Traveling to South Africa for the first time was an amazing experience. I want every moment to be memorable and that includes our dining experience. Since we stayed overnight in Pretoria, I searched for a good restaurant with good prices. I also liked that the menu included some vegetarian dishes as my daughter isn't too fond of meat (sometimes).
Our experience was amazing! From the bottle of red wine we had , choosing a couple appetizers and our entrees was all superb! and quite reasonable!
(work in progress)
I had thought up until now that The Westcliff was the Gold Standard for High Teas in Johannesburg - but that was until I took our support staff to The Saxon Hotel for High Tea to belatedly celebrate Secretary's Day. What an absolute treat, and if you are going to treat yourself to one splurge of luxury during your visit to Johannesburg, then let it be this!
For those not familiar with High Tea, it is a British tradition that's an excuse for an afternoon, 'no holds barred' feed of epic proportions. As a rule of thumb, if you need to eat supper after High Tea, you're either a complete glutton or a bulimic!
At the time of writing in September 2013, the Saxon's High Tea cost R295 (about USD30) per head, which is extremely pricey by local standards. Having said that, I would defy anyone with an appreciation of good food to leave here claiming that they hadn't had their money's worth, both in terms of quantity and quality. And - unlike other meals, where it's easy to run up a hefty bill by ordering drinks or other extras - it's much easier to constrain the cost of this treat, because you really won't need or want anything extra.
The price includes all tea (or coffee if you prefer, although this really isn't traditional), and a mouthwatering and imaginative selection of savoury and sweet offerings - roughly seven of each, and I'd defy even those with gargantuan appetites to finish everything. Everything was scrumptious, but perhaps their delectable duck spring rolls and divine carrot cake deserve special mention. Currently the portions are individually served, but as of mid September 2013, they will be moving to a buffet style service, so you'll be able to pick and choose the offerings according to your own taste.
Whilst I think that there's often too much fuss made about intricate food presentation, in this case it really works because the quality of the food is so outstanding: if you're going to leave a meal with something stuck between your teeth, then rather it be gold leaf than spinach!
Everything about the experience - from the swanky ambience of the hotel and the beautifully calibrated service and manicured gardens sweeping away from the terrace - was spot on. Some of it - particularly the chauffeur service to ferry you the 100m from the parking area to the hotel entrance - is downright silly if you want to be critical, but you are coming here for the OTT opulence of the experience.
As you might expect for such an exclusive and popular experience, booking ahead is essential.
(work in progress)
This is one for the seriously adventurous who are willing to sally forth into Joahnnesburg's deeply unfashionable inner Eastern suburbs.
The Troyeville Hotel is one of the older hotels in town that's still in business, and was first awarded its licence in 1939. Sadly not much is left of the original period fixtures, and the building - especially the upper level which houses a functions venue - is distinctly down at heel. The only notable aesthetic feature is the enormous and very pink flamingo mural shown above, which dominates the end wall of the restaurant.
However, you don't come here for the decor. The drawcard is the superbly authentic Portuguese food, served at bargain basement prices. Visitors may not realise that Portuguese food is big in South Africa, courtesy of the influence exerted by our neighbours Mozambique and Angola, which are both former Portugese colonies. There have been several waves of Portuguese immigration to South Africa - starting with an influx of Madierans in the 1920s, and latter supplemented by Portuguese who fled Mozambique and Angola during the civil wars that broke out on independence. It is estimated that there are currently about 300,000 people of Portuguese descent, making them one of the most numerous white communities in the country.
The inner eastern suburbs (such as Troyeville, Bezuidenhout Valley and Malvern) - as well as inner southern suburbs such as La Rochelle - are traditional Portuguese working class neighbourhoods. However, the reason why most visitors are likely to be in the area is to attend a game at Ellis Park stadium - a mere 5 minutes walk away. This makes this the ideal venue for a pre-match lunch or drink, or alternatively, a wonderful place to celebrate your team's victory or drown your sorrows after the game.
Favorite Dish: Where do I begin?
