphasis on what we can do and show off a little bit.” The kitchen keeps its wastage down by finding unique ways to use everything – beetroot offcuts, for example, are used to create foam. Marnus also uses secondary, less-popular cuts of meat such as short ribs, shin, loin and shoulder, and works closely with his butcher who ages the meat for them. The meat is deboned in the kitchen and slow-cooked, which results in better flavours and less wastage, even if it might take longer to prep.

The Menu

So what’s on the menu? Breakfasts are an a la carte affair, and lunches are informal, with a salad, sandwich or pasta option for those who just want a light meal. And for those who want to splash out a little, there are a few starters and main options that showcase of what guests can expect for dinner. While guests can select individual portions from the menu, the main focus in the evenings is on the six-course menu, with wine pairing available. The menu changes seasonally, but the emphasis is always on showcasing deep, clear flavours in dishes that have been elevated to a fine dining level with a few complementary elements that enhance rather than detract. “We focus on flavour, building flavour – there’s a lot of fancy words that we can use, but at the end of the day it’s about a good plate of food. As soon as it becomes about the micro herbs, the foam, the gel, we’ve lost what it’s all about and the dish is confused.”

Team is paramount

“We’re a very small intimate team, from our front of house managers to our back of house, to the owner, who we meet with every week – we’ve got a very hands-on approach. Some chefs flourish under that, and some don’t.” With a team of just seven chefs looking after all of the hotel’s catering needs, a strong team is incredibly important to Marnus. “The only way a restaurant grows is to have a steady team. However, we don’t just put anyone on the team – we’re looking for someone who fits in,” Marnus explains. “If you’ve only got three chefs in the kitchen and you’ve got to feed 36 people, you need to be able to trust the guy next to you. We’d rather go months without a chef until we find the right person.”

Democracy rules in the kitchen

And when you have the right team, you need to keep them happy, says Marnus. “That’s why we try to create an environment where a chef can learn and showcase themselves. The biggest thing in cheffing is that we have to learn. If we never push ourselves to the limit of what we know, how are we ever going to get further?” says Marnus. As such, each chef is expected to come forward with ideas for the menu and as an example, Marnus talks about a dish that’s currently under development: “One of our chefs, Ayanda, came up with an idea for a trout starter which first started as a trout pâté and has since been expanded into a full dish – it’s nice to take one idea and break it up, 3 or 4 times along the way. It’ll take a dish about 2 months before we’re satisfied.” Using beetroot elements such as pickled beetroot gel, foam and tiny baby beetroots that Marnus sourced from a supplier, as well as a parsnip puree, the pâté is elevated into a light entrée to start off the meal.

Wine isn’t an afterthought

With the owner of Clico giving Marnus and his team carte blanche over wine selection – “as long as the guest is happy!” – the wine selection is a personalised choice. “We don’t have a sommelier per se, so Sean, our operations manager, Nkosana, our restuarant manager, and I will sit together, taste through the wines and give our opinion.” The wine list features many boutique farms – you’ll find wines from Rijk’s in Tulbagh, Fable Wines as well as Morgenster on the menu. “We like to go directly to a supplier and source the wine from them, although this comes with limitations in that sometimes stock runs out,” says Scholly. “A 2009 Merlot could be finished, so we’ll need to find a new wine to pair with our menu as not every merlot is the same. That’s very important.”

About Clico Boutique Hotel

Aimed at the discerning traveller, whether it’s for business or pleasure, Owner Jeanette Schwegman opened Clico Boutique Hotel in 2006. She transformed the 60-year-old Cape Dutch building into an intimate hotel, with all the attention-to-detail you’d expect from a five star hotel, but accompanied by warm, personalised service. The hotel, which has 9 rooms of various sizes including one self-catering room, is centrally located in Rosebank, with the Gautrain just 900m away and Rosebank Mall within walking distance, and offers conferencing and function facilities. For more information, visit www.clicohotel.com

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