Bikaner (RIP) – Paneer Makhani With Garlic Naan And Butter Naan
Everyone who knows me knows that I will trade my kidneys for a plate of good Indian food. Fortunately, I have money to swop for a decent meal every now and then, so my kidneys can stay safe wherever they are. If I were given the option of the last meal before they flip the switch on my electric throne, I’d without a doubt yell out “paneer makhani with garlic naan and butter naan from Bikaner in Linden!” Do yourself a favour and go check them out. It’s a dark little authentic north Indian restaurant next to the Whippet that serves the most amazing vegetarian food. They do have meat dishes but I’ve not seen any point in venturing outside of the veggie side of life there.
Coobs – Lamb Burger With Wild Boar Bacon
The coolest thing about James Diack’s restaurants is that most – if not all – fresh produce comes from Diack’s family farm, Brightside, in Magaliesburg. This makes a world of difference to what comes out of the kitchen. Coobs is a bistro that is like no other. From truffle butter gnocchi to pork bolognese, there’s an authentic and eclectic twist on every meal. That brings us to my go-to order at Coobs: the almighty lamb burger. I mean … that the first bite — oh, what heaven that first bite is! The bun, like a freckled breast of an angel, resting gently on the hot leek marmalade and farm relish below, flavours mingling in a seductive pas de deux. And then: halloumi! The most playful blocks of halloumi! Then, a patty of ground lamb so exquisite, swirling in your mouth, breaking apart and combining again in a fugue of sweet and savour delight. This is no mere sandwich of grilled meat and toasted bread, this is the heavens departing and letting in rays of sunlight … It comes with potato chips and wild boar bacon (optional) as well.
Gemelli – Wagyu Beef With Polenta Cubes
The first time I had wagyu beef was on a sunny Thursday afternoon at Gemelli in Bryanston. What made the experience even more memorable was the fact that the part-owner and head chef of Gemelli, Paulo Santo had lunch with me. A wine rep had left and we were stuck with the most beautiful bottles of Creation Wines. Paulo had this idea to cook up different meals for each bottle of wine. It was improvisation at its best. He was playing jazz with his food skills. This sold Gemelli to me completely. I will never forget seeing Paulo walk out of the kitchen with a plate of food that changed my life. The dish consisted of charred wagyu sirloin, chimichurri salsa, cannellini bean ragu, fried gruyere polenta, Parmesan crumb and basil oil. Though this item is not on their menu (as to the best of my knowledge), it is a perfect example of how brilliant, bold, and beautiful Gemelli is as a restaurant. Paulo explained every item on the plate to me, mentioning that the beans and polenta is something his mother used to cook him when he was a young boy. Now, how can you not fall in love with that story? That’s why Gemelli is on this list. La Famiglia Prima!
Bannister Hotel – French toast with bacon, maple syrup and strawberries
One of my favourite hidden gems in the city is the restaurant at the Bannister Hotel on de Korte Street in Braamfontein. Close to the end of 2017, I spent an evening there, drinking craft beer from Durban and having a fun night with the hotel’s operations manager. The next morning I woke up with a slight hangover and an empty belly. That’s where I met the softest, creamiest, crispiest, most delicate of French toasts. I’ve mentioned the breakfast at the Bannister Hotel more times than I should, but who could blame me? It’s just that good. The French toast is topped with Back bacon and maple syrup, almonds and a berry compote.
Xai Xai – Cappon Pizza
Who would have thought that a Mozambican restaurant in Melville would serve the most delicious pizza I have ever had? See, that’s why you need me – I know about all of the cool little hidden culinary gems in Jozi. Xai Xai is known for its laid back and relaxed vibe, cold beer and good food. What makes this even more special is the fact that they make use of a wood-burning oven that’s been burning for over a decade … well, it’s not been burning for ten years straight but it’s been weathered in and that makes a world of difference to a pizza. The Cappon is a thing of beauty forever and its loveliness will never fade. The toppings? So glad you asked. Mushroom, bacon, chicken and avo. What more do you need? Xai Xai also makes its own piri piri sauce which is beyond amazing and goes very well with the Cappon. You don’t need fancy toppings to make a decent pizza. The base used at Xai Xai is perfect and we all know the base of a pizza makes or breaks it.
Leafy Greens Cafe – Weekend Buffet
Half a decade ago a good friend of mine took me out for lunch – she’s a vegan. Now, before you pull your nose up high, let me teach you a quick and easy lesson: good food is good food no matter what’s in it… or not in it for that matter. The Leafy Greens Cafe is a beautiful cafe set on a farm owned by Garry Player’s granddaughter. Go there over a weekend and take advantage of their buffet. You can expect wraps, raw pizza (no, not with raw dough, ew), curries, bread, puddings, stews and salads. Trust me on this one. Have I ever let you down before? Of course not. You will love it. They serve Copper Lake craft beer which goes well with their vegan sushi. Just try it. You will be back there in no time. Leafy Greens is set in the most picturesque little valley that you will fall in love with. To boot, everything on your plate comes from the farm the cafe is situated on, so you can take a walk around and see where your food comes from.
Urbanologi – Spider Steak With An Amber Ale
If you’ve not been to Urbanologi in Ferreirasdorp before then I highly recommend you go. In late 2017 Urbanologi was awarded an international design award for the look and feel of their restaurant and this is a perfect reflection of what comes out of the kitchen; especially my favourite menu choice. The spider steak covered in shimeji mushrooms perfectly paired with a cold glass of amber ale is the closest route to heaven from downtown Joburg. You see, everything that comes out of the kitchen at Urbanologi is nothing short of a work of art, I can tell you that much. It is the epitome of creativity and culinary combination. You simply have to go there and have the spider steak – no amount of writing will justify the magnificence that’s Urbanologi.
Love Me So – Shawn’s Special Ramen Bowl
There’s a new ramen kid on the block (at the time of writing, at least) and it’s screaming for your attention. Love Me So has taken up shop where The Leopard used to be. I was fortunate enough to interview the chef, Alex, who walked me through the menu. But we’re not going into details about that – read my Love Me So review – instead, I want to tell you about the perfect bowl of ramen that I created there … well, sort of. At Love Me So you essentially build your own bowl of ramen. The broth I picked was made from chicken, pork and mushrooms, the protein I picked was the shredded pork and then I topped it off with, Earwood mushrooms, a soft boiled egg, homemade kimchi and slow-roasted tomatoes. Go there and order the exact same dish – you will be amazed.
Piccolo Mondo – The Steak And Eggs
Nothing beats a good steak, eggs, and chips combo. Except this one comes with a slice of ciabatta bread instead of chips. Fair enough. The Piccolo Mondo at the Michelangelo Hotel in Sandton serves Steak and eggs on baked ciabatta with sautéed onion and tomato concasse, mushrooms, sunny side up egg and béarnaise sauce. Straightforward. No bushes to beat around here. Sure, the Piccolo Mondo does serve gourmet, 5-star productions but that’s not what my holy grail of Joburg dishes are.
Restaurante Parreirinha – The Prawns
Does Restaurante Parreirinha really need any introduction? Fine … here it is. The name Parreirinha originates from the words “little grapevine” and in the Restaurant courtyard, there is still a little grapevine, that up until a few years ago was producing grapes. This family-owned Portuguese restaurant is situated in an old police station in La-Rochelle and serves, hands down, some of the most wholesome food in South Africa. Don’t believe me? Well, you will just have to go check it out for yourself. Restaurante Parreirinha’s Famous Prawns are called their Famous Prawns for a reason.
*If any restaurants would like to challenge my Holy Grail and knock themselves a place into the line-up, please mail me: email@example.com