It’s like I’m a Martian in a strange land where, if I want a coffee, I drive 6.4km with the help of a GPS though the sprawl of Johannesburg, the world’s largest urban forest.
Roads twist, turn, rise and drop through the rocky outcrops and ravines that make the landscape of this town.
While there are a few urban villages in the suburbs of one of the top ten most dangerous cities in the world, most people rely of shopping centres, each tailored to a different demographic and budget.
You see secure parking is important among the security conscious affluent residents, from razor wire and CCTV at their security gates to wanting secure parking at restaurants, some of which seem to be stuck in a 1970s time warp.
Here’s what to expect from the Johannesburg Restaurant scene.
It’s therefore no surprise that the quality of parking is as important as the food in this alien world. Take, for instance reviews of the Troyeville Hotel, perhaps home to the finest spatchcocked Mozambique prawns in the city.
Reviews range from:
“Safe parking behind venue at back entrance.”
“There’s guarded street parking and all the times I’ve been there, it’s always felt safe.”
“I’m really not sure what the fuss is over this place! It is located in a really unsavoury part of town (I was really nervous driving and parking there) and the establishment looks a bit run down.“
2. Most restaurants are located in the city’s many shopping centres. In the old-school suburban Dunkeld West shopping mall DW13 is the peak of the dining scene. Ditto Licorish and others. All with a magnificent view OF THE CARPARK.
3. Restaurants sometimes have baffling names. To be fair, at lot of tourists may find our Melbourne restaurant names off – from the misspelled Vue de Monde to Cumulus Inc, Supernormal and the Dogs Bar.
Here in ‘Jozi’ we have Wombles (one of the city’s best steak restaurants), Coobs (they trade beef for other ingredients), Vicky Christina (if you get the film reference you’ll realise its tapas), Throbbing Strawberry (pizza of course) and the gastropub Rim & Rubber (seriously).
4. Vegetables. Most menus are stick in the 1970s serving creamed spinach and mashed butternut pumpkin. Without fail.
5. Once a restaurant becomes successful it becomes a chain with many locations in Joburg and in some cases also Cape Town, the true dining and wine capital of South Africa.
6. The most popular venues serve steak, pizza, Portuguese or sushi. Sometimes all of them. Adega a popular Portuguese franchise has one page of Portuguese, one of steak, one of fish, one of tempura and five pages of sushi in its 74 page full colour perfectly bound menu, which carries advertising. A nice African lady prepares the sushi in a paper hair net.
7. Wine, especially reds, are as large and boisterous as a Springboks prop. You’ll pay the equivalent of $AUD5-6 for a 250ml glass. Let me repeat that: a 250ml glass. That’s one third of a standard bottle. Bottles cost from 150-250 Rand usually – divide that by 10 for Australian dollars. In the bottle shops really good wine will cost from 80 to 250 Rand. There’ll be only one that is orange and one biodynamic in a shop’s full selection.
8. Service is the friendliest you’ll find any where in the world. Wait staff are almost exclusively black African. Few will have ever tried the food or wine. But they are cheerful and chatty everywhere. Pay is much less than anyone would expect in Australia which dramatically changes the economics of a restaurant.
9. There are hipster cafes and restaurants, especially in the big burger scene. Venues such as The Foundry serve pretty awesome spherified shots made from vanilla vodka and lavender liquor. Workshop 55 does a fixed price tapas style menu and specialises in gin & tonics, enhanced with herbs and fruit.
Copper Bar is a Thursday night only rooftop bar. You have to call in advance and have your name put on the door to keep out drunken riff raff.
10. It’s pretty easy for a couple to spend 400 to 500 Rand on a night out of a 2-3 course meal with wine. That’s $40-50 – less than the price of a bottle of wine in Australia.
11.Unfortunately, food provenance is a problem. Watch out for Vietnamese farmed prawns. Menus will be misspelled and all spaghetti carbonara contains cream. Without question.
12. You’ll finish your meal with either an Irish Coffee or Dom Pedro – that’s a boozy black coffee topped with an inch of lightly whipped cream or boozy vanilla thick shake – the booze options being whiskey or Kahlua.
13. The bill will always be delivered with sweets. Individually wrapped sweets. Without fail.
14. There are also hipster food markets in old factories and warehouses in the inner city which is being reclaimed from the criminal gangs that took over post apartheid (more on this in another post) where plenty of “craft” products are sold. As in Australia craft = money.
15. Drunk driving is frowned upon, though a 400 Rand cash bribe will get you out of trouble with a police booze bust. Alternatively take an Uber. A 20 minute trip costs about the equivalent of $6. Our favourite driver was called “Welcome” although “Freedom” came a close second.
16. If you do drive, whether you park in the street or the carpark (where often you can keep an eye on your car whilst dining) you’ll need to tip the parking attendant. There is a informal network of attendants, sometimes with criminal links. It’s an unregulated protection racket albeit one that only costs about 2 – 5 Rand (20 – 50 cents) a time. You will find it a constant battle to maintain your supply of appropriate coins.