Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hooray for the pink flamingoes!

Friends have been threatening to take me to the Troyeville Hotel ever since I arrived in Joburg. "You don't go for the decor," they said, telling of the pink plastic flamingoes, the unglamorous tablecloths and old Portuguese gents whose watering hole it is. It's the FOOD that is the drawcard (especially the prawns from Maputo). How glad I am that some of the landmarks of Joburg remain, especially those kind of places where you go for the experience and sometimes the proprietor keeps a baseball bat under the counter. At last, I was taken to the Troyeville for lunch by friend Estelle Cooper who had been to a Spring Art tour talk at Boekehuis earlier in the day. We were joined by her friend Nikki.

The drive through to the hotel was pretty hairy, as the shabby gentility of Kensington with its beautiful colonial buildings and old glass windows led into Commissioner Street, which seems to be in a downward spiral of crime and grime. Talk about burnt-out ends of smoky days ... some of the shops which were looted and burnt in last year's xenophobic attacks had been left as empty shells and teenage whores prowled the pavements outside places like the Oribi Hotel.

I did NOT want to get lost in this neighbourhood but finally found the hotel and parked around the back. Estelle and Nikki were sitting in the glassed-in verandah section of the restaurant, which is now owned by an Aussie called Lawrence Jones (usual story, he met a South African girl, or a series of them, and settled down here). Lawrence liked the pink flamingoes so much that he had them stitched onto his staff's T-shirts, so the flamingoes are now part of the brand. Lawrence has also kept the menu, as is.

After ordering some of the famous LM prawns Estelle and Nikki nipped outside for a cig and I inspected the skyline behind the hotel where Ellis Park Stadium has seen a revamp (this is where Clint Eastwood shot some of the scenes for his movie Invictus earlier in the year). We got chatted up by a shirtless 20-something and his sleepy eyed friend from Mozambique but this freaked the married girls out somewhat and Nikki said quickly: "Let's go and eat!", even though our food hadn't arrived yet. We were popular as the bar was stuffed full of large sweaty men watching the Currie Cup and as Estelle said, "We didn't look at the bar, the bar looked at us!" The bar was a real old fashioned South African bar, with dark furniture, TV screens everywhere, beer ring stains and a billiards table dominating the room. You don't get them anymore these days, as everything is so trendy and done out by the hottest new interior designer, so all the flavour is lost..

Estelle had done a recce of one of the rooms which are a form of permanent residence for some of the old gents and said that it was like being in a time warp. Here was this old guy in his tartan slippers, she told us, and it was so sad. "How could it be sad?" we asked her. "He lives above a pub with beer and prawns on tap". "Oh, I am being such a girl, I didn't see it from that point of view," she confessed.

The Troyeville clientele is a mixed bag of every strata of Joburg society and Laurence was having a Spring Art Tour special, so the old Porra gents downing bottomless glasses of beer to accompany their huge plates of prawns were side by side by the 94.7 cyclists and Sandton types sipping their napkin wrapped Pinot Noir which was chilling in ice buckets.

It's the kind of place where you will always bump into someone that you know, Estelle told me, as she goes there with marketing mogul John Farquhar on many an occasion. "It brings out the inner peasant in me," John confesses. True as bob, who did we bump into but Matthew Crouser from the Mail & Guardian who was having a business meeting outside, side by side with the sleepy 20 somethings. After about ten minutes Matthew shot past again, waving as he went. The quickest business meeting ever!

We dived into our prawns and starters (chicken livers, surprisingly mild, calamari, a Portuguese salad with olives everywhere) and of course the ubiquitous chips and rice and loads of garlic butter for the prawns. My Greek friends would have demanded more lemon as that was a bit scarce. But this was Food with a capital F. And there was loads of crusty bread and butter. I enjoyed every morsel and relished the fact that no one was telling me, ooh no, you can't eat this and you can't eat that and you have to go to gym afterwards. I sucked my shells and tossed them onto a plate feeling happy as a lark.

Afterwards Estelle and Nikki went onto the new and very trendy Arts on Main in downtown Joburg which was holding a "rather sexy party" for the finale of the Spring Art Tour Grolsch party. This year's art tour consisted of specially curated gallery exhibitions, design shows and special menus created by a number of restaurants, including the Troyeville. The tour took in the city's major art galleries: Everard Read, Goodman Gallery, Brodie Stevenson, Gallery MOMO, David Krut Projects, Gallery AOP, Brodie Stevenson, Rooke Gallery, CO-OP, Afronova, and GoetheOnMain.

Another cool experience in downtown Joburg...

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Kittie Howard said...

I really, really enjoyed what you wrote. I've been to SA many times, loves it there, the food, the people, all great -- but haven't been in about six years -- was disappointed that downtown Joburg (near Hyatt, where my husband and I stayed in the 1980s) was a total disaster, refugees everywhere. I'm assuming that all is back in order now. Hope so, what a fabulous city.

sarah cangley said...

Thanks Kitty, the inner city is seeing some good thing happening so next time you are in Joburg plse visit Marshalltown or Jewel City. And thanks for the feedback!