When fellow restauranteerers Jon & Kirsty suggested we visit Aurelia’s at Emperors Palace I was in two minds. Casino hotel restaurants are usually pretty generic and seldom worth fighting through the gamblers to visit BUT the menu did sound amazing (and well priced) so I mentally cataloged it under “places to visit in the near future” and kind of forgot about it.
Then, by chance (and by chance I mean the cancellation of our reservation at a certain Sandton bistro by their not so polite and even less bright manageress) Aurelia’s became our last-minute dinner destination.
Team: East Rand locals were out in full force for this one (with the exception of the boyf and I)
Decor: Aurelia’s is situated within at Emperors Palace. Seating starts in the foyer and leads into a glass domed conservatory style dining room. The decor is lavish but not in your face, and whilst the brocade finishings are the epitome of class you don’t end up feeling like you should have worn a ball gown instead of your old favourite jeans.
Vibe: I’m not sure whether it was due to the tables being spread out in the massive dining room or the fact that you practically needed a treasure map to find the place, but Aurelia’s felt slightly empty on the night we visited. In all honesty, the lack of fellow diners was more welcome than not. I was after a relaxed mid-week meal and was glad that the hustle of the casino did not spill over into the restaurant. I imagine, however, that Aurelia’s would be considerably busier on the weekend and it would be an ideal place to spend your well-earned money before you lose it all in the casino.
Service: Silver spoon service minus the pretentiousness. The manageress seated us with smile and our waitress wasn’t far behind to take our drinks order. Even when orders weren’t being taken or food wasn’t being served, our waitress was on hand to make sure all our needs were met. The only time I found myself looking for her was when it was time to pay, and even then she was not far off. Top class.
Food:Starters range from R50 to R100 (for the oysters), mains will set you back between R70 and R240 (chateaux briande for two!) and desserts are around R50. Now, I know you’re thinking “that isn’t thaaaat cheap” but when you see what you’re getting for your buck, you’ll understand what I mean when I say Aurelia’s is seriously well priced.
Amuse bouche: a crispy crostini topped with a version of shrimp cocktail. Delicious and best of all, free!
Starters: there was quite a selection, including salads and soups. A few that are worth mentioning include –
Cantonese barbecue quail (my dish) served with a citrus salad and pickled eggplant. I have never had quail before so when I saw it on the menu I knew it was an absolute must. The whole quail, portioned for my convenience, marinated in a sweet barbecue sauce and delicately grilled was delicious. Although slightly deeper in flavour than your average chicken, had I not known it was a game bird I probably wouldn’t have guessed. On a negative note, I thought the pickled eggplant was misplaced. The citrus salad was more than enough.
Grilled feta and biltong salad. I don’t generally make a fuss of a salad but the reason I mention this one is because it is actually worth ordering. Simple salad topped with a big hunk of grilled feta and accompanied by figs, sun-dried tomatoes, biltong and dressing – all of which are served in individual bowls to be added at will. If you’re looking for something light to kick-start your meal, this one’s for you.
Duck & chorizo babotie samoosas. I didn’t taste the samoosa’s but was told that they were fantastic – each component identifiable which is hard to pull off in a samoosa. The samoosa’s were served with tomato chili jam which, whilst tasty, was a tad too sweet for my liking.
Other dishes ordered included Falkland’s calamari (with a pleasant chilli kick), oysters and Moroccan butternut soup.
Palate cleanser: a quenelle of mango sorbet to freshen the mouth pre-main course pig out. Welcomed and again, free!
Mains: even the fussiest of fuss-pots will find something to their liking at Aurelia’s. The menu covers all spectrums and it was purely by chance that we all happened to order meat!
Butchers Skewer: rump and venison chunks cooked on a skewer. Best of both worlds. I ordered my skewer medium rare and it was cooked to perfection. You can choose how you want your meat basted, but I opted for good old salt and pepper – I really wanted to taste the meat – and it was delicious! Two other restauranteerers ordered the skewer and they were equally as impressed. I was told to make special mention of the Jack Daniels basting, apparently it was amazing!
I was tempted to order the loin of venison as you rarely see such a gem on the menu but I was persuaded otherwise (especially considering the skewer comprised both rump and venison). It was ordered at our table and it looked delicious. It is definitely on my list of dishes to try when I return. I think the venison was kudu, but I stand corrected.
Lamb shank: Karoo lamb shank bredie served with creamy polenta and gremolata dressing. It sounded amazing and after having a little taster I am pleased to report that it was in fact, amazing. I’ll be ordering it next time for sure. The only complaint by the orderer of the shank was that there was no mint sauce. Seeing as I detest mint sauce, I deem this complaint especially minor.
All mains are served with a choice of two sides and selections of vegetables are brought to the table (free of charge).
Dessert: The dessert menu is quite extensive and it proved rather difficult for me to make a decision. I finally decided on the Ferro Roche tart and it was my only disappointment of the evening. Don’t get me wrong, the tart itself was deliciously rich and velvety but was completely overwhelmed by the accompaniments which included a shot of espresso, a fruit compote, three fruit syrups AND a biscotti. Never has the expression “less is more” been more apt.
The cheese platter was also ordered and it created a tiny twinge of jealousy in my tummy. A selection of South African cheeses served with a mass of crackers as well as a variety of chutneys and a glass of port. All for R45! Why oh why did I let me need for chocolate overshadow my love of cheese! Divine. (Please excuse the blurry picture, I took it quickly so I could sneak a taster)
It is very rare that one finds a restaurant that truly ticks all the boxes, but Aurelia’s does just that. I now know why those who frequent Aurelia’s hold it in such high esteem and why they promote it whenever they can. Whoever is manning the ship that is Aurelia’s can be very proud and they can expect me back very soon.