There’s more to Parkhurst than its ‘Feta Cheese Belt’ rep
Indefinable Parkhurst has attracted some really fine restaurants and chefs and there’s no doubt that it is now a good eating out destination.
It’s a tricky food place to define. Fourth Avenue, Parkhurst has been the strip for ladies who lunch for quite a long time and so is also ruefully known by restaurateurs as the feta cheese belt. The lunching women feel entitled to feta with whatever they order, usually healthyish salads. Yes, always feta and “extra avo please”.
Come dusk, the character changes and 4th Avenue becomes younger and beer-drinking, noisy, not necessarily knowledgeable about or keen to try good food. Hamburgers and pizzas work well as booze blotters.
Neither market is very encouraging for top food creators. Yet Parkhurst has attracted some really fine restaurants and chefs. This could mean that Parkhurst has become more of a destination for Jozi’s other good eaters. It is also hoped that Covid-occasioned abstinences have maybe made the residents’ hearts grow fonder for more exciting food.
There’s no doubt that Parkhurst is now a good eating out destination. Interestingly, it also survived the Covid times better than most other Jozi food areas. Did the feta and beers assist it through the worst? Many of the previous restaurants are still there, doing well, and rather interesting new places have opened recently.There are five or so very-good-to-best restaurants.
One of my favourite restaurants, definitely a best, Embarc is full. It’s early lunch time and I’m taking a couple of days to check on every place that I know, as well as the ones I don’t yet know. Embarc has an enviable menu and wonderful chef credentials. Chefs Darren O’Donovan and Lisa de Beer produce the finest gourmet brilliance, without unnecessary drama. See Embarc for a Joburg couples notable food journey. They originally opened in Fourth Avenue just as the Covid lockdowns really bit. And they’ve really won through, never lowering their fine standards. I’m so tempted to go in for their beautifully caramelised oniony risotto with its magic hint of truffle, Parmiggiano as a shaving or sometimes a crisp, with pine nuts. Or even that baked white chocolate dessert or creme and shortbread, with little successive hits of lavender, beguiling tonka bean and honeycomb. I dream but soldier on.
Across the road from Embarc is Fab&Co and I would have one of their gelatos instead, this hot, hot day if they had that Gorgonzola, caramelised fig and walnut one. It’s a happy place for breakfasts too, particularly their Eggs Benedict that comes with all the options already on the plate, like spinach and ham.
Then there’s Biryani Bowl and again I’m watering of mouth, imagining vegetable or paneer biryani, though there’s only a man on a phone that I can see.
On the other side of Embarc is a row of restaurants, some survivors, some new.
Liban is, you guessed it, Lebanese and one of Parkhurst’s survivors. The food is all halaal although they cannot claim that because they do serve alcohol. I don’t think there’s any Lebanese food I don’t love and here it looks like a very good bet, worth returning to, even though a sunglassed man all in black, outside, tells me in a low sibilant voice, “I like your style. And your fitnessss”.
La Parada, next door, you may also have guessed, is kind of Spanish. it looks like a charming old Barcelona restaurant that’s been around for decades, given the bar area and a little interior balcony above. However, it is one of those places that opened, never guessing what was to happen, in February last year. The fare is tapas and drinks, mostly. I catch a puzzled glimpse of a malva pudding and discover it is a quirky summer version featuring lemon curd, chocolate, honeycomb and berries. La Parada is open from early jamon and eggs time till late, selling small plates with taste influences from all over the world and even burgers.
The veranda of Kolonaki is my very cool looking lunch spot of choice with a pal from nearby. We’re just having a quick lunch since there’s a lot of Parkhurst’s 4th Avenue for me to explore and re-explore. The almost wrap-around verandah is airy, leafy and beautiful, its ceiling covered with reeds. The menu is more urbane than the quite basic stuff we always talk about from Greek beach tavernas, charming as they are. The food is as beautiful as the surroundings and can be unusual.
A skordalia with a wine infused, slow-cooked beef short rib stiffatho is made with parsnips instead of potatoes. Ah, feta. Here it belongs. I look around to see the vast space packed and that the women at the next table are piling into feta salad and grilled halloumi though the latter’s up an expectation notch with lemon zest, honey syrup and oregano.
We pile happily into some feta too, wrapped in phyllo, served with that honey syrup, sesame seeds, grapes and tart strawberry sauce. Good Greek feta is difficult to improve on. As a spinach junkie, I also order a cold dish of steamed spinach, mustard weed or Greek wild mustard leaves, with lemon juice and olive oil. We also have a little plate of Kolonaki Arni, of tenderest pulled lamb in phyllo with lebnha, honey, za’atar, mushrooms and yes, some more Greek feta. Mmmnmm.
Kolonaki is one of the easy survivors. It stayed open even through and despite very early closing hours.
