It’s been ages since I’ve visited Joburg. A recent trip gave me the chance to check out a few new things. Here they are:
The Red Rabbit is one of several parking-lot-facing restaurants in the Nicolway Shopping Centre. I was keen to visit not because this particular parking lot was extra pretty, but rather because it’s brought to you by the team behind Thomas Maxwell Bistro – one of my favourite restaurants in that part of the world. Unfortunately the food can’t even compare to TM. In fact, when I jokingly asked the waiter where the post-meal cupcakes were (a signature at TM) I was told, very sternly, that “they were not Thomas Maxwell.” Damn right. They weren’t in the same league. A decent seafood bisque could have done with some seafood. Burgers were undercooked and overcooked for two of our party and a grilled calamari was really good, if not confusing. (It came with teriyaki sauce and squid ink risotto but sat on the Red Rabbit plate which describes the place as a French Bistro.) So, all in all, pretty underwhelming.
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Marthinus Ferreira’s cooking. His restaurant, DW Eleven-13, is always my first stop when I’m in Joburg. He has recently opened his spin-off tapas bar, The Grazing Room. And I hate him for it. He has made my life unnecessarily complicated. You see, after eating there on Friday night, I can’t say which I prefer.
Set in the adjacent room (previously the bar area) The Grazing Room is tiny. What’s even tinier is the stove where the cooking takes place. It’s incredible. Imagine a smart car with the boot open, and that’s pretty much the entire operation. Including the bar. From the Smart Car his chefs belt out small plates packed with big flavour. We had (amongst others) deep-fried lemon risotto balls, grilled sardine on lentils, smoky pork with beans, a yorkshire pudding smeared with braised lamb shoulder, springrolls stuffed with mozzarella and prosciutto, steak tartare and an absolutely flawless gazpacho. On the night we nailed a few bottles of Paradyskloof Pinot Noir, but in a way I wish I had tried some of his suggested pairings. They’re pretty “out there” and include several beers, bourbon and a host of liqueurs instead of stickies for the desserts. The food was brilliant, the staff knew their stuff and the attention to detail was bang-on. Even the “tomato toast” was delicious.
Marthinus deserves a high-five for his efforts to source ethically-reared produce. He is now serving only free-range and sustainable meat and I applaud him for that. I also appreciate his efforts to add extra bits and pieces onto the dining experience. A bowl of popcorn dusted in dukkah might not sound like a big deal but when it’s brought to the table instead of bread it’s a nice touch. And the candied crab apples and coconut marshmallows to end off the meal epitomised his approach of doing things differently, having some fun and still maintaining a very, very high standard.
A early morning trip to Braamfontein rocked my world. The area has been revamped and shook up and the end result is a humming, thriving, pulsating little niche carved into the heart of downtown Joburg. It’s very cool. Obviously you want to check out The Neighbourgoods Market when you’re there.
The Good Luck Club was fun for a Saturday afternoon spent eating Dim Sum and drinking beer. I’ve always enjoyed hanging out at Wolves Cafe and this is the latest offering from the same team. Like Wolves, a lot of thought has gone into the branding and design for this small eatery. Like Wolves, the food was solid. Unlike Wolves the service was shocking. Our dude was totally disinterested. With so much attention having been paid to getting the small details right, the most glaring one still needs to be addressed for me to chalk it down as somewhere I’d rush back to.
Go forth and eat,