(Image of Foxcroft by Claire Gunn)
The look and feel of a restaurant can completely enhance the entire experience offered. In a world where aesthetics are everything, diners have come to expect an ambience and setting that makes us feel like we're somewhere special, especially when it's Friday night and you're dressed up. Let's face it, a velvet booth will always feel better than a bench.
This list could be endless with South Africa's huge variety of beautifully stylish contemporary restaurants, but we cut it down to five per city with a focus on newer restaurants. Other restaurants in Joburg that deserve a mention are Tasha's in Sandton, Urbanologi and The Saxon, as well as Cape Town favourites like Mulberry & Prince, 95 Keerom, Carne, The Test Kitchen and a whole host of Winelands restaurants like Delaire Graff, Tokara and La Colombe. We're lucky to have restaurants that don't only serve creative food, but do so in the most stylish of settings.
Here are the restaurants doing both:
Mink & Trout, CBD
We recently reviewed this one, a revamped and rebranded Birds on Bree, now taking the name of its two owners. The space oozes class and sophistication with rich textured upholstered seating and details of rose-gold. The Cape Dutch building stays true to its roots with old oak wooden flooring and exposed, worn brick walls. The food is modern bistro meets country fare, with sustainable ceviche, mushroom gnocchi, seafood bouillabaisse and a variety of other unique dishes.
Ash Restaurant, CBD
Ash's restaurant has managed to take a dingy dark basement, and refine it into a sleek space that has more edge than it did before. The black, dimly lit room allows the kitchen to be centre of attention with its geometric patterned aqua green tiles and florescent lights. The rush and movement of the kitchen is fully on display and you're able to watch the flow of plates going from pass to table. The dining area is finished off with white marble tables and designer chairs. The food is focused on charcoal cooking in a Josper oven and includes an incredible variety of unique free-range grass-fed meat cuts from Andy Fenner. Read more about Ash here.
The Shortmarket Club, CBD
The list wouldn't be complete without this, now rather established spot in town. Owned by the illustrious Luke Dale-Roberts, in partnership with Executive chef Wesley Randles, The Shortmarket Club take's you to a dinner experience reminiscent of the lavishness of the 1920s, and Parisian deco of the time. The intimate booths, seamless service, haute cuisine and unassuming entrance all make you feel like you're in an elite, members-only club. It's a Cape Town bucket list and the ultimate bar and restaurant to see and be seen. Read about our SMC experience here.
Brand new to the Constantia Winelands area, this one has a serious weighting already, with the restaurateurs both of La Colombe fame. Chef Scott Kirton, executive chef of La Colombe, will be acting as head chef of Foxcroft in partnership with long-time La Colombe pastry chef Glen Foxcroft Williams, who creates the most exceptional bakery and patisserie items. The setting is much more relaxed, and very suited to take its spot as the new in place in the Winelands. The chic bistro has a Spanish theme, filled with warm tan and sea blues. Keeping with the Spanish theme, the restaurant holds a charcuterie room and serves tapas like squid and chorizo or tuna tartare. Mains for lunch and dinner include rib-eye, pork belly and line fish.
Orangerie, at Le Lude
Heading over to the Winelands, Orangerie offers the ideal country setting in a pearly white conservatory, with high-rise arch windows and a checkered black and white floor. This is what high-tea dreams are made of, complete with white wicker chairs, indoor plants and a view of the garden. The menu has a focus on classic French methods and country cuisine, but done with South African flare and ingredients, and to complete the picture, they also offer a high tea. Make sure you order a bottle of the MCC when you visit.
An obvious choice and possibly Joburg's most anticipated restaurant of the year, David Higgs' open-fire-themed and marble-laden restaurant. The expansive space, sits high-up, overlooking Joburg through floor-to-ceiling glass. The industrial interior has been polished with glamourous finishes, like turquoise ceramic tiles, brass lampshades and a striking, elegant bar with standout wall-art and a thick sand marble slab. The food matches its surroundings with raw, rustic preparations over the fire, but on a plate it is delicate and refined. Read our review here.
The Big Mouth, Sandton
Situated in Mandela Square, The Big Mouth takes diners right to Manhattan, while staying true to its South African roots in its food. The decor is a plush, contemporary and deco-inspired space with blue leather booths, brass and frosted glass hanging orb lamps, and a very impressive head-to-toe grey marble bar. It's location, chargrilled food and fusion sushi dishes bring customers for lunch and dinner. This is the bar to have champagne and oysters at, or an indulgent lunch of sushi and sake - but don't forget about the burgers and ribs.
