(Images taken from The Sunnyside Instagram)
When the long-standing and iconic dive bar, Rafiki’s, served its last pint at the end of last year, many of us were flabbergasted, even those who had always refused to step foot inside.
With the location being where it is, the excitement and chatter around the vacant space was tangible and when we heard that the people behind The Power and the Glory and Hallelujah were taking it over, we breathed a sigh of relief knowing that the new Sunnyside Inn was bound to transpire into something good.
Much to my delight, the place has been totally transformed, the only recognisable aspect of the dining room being the wooden floor, the years of drunken stomping however upgraded by new floorboards. A restaurant interior should have us sitting comfortably in admiration. The Sunnyside has executed this flawlessly, with its design conceptualised by owner Adam Whiteman. The walls are pristine white with embellished wall art, offering a contemporary baroque feel, matching white tablecloths surrounded by various styles of antique Victorian-esque chairs with woven cane seats, and to complete the picture a cast iron fireplace providing much-needed warmth in Winter. The dining room scene reminds me of old-style, silver service, however the dinner to follow was to be a somewhat different affair.
The menu is set at R380 per head with three courses per person. It is shared amongst the table with the exception of dessert, embodying a classic French theme with notable twists. Chef Emma Hofmans is responsible for the menu and is also behind the exciting and constantly good food at Hallelujah.
The mains on offer were pork belly with Christmas stuffing and Abalimi sweet potatoes or spinach cannelloni, walnuts and beetroot cream. We were a group of four, so we ordered two of each main, which was served with sides of pecan brittle topped roasted butternut, fennel and orange salad, and port-braised red cabbage.
We were off to an excellent start with the first course of West Coast moules mariniere, served with fresh baguettes and Bagna Cauda butter (with garlic and anchovies). This was a faultless dish that took me straight to a huge pot of mussels I once devoured with a friend in St Germain, Paris. The baguettes must’ve come straight from the oven, a delicate crispy exterior encasing dough both dense and fluffy. The butter had me rudely dunking the remainder of bread in its ramekin, and I probably could’ve kept at it a while longer had there been more.
We eagerly tucked into the mains, my one friend very excited about the red cabbage, which I understood why after tasting it. The cannelloni trumped the pork belly with its rich tomato and beetroot puree, cheesy top and generously stuffed flavoursome spinach. The pork belly trend is feeling a bit tired these days, it’s on just about every second menu, which in turn adds some serious competition for its execution. This one unfortunately didn’t make the cut, the fat was not crispy enough and the meat was fairly dry.
The concept behind The Sunnyside Inn revisits the old hotel dinner and lunch experience with classic roast dishes and wholesome vegetable sides. It’s upmarket without pretension. The dishes were – for the most part, enjoyable. The menu at first appears fancy but as the food starts arriving it’s clear that the meal is intended to embody a family-style way of eating through sharing. The dishes imitate home-cooked food that is wholesome, down-to-earth and ultimately… safe.
The concept is great, although there’s much flack given to the trend of sharing food at restaurants, the concept is great – it makes for an uncomplicated dining experience when your table is more than two in that you get to try everything, splitting the bill is simple, and the sharing fuels conversation and engagement.
The Sunnyside Inn isn’t somewhere you decide to go on a whim after a couple of drinks at The Power and The Glory (in the way that Hallelujah is), it is more of a commitment. I think the option of an à la carte menu would be more beneficial to encourage a regular clientele of residents nearby, and perhaps that will happen in due course as for now, they appear to still be testing the waters, only opening on specific days/evenings.
There is no doubt that The Sunnyside Inn has serious potential with exquisite and adeptly executed décor, a brilliant chef and an already sturdy reputation from the group’s other successful establishments. You can imagine the Summer months transpiring on that rounded balcony with lazy lunches and good wine, and the restaurant bar is set to open in about a month which is certainly something to look forward to.
For a dinner prepared in this home-style way, based on principles of simplicity and made from abundant ingredients, we did find ourselves wondering whether R380 was fair. It got me to thinking if this style could compete at such a price with other restaurants in the city that charge the equivalent, and offer more experimental and elevated cuisine. But give it a try, and see for yourself.
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