Food24 eats at... The Leopard (Joburg)
The less said about the food desert that is Johannesburg the better, and no, that’s not a spelling mistake. So I was hugely excited about the quality of the food at The Leopard, which recently opened on 4th Ave in Parkhurst. I wanted to write a proper review for the Mail & Guardian, but the loser food critic there got in first, so sucks to him.
I still can’t resist a quick review here, telling you one simple thing: go and eat the quail at The Leopard. Stuffed with macadamia rice, and accompanied by a Maputo chilli sauce, it’s in the top ten of dishes I’ve eaten in Joburg. Not because it’s spectacular, not because it’s intriguingly deconstructed, not because it’s ‘a delightful melange of the nutty and the moist’. None of that shit. Go and eat it because it tastes damn good.
I went to The Leopard two weeks in a row. The second week, I took an overseas guest and two mean women from the Sunday Times’ Home Weekly, and a blonde woman from Camps Bay (tough audience, huh) and spent the first half hour warning them to order quickly, because the odds of their food getting to them timeously were slim. After a while, they asked – uh, why did you bring us here if the service is so atrocious? The answer arrived on the plates.
Food worth struggling for.
On the first visit, which was during the first week of opening, service veered between the late and the ludicrous. I think about six wrong orders were delivered, which you’d think would piss you off. But in each case, they just insisted we try the dish anyway. At one stage, the first main course plate arrived. Fifteen minutes later they came to take it away again, telling us the others weren’t ready.
But with each service error came weirdly good service – free tastings to pass the time, and the aforementioned donation of the wrong dishes to the greater gustatory good. I didn’t bother checking the bill at the end, as we were entering the realm of quantum restaurateuring by that stage, but I know a lot of stuff was taken off the final amount.
Simple and delectable.
I tell you this tale to amuse you, not to put you off The Leopard. If you’re a Capetonian, or from ‘that’ part of San Francisco, the artistic service ethic will make you nostalgic. After all, who wouldn’t rather have a good-looking waiter than an efficient one. On my second visit, service was excellent, and most of the teething problems were gone. At this stage of the review, you normally supply some information about the chef etc. I’m just going to steal that from the official Mail & Guardian review, which you’ll find here.
“The restaurant’s name is taken from Il Gattopardo, a favourite childhood book by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa that tells the story of the last of the Sicilian aristocracy and has beautiful, nostalgic descriptions of food. This is the kind of food she wants to emulate — the “simplest, simplest things”.
“Everyone remembers [chef Andrea] Burgener’s first restaurant 12 years ago, the Super Bon-Bon in Richmond, and that it served Coco Pops and milk. The dish came with “toys” like those you would find inside the cereal box, but larger — a huge blow-up pencil, or slippers.
“Some of that playfulness is still in evidence at the Leopard; you will sometimes find spaghetti and Marmite. The Marmite is melted with butter and then tossed with pasta and a sprinkling of parmesan.”
Hazy memory alert: the last time I saw chef Burgener was roughly (very roughly) 10 – 15 years ago, when she was called The Fairy and was part of the Braam Kruger ‘Kitchen Boy’ setup (read about him on Mahala). Frighteningly, she appears to look exactly the same, as gorgeous but perhaps less fey. But the sense of absurdity which you’ll find in Kruger’s excellent cookbook (I only have one) is hinted at in The Leopard.
Almost every dish on the short menu is a delight (and I got to taste them all over two visits, one of the benefits of being handed the wrong orders), but I’m always going to eat that quail. The mussels are good too, and the Son of Caesar salad is amazing: crunchy, fresh, and apparently a constant favourite.
The best food in Johannesburg.
I could carry on, but you probably get the idea. This is some of the best food you’re going to get in Johannesburg, if you like food that’s honest, original, fabulously created and incredibly tasty.
The Leopard was reviewed by Chris Roper. Read his awesome blog.