A Spectacular Jozi Dinner: the Saxon’s Five Hundred

2016 Update: five hundred closed last year, when chef David Higgs moved on to another Jozi restaurant project. I have yet to eat at Higgs’ new restaurant or at the new restaurant at the Saxon, Luke Dale Roberts X. 

A lot of wonderful things have happened to me because of this blog. I’ve been to amazing places and met countless fantastic people.

But one of the greatest 2Summers miracles of all time happened last week, when a generous benefactor (who asked to remain anonymous) made it possible for my boyfriend and me to have dinner at five hundred.

I’ve done a fair amount of fine dining in my life but I’ve never been to a restaurant quite like five hundred. A restaurant like this would be out of reach for me in Paris or New York or San Francisco. Fortunately I live in Johannesburg, where blogging magic happens.

Five hundred was rated the number two restaurant in South Africa (after the Test Kitchen in Cape Town) at the 2013 Eat Out Restaurant Awards, and five hundred Executive Chef David Higgs was the 2013 Eat Out Chef of the Year. The restaurant is hidden within the ultra-luxurious Saxon Hotel, where Bill Clinton stayed and Nelson Mandela once lived while writing Long Walk to Freedom.

Saxon

The lobby of the Saxon. Five hundred is at the back of the hotel on the first floor, reachable via private lift.

The Saxon website describes five hundred’s food as “experimental cuisine”. I describe it as edible art. It’s hard to explain, really. Each dish contains a fascinating combination of ingredients and when the dish comes out, it never looks anything the way you expect it to. The taste is always surprising and almost always phenomenal.

Prawn and corn

My first course: “prawn and corn, cucumber gravlax, corn custard, prawn scales”. There was no visible prawn or corn on the plate, although the entire dish was infused with the essence of prawn and corn. 

Carrot course

Ray’s second course: “Free range baby chicken, carrot mayonnaise, pistachio, tarragon, sultana”. 

Five hundred will challenge you, and it’s not for everyone. My dad, for instance, doesn’t enjoy food that he can’t easily identify. He’s probably crinkling his nose right now, if he’s even still reading. Five hundred isn’t for Dad and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you’re a foodie who wants to see and taste food in a totally new way, then five hundred is for you.

This goes without saying but five hundred isn’t cheap. Hence my eternal gratitude to the anonymous benefactor.

Guests at five hundred choose between two menus: the set, six-course tasting menu (available with or without meat) and the four-course a la carte menu. After much deliberation, Ray and I chose the four-course menu so that we could pick different things. We also decided to go with the wine pairing, which means the sommelier personally selected a different wine to accompany each of our dishes. (Don’t even think of driving yourself to five hundred if you’re going to have the wine pairing. It’s a lot of wine. You also get a complimentary glass of champagne to start the meal.)

My highlights were:

1) The bread, butter and salt.

Butter

Bread and butter presented in a lacquered box.

The bread comes with three kinds of butter — salted, unsalted and smoked — whipped into creamy, whimsical sculptures and decorated with dehydrated flowers and vegetables. (Speaking of vegetables, most of the produce served at five hundred comes from the Saxon’s organic rooftop garden.) We also received a small tray with four kinds of salt: Maldon sea salt, Kalahari desert salt, pink Himalayan mountain salt, and black Hawaiian volcanic salt. My favorite combo was brown bread with unsalted butter and volcanic salt.

2) Meeting David Higgs.

I don’t have a photo of David because I was too starstruck to ask him for one. He was a really nice, down-to-earth guy and I was impressed that he personally greeted every table in the restaurant. He’s also very dreamy.

3) The fois gras.

Fois gras

My second course: “fois gras and deep reds, strawberry, beetroot, rasberry, rhubarb”.

I realize that eating fois gras is not politically correct, and the idea of warm fois gras surrounded by cold berry jelly might seem a bit weird. But this was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted.

4) The French rosé.

Wine

 Pretty wine.

I loved this particular wine and I loved Lloyd, our sommelier. He explained each wine in great detail and even though I didn’t take in most of what he said, I love the idea that he carefully considered the flavors of each dish and chose the right wine to go with it.

5) The atmosphere.

