I was so chuffed to receive an invitation from Hello Joburg to dine at Higher Ground on the St. Stithians grounds. I had always heard about the amazing view of the Sandton hub skyline from their restaurant. Hand in hand, I had heard some complaints about the service. However, it didn’t deter me and inviting my erstwhile Partner in Crime (PiC), Jo, to join me, we actually ended up booking on her birthday!
When I arrived, for once not late for an appointment, I noticed that the deck had been closed off to the public and there was some work taking place on it. At first, I was worried that the noise from all the cutting and sawing and hammering would disrupt our lunch and my friend’s birthday. This concern was entirely unfounded. Whether it was because the glass was double-paned or noise reducing, or because the wind outside was blowing like crazy, we hardly heard the construction sounds, despite sitting right next to the windows.
Our view of the Sandton skyline was entirely unobstructed and I could see why it was a famous view. We had come for lunch but I could just imagine the night-time views from the deck!
From the moment we arrived, the waiters were friendly and attentive. I was surprised because I had honestly expected some of the service issues we had heard about. We only once waited for assistance. In fact, we probably took too long chatting and catching up, and had to keep asking the waiter to come back later. So when we finally did want to order, the waiter had his hands full with a big table. Nothing wrong with that.
We ordered a bottle of wine and, deciding to skip starters, went straight to mains. I had been eyeing the Avo & Bacon Rump but thought it unlikely the steak would be as good as my Tall Dark & Handsome’s braai steaks so opted rather to go for the Pork Belly dish. As it happened, Jo ordered the Avo & Bacon Rump in the end. Not a fan of medium-rare, she requested the steak be done medium-well. And here’s the only fault we can find with Higher Ground, but it is a big one. The steak came in not medium-well, not medium-rare, but very very rare. I can attest to this. Though I personally would enjoy my steak like that, it was not the desired result for Jo.
We called someone over and requested that they just give the steak some more time on the grill as it was very clearly not cooked to specification. They were extremely attentive and apologetic and promised to fix it right away. And so the plate was swept off back to the kitchen and a manager came over to chat to us and apologise again. Ah, all the care and attention but when the steak came back, it was at best medium-rare still, perhaps medium on the edges. By now we were hungry and really honestly just did not want to keep sending it back, so Jo decided to just have it as is, though it obviously wasn’t the delicious steak she’d hoped for. Another manager came over and did ask us again if we were satisfied and we did explain that this was still not right but we did not want to delay our lunch any longer. They were at all times professional and apologetic and courteous but nevertheless, it seems like a very basic error that could have been sorted on the second round quite easily with some patience and non-frantic kitchen staff.
As for my pork belly, guys, I honestly cannot fault it at all. It was a massive serving, deliciously rich and tasty. Lovely strips of proper, crunchy pork crackling adorned the plate. Though there’s nothing fancy in the plating, this was a meal fit for a king and so much food, I managed to have more for lunch the next day.
So, the final findings? It seems that Higher Ground has taken time to attend to the service complaints. Service was efficient and waiters were friendly, and managers were attending to tables and following up with diners. The main I had was amazing but the basic error of getting a steak to the requested done-ness seems odd and incongruent. Rooky kitchen error? Not too sure. It could have easily been rectified as we did not request a new steak but simply that the steak as given was put back on the grill for longer and cooked to specification. I think there was a panic and they focused on speed rather than accuracy.
Despite that, I would still return. Service is my major bugbear and if they can iron out some kitchen wobblies, they’ll have the winning formula.