Portuguese food is celebrated for its Holy Trinity: prawns, prego and peri peri. Prawns are self evident, and those served at the Troyeville hotel are meaty, deliciously fresh and a million miles away from the usual flaccid apologies that were frozen somewhere back in the Ice Age. Queen prawns are sold individually, so you can calibrate your order to your appetite.
Prego and peri peri are Mozambiquean specialities who owe their distinctive character to peri peri sauce, a fiery condiment made from bird's eye chillis. Prego rolls are (beef) steak or chicken fillets, stuffed into a deliciously crusty white Portuguese roll and slathered with peri peri sauce (with perhaps a sliced tomato), and are delicious fast food, especially served with a pile of crispy chips. Peri peri also pops up as a marinade for grilled chicken (the basis for the highly successful Nando's fast food chain) and just about everywhere else ...
Other highlights include calamari in alll sorts of different forms (including crispy calamari heads in garlic butter), caldo verde (kale soup) and line fish of the day, and there's always a daily special. However, for us, the highlight was the prawn curry, with shelled prawns served in a spicy peri peri spiked sauce and thickened to creaminess by coconut milk: literally the best prawn curry I've ever had in my life.
Tight portion control is not a defining Portuguese characteristic, so come hungry and order in a restrained manner. It would be a tragedy to be too full to have space for your main course, so perhaps consider ordering starters to share?
Cranks was established by Eric Sangschloury, a Dutch guy married to a Thai woman, and to describe Cranks as Johannesburg institution would not be overstating the case. It was probably the first proper Thai restaurant in town, and 25 years - and several locations later - it's still going strong: nothing short of miraculous in the notoriously fickle restaurant business!
I was a regular at Cranks when I first arrived in Johannesburg in the late 1980s - at a time when it was located in Hillbrow and it was safe to stroll up there by foot from my flat in neighbouring Berea! How times have changed! At a time when South African cuisine seldom extended beyond standard steakhouse fare and fish was considered slightly avant garde, his exotic explosion of tastes and textures was an utter revelation, and I was hooked from the first mouthful!
Eric is a very visible part of the Jo'burg food landscape, and his mulitcoloured little van is a fixture in the Rosebank area. He is a 'hands on' host, and it's impossible not to feel welcome when you set foot across his threshold.
What makes the place so enchanting is the eccentric atmosphere and even more outlandish decor. And, just in case you've been wondering, this is where Barbie comes in.
If you have always thought of wasp-waisted Barbara Millicent Roberts and her wimpy boyfriend Ken as being dull plastic exponents of the missionary position, then Cranks will open your eyes to what swingers they can be, given the opportunity! Wherever you look, there are Barbies and Kens suspended from the ceiling in flagrante delecto, indulging in unlikely menages a deux, trois et quatre! It can be hugely amusing to watch the slow dawn of recognition (and horror) on the faces of fellow diners idly perusing the decor as they wait for their order to arrive, as the subject matter of the mobiles becomes apparent!
Other than that, the rest of the decor features bizarre giant sculptures of flies, mosquitos and the like, mirrored buddhas, weird hybrid robotic figures, accented by the bright plastic tablecloths and crockery so characteristic of South East Asian restaurants. The outdoor seating area extends onto the pavement of the Rosebank Mall pedestrian precinct and is particularly pleasant on a warm summer night, when it provides an excellent vantage point from which to casually observe the comings and goings of your fellow man.
Update (July 2013): In a truly South African twist, Cranks closed down a few months ago as new evidence came to light over the murder of a waitress who disappeared years ago. As one of the of the family members has been implicated in her death, the restaurant has been closed until further notice.
Favorite Dish: The food is still delicious and fairly authentic (or so I am informed, as I have yet to make it to Thailand). Of course, over the intervening 25 years since I first visited, Thai cuisine has become an international staple, so it doesn't seem as unique as it seemed all those years ago, but it's still very good. There are also some Vietnamese dishes on the menu, as well as cocktails - I imagine that it would be a very festive place for a convivial cocktail binge (although being a respectable suburban matron, sadly I don't know too much about that sort of thing anymore!).
