Tashas put the notion of a ‘trendy’ franchise on the South African map; different to Wimpy, Panarottis etc they offer their clients a different encounter at their different venues, and a dining experience where you can see and be seen, get your egg white omlette and skinny-soy-cappuccino and treat the manager like your BFF.
But they’re not the only ones doing it anymore, there’s a new kid on the block in the form of Life Grand Café.
The Life Grand Café first started up in Hyde Park and now they’ve expanded their brand to Waterfall Corner and Pretoria. I visited the Waterfall branch for dinner last week.
They’ve been open for 3 weeks and the place is packed, but I’m pleased to say it’s packed with the greatest diversity of race, gender and age that I’ve seen in any restaurant in a long time. We’re seated and greeted by Maira, one of the owners, petite and vivacious – she puts the ‘d’ in dynamites’ small package.
We talk about her ethos; she’s instantly likeable because she’s honest about her brand and clear about their vision, ‘we’re not a white-table establishment, we’re about classic food and comfort with a twist’. Maira’s background is in architecture and design and her husband’s is in engineering, and it shows: a lot of thought has gone into the layout and décor of this space, the kitsch-meets-cool mix of an elegant turquoise and white interior studded with orchids, candles, brass and wooden features…and a giant dodo, because in Maira’s words ‘why not?’
We begin our dining experience with a few of their signature cocktails, a ‘South side of life’ and a ‘Spiced mojito’, trendy twists on classic ideas; they’re tasty and tangy but a bit too sweet for me, I like to taste the alcohol in my cocktails rather than just what’s added, but cocktails have never really been my thing, I’m more of a wine girl, so don’t let me put you off the idea – they might be right up your alley.
Speaking of which, the wine list: a grand collection of champagne and sparkling wines including Dom Perignon and some lovely Proseccos, the white and red selections are different, and refreshingly so; Southern Right, Babyllonstoren, Reyneke, Saxenberg and Meinert to name a few, and the mark ups are around 100% which isn’t bad. Franschoek Cellar wines form your primary ‘by the glass option’.
Now, most importantly, the food: the menu is expansive, it’s the kind of place where you could bring mum and dad, the kids, the girlfriend or a big crowd and everyone would find something to their taste. Having said that, I do always worry when I see pizza, pasta, tapas, steak and sushi on one menu as I feel sometimes they spread themselves too thin, but, for the most part, everything was perfectly executed.
We started with Beef carpaccio and Yellowtail ceviche. The Carpaccio was lovely and delicate; simple, good ingredients, well put together and presented. The ceviche was outstanding, with an undercurrent of grapefruit, fennel, coriander and chilli it was the perfect blend of acidity, spice and heat, whilst still letting the flavour of the fish come through.
For mains we opted for a selection of tapas as well as a prawn curry and their famous lamb shank (I told you the menu was diverse). The tapas were delicious; perfectly cooked Calamari and Holloumi, crispy Croquettas and Squid heads and a ‘tomatoed-take’ on Patatas bravas which I found to be delectable.
The Prawn curry was a little underwhelming; I wanted more bite and more of a ‘flavour-punch’, but having said that, it’s described as a ‘medium-spiced’ curry, so one can’t really complain…
The Lamb shank…oh the Lamb shank! I almost had a When Harry met Sally moment over this exquisite slow-roasted masterpiece. I have been to so many restaurants that pertain to have THE BEST lamb shank, but this literally was the best I’ve had in a long, long time. It fell off the bone, was rich and melt-in-your-mouth scrumptious. It was served with oven-roasted cherry tomatoes, potatoes and tzatziki and just made me smile from ear to ear. I am going back just for that.
We opted out of dessert, but having read what I just devoured, I am sure you can understand why. (I’ve heard the molten chocolate pudding is the way to go though.)
Like I said, this is a restaurant for the everyman, it’s trendy and fun, loud and vibrant, the food is tasty and homely with flashes of eccentricity, the staff are friendly and it will suit all your needs. It’s not fine-dining eloquence, but it’s not pretending to be, it’s honest and that’s what I like about it, in Maira’s words ‘we’re catering for all South Africans’.
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