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Ant Cafe

Ant Cafe If you haven’t been down to Melville for a while, this is a good time to go. The Joburg suburb is having another of its periodic revivals, where everything feels lively and welcoming again rather than dingy and run down.
The Ant Café itself looks a bit run down, but apparently it’s looked the same for years. I think the hole in the ceiling is new though, and that could probably do with some attention.
My friend led me in with the promise that this is one of the consistently popular places on the Melville strip, where the services is fast and friendly and the prices are pleasing. She was right on all counts.
We’d booked, even though it was early on a midweek evening, because the place inevitably gets full. The first room is small and slim so that fills up rapidly, while a courtyard at the back must be lovely on summer evening.
The décor is either cluttered or quaint, depending on your attitude to dusting. Artwork including a few tasteful nudes hangs above bottles of wine and tins stacked along some shelves. I assumed they were décor too until one of the kitchen staff asked me to pass him a massive tin of tomatoes.
The bare wooden tables are in various stages of shabbiness, while the chairs were actually uncomfortable for someone with long legs like mine. That’s not a euphemism for ‘my bum is too big’ as I wriggled to get more of me onto the small circular seat.
Overall The Ant Café is a place you pop to when you can’t be bothered to cook, when you have a great friend to catch up with, or a date to impress without spending much money.
The pizzas cost from R48 to R70 and are hailed as brilliant, but we both went for pasta. Black mushrooms, cream and garlic with linguine at R55 for my friend, and chicken livers with garlic, tomato puree and cream with penne for me, at R68.
They took a while to arrive because the chef put the wrong pasta with one of the dishes, our waitress said. No problem. We kept chatting and ordered more drinks. The Ant has the fastest delivery of water I’ve ever seen. Often I have to ask for water at least twice in any restaurant, but here it arrives almost instantly. That’s a nice touch, when something free comes quicker than the stuff they’re making money on.
When the dished arrived the pastas were still the wrong way round. The livers were a touch overcooked, unfortunately, possibly because they’d been hanging around getting transferred from one dish to the next.
The mushroom dish was declared excellent and was demolished so speedily that I forgot to get a taste before it was all gone.
I didn’t want to risk another large glass of Cabernet because I was driving, so we indulged in dessert instead. It was a toss up between baked cheesecake or mud cake, and a casting vote from the waitress came down in favour of mud cake at R30. It was very good, a contradictory mix of light but rich and with a few whole nuts to chomp on. The place was too dark to conduct much of a visual inspection, but soon there was nothing left to inspect anyway.
I noticed the interesting comment of “Please don’t ask us to adjust the music’ on the menu, which has to be a first. I’m not sure whether people usually ask for it to be louder, quieter, or just different. As we left Leo Sayer was singing ‘Just snap your fingers and I'm walking.” I was glad to walk again after squashing onto that chair, but I’ll walk back in again soon.
We paid R110 each including a tip, and they don’t accept credit cards.

The Ant Cafe, 11, 7th Street, Melville, Johannesburg.
Tel: 076 476 5671