Familiar flavours made new… you simply have to try the chicken at Winner Winner, Melville’s newest, most vibey spot!
The team behind Joburg favourites like A Streetbar Named Desire, Perron, The Griffin and The Office are at it again!
Thom Hughes, Christa and Grant Ansell and Martin Jakoby (Christa’s brother) seem to have a foolproof recipe when it comes to opening restaurants. From the time they opened their first eatery, The Loft in Melville, they’ve blazed a tasty trail through the city, becoming known as much for their quirky take on cocktails as their outrageously moreish food. Maybe it’s because as one extended family (Martin and Thom were in the same Grade 1 class, and lived together in the UK for a while before becoming restaurateurs), they know how to work as a close-knit unit, and are all driven by the same adventurous spirit. Or maybe, loving eating, drinking and socialising as much as they all do, they have a well-developed instinct for spotting “the next big thing” on the restaurant scene.
That’s what led to Winner Winner, which focusses on chicken, an ingredient that’s having a major moment, according to Thom. “It’s healthier than red meat, it’s more affordable, and it’s hugely versatile,” he explains.
Winner Winner’s menu has standards like buffalo wings (twice fried and taken to the next level by unexpected sauces like Mauritian green mazavaroo, Cape Malay ranch or harissa aioli), pregos and burgers. But there are also dishes you don’t usually see on South African menus like poutaine (more about that later), and even vegan options – anyone for a burger bun stuffed with spicy, smoked banana skins?
The first thing you’ll notice when you walk into the Melville restaurant is the chicken head made of Lego bricks hanging like a kudu-horn trophy. Thom laughs that these were “donated” by his son, and that pretty much sums up the restaurant’s ethos: it’s irreverent, fun and playful, and just a little bit retro. Red and white interiors pop with fresh energy, and set the stage for a vibe that’s best enjoyed with a cocktail in hand.
In fact, drinks are key to the experience. Rather than the cloyingly sweet flavours typical of pretty drinks with umbrellas, Thom and his partners have opted for refreshing mixes that are on the savoury side “to cut through the richness of our main dishes and the sweetness of the desserts.” Thom’s favourite is the Negroni sorbet – the perfect drink to toast an orange Joburg sunset – while Christa prefers the Summer Ale Spritz, made with a rosemary syrup that’s a match for the chicken.
The team makes all the cocktail shrubs (syrups and vinegars) themselves, and the care they invest in this process runs through the rest of the establishment. All chicken is free range, bread is delivered by a local baker, and the respect and trust shared between the team and their staff is as much a feature as the music – a can’t-stop-myself-from-singing-along mix of rock, grunge and everything in-between.
It all adds up to a place that’s about much more than food trends, even though restaurants focused on a single ingredient are very much on the up. And that’s precisely what Thom was hoping for. Having worked as a food stylist, hosted shows and even penned recipe books, there’s little he doesn’t know about the kitchen. But it’s his insight into pulling it all together that gives his restaurants the edge.
As Christa puts it: “We didn’t want this to be another cheesy diner. Rather, we imagined it as what we’d find if we were driving along a US highway and came upon a place that was full of interesting people.” Her inspiration for the décor was a polaroid of a group of skaters from the 70s; gritty, but simultaneously sunlit, with an inescapably nostalgic mood. “So many restaurants make their décor a focal point, but we wanted Winner Winner to be all about the music and the food,” she explains.
Melville is the perfect location for this kind of linger-longer restaurant. Located on the site of the former Perron, the shop was already part of the team’s stable. And as it had already been beautifully fitted, it needed only a few touches to draw the kind of crowd the area is known for – diverse and eclectic as Winner Winner’s menu itself.
And the food, you ask? Although Thom says the poutine is the restaurant’s most underrated dish, it’s a superstar – handcut fries (no frozen chips here!) have been triple fried and then served with little nuggets of double-brined buttermilk chicken, dusted with flour and no fewer than 20 herbs and spices. A rich gravy is drizzled over, followed by salty feta, a sprinkle of gremolata for freshness and chicken crackling for crunch.
Winner Winner’s fresh green salad is the perfect accompaniment: creamy avo and feta are given a splash of mustard vinaigrette spiked with agave syrup, while cashews and fried onions add texture. The Princess Lay-A burger is another must, bursting with tongue-tingly sour notes from slaw infused with pickled ginger, wasabi and sesame oil. But it’s the Snickers peanut butter chocolate cake that steals the show – drenched in a creamy peanut butter-caramel sauce, it’s Thom’s home-made version of the much-loved chocolate bar, and worth every kilojoule.
Thom says he’s looking forward to seeing people embrace the concept, and our guess is it won’t take long before everyone is choosing chicken. WINNER WINNER CORNER 5TH STREET & 4TH AVENUE, MELVILLE, JOHANNESBURG; 011-482-1215; winnerwinner.joburg.
Written by Lisa Witepski
Photographs by Cindy Ellis