Imagine being 5 years old and getting to meet Nelson Mandela when he came to stay at your family’s hotel in the Midlands. Well that was reality for Alex Poltera, who’s now Executive Chef at The Snooty Fox Restaurant at that same hotel – the Fernhill Hotel in Howick.
I recently won a competition on his facebook page and was excited to make the journey up there to enjoy dinner prepared especially for us. I immediately started stalking Alex on facebook and instagram and couldn’t wait to eat his food, I mean look at these pics:
So expectations were high ;)
and we weren’t disappointed in the slightest – we were spoiled no end, seriously spoiled!
A wonderful gastronomic evening of 5 courses ensued and afterwards we rolled into bed in The Mandela Presidential Suite – named obviously after the great man himself, after he stayed at the Hotel, when being given the Freedom of Howick in 1996. That’s when Alex got to meet him and his journey thereafter has had him in the hospitality industry ever since.
He travels extensively, as well as tutoring students in the Professional Cookery School at Fernhill and we got a tour around both his kitchens and vegetable & herb gardens. Being the green finger newbie that I am, I asked millions of questions which he patiently answered and I snapped a dozen pics of the produce in the garden, with the hope that I will be able to grow my own too!
But back to the food, I have to give you a run down of what we had, because it was so good and then let you know that you should definitely add this to your repertoire when visiting the Midlands. The tasting menu was created just for us, which is something you can book in advance with Chef Alex and as mentioned it had 5 courses. As well as a palate cleanser.
Like I said, we rolled into bed… happily :)
First up was marlin, served with a lemongrass & ginger gel and nasturtium cream, topped with black onion seeds and dill vinaigrette. I’ve never tasted marlin before and this was delicious – the saltiness of the marlin, which was served as thin slivers, paired with the nasturtium cream was amazing and I don’t think they needed to wash my plate afterwards – all gone.
I keep meaning to buy rice paper and make my own spring rolls, but after having this next dish, I fear I will fail dismally. Perfectly wrapped little parcels of sesame chicken and crunchy veg, served with a peanut and wasabi dip – holy moly these were good. I could eat like this all day, so fresh and yummy, but they don’t give you that feeling that you’re eating rabbit food, so you feel satiated.
Then came the dish of the evening for me – wayfarer trout served with cucumber jelly, avo, apple, melba toast, horseradish and dijon cream, topped with fish roe. It was a delicious combination of flavours and I made sure each mouthful had a bit of each flavour and delighted in popping the roe in my mouth with each bite – my best! The trout was buttery and the horseradish superbly creamy – not usually my best flavour, but it had such a delicate bite that it didn’t overwhelm at all.
3 courses in and it was time for the palate cleanser, to prepare us for the next meat dish – pork belly served with braised red cabbage, asparagus, parsley-pressed apples and mustard sauce. The pork belly was melt-in-your-mouth tender after being cooked for 36 hours and then grilled to crispy before serving. Pork is my favourite meat when cooked well and this was heavenly – the crackling was out of this world – like picture when you see the best piece of crackling cooked on masterchef and the judges eyes all glaze over – THAT! I managed to eat it all, but only a few of the veggies – not because they weren’t good, but because I was so full and I knew what was coming for pudding!
And my oh my was it a treat. You know those kind of puddings that look too pretty to eat, so you start off carefully and then 2 mouthfuls in you’re almost licking the plate. Uh huh…
Well you can hardly blame me – a coconut panna cotta, served with mango jelly, berry sorbet, tiny vanilla meringues and toasted coconut sponge. It was the perfect end to an amazing meal!
You’d think after all that we wouldn’t have eaten again, but no, we were back again at breakfast and that was just as delicious. I had the freshly toasted granola which was hands down the best I have ever tasted and I told Chef Alex so, so on our departure he’d vacuum packed a bag of it for me – I know, how cool is he!? I savoured that bag for a week afterwards, it’s long gone, so now we have to go back to Fernhill soon ;)
All in all, such a great evening and the perfect way to start our Midlands Meander. I highly recommend this as an overnight stay with a delicious dinner – make sure to book ahead with Chef Alex so he can be the one in charge of your tasting menu. Oh and book the Mandela Suite – it was awesome – four poster bed, en suite bathroom and separate lounge area – very comfy.
He also caters for vegetarians and vegans – and not just veg platters mind you – no ways, his take on vegan is phenomenal and even the most carnivorous will feel satiated after one of his dishes – vegan puds too!
Thank you Alex for the most amazing stay and meal – we’ll be back!