The revamp of the old ‘potato sheds’ and market district in Newtown a couple of years ago had many people up in arms. People were shocked that a shopping centre was going to replace the historical set of buildings next to The Market Theatre, a place steeped in history and the home of struggle theatre in South Africa. But, the centre has bought with it secure, underground parking for shoppers and theatre-goers alike. It’s brought the area back to life in many ways. The only problem I had with it was that there were no good restaurants; just your run of the mill chains and take-away joints, until now that is.
Welcome The Potato Shed.
The first thing you’re struck by is the outrageously detailed décor and the beautiful incorporation of the original structure of the original, 1911 building. It reminded me in some ways of The Steamworks – the same steam-punk décor ideology, but the detail given to every nook and cranny from floor to ceiling is a sight to behold. Gorgeous parquet floors mixed with bespoke tiles, a strikingly handsome bar and opulent leather couches.
Whilst it’s called The Potato Shed, giving the impression that it’s just about potatoes, you couldn’t be further from the truth. The list of potato sides is tremendous; there are ten takes on the traditional spud from tripple-cooked fries to twice-baked to slashed and stuffed – but it’s more of a Southern American smokehouse/barbeque joint.
The kitchen has pit smokers, fire pits, robata grills, and wood-fired ovens churning out the most delectably succulent, slow-cooked, barbequed and smoked fare. It’s outlandishly over the top, but they don’t disappoint when it comes to flavour.
The menu offers an amalgamation of Southern American and South African soul-food and barbeque classics. Think corn bread, bunny chows, wors, jaffels, steaks, ribs, braised meats and, of course, potatoes.
We wanted to try their speciality dishes so we went for the chicken poker from the ‘fire pit’ as well as the 8 hour, braised pork belly and beef short ribs from the ‘embers and ashes’ section. For our sides we chose the fried, string potatoes with saffron mayo and the baked sweet potato with butter beans and coconut mayo as well as a garden box salad.
The food here is ‘slow food’, especially the items cooked in the fire pit- these take 30 minutes or so to cook – this is an aspect that could be problematic as we went on a quiet night and waited 40 minutes for our mains. But, having said that, they were well worth the wait. If you’re impatient perhaps order a starter or two – but be prepared for when the mains come, because the portions are very generous!
The braised pork belly is cooked with Chinese 5 spice, ginger, orange, marmalade, mustard and soy sauce and was out of this world. It’s a sweet and salty, Asian-fusion, melt in your mouth delight! The meat was so soft and succulent you could cut it with a spoon. The short rib was beautifully tender and, having gone through a similar braising process, the texture of the meat was like that of the pork belly, but the flavours combinations are completely different; more subtle, more savoury, with a slight barbeque sweetness. And then there was the chicken. Cooked to perfection, a delectable combination of lemon and herb with a gentle smokiness and finished with a faint char for added flavour. I was blown away.
Now for the sides – the shoe string fries were tasty, but I think they could look at getting them a little crispier (that’s my preference anyway). The baked sweet potato could have fed the two of us as a main – it was enormous! I wasn’t sure about stuffing it with butter beans as they can be quite mushy in texture themselves, but these beans had a firmer texture and harder shells giving a nice contrast. I didn’t get saffron or coconut from the different mayos they served with each potato side, I think they should go the whole hog with the flavourings or just serve the standard mayo as is.
The garden box salad was a marvel to look at; served in a rectangular box with all the elements protruding from different sides. It would make a gorgeous centre piece but that was my problem – too much thought given to the design of the dish and not enough thought given to how people might tackle it. The whole heads of broccoli, whole rosa tomatoes and large finger-sized pieces of carrot and cucumber meant it was more of a crudité box than a salad. The meats and potatoes here are so outrageous that you yearn for a more delicate hand taken with the salad.
The wine list is neat and interesting; nice options by the glass and a few, more boutique offerings in the mix like Holden Manz and Bartinney which is always fantastic in my books. The have a great selection of local, artisanal gins, craft beers and ciders, ready-made keg cocktails, ‘barrel aged cocktails’ and bottled, cocktail pops.
The service is casual; waiters are friendly and helpful, but I feel more leadership and engagement from management would do wonders. The waiters take their impetus from the speed of the bar and the kitchen, and if food or drinks aren’t being pushed out fast enough there’s very little the waiters can do.
It’s a cool, chic, wonderfully lavish spot that has the makings of a great restaurant, they just need to iron out a few creases and they’ll be there in no time.
- Kate Liquorish