Big cities, big tastes

The start of the weekend was celebrated with friends, fun and intense flavours at Thali. Getting there early was a good idea – by 6.15pm we were seated and selecting wines, by 6.30pm the restaurant was full. Entranced and distracted by the authentic Indian décor and serving dishes stacked up at the open kitchen, I disciplined myself to look at the menu. Easy peasy when your only option is a tapas menu at R620 for two. I love being told what to do, so sat back and let them bring it on. Each of the four courses was more spectacular than the last, and we wound our way along the spice route of India with aplomb. I will not spoil it for you, make your way there and see yet again, why Liam Tomlin has house-full and does not take bookings. Sadly, I had no space for dessert and settled for a mint tea, good for my digestion and driving home.

A whistle-stop whirlwind overnight strip to Jozi for a meeting to tie up some really exciting expansion for the next JHP Gourmet Guide™ gave me an excuse to meet Chef Jack Coetzee at Urbanologi and to experience his talent for turning taps into small bites that pack big flavours. Accompanied by my cheffeur (someone who drives me around and eats with me!) who I have known since we were in our first food jobs many moons ago, we relished the energy of this precinct. Here Mad Giant brewery forms the foundation for a hot and happening spot. I asked Jack why he got into food, and his response was disarming – because his mother is a horrible cook! The eldest of four brothers from Zim, he went to boarding school, and the combination of their food and his mothers’ drove him into the kitchen. He got his dad to plant vegetables when he was a teenager, and changing his mind about becoming an architect, chose to go to Silwood Kitchens. He is experiential training stints at The Test Kitchen, La Colombe and Terroir meant that he was able to learn at the elbows of giants. Urbanologi opened in June 2016 and he joined in January this year. He likes to go against the grain and therefore loves the warehouse setting in the CBD.

Tapas for Jack is tiny plates with big flavours, and he relishes using lesser known ingredients like rump heart. Visiting the market for his vegetables, he uses what is fresh and in season, changing his menu as the seasons change. There is great harmony with the brewers in borrowing techniques. The four-course food and beer pairing is a must to diarise – called Ma Science – it happens on the first Tuesday of each season.

Sustainability is important to Jack – look carefully at the impressive menu and see that certain ingredients will be repeated, but used differently, often using ‘waste’ from one product to create another eg beetroot juice. He loves this cross-pollination. His favourite restaurants? Luke Dale-Roberts X Saxon, Marble or something quirkly preferably where there is live jazz, like Orbit. Our favourite dishes were the braaied broccoli and smoked gorgonzola, the beef fillet and aubergine tapenade, and his grande finale of the ginger malva with lime leaf ice cream and a sesame tuille.

Jack’s food is unapologetically South African with an Asian influence – flavours and techniques learnt from chefs he has worked with – and copious reading. “I love that food has the ability to make you feel like a child again” he says. Yes Jack, but only if your mother was a great cook!

That night, rather full from a delicious lunch, I shared a few North Indian dishes with my son at Ghazal in Bryanston, and carefully checked that he too is not stating that his interest in food is because his mom is lousy in the kitchen!

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