I don’t have any shots of the restaurant itself. The Saxon guards the privacy of its guests and I promised to take photos only of my own table. But the ambience of the restaurant is luxurious without being overstated. The staff is knowledgeable, friendly and unpretentious — far less pretentious than at some other high-end restaurants I’ve been to in Joburg.

6) Eating with this guy.

Ray and salt

Ray enjoys a grain of Himalayan salt.

That pretty much sums it up.

And now, for the question you’ve all been waiting for: How much did it cost? Before tip our bill came to R2700 (about $240), including the four-course menu, wine pairing, sparkling water, and two pre-dinner drinks. The six-course tasting menu costs slightly more.

This is one of the most expensive dinners you’ll find in Joburg, and prices like this are obviously accessible only to a tiny sliver of the population. But honestly, I think the price is reasonable. A meal of this caliber in Washington D.C. will easily cost double, if not more.

Dessert skyline

Joburg skyline made of glittery powdered sugar and Turkish delight.

So if you’ve got the means and a special occasion to celebrate, go for dinner at five hundred. Just book well in advance (especially if you want to go on a weekend) and take a taxi. You won’t regret it.

Previous Post Next Post

31 Comments

  • Reply Justcallmegertie September 23, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    Wow! Wow! I saw David Higgs on Masterchef last year, and he is amazing, but this food look heavenly! I agree that it is a lot of money by Joburg standards, but by international standards, a very good deal.

    • Reply 2summers September 26, 2014 at 9:22 am

      Thanks Gertie. Yes, eating out here is a serious bargain for travelers from the U.S. and Europe.

  • Reply Claire September 24, 2014 at 12:18 am

    Sounds amazing! I embarrassingly have a minor salt obsession and have all of those but the Kalahari salt. Gotta score some of that! So glad you two had a great meal. the red fois gras even! Gorgeous…and seasonally appropriate (autumnal) ..we must go there when I come visit! Xxx

    • Reply 2summers September 26, 2014 at 9:21 am

      Haha, thanks Claire. I will get you some salt the next time I’m in the Kalahari. I bought some in Namibia last year when I was there with Michelle!

      The red fois gras is actually a spring dish though, not an autumn one. Southern hemisphere 🙂

  • Reply UnderAnAfricanSun September 24, 2014 at 7:01 am

    This does look amazing. I love it that so many places here do a veg tasting menu, you just don’t find that in France. I have been fortunate to try a lot of the fine dining places in Cape Town when we used to visit there before moving (and were earning euros, lol) and they really are a bargain compared to what it would cost in the US or Europe. And if you haven’t yet been to the Test Kitchen, you must try and go sometime, it is my favorite restaurant ever.

    • Reply 2summers September 26, 2014 at 9:18 am

      Thanks! I was also really impressed that five hundred had an entire 6-course veg tasting menu. We almost ordered it actually, even though neither of us are vegetarians. It looked that good.

      The chefs at five hundred are also great about working around people’s specific dietary requirements. Ray has lots of food allergies and they were more than happy to accommodate him, making his second course without nuts even though nuts are normally crushed into the topping.

  • Reply African Living Blog September 24, 2014 at 9:45 am

    I’ve eaten at 500 a few times. Truly a Jozi gem. The personalized service, unique (and often uniquely local) flavor combinations make it exquisite. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    • Reply 2summers September 26, 2014 at 9:15 am

      Thanks very much and I’m glad you agree!

  • Reply stephgost September 24, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    I don’t live in Johannesburg, but I love reading about other peoples experiences while living in different countries (it adds fire to my travel bug), and have really enjoyed reading your blog.I loved the bread and butter presentation!, this is usually one my favorite parts of dining out also.

  • Reply stephgost September 24, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    I don’t live in Johannesburg, but I love reading about other peoples experiences while living in different countries (it adds fire to my travel bug), and have really enjoyed reading your blog.I loved the bread and butter presentation!, this is usually one my favorite parts of dining out also.

    • Reply 2summers September 26, 2014 at 9:15 am

      Thanks so much. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Maybe you’ll make it to Joburg some day and get to try that bread and butter for yourself 🙂

  • Reply Sine September 25, 2014 at 7:26 am

    Sounds a bit like the Tasting Room at Quartier Francais in Franschhoek. We were fortunate to even get a reservation there when visiting, and the food was also very artsy and very good. However, it was not very plentiful and after spending over ZAR 5000 for it, we still felt hungry and could have gone to a fried chicken place to eat our fill:-) Also, I’m a little bit with Tenny on wanting to identify food, at least a little bit. The picture of the bread there looked positively alarming. But I do agree that the Saxon is an absolutely charming place.

