While new foodie fashions are always favoured, there’s much to recommend the restaurants and chefs that have been around for decades.
Young can be yummy, but it’s not the only food show in town. And the obsession with youth is blinding us to epicurean icons and their long serving restaurants at the other end of the alimentary age spectrum. The bitter truth is that while we weren’t watching, many of South Africa’s iconic gastronomic gems have quietly closed. And with them have gone so many of our most precious munchable memories. It is impossible to calculate how many engagement rings were offered up amid the hors d’oeuvres at the Sandton Sun’s late lamented Chapters restaurant. Romantic anniversaries over orange-infused duck were always the order of the day at Cape Town’s much missed Rozenhof. The deliciously discreet waiters at the Durban Club’s delightful Dolce Vita could spot an illicit affair at 40 paces while the maître d’ at Johannesburg’s Chez Andre presided over more landmark birthdays than he had hot dinners. Our lives are poorer for the passing of these epic eateries, but let’s raise a glass to those that remain for their muchappreciated edible endurance…
The Rand Club, 33 Loveday Street, Johannesburg, CBD, 011-870-4260.
The Scotsman newspaper recently described it as “Johannesburg’s most historic building, at the heart of the world’s greatest gold fields.” And indeed, it is – in 1886, during his first visit to the then recently established mining camp of Johannesburg, Cecil Rhodes walked along the dust track of Commissioner Street, and on reaching the bare veld of Loveday Street, said: “Here we must have a club.” One hundred and twenty five years later the club, which has always housed a restaurant, still stands on the spot that Rhodes picked out. Today the food is retro-chic at its most uninhibited – think avocado ritz and sole veronique and you will get the general gourmet gist. Non-members must book, adhere to the strict dress code and not even think about bringing children.
52 or 54 Years
La Perla, Beach Road, Sea Point, Cape Town, 021-439-9538.
This Cape Town culinary classic opened in Waterkant Street in 1957. Baylon Sandri, son of the restaurant’s founder-owner, Emiliano Sandri, explains: “I am the second generation of Sandri in the restaurant. La Perla actually opened in 1957. It’s complicated – my father opened the restaurant together with another Italian, Cleto Saporetti, and then left Cape Town, returning a year later to take over completely in 1959. So when you ask long serving staff and loyal patrons, some people say we are 52 years old and others say 54!
We moved to our current spot in Sea Point in 1969 and here we have stayed.”Baylon explains that many of the staff have been present since the early days. “Albert Maswali has been at the restaurant since 1959 – he’s going into semi-retirement this year. He started as a cleaner and gradually moved up to head chef. Wine steward Livingstone Nkosana has been here for over 30 years, as have front of house legends Daya Naidoo and Tony Perumal.” And it’s not just the service that is rooted in tradition. The crayfish laden fish soup has been on the menu since day one, as have many other Cape favourites.
Nelson’s Eye, 9 Hof Street, Gardens, Cape Town, 021-423-2601.
Nelson’s Eye has been in the grill game since 1962 and is still serving up the kind of man-sized, artery clogging steaks that more modern eateries are too timid to offer. The wood panelling and canoodlefriendly booths make it perfect for both business and love in the afternoon. Best of all, the A-grade meat is paired with the best onion rings in the solar system – thick and crunchy inside with the lightest batter on the outside.
Gramadoelas, Market Theatre Complex, Bree Street, Newtown, Johannesburg, 011-838-6960.
It is impossible to overstress the cultural and political importance of Eduan Naude and Brian Shalkoff, who first opened the doors of Gramadoelas in Goldreich Street in Hillbrow in 1967. At the height of the apartheid regime, the restaurant maintained a brave (and technically illegal) non-racial admissions policy. Chef Naude remembers: “It was illegal to accept black customers and we were threatened with the loss of our liquor license, but really, such rubbish had to be challenged.” They were also among the first South African chefs to put African cuisine into a smart restaurant context. As veteran restaurant critic Victor Strugo observes, “There’s more to establishing a national culinary tradition than paying lip-service to empty slogans like local is lekker or building theme-park eateries around drummers and face-painting. Gramadoelas has given South African cuisine dignity. It is a priceless South African legacy.” After 44 years the umngqusho (Xhosa samp and beans) is still marvellous and the malva pudding is nothing short of magnificent.
