Headed up Chef Freddie Dias, previously of The Pot Luck Club and Peech Hotel, Séjour restaurant at the Houghton Hotel has opened its doors.  With a terrace, beautiful view over the treetops and golf course, the upmarket restaurant has a truly fabulous setting – although we think that it’s the food that’s going to draw guests.

Chef Freddie’s menu is a modern take on fine dining and inspired by his travels abroad, his family and the chefs that he’s worked with in the past, and as a result the menu is a delicious mix of flavours and cuisines. “I want my food to tell a story – yes it’s about feeding people but it’s more than that it’s about telling stories, evoking curiosity and creating conversation around a table. I love that food can do that,” says Chef Freddie.

“We loved that Freddie takes inspiration for his food from all over the globe, be it from the Americas through to Asia or anywhere in between, creating food that is big, bold and vibrant,” says Jaco Minnaar, GM of The Houghton Hotel. “With our restaurant based in a hotel, it’s a perfect fit for the local and international visitors to the venue.”

Diners can expect a beautifully-balanced menu of flavour-packed dishes. Chef Freddie’s stint in Mexico is showcased through slow-cooked lamb on freshly-made masa tortillas with lime puree, mint crème fraiche and chilli-pickled pineapple. Crispy calamari is served on a flavour-packed sauce that’s inspired by South East Asian and Cape Malay flavours, while a beautifully light chawanmushi (Japanese custard) is topped with seasonal asparagus and a truffle crumb – a nod to a Japanese chef that Freddie met while overseas.

It’s not just the fine dining space that Chef Freddie and his team will be looking after. The tapas and cocktail space outside the restaurant – the Astra Lounge & Champagne Bar – offers a small plate offering, and there are plans to open a deli-type offering for more casual daytime meals.

Séjour is situated on the first floor of the Houghton Hotel and is accessible through the main lobby or the hotel’s underground parking. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, Tuesday through Saturday and for Sunday lunch.

Q&A with Chef Freddie Dias

Tell us about your new menu? What is the inspiration behind it and is there a driving concept? I have a natural curiosity for food – I love exploring new places, cultures and flavours. The dishes on my menu reflect my Portuguese heritage, flavours from my two-years working in France, memorable moments from my travels to Mexico and a passion for Japanese cuisine (inspired by my time spent with Luke Dale Roberts).

So, this curiosity, combined with my two years of training in France, has been the main driver behind the technique and direction of the menu. The menu delivers these stories to our guests in a way that can take them somewhere, tell them a story and create a talking point. Allowing them to be curious too.

How long have you been involved with the restaurant, what was the original brief, and what sort of patron and occasion is the restaurant aimed at? The team from The Houghton Hotel had been tasked with converting the Sky Bar at the hotel into a fine dining restaurant and approached me to work with them. I immediately loved the space, the location, view of the golf course – it is a tranquil bubble outside of the chaos. And so I jumped at the chance – even though lockdown delayed the process, we were able to open in mid-October.

The original brief was for fine-dining, but I believe that fine dining doesn’t have to be stuffy with stiff white tablecloths and crystal glasses. It can be brighter, and fun. The décor is elegant and refreshing, the service is top notch, and the food is thoughtful and packs great flavour.

I really want Séjour to be a place for the curious eater. I consider myself a curious chef – I’m always looking to discover new flavours and combinations, and I hope that the people who come to Séjour discover that too.

What was it like opening a restaurant during the pandemic? Starting a new venture during the pandemic was definitely unusual! At the time (and now), there were so many restaurants and businesses closing their doors – it hit our country hard. So, to be able to start fresh, and create opportunities in the midst of that, was really special. What we’ve realised is that people are still wanting to go out and it’s starting to encourage a bounce back – even though there is still a lot of uncertainty. We have been incredibly blessed and are grateful to everyone who has supported us so far.

To your mind, what are some of the standout dishes that you’d like to highlight, and why? Some of my favourite dishes are those that reflect my Portuguese heritage and the flavours and stories from my past. I also have a recipe book collection of 300 books which I delve into for ideas.

When I worked with Luke Dale Roberts, he really helped me hone my Asian cooking skills and taught me to embrace Western Cape Malay flavours, so the crispy calamari with lemongrass and coconut dish best reflects this. The lamb al pastor is inspired by a trip I took to Mexico and based on a street food dish I had, and now I’ve refined it for this setting. The strawberry, goats cheese and olive dessert reminds me of my two years training in France. We often used olive oil, fresh fruit and olives in desserts – the combinations sounded unusual until you tasted them, and it all made sense.

All the tricks I have learnt are on the menu, as well as some new things – I’m always learning.

How have you found the Joburg dining scene? I’ve been back to Jo’burg frequently over the years to visit family and friends – there’s nothing quite like this city. The people are awesome and there’s a great vibe. Every time I’ve come back the food scene has always been a little bit better. More and more, people are wanting better food, they’re increasingly curious to try news things, and the restaurants have largely responded. This improvement has given me the confidence that we can grow the food scene even further.

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