It is an excellent spot to eat either before or after movies: Rosebank boasts two upmarket but affordable cinema complexes: The Zone (which offers mainstream movies) and Cinema Nouveau in the lower level of the Rosebank Mall, which is Jo'burg's bastion of art house and foreign movies.
Recently we dropped in here with our kids for a snack after an early evening movie because we were peckish. We ordered a selection of spring rolls and Eric's divine chicken satay sticks, and left with full tummies, big smiles and a warm sense of well being! The only downside of the experience was having to field the subsequent barrage of questions on why Barbie and Ken were doing gymnastics ...
One of the best value (but worst kept secrets) in Johannesburg is the Zoo Lake Bowling Club.
It is a tatty and rundown colonial structure that there has been no effort to upgrade - set in the swanky suburb of Saxonwold, it is a complete anachronism and a throwback to an earlier age.
However, it is perhaps the best value place to eat and drink in town - which is, perhaps, why it is infested with students and other impecunious types who know wonderful value when they see it! They rub shoulders with the old timers, who are generally elderly men, and a good time is had by all.
This is not a venue for the image conscious, or those whose idea of a tavern experience is a genteel gastro pub. It is a great place for people watching: however, be prepared for the fact that you'll have to come very early (preferably lunch time on a week day) if you want to stand a chance of getting a table.
The service is friendly, but pretty slack - however, that's not why you come here, and you'll be served eventually!
Update (2011): Just as you believe that the Johannesburg Muncipality can't get any more stupid, it manages to plumb new depths of uselessness. The Johannesburg Muncipality Property Company (JMPC) - hitherto most famous for its ineptitude and ability to hawk off its property at rock bottom rates to croneys without the required authorisation - has taken it upon itself to serve notice on the Zoo Lake Bowling Club (which is located on municipal land), so at the moment, the lease is only being renewed on a month-by-month basis. When challenged, the JMPC conceded that it had no plans on what to replace the Bowling Club with, and given the snail's pace with which it acts once its dealings are out in the public domain, I wouldn't expect the place to close down any time soon, but still ...
Update (July 2013): It was announced that this week that the Bowling Club premises have been leased in a very murky tender deal. The property company maintains that, ''We are asking for serious sports administrators, serious people that want to further the development of our youth and the development of sport and recreation facilities for the community". Which doesn't explain why it has been leased to "a clinical psychologist, Sathasivan Cooper, who, as vice-chancellor of the University of Durban-Westville in 2003, was investigated for 11 issues of governance at the university". However, as he has close links to the ANC, it's not hard to join the dots ...
Favorite Dish: Pub grub at its honest, unpretentious best (and for half nothing)! The liver, onions and mash is the ultimate comfort food, the prego roll (a steak roll with Portuguese-style piri piri sauce) is delicious, and I am assured that the burgers are also wonderful (although I confess that I have never managed to stray that far from my old faithful favourites). There is a set menu (almost exclusively tasty British nursery food-inspired old faithfuls) and also daily specials.
Vegetarians who don't eat fish and people seeking healthy alternatives would probably have to go home hungry (or very drunk).
The beer is cheap and icy cold - what more could you want?
High Tea at the Westcliff Hotel is an absolute treat, and not to be missed! It takes place mid afternoon and is open to non-residents as well as guests, but space is very limited, so be sure to book in advance.
High Tea is a hang over from the Colonial period and comprises a buffet of sweet and savoury offerings - cakes, pastries, scones and jam for the sweet toothivores and savoury tarts and other finger food to round off the experience. It is silver service - the tea pots and sugar bowls are solid silver, and other non-alcoholic beverages are also available for an all inclusive price. You certainly won't have to eat again that day!
The high point is the stunning view from the Terrace over the leafy suburbs of Saxonwold and Forest Town - particularly in the jacaranda season (October/November) when the houses are submerged under a carpet of purple blossom. From here, you realise why the established northern suburbs of Johannesburg are technically classed as a 'forest' by biologists due to the density of trees! The Terrace is also a very picturesque place for sundowners, although again, booking is necessary.
