Eating OutEating out is one of my greatest pleasures, which is why I was perfectly happy to live without a kitchen for six months! I've got a kitchen now, but it's an acquaintance rather than a close friend.
Here are some of the places I’ve sampled recently. A small collection so far, but now I'm taking a notebook as well as a credit card, so the collection will grow!
Café HavanaThere’s something quite melancholy about a seaside town out of season.
Mossel Bay’s summer throng of tourists in t-shirts has given way to a few brave souls in anoraks. Cars park outside the eateries that are still open – a sad strip of pizza, burger and curry takeaways.
Then we spot some coloured lights over the logo Café Havana. I’m dubious about a taste of Cuba translating well to Mossel Bay, but it’s that or a polystyrene pot of Curry in a Hurry.
Up the steps past a balcony is a room of dark wooded furniture, wooden floors and a fireplace. The waiter promises to start a fire so we sit at the nearest table. Read review:
District SixA year ago you couldn't get into District 6 without booking. Now it seems to be falling from favour as the restaurants in nearby Greenside enjoy a seasonal revival.
But when you’re looking for something different, consistently tasty and always welcoming, District Six is as friendlier than your family home.
That’s the atmosphere its impish owner Grace Fourie inculcates, giving her regular visitors a hug as they arrive and hiring chirpy waitresses who joke with the diners.
The menu is limited to about a dozen Cape Malay classics like smoorsnoek, bobotie, green bean bredie and lamb curry, with desserts including melktert and koeksisters. Read Review:
Tanz LiveIt’s been ages since I’ve seen a menu featuring a carpet bagger steak.
Not since I was a kid, when it was the snobby pinnacle of British pub grub.
Now you can get one at Tanz Live, a music venue where food is as much a main event as the bands.
I’ve followed Tanz through three different venues, and at its later reincarnation in Randburg it serves breakfast and lunch as well as dinners, so perhaps the owners figure it can only be viable if trade is coming in constantly. Read review:
Indian ConnectionNo trip to Durban is ever complete without a decent curry.
Forget the beach, the sand sculptures, the stadium tours and the colourful rickshaws. It’s the spiciness of the mutton and the fluffiness of the naan I’m visiting for.
But which restaurant to choose in a city that’s home to so many Indian eateries? I usually head for the Indian enclave around Musgrave Road, one of the few streets in the city that’s retained its name when all around are losing theirs. A trawl of several websites in an online popularity poll kept leading me back to Indian Connection, once on Windermere Road and now on Lilian Ngoyi Road, without ever moving an inch. Read review:
LiliesleafThe menu for Cedric’s Cafe is a delightful piece of work, printed to look like the page of an old newspaper.
It recalls some lovely old stories from the 1960s when Cedric was the code name for Liliesleaf, the supposedly secret hideaway for undercover ANC members who pretended to be gardeners at the farm north of Johannesburg.
One article by Norma Kitson recalls her surprise at seeing such an army of black workers tending the fields. She instantly branded the owner as a show-off, hiring one gardener for every weed. It was only when she recognised one overall-clad worker and he winked at her that she figured out something clandestine was afoot. Read full review
Chalkboard Café at the BioscopeThere are two reasons why I love going to the Bioscope cinema in Joburg city centre.
One is to see quirky independent films from the comfort of decent seats with lots of leg room. The other is for the excellent pizzas, which are sturdy creations with a base that’s thick enough to support the generous toppings. Those scrawny-bottomed affairs pumped out by pretty much every pizza chain get awfully messy when the base sags around your fingers.
That doesn’t happen at the Chalkboard Café, attached to the Bioscope cinema. Read review
VickyCristina’sWhen I first saw the bright red and orange sign on Durban’s Florida Road, I thought VickyCristina’s was a lingerie shop. A kind of Victoria’s Secret or even a Lola Montez, discreetly above a cheap Indian takeaway and sports bar. Being the adventurous type I walked upstairs anyway, and was pleased and instantly impressed with the nicely laid-out restaurant I found there.
