SOFA SO GOOD

See you in the souk of SOKO

By Marie-Lais Emond 10 September 2021

A woman with a home enterprise supplies Flight with the milk tarts every day. (Photo: Supplied)

A little like going to an Arabic souk and only looking into the food corners of it, I go to SOKO (it does mean souk or market) to see what small food businesses I can find among the 22 so-much-else brand spaces of artisanal excellence.

Marie-Lais Emond

As in a souk, in this Jozi spot there are many entrances or exits and many directions in which to wander and get lost, enough to have spontaneous fun. And, as in a souk, it is for shopping, to be sure, but also serves as a meeting place and a place to be seen and to observe. That’s what SOKO in Rosebank is like. 

My first place of choice has become the long, forest green velvet sofa at Flight. (Photo: Supplied)

If I want any or all of the last three, my first place of choice has become the long, forest green velvet sofa at Flight. There’s no reason not to seat myself there again today. There are delightfully ‘70s-influenced chairs and tables but this sofa draws me into its lush depth. 

I’m not a shopping mall fan. Oddly, given its situation, this is the welcome antithesis. It’s really on the first floor of the Rosebank Mall so I trot in through the mall entrance, where the escalator deposits me directly at SOKO. When I do have to drag myself around the mall doing chores, I come in here for solace, to this seat. 

Here coffee’s presented in the stunning cups of Flight’s neighbouring brand space, Rialheim. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

Flight has done some partnering here at SOKO. It’s a small business that has had little coffee and sandwich type outlets in a couple of city banking centres and still retains one. Sharing one of the directors and having one ex director of the well favoured Whippet in Linden, the coffee is always up there with the best in Jozi. Here it’s presented in the stunning cups of Flight’s neighbouring  brand space, Rialheim. Rialheim, once a neighbour of Linden’s Whippet, has since moved to the Rand Steam centre in Richmond and has a sizeable presence here at SOKO. 

Rialheim is a small handmade-ceramics business, known for the quirky table lamps particularly, stuff that’s always a bit surprising. In addition to the mugs, Flight uses their trays and plates for their huge range of milk tarts, medium and snacky size, and other coffee accompaniments like the fudge in amazing flavours made by a local client, who’s really a chemist but who also loves home cooking. 

I’ve lost a peanut milk tart to my lap before and the bits I salvaged and licked off my fingers were great. I’ve also had an intact cardamom one and tasted one of the bite-size marula milk tartlets. One woman with a home enterprise supplies Flight with the milk tarts every day. That’s what Flight always does, supporting and sharing with other small and micro businesses. 

The amazingly filled range of Jack Rabbit chocolates. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

There are other croissants and cheese sticks, all very homemade. However, something of which I’ve grown rather fond is having, with my coffee, a Jack Rabbit chocolate. Flight also shares counter space with Jack Rabbit, one of the two very best master artisanal chocolatiers in Gauteng. Jack Rabbit is based in Pretoria so Flight often mans their stand along with their own. I’m trying to work my way through the amazingly filled range of Jack Rabbit chocolates, having repeated their marzipan and saffron one quite a few times.

The baristas at Flight are all at top competition level. Those with gold pins have been doing competitive coffee for 10 or more years, while someone like Blessing Dube, who’s responsible for the brew before me, will be getting his silver pin shortly, for his five and more years.

“Do you see how the baristas do the pouring out in the open so that you can see what’s going on?”, asks owner Divan Botha sitting at a table near my green sofa. “No one hides it behind their machines here.”

A couple of interesting twists and turns along and through SOKO, past winsome fashion creators and accessory makers and I stop at a small Darling, Western Cape enterprise. This is where to get the ultra lekker Swartland Kitchen rusks that I’ve found don’t get so soggy that they collapse into your coffee. It’s become so astonishingly important that I buy them on request for friends too, buttermilk ones and the orange and almond ones, apparently nicest dunked in tea. They taste real, as with their Darling Kitchen toffees and caramels, wonderfully packaged, suggesting gift giving.

A picture of Tannie Evita oversees trade here because the two owners bought her Evita se Perron location last year (see All change on platform Evita). Small the business may be but it’s now a proud exporter and deserves its much-desired brand-stand position at SOKO.

Andrew Khanye, the SOKO district manager, told me that a me-too-please list for these stands has over a hundred applicants and that they’ve been really fussy about the so-called curation of the space. The owners of SOKO are Dutch and the SOKO plan is to expand to other Jozi places, maybe other South African cities and definitely to take it, along with its best small, artisanal South African enterprises, to Amsterdam.