If you're in the area, don't miss out on the excellent Johannesburg Zoo, which is just across the road (and also has a good cafe by the Great Ape enclosure)
Update (6 July 2013): Note that the Westcliff closed yesterday for extensive renovations and will reopen again sometime in 2014. It has apparently also changed ownership, and is rumoured to be reopening as the Four Seasons Johannesburg.
Favorite Dish: Everything! The British culinary tradition is often justifiably ridiculed, but there is no question that the Brits excel at breakfast and High Tea!
I was looking at a map of the African Museum which used to be on the 2nd or 3rd Fl of the Joburg Public Library on Market and President Street, back in them days, the current site was the Newtown Produce MArket vis-a-vis the retail/smal wholesalers of Fruit,Vegetable & spices of the Diagonal street vendors like Lala Govind and others, but that was in the 50's and 60s
I saw Gramadoelas and was somewhat surprised to note that theya re still going as i did patronise their original on Goldreich st, opposite the Hillbrow Tower, then Bok Street, opposite Joubert Park.
the furniture was Cape yellow and black wood, copper and brass plus bottles and bottles of Blatjang (chutney)
Favorite Dish: yes, i remember well, the Bobotie, lamb Bredie, yellow rice, curried beans , Malva tarts and more, hopefully in the not too distant future i will be back again
btw the Buffet which is a wide selection at only R245 about $35 qith tip is a good deal
Bambanani in trendy Melville is a noble and highly successful attempt to create a restaurant that meets the needs of both parents and children without having to concede to dull steakhouse/burger joint cuisine. It's a brave concept, and if it works, then the originators are going to make heaps of money!
A web review sums up its appeal as follows: "The first of its kind, Bambanani is causing all sorts of excited ripples amongst time strapped parents looking to multitask. In a nutshell, it's a place where you can enjoy a good meal, relegate the kids to highly qualified child minders, and catch up on unfinished business utilizing the restaurants wifi connection."
I went there recently for Sunday lunch with a friend and our respective children, and was impressed at the huge jungle gym in the open area behind the restaurant, which allows parents to eat on the deck whilst keeping an eye on their kids. The fact that the play area is separated into two sections catering for the littlies and the older kids is also well thought out, and not something that is usually done well in other 'child friendly' restaurants. There are also welcome homely touches, such as a lost property basket from where you can salvage all those items that your little darling leaves strewn behind in their wake.
There is also a more 'grown up' inside section which has nice ambience and features such as fireplaces, but I would caution against the childless selecting this as the venue for a romantic meal (it may prove to be somewhat of a contraceptive experience!). It would, however, be a very good option for a family meal out that has to cater for several generations.
The kids menu is short but good, and features more interesting and healthy options than the usual chicken nuggets or fish fingers with chips - I ended up happily polishing off the remains of my son's meatballs with wedges and peas, which were excellent! I understand that there is also a baby menu - various pureed options for kids that are on solids but not yet up to real food - which is very imaginative. Would I have gone for this option when my kids were tiny? Well, to be honest, I'm not sure, but I am sure that many will find the convenience outweighs the cost.
The adult menu is good - my friend and I shared a selection of tapas dishes, which were tasty, although I must say that they were a little on the pricey side. There are also Greek and Mediterranean options that looked pretty attractive on the plates that were whisked past us!
Be sure to book well in advance, especially if you want to sit out on the terrace, as this is becoming a very popular option with the moneyed breeding classes of the northern suburbs!
Update: as our kids have grown and thrived, so has Bambanani! They appear to have expanded into the next door property, and these days, in addition to the wonderful - and supervised - multistorey outdoor jungle gym (excuse the grainy photo taken with my phone at hight), it has added a dedicated playroom complete with movies on a flatscreen TV, Wii games and a library section with an imaginative selection of children's books.
Not surprisingly, this is fast becoming the birthday party venue of choice in the northern suburbs!
