Wednesday, December 22, 2010

On the food trail again

It's that time of the year again, when I buy a copy of my favourite South African publication, the 2011 Eat Out. The compilers must have been told that a few of my Jozi favourites had been left out last year, as Desmond Mabuza's Signature (and new addition Wall St, near the JSE), The Flamingo Room at the Troyeville Hotel, Greek deli Portas, the Schwarma Co (with those delicious Palestinian twins, who get everyone so confused as the owner is always there, but only remembers you half of the time), the Darkie Cafe in Marshalltown and sundry others are now included, along with all sorts of other new gems.

Jolly good, although I still have a gripe. Joburg got around 47 pages in the guide but I felt as if they put in every sandwich shop and pizza joint in town, not just the very good places. I know we suffer from franchise sickness but the guide was still balanced very much in favour of the Cape which got the lion's share. The reviewers were a balanced collection of passionate foodies from all over the country, who obviously make it their business to eat at all sorts of tucked away places and I know Cape Town and the Winelands have wonderful places to eat, but do I detect a little bit of bias on the editorial staff's side? After all, the mag is produced in Cape Town ... is it really the hottest place to eat in the country? In a country where the quality of the food and cheffing skills is seriously good. You can have as fabulous an eating experience at a little farm stall along the freeway as you can at the highest priced establishment!

I don't pretend to know the current Cape food scene very well but this much is clear - I grew up there in the 1970s and it was not the clean, tourist-friendly city packed with trendy places to eat that it is today. It was in fact a very dodgy city that on some days was covered in a yellow sulphuric haze of pollution. That was when you couldn't walk down Adderley St, particularly at night, and the Waterfront was The Docks, doll. As in ships, sailors and various skollies and ladies of the night. You could probably get a good fish and chips but the city was about as far away from the culinary Olympics as it was from the moon. It was also mad, bad and dangerous: three pupils from the very posh private school that I went to were murdered in the 7 years I lived there. I hated Cape Town and still can't go back to some places there without feeling as though I just ran into a razor wire fence. Today the city has changed out of all recognition, with no trace of its dodgy past and lack of foodie allure.

I am as passionate a foodie as anyone on the Eat Out panel (mmmwhmmmm hmmmm, I say, stuffing in another gorgeous chocolate from Godiva, an early Christmas present) and think they should put ME on their panel, as not only do I adore food and eating but my job ensures my ear is very close to the ground regarding new places, particularly in my own home town.

I have been exploring the inner city of Jozi more and more and interacting with that growing breed of people .... the Passionate Joburger. These are people who live in the city, love it unstintingly despite all its faults, and think it is the best place in the country, if not the world. We haven't managed to convince Capetonians of this but feel that they live with their heads up their own arses half the time. The Passionate Joburger likes going to Cape Town (you can use the Gautrain to get to the airport!), and loves eating there but something is happening in our city that is very special. The World Cup may have been the catalyst but a tranformation is taking place under our very noses. Jozi really does rock.

Joburgers use the bush telegraph a lot and you can pick up so much information just by being in the right spot at the right time. The owner of trendy new Braamfontein florist Lovely on Loveday, Jano, rents in hot new inner city apartment block The Franklin in Pritchard St (the architect is Stefan Antonio), and tells me that the owners of the Darkie Cafe are opening up a new restaurant on the ground floor of The Franklin within walking distance of the Gautrain station and the Newtown precinct.

The fabulous Turbine Hall will also take bookings once a month as a restaurant. Turbine Hall CEO Glynis Hyslop and her wonderfully named MD Daintree O'Grady will ensure a wonderful underground dinner. Normally this is a venue space but on date night all you have to do is book a table!

Randlords did not get a mention in the Eat Out, but that might be because the 23 storey high Braamfontein rooftop space isnt a restaurant but a venue space (it costs R100 000 to book it out for a function). It nevertheless provides a sensational view of the Joburg skyline.

I had dinner at Signature last night and suggested to Desmond Mabuza that he start up a place in downtown Joburg. He already had plans for a rooftop venue in Sandton but a move downtown should not be far behind, especially as people start to move inner cityward.

The Salvatian Cafe at 44 Stanley in Milpark got a write up, probably because they have brought over the Oppenheimers' former private chef. Recommended by resident hairstylist Candice from Wyatt hairstylists was the calamari with five spice dip and the fish cakes.

70 Juta st now boasts a nice coffee shop, POST, and entering the Lord Milner hotel across the road is like entering another world. A sweet old couple, known to one another as Jimmy and Pops (she's done out like Edith Piaf in huge earrings, a white hat from the 70s and a pink smock with buttons), sit at one table having a pub lunch while the regulars, some of whom haveen going for 25 years, huddle round the big wooden bar, ostensibly dating from Lord Kitchener's days during the Boer War (not likely as the pub was built around 1905, by which time it was all over). The walls smell of smoke during the day but at night the party animals turn it into a disco!

More restaurants and pubs will open in this area, it's just a matter of time! Watch this space.

PS: popped into Deborah Wakefield's new place, Higher Ground, at St Stithians. Sadly it was closed but the interior looked inviting. There have been loads of functions there since it opened during the World Cup so I don't think it's just for the yummy mummies looking for cupcakes. I don't think it warrants the description of the best view of Joburg as the soccer fields and utilitarian school buildings were not that exciting.

off to La Vie en Rose in Melville Road, Illovo as those Godiva chocolates have worn off somewhat by now! A Wendy Luhabe recommendation.