An appetizer of Jo’burg

I relish my time in Jo’burg, I love the big city energy, I love the people. Come with me for an appetizer of what’s happening there.

LICORISH BISTRO 

A quick and light lunch at Licorish Bistro in Bryanston reminded me of how hard restaurants in this city work at cajoling diners into having a good time. Many restaurants lack the beautiful settings of the sea, winelands or nature but instead overlook a car park or are in a shopping centre, so there is more emphasis on the food. At Licorish Bistro, sandwiched between a few other gems and chains, you will get unexpectedly good food and attentive service. The street food section of the menu is great – go for the prawn gatsby. The salad selection is appetitising too, my salad with Jerusalem artichokes and Parmesan was light and delicious, and my men loved their steaks with frites. An unexpected surprise was bumping into chef Marthinus Ferreira of dw Eleven-13 for a quick catch-up on his way to work on a public holiday. The life of a chef is not for the fainthearted…

ATHOLPLACE HOTEL 

Time to check into the five-star urban sanctuary of AtholPlace Hotel in the heart of Sandton, pride of Relais & Châteaux with good reason. Their commitment to calm, charm, character, cuisine and courtesy were evident from the moment we arrived. Our suite overlooking the garden was beautiful, and as we opened the door the plate of homemade doughnuts and Champagne on ice beckoned! Sugar high, sugar low, time for a nap – oh, and as a Capetonian suffering the drought, a long, luxurious foam bath – before leaving the oasis to head back into the pulse of the city for tapas.

TAPIANA BY ESCONDIDAS did not disappoint in variety, flavour and vibe in spite of being quiet on a week night. We ordered a wide variety of dishes to accommodate the carnivores and vegetarians in our group, so it was from pork belly to a mezze platter, crispy calamari to chilli poppers, that we devoured. Welcome cocktails were soon replaced by wine, and relaxed and refreshed, we returned to our solace at AtholPlace for a good night’s rest.

There I stayed whilst my husband fought the traffic of the city to his appointments after a delectable breakfast (I heard him say that the truffle-flavoured scrambled eggs were the best he had ever tasted). My smoked trout platter was simple yet supreme. After a session in the gym I settled into a ray of sunshine with my laptop in the lounge to write, ordering herbal teas from warm, friendly staff until it was my treat to meet the chef, Willie Malherbe, and enjoy a few of his signature dishes with a fellow food-lover. His salmon tartare was exceptional. The small servings of fish and chips (designer of course) was a stand-out for me. Two more of the homemade doughnuts arrived, freshly out of the oven to be photographed as we had not allowed time for that when we arrived. The GM Allan Jones told me that the public are fast catching on the joy of dining here – safe in the city for breakfast, lunch and dinner and their food and wine pairings. Make a date, you will not be disappointed.

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One of the many animated conversations I enjoyed with my colleague Rosanne, who has assisted enormously in rounding up restaurant content for the JHP Gourmet Guide™ 2018 edition, was around how hotel restaurants have a different structure and stability compared to the independent restaurateur. In a hotel environment there is a structure – management, marketing, HR – often in larger hotels an entire department. Our ‘dessert’ was then a discussion about what makes a good and credible restaurant reviewer in a time when anyone with a fork and phone can review! The chat finished with Rosanne offering to write a guest review on a hotel restaurant she recently enjoyed.

PUNCHINELLO’S

A Montecasino Sunday lunch favourite, the Punchinellos’ hotel setting is refined but relaxed, with a busy, open-plan kitchen showcasing the chefs at work. The menu has traditionally been Venetian (tying into the Monte theme), featuring Italian classics like pasta and seafood. The restaurant is also known for its grilled meats but one can expect a few lighter dishes as new executive chef Kenneth Ngubane is a fan of seafood and Asian flavours – his favourite dish is a garlic, balsamic and chili prawn with mixed leaf salad. His best ingredients to work with are smoked paprika, coriander and lemon grass. He’s inspired by seasonal, sustainable South African produce and preparing meals that are first and foremost nutritious. “I like my food to be balanced, with lot of flavour.”

Kenneth is a seasoned hotel chef who trained at the Carlton Hotel and has worked with top chefs at top establishments like The Hilton, Mount Grace and The Cape Grace. He’s still busy planning his first Spring menu – with a few surprises too. He’s dabbling with the idea of introducing more interactive cooking at the tables. Think flambe…

Thanks Rosanne – will be sure to put this on my to-do list for my next visit!

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