Favorite Dish: Without a doubt, the Argentinian steak! I am not especially carnivorous, and would seldom order steak in a restaurant, but this is something quite extraordinary! Meltingly tender fillet with a marinade of olive oil, onion, parsley, red pepper and some other special ingredient that I can't quite work out (despite having resorted to asking the chef!), it is utterly delectable!
The homemade chicken nuggets and pasta with meatballs on the children's menu are also excellent and pleasantly healthy compared to kiddies' offerings in other restaurants.
Pricier than average, but well worth the additional cost in terms of both food quality, surroundings and ambience.
I had been meaning to visit the trendy Arts on Main complex for ages, and this last long weekend presented the ideal opportunity to explore and hone my kids' budding foodie tastebuds (a passion which their palates may applaud me for, but my wallet may yet regret me encouraging!).
On Sundays and the first Thursday night of the month, Arts on Main hosts a market, showcasing gourmet food from local producers. It is a splendid place to graze, first sampling the produce from the stalls and finally plumping for the one that grabs your fancy. A particular favourite is flatbread with a roasted tomato, pecorino and rocket topping, and my son devoured four skewers of chicken satay almost without drawing breath!
I was particularly taken by Pauli's slow cooked tomato dip (as featured in the photo above) with deep, seductive undertones of Indian spicing: his ancestors apparently spent several generations there perfecting his recipe, so no wonder it's so good!
At the time of writing in May 2012, the market was open from 10:00 - 15:00 on Sundays and 19:00 - 22:00 on the first Thursday of the month excepting January and April, but this may be subject to change, so check the exact details on the website to avoid disappointment.
If you're grown up (or at least adult), you could indulge in sensory overload by treating yourself to cocktails and boutique beer at the same time ... highly recommended!
I must declare my prejudice upfront: I am not a cocktail person, and indeed, rarely - if ever - drink spirits. I am allergic to wine, but compensate for this by being an enthusiastic beer drinker - indeed, my husband often claims (hopefully in jest) that one of his selection criteria was that I was a cheap date!
However, if I were to drink cocktails, Arts on Main would most certainly be my preferred haunt!
Cocktails at Joburgers, the bar at Arts on Main have become wildly popular, and at the time of writing (May 2012), the opening hours had been extended to the following:
Monday - Thursday 16:30 - 21:30
Friday: 15:00 - 22:00
Saturday: 12:00 - 22:00
Sundays: 13:00 - 18:30
Thursday night cocktails and Sunday in the City are fast becoming an institution, and if you're looking for that new York boho vibe, then this is the place to be. Grab a Mojito and lounge amid the olive and lemon trees hidden away in the trendy converted warehouse environment, smugly relishing that inner city vibe whilst the more conventional classes retreat to their staid suburbans refuges!
If you're here on a Sunday, you can bring self indulgence to a new level by combining your cocktails with upmarket foodie grazing at the excellent Market on Main.
This morning I took a friend of mine - who's confused but intrigued by my VT habit - on a tour of the Jo'burg CBD. She is Jo'burg born and bred, so knew the CBD like the back of her hand in her youth but (like so many Jo'burg suburbanites) has scarcely ventured into the CBD for the past decade.
In return for our girl's outing, she treated me to lunch in one of her favourite cafes: Moemas in trendy Parktown North. 'The Parks' (Parktown, Parktown North and Craighall Park) - as the estate agents collectively refer to them - are a series of inner suburbs north of the Johannesburg CBD that are considered to be highly desirable because of their central location and leafy village atmosphere.
Moemas is a fine example of cafe society in the Parks and is located in the fashionable Parktown Quarter complex at the corner of 3rd and 7th Avenues (heaven alone knows how Parktown was ever allowed to develop a road naming convention with avenues running both north-south and east-west!).
Run by a pair who both trained at Leith's cookery school in London (Prue Leith is originally a South African herself), Moemas is the perfect location for Ladies who Lunch during the week and a popular haunt for weekend cappuchino society too - which explains why I'd never come across it before, as I fall into neither subset! It is also open for supper most evenings (check the website below for exact details).
