Works of art. That is the best way to describe Aurum’s new dishes on their summer menu.
Paulo Santo, who is the managing director and senior partner, is also a trained chef. He works closely with the team on the menus.
Sharing a bit of his backstory, Santo said: “I am of Portuguese descent and have always loved being in the kitchen and cooking. My career started at Ritrovo Ristorante after which I moved on to become the executive sous chef of the Southern Sun Hyde Park Hotel. From there, I went on to become the head chef at Cafe del Sol and, finally, sous chef at Cube Tasting Kitchen.
“I then decided to head into the world of private catering and consulting, which brought about the launch of the kitchen at Gemelli Cucina Bar and Pantry, which I headed. I then decided to start Santo & Santo, a start-up consultancy business focusing on kitchen designs and menu development, before opening Aurum.”
On the process of planning a menu, he shared: “A new menu is an opportunity for new expression. Our chefs are constantly refining their abilities and honing their skills in the kitchen, so when a new season comes along, it’s often a case of what not to put on the menu that becomes the challenge. Restraint and simplicity is the ultimate goal, and we aim to showcase the very best from our producers, farmers and artisans.
“One needs to consider the coming months from a sustainability perspective, and also strike a balance with food trends, guest expectations and personality in the food. A new seasonal menu is an opportunity to progress forward as a restaurant, to introduce more character.”
When asked what informed the restaurant’s summer dishes, he revealed: “The Aurum kitchen is always inspired by contemporary European cuisine, but the idea is always to make it our own. As always, the Spanish offer incredible ideas in their clever techniques and the use of humble, seasonal produce. Nordic countries challenge our palates with their daring creativity, and we always look to the East for some inspiration too.
“Ultimately, the chefs find their groove in cooking with superb produce and following their hearts in terms of the composition of the menu. The world inspires us, but we still aim to present a unique offering with local verve and flair.”
Santo continued: “As per the season, the main emphasis is on freshness. We aim to honour not just a well-marbled cut of meat or a fresh fillet of fish, but also … the accompaniments in order to bring the dishes to life. Balance, as always, is the key, and we want patrons to enjoy a uniquely exciting experience in every bite.”
“The key things we’re trying to avoid this season are overly heavy sauces, the use of cream and dependence on silly garnishes. The ingredients, and their heritage, need to speak from themselves on this menu.”
As for the crowd-pleasers on the menu, he admitted: “We’ve retained only a handful of dishes, and I have no doubt that some of the new menu items will become instant classics. Given the ridiculously amazing quality of their meat, the Wagyu cuts from the Purdon Family Farm in the Eastern Cape have become very popular, served with a simply smoked Parmigiana risotto and seasonal greens.”
The starter options include the asparagus and kale appetizer, served with Gruyère, as well as the seasonal beetroot dish, which makes superb use of an artisanal stracciatella cheese that one could eat by the kilogram. “The season’s oysters are going down a treat, too, served with a smokey rice dressing and a vibrant coriander granita,” he added.
The mains are equally tantalising with a delicious prawn risotto, which is wonderfully light yet full of flavour, on offer. Foodies will also enjoy the ricotta gnocchi with green mole as well as the summer squash and king oyster mushrooms.
If you have a sweet tooth, Aurum’s Magnum ice cream is bound to hit the spot.
Santo said: “It’s the star of the show; pretty as a picture and pure indulgence in the form of a frozen caramel mousse, hazelnuts and dark chocolate. Another favourite is the contemporary take on the classic flavours of the citrus pie as presented in the citrus and white chocolate composition. It’s summer on a plate.”