Being selected as one the judges in The Pretoria Explorer Dessert Competition gave me the opportunity to end the rather challenging 2016 on a much sweeter note. Up until this point many of my readers have probably been unaware of the fact that I am a self-proclaimed foodie and a fan of fine dining. From the time of execution it was always a dream of mine to bring this aspect of my lifestyle to the blog and to share my foodie adventures with my readers.
One of my good friends and owner of The Pretoria Explorer blog came up with the idea of challenging eight of Pretoria’s restaurants to produce a dessert that could be crowned the title of ‘best dessert in Pretoria 2016’. It was certainly a dream come true to be a dessert judge as I am a chocoholic and definitely have a sweet tooth.
On the morning of the 26 November we began the challenge at Chocolat et Café. Nestled between other restaurants in Hazelwood Village this quaint little restaurant is definitely Waterkloof’s hidden gem. We were served their signature Belgian waffles two ways… The first was accompanied with Greek chocolate mousse, chocolate brownies, dark chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream. The second was accompanied with lemon curd, marmalade, dark chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream. Both variants were absolutely phenomenal and all the components were flawless.
Chocolat et Café was awarded third place in the competition but I might just add that they would hands down win the title of best waffle in South Africa.
Just when I thought my day could not get any better we arrived at The Black Bamboo which was the second restaurant in the challenge. After taking in our beautiful surroundings and spectacular location we were greeted by chef Pellie who explained to us that he will be serving us a duo of chocolate mousse with a dark chocolate glaze accompanied by raspberry compote, swirl ice cream and hazelnut praline. As soon as this plate was placed on the table I was absolutely blown away. This was definitely a very aesthetically pleasing dish that my eyes got to feast on before I did. The taste was pretty spot on but not exactly very memorable. The chocolate mousse and glaze could not be faulted however I was not very impressed by the ice cream and praline.
The next restaurant to accept the challenge was Toni’s Fully Furnished Pizza Co. At this point in the day there was an awesome vibe amongst all the judges as we got to know one another and discuss how passionate we all are about food. It was an honour being in the presence of some of Zomato’s highest ranked foodies and making their acquaintance. Toni’s served us their nougat dessert topped with roasted almonds and fresh cream which was drizzled in honey with strawberries on the side. The dish was not the most aesthetically pleasing and was very rich and decadent however I did somewhat enjoy it.
One can only imagine how hyped up and energetic all the judges already were after our third restaurant and we had no idea what our next competitor, Old Town Italy, had in store for us. As we entered the restaurant we walked through an amazing deli stocked with all kinds of fresh produce and imported goods from Italy. The restaurant boasts a spectacular bar area and also a bakery filled with delicious looking treats. As we made our way to our table we were greeted and welcomed by their exceptional team and Chef Junior. To our astonishment, Chef Junior proposed that we will be receiving a four-course dessert menu. The first was a deconstructed lemon meringue which myself and the other judges were not such a big fan of however the plating of the dish was rather fun, appealing and whimsical. The second dessert and by far the best dessert I have EVER tasted was a tiramisu complemented by gold dusted coffee gels, drizzled with an Oreo reduction and accompanied by an espresso gelato on a crumb. This dessert comprised of a symphony of flavours and as soon as I took my first bite I was reminded of why I am so passionate about food. It was a spectacular dish such as this that was able to put a smile on not just my face but also on the faces of all my fellow judges. The third dessert was a cronut which is a croissant and doughnut hybrid. This was served four different ways: bar one, peanut butter, strawberry cheesecake and peppermint crisp. Each cronut had a perfectly balanced filling and was creamy, decadent and very delicious. Our experience at Old Town Italy came to an end when Chef Junior came out with what seemed like various components of a dish and told us all to step aside from the table. The fourth dessert turned out to be a theatrical foodie performance as Chef Junior slapped all the components of what he called a deconstructed mousse cake on the table in front of us. This was a fun way of presenting the dish but not very practical if you ask me.
Old Town Italy won the title of best dessert in Pretoria for their fantastic twist on a classic tiramisu.
As we left Old Town Italy, I already knew that their tiramisu was going to be unbeatable and no other restaurant could put up such a spectacular dish. The fifth competitor was Le Kreamery which not long after their inception in 2016 became rather popular for their gourmet coffee and treats. We were served their Kremlitz (crispy pastries with cream cheese and cinnamon served with a caramel sauce), Lindt S’mores (a pan baked biscuit based topped with melted marshmallows and a Lindt chocolate sauce), Sizzling Brownie (served hot in a sizzling pan with ice-cream) and lastly a Kinder Waffle (waffles with melted Kinder chocolate). I was impressed with the creativity and thought processes that went into the creation of all their dishes but there wasn’t anything that really stood for me. I really wish they served us their chocolate bomb!
Five restaurants down, completely chocolate wasted and my blood sugar levels sky rocketing I had no idea how I was going to face another three restaurants. Next on the list was Harissa Bistro and I was so glad that we only had to judge a single dish at this establishment. We were served Harissa’s very own take on the classic milk tart which was a milk tart panna cotta with honeycomb on a stroop waffle base. I am a big fan of milk tarts and panna cotta’s so I was super excited to try this out. The panna cotta had what most foodies like to call a ‘sexy wobble’ to it and was silky smooth. This with the honeycomb was a lovely combination however I was not a big fan of the stroop waffle.
Priva Lounge, one of my favourite fine dining establishments was the fifth competitor in the challenge. Here we were served an absolutely beautiful dessert known as a Not So Fruit Salad. The dish comprised of a vanilla panna cotta accompanied by a pineapple, strawberry and apple compote, a blue berry reduction, mango purée, lime curd and sour cherry gel and served with a pistachio, saffron and coconut sorbet on a pistachio crumble. If the description of this dish does not already make you immediately think Michelin five star dessert then the picture below should. This phenomenal dessert was absolutely refreshing on the palate and was a real explosion of sweet, sour and creamy all at the same time. The components tied together flawlessly and as I write this I already want to go back to Priva and have this dessert again.
Priva Lounge was awarded second place in the competition but this was a very difficult decision as some of the judges believed that they deserved first place.
As our day drew to a close our last competitor was Ritrovo Ristorante. As I entered Ritrovo the first thing I noticed was the homely atmosphere and warm ambience of the restaurant. Chef Fortunato, better known as Forti welcomed us into Ritrovo and it was almost like visiting an Italian relative for an authentic Italian meal. This popular Italian restaurant has a wall covered with all of their accolades so I was really excited to see what we were going to be served. Whilst our dessert was being prepared we chatted with Chef Forti and some of the judges enjoyed a dessert wine. We were served a beautifully plated butter sponge topped with a raspberry gel, chocolate mousse and roasted figs accompanied by a sour cherry gelato. This was one of my favourites of the day and the gelato was absolutely divine!