Roma Revolving Restaurant, John Ross House, Victoria Embankment, Durban, 031-337-6707.
Roma Revolving Restaurant was opened in February 1973 by Bartolomeo Ribero, Comiso Turi and Gino Leopardi. It is one of only 36 spinning eateries left in the world. The 32nd floor location serves up panoramic views of Durban, and after 38 years in business, Comiso and Gino are still the culinary kings of butter-laden veal piccata Piedmontese and gloriously ye-olde melon maraschino. No one in their right mind leaves without treating themselves to Gino’s tableside flambéed crêpes suzette.
La Madeleine, 122 Priory Road, Lynnwood Ridge, Pretoria, 012-361-3667.
Chef Daniel Leusch has been cooking up a storm at La Madeleine in Pretoria for 37 years. He says, “We started in Sunnyside where we had a more fine dining feel, but times change, and that is not where the modern palate feels at home, so it’s not economically sustainable. As a result, we have increasingly moved into the realm of bistronomy – by this I mean we combine culinary skill and classic, authentic flavourcombinations with affordable prices, simple plating and a relaxed atmosphere.” From his ditch-the diet- delicious rabbit gibelotte and duchesse potatoes to simple salads of ceps drizzled in argan oil and saffron-laden bouillabaisse, it is all yum with a capital Y. He argues that his recent introduction of a cheaper, family-friendly Sunday lunch “is evidence of our desire to always move with the times and engage with a modern desire for great food in a kid-friendly space.”
Le Troquet, Village Market, Jan Hofmeyr Road, Westville, Durban, 031-266-5388.
Annick and Gilbert Bordier have been producing perfect bourride shellfish soup with garlic croutons, rabbit with mustard and crème caramelisée since 1983. In 2006, they moved from their original Cowie’s Hill site to their current location, but the haricots Périgourdine and Mouclade Normande remain mouthwateringly unchanged. Madame Bordier attributes their professional longevity to “our strongcharacter –character – his little jokes are very appealing." Humour, escargots forestière and a never ending supply of Bollinger is a winning combination.
Robert Mulders, 6 Spin Street Restaurant, City Bowl, Cape Town, 021-461-0666.
Robert Mulders is a Cape Town legend in his own lunchtime. Having previously owned Rozenhof in Kloof
Street, he is now working his magic at 6 Spin Street. The good news is that the twice baked cheese soufflé and orange infused duck have come with him from his previous restaurant. Modern eating styles have caught up with the Cape king of posh nosh – the new hot spot is in a space shared with IDASA’s book shop, so he now also opens for breakfast. The hustle and bustle of modernity have marinated onto the new menu in the form of the “quick spin” two-course lunch, served in a guaranteed 50 minutes or less.
Marc Guebert, Le Soufflé, Shop 9 and 10, Pineslopes Shopping Centre, Fourways, 011-465-4116.
Gallic gastronomic icon, Marc Guebert, says, “since I arrived in South Africa in 1972, I must have made over 400 000soufflés!” As veteran food and travel writer Gwynne Conlyn observes, “Marc Guebert has featured so prominently in my life. As he has moved venue, so I have followed. First at Île de France, then at Bistro 277 and now at Le Soufflé, all my family’s major events seem to have happened amidst his cuisine.”
Mauvis family, Ile Maurice, 9 McCausland Crescent, Umhlanga, 031-561-7609.
Loyal fans have followed the Mauvis family from Durban’s St Geran (which first opened in 1976) into their more recent Umhlanga venture. Although matriarch Elsie Mauvis died in 2010 aged 91, her sons Jean, Francois and Robert continue to cook up tributes to their Franco-Mauritian cultural and culinary heritage. Savour an eclectic combination of vichyssoise, shellfish gratin, ginger and chilli-laden rougaille de boeuf, and chilli paste packed octopus curry.
Gone, but not forgotten…
Sadly, Linger Longer in Sandton closed after 50 years with the death of its chef, Walter Ulz. His creativity and passion are sorely missed.