The Cosmopolitan Bar, Maboneng
Maboneng, the art and design precinct of Joburg, recently welcomed The Cosmopolitan, a transformed historic hotel which now houses a gallery and retail space for showcasing local art and design. The relaxed Bar forms part of this destination, and offers fancy brasserie food from chef Dario De Angeli of The Cube Tasting Room in Parkhurst. There's also a newly launched bar menu that includes dishes like dumplings, pulled-pork sandwiches and salt squid.
Café Del Sol Tre, Parkhurst
Inspired by the indulgent glamour of The Great Gatsby, with subtle glitzy art deco finishes, this restaurant is the third of the Café Del Sol restaurant group. The three owners harnessed their love for all things art deco and condensed it into Tre. The comfortable upholstered chairs, white table clothes and general elegance of the space keep things upmarket whether its breakfast, lunch or dinner. As with their other restaurants, there is a focus on modern Italian food combined with South African cuisine.
The Federal, Melville
Still brand new to Melville and the owner chef James Diack's third restaurant in Joburg, The Federal merges a New York-style deli with a New York-style diner. Burgers and hotdogs are prominent features on the menu, but other mains include braised beef brisket and an all-day breakfast waffle stack. Indulge in gourmet comfort food that is made from carefully sourced local ingredients. The decor and ambience is relaxed with a mixing of 70s retro accents and touches of modern, industrial elements. Read more about The Federal here.
EB Social Kitchen and Bar, Craighall
This spot certainly is unique as it has been incorporated into Exclusive Books at Hyde Park. But it's not the bookstore coffee shop that we usually associate with. Social Kitchen sets itself apart from the books with inventive cuisine and a lust-worthy sparse interior that keeps a constant flow between diners and shoppers. The design is a collision of different themes that include large deco hanging lights, an exposed industrial ceiling, Moroccan tiles and a beautiful long shiny brass bar. The food is tapas-inspired but the portions are a little larger, aimed at sharing. The inventive fusion of flavours will take you around the world.
Old Town Italy, Umhlanga
This is a day-time spot like no other in Durban. We've mentioned these guys in our Doughnut round-up, but they are so much more than a place to enjoy the legendary conut. They get an A plus on style and design. The unassuming exterior sits in an office park area of Umhlanga and doesn't give you any clue to what is inside. The space is totally impressive with high ceilings and a long L-shaped bar made up with marble, copper and ornately carved wood. The still fairly new space is overflowing with character and authentic Italian food that can be enjoyed sitting down or choose deli options to take home.
The Chef's Table, Umhlanga
The food is based around daily availability of produce that is delivered from organic farms each morning. Executive chef Kayla-Ann Osborn focuses on the quality of her food rather than its fitting into any kind of definition. Because everything is seasonal, flavours are bold and food is as fresh as can be. The restaurant opened in June and was a much needed addition to Durban's food scene. The decor is that raw-yet-elegant style with many a round table, accompanied by deep blue booths. The large kitchen is totally on display, integrating diners with the preparation of their food.
14 on Chartwell, Umhlanga
This is as much of a drinking spot as it is a dining spot, with the bar taking center stage. The lighting is also a prominent feature of the restaurant with hundreds of sparkling gold bulbs, held in brass circular frames. The lights, gold corrugated metal bar, and general greenery of the fabrics and plants carries an air of old Hollywood glamour. On the menu is simple bar and comfort food like burgers and ribs, and they are known for their cocktails.
The Club, Life Grand Café, Waterkloof
The Life Grand Café restaurant group has made quite a name for themselves in the Gauteng area with innovative and glamourous dining experiences, instantly recoginsable in terms of quality and refined details. The Life Grand series of restaurants is at The Mall of Africa, Hyde park, with The Club in Pretoria. It's the perfect place for a decadent brunch or general meeting spot for Pretorians with a relaxed atmosphere and indulgent food and drinks.
Café Beyritz, Lynnwood
This restaurant emanates class, whether its dinner or lunch. It has a European bistro look and feel, with a menu that has drawn inspiration from all over the world. The highlight of Beyritz is the Leadwood tree, standing in the middle of the restaurant. At night the gold lighting, glistening bar and white table clothes set the scene for a sophisticated dinner that is above many of the rest in Pretoria.
- Ceili McGeever