    • Reply 2summers September 26, 2014 at 9:10 am

      Hahaha, Sine. So the Quartier Francais cost R5000 for two people? Wow. I must say that I thought the food at five hundred was quite plentiful — I was stuffed by the end, especially with all the wine on top of the food.

      Maybe by bread and butter photo and caption weren’t clear enough. That’s actually butter you’re looking at, not bread. It was delicious!

      • Reply Sine September 26, 2014 at 2:53 pm

        Sorry, should have clarified, that was 4 people. And I”m not at all sure what the actual cost was as the men were handling the money. But it was outrageous (for SA), and the setting really wasn’t anything special. Ah, butter, that makes more sense. Still, a bit outlandish:-)

  • Reply Sine September 25, 2014 at 7:26 am

    Sounds a bit like the Tasting Room at Quartier Francais in Franschhoek. We were fortunate to even get a reservation there when visiting, and the food was also very artsy and very good. However, it was not very plentiful and after spending over ZAR 5000 for it, we still felt hungry and could have gone to a fried chicken place to eat our fill:-) Also, I’m a little bit with Tenny on wanting to identify food, at least a little bit. The picture of the bread there looked positively alarming. But I do agree that the Saxon is an absolutely charming place.

    • Reply 2summers September 26, 2014 at 9:10 am

      Hahaha, Sine. So the Quartier Francais cost R5000 for two people? Wow. I must say that I thought the food at five hundred was quite plentiful — I was stuffed by the end, especially with all the wine on top of the food.

      Maybe by bread and butter photo and caption weren’t clear enough. That’s actually butter you’re looking at, not bread. It was delicious!

      • Reply Sine September 26, 2014 at 2:53 pm

        Sorry, should have clarified, that was 4 people. And I”m not at all sure what the actual cost was as the men were handling the money. But it was outrageous (for SA), and the setting really wasn’t anything special. Ah, butter, that makes more sense. Still, a bit outlandish:-)

  • Reply Sunshinebright September 29, 2014 at 2:53 am

    I’ve eaten in many different restaurants in many different places, but this “500” is amazing. Thanks for sharing. And, as always, your photographs are special. 🙂

  • Reply Sunshinebright September 29, 2014 at 2:53 am

    I’ve eaten in many different restaurants in many different places, but this “500” is amazing. Thanks for sharing. And, as always, your photographs are special. 🙂

  • Reply amelie88 September 29, 2014 at 6:00 am

    Your food pictures are so awesome! Food photography is hard work. I would have tried everything on this menu, except for the foie gras. I have tried numerous times only to be disappointed. It’s not the fact I’m eating part of an animal’s liver. I just don’t like the taste and every single time I want to like it, I just don’t. The Joburg skyline desert is amazing!! How did they get the outline like that?

    • Reply 2summers September 30, 2014 at 8:53 am

      Thanks Amelie. I actually have no idea how they did that skyline. Maybe with some kind of stencil?

  • Reply amelie88 September 29, 2014 at 6:00 am

    Your food pictures are so awesome! Food photography is hard work. I would have tried everything on this menu, except for the foie gras. I have tried numerous times only to be disappointed. It’s not the fact I’m eating part of an animal’s liver. I just don’t like the taste and every single time I want to like it, I just don’t. The Joburg skyline desert is amazing!! How did they get the outline like that?

    • Reply 2summers September 30, 2014 at 8:53 am

      Thanks Amelie. I actually have no idea how they did that skyline. Maybe with some kind of stencil?

  • Reply Tshepi October 27, 2015 at 12:53 pm

    So teary reading this, Lol… i have made reservation for Dec 4th, and anxiety is killing me. One, asking myself how much i will spend, two, hoping my friends don’t bail out on me. However i told myself i am going to experience this with or without them.

    • Reply 2summers October 27, 2015 at 1:02 pm

      Haha, I hope you’re able to just relax and enjoy it on the day. Have fun!

    Leave a Reply

    %d bloggers like this: