Gold is Johannesburg's reason for being, at the heart of the city's story, and also a part of Sandton's story, a commercial district that is as shiny as the polished precious metal itself. As soon as you step inside the cathedral-like space with its vaulted ceilings you'll be struck by the ribbons of gold mesh that wind their way above you.
Heading up the kitchen is Paolo Santo, chef and culinary consultant who is also credited with the success of Italian restaurant Gemelli. Menus are seasonal and for summer 20/21 the kitchen team have chose to make dishes that create heroes as much of the accompaniments on the plates as they do of what you might normally consider the main ingredient. Freshness and simplicity have guided the menu design, also taking into account the challenges of a Covid-disrupted food supply chain.
Aurum has an extensive global wine list and a beautifully designed wine library that showcases special vintages and limited releases. Pairings are not on the menu but can be requested. We tasted the Delaire Graff Cabernet Franc Rose, so good that we made sure to procure some bottles the next day for home.
On the dinner menu we tried for starters the sirloin crudo – beef sirloin with a Thai dressing and charred spring onion, a version of carpaccio with sweet crispy onions and a zesty citrus flavour. Our second dish was a light melange of grilled asparagus, lemon glazed with shavings of gruyere and crispy kale. Textures have been paid attention to here, with each bite a crisp and flavourful combination.
On the main menu the beef fillet and the sea bass dish won over the prawn risotto and the ricotta gnocchi (saving these for a follow-up visit). The sea bass arrived perfectly prepared, the skin crispy, the fish firm and placed on a bed of rich paella rice with chopped tomatoes and green beans and a dollop of saffron aioli. A very satisfying dish.
But without doubt the showstopper was the beef fillet with tarragon mustard butter, pickled onion and that rich savoury umami (said to be one of five basic tastes, alongside sweet, bitter, salty, and sour) from the Porcini mushrooms served alongside it.
For dessert we chose Aurum's date and brandy pudding to share, but found it to have too much of a citrus flavour for our tastes. It might also have been less satisfying because by that stage of the meal we were already immensely satisfied. For a return visit, we would choose the 'Aurum Magnum', frozen caramel mousse with dark chocolate and hazelnuts, which the chef votes for as being the star of the show.
We like Aurum, for its voluminous spaces, its cosy booth seating (make sure to reserve when you make your booking), its elegant interior and the feeling it gives one of being above the harried streets. The sculptural quality of the space is a prominent feature, one among many impressive aesthetic features in the restaurant and the Leonardo itself. Art has been very much a part of the development from the start and if you do have your booking for a meal make sure to arrive earlier to walk through some of the incredible art collection on the first two floors of the building's lobby and reception area.
Aurum is a place where visitors dress for dinner, and where you can find quiet in what is also a convivial space. Post-dinner there's the couches at the pool deck just a few steps from the door which, on a warm summer night, are a great place to retreat. You can also book a table outside, weather dependant, or a private dining space. And if the mood strikes you can also make use of the swimming pool, with a booking.
Menus at Aurum are seasonal: Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter. There's also a light meals menu of a la carte dishes for breakfast, brunch, and lunch. While dinner is the big ticket item, Aurum also offers all day eating – from cheese and charcuterie platters to Aurum burgers. A vegan menu is available on request. For groups of 10 or more Aurum offers a set menu which they are happy to tailor.
Reservations can be made online at www.aurumrestaurant.co.za.