It's a tapas bar, with dramatic touches such as red and white lanterns, chandeliers hanging from a dark pressed steel ceiling, crisp white tablecloths and a fascinating array of dishes chugging around a sushi-style conveyer belt. Read review
Ant CafeIf 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. Read review:
PossumsParkhurst strip has been the king of Joburg’s dining out areas for several years now.
While other areas flux and wane, Parkhurst has pumped for years, with the emphasis on young, lively and loud punctuated by a few quieter, more upmarket bistros. You have to feel sorry for the nearby residents, but at least they’re never short of a decent meal.
Possum’s Bistro and Deli is an oasis of finer dining refinement, with nary a pizza nor a tremazzini on the menu. There are tables on a patio area in front, but on a stormy summer night the interior is a safer bet. Read full review.
Gourmet GarageWhen you’re going to the theatre it’s great to make a full evening of it and begin with a pre-show supper.
Sometimes a glass of wine or two even helps you enjoy the show, lubricating the laughter or mellowing you out for a melodrama.
At Montecasino I’m a regular at the Gourmet Garage, an American style diner that’s affordable, fast enough to whizz you through and tasty enough to actually enjoy. Read review:
Higher GroundIf I had kids, I’d want them to go to St Stithians College in Johannesburg.
Then I’d have loads of excuses to drop in for a delicious slice of cheesecake at the Higher Ground, the restaurant in the clubhouse that loftily presides over the extensive school fields below. The good news is you don’t need kids to secure a meal there, since the Higher Ground is open to everybody. Although it’s so far off the beaten track that you probably won’t know about it unless you have an affiliation to the place. Read review:
Koi, RosebankMy, how food fashions evolve.
My generation grew up fearing vegetables because they were served as overcooked heaps of soggy mush. Tuna was something confined to a tin, with hard lumps of flesh drenched in clammy oil.
Now some of us eat our fish and vegetables raw. But if your mother is 80 years old and has lived in England all her life, that’s not a meal, that’s just ingredients.
Still, my brave mum is here on her first trip to Africa, and I racked my brain for a place where the food would be recognisable, in a vibey area to show her how fabulous Joburg is. Read review:
Coachman’s InnEvery time I see The Coachman’s Inn I want to transplant it to a quaint English country village, where you sit on the terrace and watch yokels in straw hats grooming down the horses.
Instead this lovely Tudor mansion lies incongruously close to William Nicol, looking out over garish signboards and traffic in the Peter Place shopping centre. But pretend those modern distractions don’t exist and immerse yourself in bygone days, when dining out was about quality food, attentive service and a flagrant disregard for the drink driving laws. Read review:
Il LocalinoI’m sure I must miss out on lots of great eating experiences because my partner judges a restaurant by its crowds.
If it’s empty we walk on by, because he’s adamant that people would be flocking in if it was any good. Not necessarily, I argue, maybe they just haven’t discovered it yet and we’ll be the ones enjoying a little eureka moment.
Still, when we couldn’t get a table at Il Localino one evening we both agreed it was worth another look. So we secured a booking for a Saturday night and arrived with high expectations.
The public knows its stuff on this one. Read review:
QuillsI hate traffic so much that when I need to catch an early morning flight I always long to stay overnight at an airport hotel.
Then I check the hotel prices, abandon the idea and sadly set my alarm for a disgustingly early wake up. If you are in that fortunate price bracket, treat yourself to supper in Quills Restaurant at the airport’s Intercontinental Hotel. Read review:
Bistro MichelThe great thing about going to a restaurant with a group of friends is the chance to try lots of different dishes.
Unless you all decide to choose exactly the same – which is what happened over supper at Bistro Michel. Not because there was nothing else to tempt us on the menu. Just that the Duck & Cherry Pie is a kind of signature dish for chef Michel Morand and has a 25-year track record. Morand now holds court at Bistro Michel in Johannesburg’s Blubird Centre. His reputation is the drawcard, since he previously owned the five-star Auberge Michel and before that was a partner in Gatriles, another fine old favourite. Read review: