Saturday, November 13, 2010

The philosophy of LIFE

Joburg is acquiring some wonderful new eating establishments, where the food is outstanding, the prices reasonable and the queues go out of the door! Time for a little recce of what's hot, what's new and what is getting itself talked about ...

The latest excellent ''food experience', for want of a better word, is LIFE which this week opened its doors in Hyde Park. LIFE has been going strong in Nelson Mandela Square for ten years and built up a reputation for cutting-edge food, a great ambience and amazing eco-friendly lifestyle accessories.

The shop with the lifestyle accessories.

Owners Maira and John Katsoudakis tap into their innately stylish Greek heritage and always amaze, and now it is time for another branch.

The new LIFE is on the site where the Hyde Park ladies who lunch used to pay homage for many years - none other than the legendary Steffanie's which was at its height in the 80s. The original floor and Parisian-style tables have been resurrected, stripped, sanded down and given a new spin in a modern, brightly lit space which combines edgy architecture and earthy colours with romantic bowls of flowers.

There's a sushi bar complete with sushi chef borrowed from the Sandton store, outside underneath the centre's new skylights designed by South African conceptual artist Willem Boshoff, a bar where the drinks are innovative, delicious and as alcoholic (or not) as you like, a homeware shop with a bullet-embedded floor (bought from the ammunition shop) and small tables which can be as intimate with your neighbours as you would like them to be. It's not communal eating as in Europe but you can lean over for a chat, or to see what the next door neighbours have ordered. Maybe you'd like to try that the next time.

There is always going to be a next time. It opens on Tuesday and by Friday night there's a regular clientele. One customer even spends a 12 hour shift on the first day, starting with breakfast, working her way through lunch, trying out the high tea and lingering over dinner!

My own request is that they set up a waiting area at an outside bar because it is so popular you can't really book and there is nowhere to stand and wait fir your table.

EVERYTHING on the menu is good. I try a watermelon, rosewater and basil granita the first time I pop in to have a look and have to dissuade Maira from feeding me slow cooked lamb shank served in a cute little copper dish as I am off to a vegetarian dinner with friends. The granita is sublime and a taste of things to come, but it is eclipsed by the next granita I am persuaded to try on my next visit. This one is as fragrant as it is flavoursome: elderflower, mint and lime. Yum. it comes with a long spoon so none of the icy stuff goes to waste. My neighbour does a Harry meets Sally, and tells his waitress: "I'll have what she's having." The granita is getting admiring looks from other patrons as well.

My brother in law is out from Australia and I want to show him what the South African food scene is up to. He tells me about New Zealander Katherine Langbeen and her books and orders a classic steak with pommes frites, which come in a tiny deep fryer. I love the details in this presentation and the steak is excellent, he informs me. My meal is none other than the lamb shanks, though it is really difficult to choose from the menu which is embellished in Victorian style with tiny Mrs Beaton-esque drawings.

It was designed by Nathan Reddy of GRID and is very cute. Already the menus have started to disappear as competitors pull in.

There's the breakfast section with every kind of egg dish, patisserie (sadly, mispelt!), decadent French toast with vanilla marscapone and berries and the Full Monty of breakfasts. Then there's the famous LIFE salad bar in case you decided NOT to check the diet in at the door, all very Mediterranean and yummy with olives, goat's feta cheese, grilled veggies and gourmet toppings.

Then if you feel like a sandwich there is the gourmet loaves section, closely followed by the thin-crust pizza. My neighbour, whose name we have established is Dave, is bent over his rockety pizza making orgiastic little noises. There is even a sweet pizza with a brioche base, Nutella, vanilla pod icecream and hazelnut praline. Or you could go fruity with strawberries, clotted cream and bananas. This is a definite WOW factor for me.

I won't spoil it for you by going through the whole menu but suffice to say my lamb shanks lived up to expectations and I am going back for the tapas. Maira and John are attentive to all their patrons and take people's food intolerances into account. Brother in law cant eat dairy so we have fruit carpaccio drizzled with honey and topped with nutty phyllo (my favourite, fresh sliced fruit after a big meal). I try a decaf cappuccino ("we love our latte art here," Maira says when it arrives with heraldic patterns on it that i feel ashamed to stir) and he has a filter coffee. We watch a brace of Sundaes being delivered with a flourish to an outside table, with small relief that our stomachs are full.

No doubt about it, the best meal I have had in a very long time! And I love the philosophy of LIFE: Celebration and Libation, simple sustenance, wholesome simplicity, subtle ambience and decadent delights. Artisanal, premier and crafted ...

The wood fired pizza oven.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Jozi in jacaranda time

The haze of purple in the streets of Johannesburg is like being in a wonderful cathedral.

It's that time of the year again, my favourite season when my city becomes breathtakingly beautiful. The purple mistiness of the jacarandas blend effortlessly into the busy streets, the honking taxis, the urban sprawl and industrialisation of a huge Afropolitan city. All the colours of this huge artificial jungle blend into one another: the bright pink of the bougainvilleas, the Pride of India blossoms, the red coral trees and the white and purple agapanthus which pop out in the flower beds.

The funny thing about the jackys is that while they are individually magnificent (below), these trees are so densely planted in certain suburbs of Joburg, sort of "in the zone", so there are certain places where they are more spectacular en masse.

My jewellery designer-slash-photographer friend Kevin Friedman and I take a Jacaranda Pilgrimage from the overarching avenues of Norwood, through to upper Houghton, on to Parktown where the purple is offset by the deep ivy green cradling the stone walls of the Herbert Baker houses. Finally we land up at The Westcliff and watch the sunset.


Nothing like the sight of sunlight bursting through the branches.

The branches of the jacarandas are normally twisted and tortured-looking (below), in contrast to the soft petals, which are even better with the back-lighting of the sun.

Kevin stopped to capture a broken bough and its tough wood (below).

A Cape dove struts among the fallen purple petals in Norwood.


Hillbrow was the best place to be this jacaranda season!

A romantic carpet of flowers.


Looking down on the stone angel war memorial outside the zoo. Italian prisoners of war built it during World War 2.


Whenever I get really depressed I come and look at the Sir Herbert Baker houses here, and even though I don't have R100-million to buy one, it always cheers me up!

The indigenous and the exotic ... fragile petals against sturdy cacti.


We were rudely turned away at the gates to this public health hospital, which has done itself no PR favours recently, but the view on the hill going down was glorious. We found an alternative viewing platform to look across the city towards The Westcliff.

This gorgeous house was built for Sir Henry Hull in 1905 and is now a conference centre.

The viewing deck (above) had one smashed pane of glass (below).

Blooms above the old carriage house.

The garden was a burst of purple agapanthus, to go with the trees.

Looking up at the Hillbrow Tower from the carpark.


The hotel's somewhat harsh pink buildings are softened by the plantations of mauve.

The view across from the Westcliff to the Villa Arcadia.

What's a trip to The Westcliff without a glorious sunset and a cocktail besides the pool(below)?