If you're interested in knowing how the upper middle class professionals of Johannesburg live, this is ideal for people watching!
Favorite Dish: We had a light lunch: 'pizza' with a brioche base in her case, and a chorizo, courgette, spinach and gorgonzola tart in mine, both of which came with a salad garnish. Both were delicious and the exquisit lightness of the brioche and the pastry confirmed why Moemas bills itself as a patisserie.
An interesting selection of imaginative salads is available (priced per 100g) as well as a range of delicious-sounding daily specials.
A range of homemade cakes and pastries are on offer, including delicious-looking chocolate cupcakes smothered with chocolate ganache and topped with mint leaves and raspberry meringues.
The restaurant is licenced (ie. can serve alcohol) but also offers a delicious range of non-alcoholic beverages, including a delightful homemade mint lemonade served with sparkling water.
There's a lot of scaremongering done about the Johannesburg CBD, and although it isn't a place that I'd recommend that the tourist explore by themselves in the dead of night, during the day it's an interesting and vibrant place to explore provided that you take sensible precautions (such as not flashing valuables).
Exploring a CBD whose main claim to fame is its crime rate can be an exhausting business, so if you're looking for somewhere cheap and convenient to grab a bite to eat, you could do a lot worse than the Food Court at the Carlton Centre. Nestled at the base of Africa's tallest building, the Food Court is on the lower level and hosts most of South Africa's most popular fast food chains, including imports such as Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonalds, and more interesting local chains such as Steers (burgers), Spur (steakhouse), Nando's (Portuguese style chicken) and Mi Vami (Middle Eastern inspired food).
This is not gourmet fare - but then neither is the price tag - and you will be assured reasonable quality food in a secure environment with good amenities (such as decent toilet facilities) which you won't find as easily elsewhere in the CBD. And given that yu're here already, why not treat yourself to a view out over Johannesburg from the Top of Africa on the top floor of Africa's highest building?
Johannesburg was born out of a gold rush, and all the prospecting, rock breaking and making of and losing fortunes is thirsty work.
It should therefore come as no surprise that Johannesburg in the gold rush era boasted an enormous number of bars in which the miners celebrated their god fortune or downed their sorrows. Indeed, one of the most interesting exhibits at the excellent World of Beer is a map of Jo'burg in the 1890s, illustrating the location of all the bars as red dots - the resultant map looks like it is suffering from an acute case of measles!
One of the few survivors from that era is the Guildhall, which is located on the corner of Market and Harrison Streets. It is an unpretentious and convivial spot, with a traditional bar downstairs and a balcony upstairs which commands a view over Library Gardens and the lovely Victorian architecture of the Gauteng Provincial Legislature. This is a great spot to retire for sundowners as you leisurely watch the population scuttle back to suburbia.
Favorite Dish: Like most South African pubs, there is a limited menu of 'pub grub' - probably the best options are the Portuguese staples such as prego roll (steak roll with peri peri chilli sauce) which are renowned for their stomach-lining properties. When I first moved to Jo'burg in the late '80s, the Guildhall was one of our favourites spots for a pub lunch on the Friday after payday - needless to say, not much productivity was achieved thereafter!
Looking to sample the quintessential traditional African delicacy? Well, look no further than nyama choma - traditional braaied (barbecued) goat, much favoured by our President, Jacob Zuma!
I was particularly taken by this nyama choma stall around the corner from the ultra cool Art on Main complex where goat was being braaied on an open grill. Seating was township style - on upturned crates - and the smell wafting down the street was delicious!
If this is something that's on your bucket list to sample, I would recommend that you try it for the first time somewhere like this, where you can be pretty sure that the hygiene is good - if you find that it's to your liking, then you can indulge your newfound taste in more rustic locations thereafter.
This is a sophisticated upmarket dining place in Melrose Arch that has an amzing menu that showcases the food of Kerala and Mahastrastra. The prices are reasonable and there is a good wine list. Service is excellent and thats saying alot! The rotis and parathas are out of this world.
Favorite Dish: The Vindaloos