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.
My heart sinks if there’s ever a show I want to see at Gold Reef City, because of all the many dodgy venues in Johannesburg, Golf Reef is the biggest cultural wasteland of the lot.
Montecasino is a pleasure in comparison, since for all its perpetual dusk, faux starry ceiling and men with massive balloons, you can at least get a decent pre-show meal. You just have to know where to look.
Some of the restaurants are too slow for a quick in and out, leaving you wolfing down the food and pleading for the bill before hot-footing it to the door. Others are expensive, making a theatre and dinner night rather an extravagance.
Now 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.
I even have my regular favourite dish, the chicken salad at R69. It’s a huge affair, built on a tasty bed of lettuce, tomatoes, red pepper, carrot strips and cucumber. Then they add avocado and sweetcorn kernels and generously cover the surface with extremely tender chunks of chicken. All doused – yes, it’s definitely doused rather than drizzled – with a dressing containing enough poppy seeds for you to check your teeth afterwards for lurking reminders.
On my most recent visit my partner also had his traditional choice of lamb burger at R99, but with an eye to whittling away the after-Christmas excesses he virtuously opted for salad rather than the usual chips. But rather defeated the object by picking the calorific Roquefort dressing.
The dressing was far too strong, mixed by an over-generous chef who doesn’t realise that with such a strong blue cheese, less is generally more. Next time it’s back to the chips, my partner declared.
The last lettuce leaves were ignored in their pool of overpowering sauce, but the burger was delicious and the bun light and fluffy enough to make part of the meal rather than be shoved aside, as burger buns often are.
The burgers come with a choice of chips, mash, onion rings, salad or veggies, priced from R66 for a basic burger to R145 for the double-stacked Garage Burger. Other options on the diner-style menu are steaks, chicken and ribs, as well as a couple of fish dishes and veggie burgers.
Wine by the glass is off the Tall Horse variety, with individual carafes of Chardonnay for R33.
The décor is fun and funky, with bright striped tablecloths and bold yellow flowers along the fence that separates the eating area from the path through Monte, where you can people-watch the wide variety of characters who frequent the place.
There’s a bright red old Fiat parked outside and the car theme continues with old road signs, a quaint and ancient petrol pump and model cars on the shelves. The most amusing is a settee made out of the boot of a wide-winged car.
There’s usually a table free even on busy nights, with an upstairs dining area as well as a large interior and more tables set out onto the patio.
I always want to get pedantic when a waiter asks if I want to eat inside or out, since it’s all technically indoors under the vast roof at Montecasino. But reality and Monte have little to do with each other, so I let it pass.
You can end your meal by choosing from a handful of simple desserts like ice cream and chocolate brownies, but I had no space left to fill.
Gourmet Garage rarely fails to get you in and out within an hour. But I always leave a little extra time to take my doggy bag of salad back to the car, since I can’t really sneak it into the show.
Shop 64, Montecasino, William Nicol Drive, Fourways.