No further turns are required from there before I get to Lollipop League’s space with the loveliest lollipop light box. There’s always a cluster of “not young” people around this counter, gob-smacking themselves, giggling with girly delight at these handmade lollipop flavours like Earl Grey and Gold or Smokey Peach. 

The close-by business called Graze sells me black rice and a pack of chickpea flour but has a few apparently irresistible ranges of super-healthy super-delightful granola for kids, no-gluten and no-refined-sugar plant-based butters, tahina especially black, and flours like buckwheat etc, often hard to find offline. 

Summa Sundae that’ll be my last stop has partnered with Graze for healthy and sauces and their vegan butter spreads to use as ideal ingredients in their all-natural ice creams and waffles, quite a few of which are thoughtfully and yummily vegan. 

Meantime I’ve hit another choc spot. This is quite different to SOKO’s Jack Rabbit and 44 Stanley’s Chocoloza. It’s Rrraw chocolate. So it’s the unworked, unfermented, unroasted product from the cacao pod used in this instance and the paste worked into bars and as cane-sweetened cacao products, perfect for vegans. The box of coated ginger candies catches my eye and I have a silly weakness for cacao nibs anyway, the bitter but chocolatey parts of the bean that remain out of the full process. The poster mentions that this raw chocolate is good as an energizer (sic), antioxidant and aphrodisiac.

The fully fermented, roasted, worked chocolate that has become Belgian Callebaut is what’s being used quite a few twists on, past spaces of artisanal shoes and bags, at Summa Sundae.

I watch a man ordering a three-scoop cone, ecstatically happy. A group of women and girls discuss a tableful of ice cream splendours. I am considering a scoop of cherry chocolate made with all-real, all-natural ingredients. Or maybe a Cold Brew ice cream. Flavours change seasonally. 

I’m considering a scoop of cherry chocolate or maybe a Cold Brew ice cream. (Photo: Supplied)

Bianca Boshoff only started her small business last year, a helluva time in which to have done it, having been inspired by a 20-scoop sundae she’d had and eventually finished in Bangkok. She has an even more lavish one of these available on the menu here too, called the Love Boat, for a table of five fanatics perhaps. It consists of chocolate hazelnut ice cream with layers of freshly made Belgian waffle, chocolate mousse and French vanilla ice creams, toasted macadamia nuts, Italian pistachio ice cream, fresh strawberries, milk and cookies ice cream, Oreo chunks, Callebaut chocolate chips and drizzles of milk chocolate and white chocolate, topped with the beautiful dark cherries of my favourite lick.

My, but things have improved since I was at school. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

It inspires me to have a lavish Banana Splitz instead of my single cherry choc. I haven’t had such a thing since I was at school. My, but things have been improved by Summa Sundae. This 2021 version starts with a scoop of that cherry chocolate ice cream with another scoop of chocolate nut nougat added to it and then yet another scoop of French vanilla on long brûléed banana slices, sprinkled with chopped nuts, a pile of freshly whipped cream, suddenly frozen drizzles of the Belgian milk chocolate and sliced strawbs.

My Banana Splitz and a neighbour’s ice creamy Belgian Waffle. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

A neighbour was about to tuck into a Belgian waffle that held chocolate hazelnut ice cream on it, caramel nuts, chocolate brownie ice cream and the cold brew ice cream as well, lavished with shaved chocolate and zig zags of both white and milk chocolate over all of it. I had to examine it.

Seen too late but definitely for next time will be an affogato, a rather extravagant version that includes both chocolate and coffee ice creams as well as some white-choc cake before the hot espresso drenching. More like a sundae in itself. 

I guess it’s fitting for this glamorous ice cream part of SOKO where Bianca, who always wanted to own an ice cream parlour, has battled so many weird odds to be here and where all her assistants are fully qualified pastry chefs.

If I’m not on the green velvet sofa when you arrive, I might well be in this section of the “souk” with some ice cream or chocolate smears on my face. DM/TGIFood 

SOKO, Flight Coffee, Rosebank Mall. 011 492 0733, Jack Rabbit Chocolate Studio, Waterkloof Heights Shopping Center, 103 Club Avenue, Pretoria, Swartland Kitchen 083 235 4002 , Lollipop League 082 699 9357, Graze 079 506 6322, Rrraw  071 860 6623, Summa Sundae Bar [email protected]

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The writer supports Nosh Food Rescue, an NGO that helps Jozi feeding schemes with food ‘rescued’ from the food chain. Please support them here. 

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