The big smoke

My trips to Jozi are always a feast of fun and fabulosity! Lunch at Coobs with the editor of Sawubona magazine was delicious and stimulating. We shared travel and gourmet stories as we devoured the highlights of that week’s menu. Yes, it changes weekly according to what is fresh and fabulous on the family farm (where there are more than 400 pigs, including a wild boar herd). This also keeps regulars happy as there is always something new to choose from. Coobs is a firm favourite in Parkhurst, and has been since opening in November 2012. Indoor-outdoor seating, engaging staff who explain the menu well, and an owner who is absolutely passionate about the source of the produce, provides a winning recipe. Chef James Diack believes that an animal should ‘stretch’, so the premium parts of it are used at Coobs, and others, perhaps from the torso that requires slower cooking, will be found at his other restaurants nearby, National (where we had a casual family evening the following night) or at the Federal. James originally studied as a winemaker, indicative in the carefully chosen wine list. Three restaurants? How does he cope? “They have the same quality of ingredients with a different mindset. All are farm to table. We are old-farming honest – for us grass fed is not just a word.” On a Monday you will find James busy with admin, on a Thursday busy on the farm, on the other days engaging with guests. When celebrating a special occasion look for him at either the Great Eastern Food Bar or at Marble.

Marble was my next stop. Accompanied by vivacious and knowledgeable Food & Home Entertaining editor, chosen for her good company and carnivore leanings, we had an unforgettable lunch. My guest declared her steak exceptional ‘’like the proverbial cutting through butter with a knife’’. I was equally ecstatic with my fish. I started my visit early, standing near the fire, keeping chef-owner David Higgs company whilst he chopped a pile of roasted red peppers for soup. We reminisced about how we had both studied food in the era before food was considered sexy, about how much has happened in this fast-changing, arduous industry, and the challenges he faced in starting his own restaurant, with partner and serial entrepreneur Gary Kyriacou. He met Gary when buying his house, and Gary’s wife Irene was the whizz behind the breathtakingly stylish décor of Marble. “Our biggest challenge lies in obtaining the premium produce in the quantity needed, and in how unforgiving cooking on an open fire can be. Initially we were over-ambitious, and the fire and meat were not 100% right. Criticism came from that, and from our prices. Not everyone understands what goes into sourcing top quality meat, wet aging, off-site cold storage and training top-class staff. We offer value, real value – but the perception was that we are overpriced”. Of the 220 comfortable, contemporary chairs in the 3rd-floor restaurant that commands a sweeping view of the city, many are seating regulars. These are the food-lovers who appreciate quality and value. “People want food that they can recognize, and they want it elevated to another level, in a vibey atmosphere” says David. And on another level Marble is.

Dinner at Luke Dale Roberts x Saxon was memorable in every way. Most people have pre-dinner drinks, I have a pre-dinner interrogation with the chef! Candice Philip is a bright light in her own right, having notched up many awards and accolades in her tender years. She managed the transition from working with David Higgs at 500 to teaming with Luke, with aplomb. Her favourite flavours are ginger, cumin, rose geranium and lovage. Origin and provenance are important to her. “The more honest the food is, the better it is – you can always taste the difference” she claims. Whilst she can source top ingredients from anywhere, she loves getting them from their own vegetable garden at the Saxon where they plant seasonally and in succession. Calm and creative, she tells of how when an idea starts to take shape she simply must get into the kitchen. And a small, tight kitchen with a team of six it is. They work miracles. “People know that I am not conventional. I want them to taste what is in my mind.” The eight-course tasting menu is a worthwhile investment at R1330, or R1600 with a tea pairing, R1900 with local wines and R2100 with international wines. I went with the tasting menu, my fellow food-lover with the local wine pairing.

Appetizers from the kitchen got our experience off to a stunning start, and here we even raved about the butter! The pork and duck chorizo and Springbok tartare with red onion and avocado on a wafer are sure to keep carnivores in anticipation. Then we set off – the beef tataki was followed by the seabass tartare. Candice had told me the secretes of her signature dish, so I was keen to tuck into a pretty plate of seabass elevated by lovage pesto and garlic catalan with pickled shimeji mushrooms. The lamb scottati was first shown to us in a concrete bowl whilst being smoked, and returned in a delectable form with Luke’s famous XO dressing. Clearly defined flavours. The salmon with curried carrots, compressed apple and honeycomb lime was tailed by my favourite, the quail and langoustine. Baby chicken with porcini, Brussel sprouts, smoked chestnut and wild garlic oil was our main course. A dill and litchi dessert and local cheese selection, both artfully plated, drew a spectacular meal to a close. Lucky to be seated next to Lucy Liu…

A stay in the calm refuge of the Four Seasons Westcliff, and breakfast with their delightful PR Manager who is passionate about her city and all that it offers, reminded me of how lucky I am to experience the energy of Jozi on a regular basis. Lunch at View has been innovated by chef Dirk Gieselmann who has three Michelin stars under his belt. Knowing that busy businesspeople want to eat quickly but well to have more time to talk and appreciate the incredible view over the zoo, he has crafted a lunch in four-part harmony. Called Hour of Power, it comprises a hot and cold starter, choice of main (we had duck), and a dessert. I shared my memorable meal with the Minister from the Mexican Embassy, so the conversation was transatlantic, making me want to return to Mexico for a vitamin T injection (tacos, tortillas and tequila)!

That night I headed off to somewhere far more casual, to the launch of the Gourmet Station, home for the Gourmet Gatsby truck that has taken Joburg by storm. Breakfast at the Culinary Company and the most intellectually stimulating cappuccino with owner Werner Gutstadt brought my trip to a close. It came as no surprise that this businessman has eaten in top restaurants around the world, and designed many of the SA kitchens that I am lucky enough to know. The Gatsby had made me yearn for home, so back to Cape Town I headed. I shall share tales of a Cape Cuisine cookery demo and a walk around the Bo-Kaap when we next meet.

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