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Higher Ground

Higher Ground If I had kids, I’d want them to go to St Stithians College in Johannesburg.
Then I’d have loads of excuses to drop in for a delicious slice of cheesecake at the Higher Ground, the restaurant in the clubhouse that loftily presides over the extensive school fields below.
The good news is you that don’t need to bother having kids to secure a meal there, since the Higher Ground is open to everybody. Although it’s so far off the beaten track that you probably won’t know about it unless you have an affiliation to the place.
As we drove up from the entrance on Peter Place we took a wrong turn or two, and the grounds were so dark I was convinced we were on the road to nowhere. Then we pulled into a car park and bagged one of the last remaining spaces.
The venue reminds me of a golf course clubhouse, with trophy cabinets in the foyer and the restaurant set in a couple of rooms flowing out onto a long terrace.
We arrived too late for sunset, but as the night grew darker the lights of Sandton in front of us grew brighter, fulfilling the restaurant’s promise of ‘dining with a great view.’
The central dining area was being used for a private function, so we were occasionally distracted by muffled speeches until the music began as their party got into its groove. It added nicely to the already friendly atmosphere.
Then things got even more entertaining when the rain came down. The previously laid-back waiters suddenly dashed into action, relocating the diners indoors, removing cushions and chairs and zipping down large canvas screens with big plastic windows, so we could still see the view without suffering the wind or rain.
My supper partner amused me with stories from the days when his kids attended St Stithians, and threw in a scurrilous allegation that its pupils were once notorious for their alcoholic escapades. At one stage the Methodist church that administers St Stithians opposed the serving of alcohol at any functions, he said. Now it seems the only constraint is in the choice of wine served by the glass. You can only have Rooiberg red or Rooiberg Sauvignon Blanc, despite the wine list offering a varied collection by the bottle.
The menu instantly caught my eye with paella at R115, which is such a rare treat that I had to have it. It was the most interesting meal I’ve enjoyed for ages, with the spicy rice studded with peas, sweetcorn, tiny diced green beans and carrots, then liberally strewn with plump mussels, succulent prawns, chorizo, calamari tubes and squid. Three or four spicy chicken wings seemed to carry more tender meat than the usual wing delivers, while the whole lot was topped with a slice of fried hake. The hake was entirely superfluous, but kind of generous, so I didn’t complain.
My partner’s Tuscana pasta was also raved about, with a tomato sauce tingling with chorizo, ham, bacon and mixed peppers. It disappeared swiftly, mostly because he was eager to help me out with the fabulous paella, I suspect.
When we arrived I’d spotted a display of cakes in the dining room, so I ignored the desserts on the menu and summoned the last slice of cheesecake.
It was plenty big enough for two after such imposing main meals, and the waiter confirmed that it was bigger than usual because the cake-cutting calculations had gone wonky and left a disproportionately large piece.
I was glad the kitchen didn’t have access to any protractors and slide rules from the classrooms, or I may have had a slimmer slice.
It was lovely, in that thick, creamy way a baked cheesecake should be, on a light biscuit base and topped with fruit puree to moisten each mouthful.
School dinners have never tasted this good before.

The Higher Ground
St. Stithians College, 40 Peter Place, Randburg, Johannesburg.
Open 7 days a week from 6.30am until about 10pm.
Tel: 011-024-3433.
www.highergroundrestaurant.com.