So did its sister restaurant, Modena, a few blocks north along Fourth Avenue. They didn’t give up, ever. They’re both excellent places with outstanding food. Modena was the first real restaurant at which I ate with two hungry and excited chefs as lockdown began to allow limited and rather early evening access to those who braved the new Covid world because they longed to be seated in a restaurant again. (See The real and the surreal on a Joburg table.)
The owners of both destination places, Theo and his chef son Vassilios Holiasmenos, have recently opened another, third restaurant on this 4th Avenue drag but I’ll get there.
Right now, diagonally across the road from Kolonaki, I’m fascinated by a whole shop of freezers. They’re all full of very attractively packaged food. We Are Food’s Marc Burton, who’s been at the shop for three years says it thrived during Covid times with deliveries and pick-ups but is still thriving. Chipotle bean patties and chicken, bacon and leek pies, risottos of pesto and mozzarella, particularly lasagnes fly out of the freezers one way or another, especially on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Also on the supplies side of the avenue, just a shop off it, in 6th Street is a place where, if you are very serious or just dabbling in health food, shut your eyes, turn around and whatever you lay your hands on will be desirably food. The very popular fresh and organic produce selection that comes in every day is gone already today but my hands fall on some beautifully, brown-paper wrapped crackers that contain gins with organic botanicals. You can be keto, vegan, full of allergies or not and there are wonderful ingredients and helpful chats with Stephanie the owner for you here. It’s another delivery or fetch place so got through Covid just fine and is coming out this end with solid trust from now-established customers.
Long before Parkhurst ever became the feta belt, there was the Jolly Roger. It’s a helluva pub, well known for its rowdiness and beer and being called the Jolly by those who know. They usually sit on the upstairs balcony and wave glasses at passers by. It’s also been and is well-known for pretty fine pizzas, some even with feta these days. Both pub ladies and pub lords love the spinach, avo, bacon and feta one. Then, across Fourth Avenue, another Jolly opened, Jolly Cool, which had pool tables and those pizzas. Jolly Cool is now owned by completely different people but it survives. Nothing is ever likely to get the Jolly Roger, itself, to disappear, especially while Pirates sports club is up the road.
Not many paces from there is Bottega, another survivor of great longevity. It’s mostly Italian and it opens from bon giorno breakfast till after whiskey hours. The panini and pollo meals, the salads can all be had with a R15 addition of feta cheese.
What’s changed nearby is that Bistro Vine shut down, a Covid victim. It provided French food before it closed. However the owner has reopened a similar place in Blairgowrie, called Believe.
And the Fat Zebra moved here from Linden. It does all day fare, including lavish breakfasts, coffee, pizzas, tapas and salads. Perfect location.
The huge corner premises vacated by Craft has very recently and quite excitingly been taken over by the Holiasmenos family that own Kolonaki and Modena. Their new restaurant is called The Blockman, for people who really appreciate excellent meat and especially steaks. They buy the whole carcasses sans the middle men and age it themselves, using the whole animal. At last! Like their other establishments, much of the emphasis is really on hospitality and great service. As at Kolonaki, there is a wonderful outdoor dining area. At the entrance is a deli section where you can buy the cuts you’ve most enjoyed.
Sashima Ya does what it says and rather well. Urban Braza does Brazilian pizza from a small window on Fourth. Partner and manager Daniela dos Santos says the speciality is a peri-peri chicken pizza, typically crisp, with “semi-raw” red onion, olives, parsley and roasted red peppers. Location dictates that bacon, feta and avo pizza is included on the menu.
Another very small place, Yia Yia’s Kitchen, more like a teeny taverna or street stall, is brand new. There are a couple of others in Jozi already. Here is a counter and a few stools on the other side of it. Between the two, fresh Greek street food is passed. This is the other side of the Greek food offering in Parkhurst and there’s feta of course. It’s in the kolokithokeftedes, or marrow fritters and in the spanakopita, or spinach pies.
About the same sized place, perched on a pavement, but pink instead of blue and white is the good, very good coffee roastery, simply called 4th Avenue. I’m here, having a welcome coffee and some blood orange ice cream. They do two things and both extremely well. Ati Ndlovu does service like that too.
A man and son get out of a car and walk over to Ati.
Man: Do you do a waffle here?
Ati: No, we do ice cream. And coffee.
Man: D’you get the Flake on ice cream?
Ati: Er, no sir.
They get back into the car and drive off quite fast.
One of Parkhurst’s early destination places was Hudson’s The Burger Joint. It once had a few contenders for the best burgers title. All but BGR in Rosebank, whose burgers are very different, have gone out of business recently. Hudson’s burgers are these that people still travel to eat. The Works burger is not the gloopiest or runniest or most expensive but it is the real thing that people have in their minds when they come all the way here for their burger. It has free range beef, mustard mayo, proper tomato relish, real cheddar, lettuce, onion and the best homemade pickles.
Nice, the coffee and light meals place, is across the road as well. Here’s still a pavement crowd, sometimes bookish thanks to the next store and most often less beer or feta.
Where James Diack’s fine dining restaurant, Coobs stood is a new place which opened this month called Chalk Craft Eatery. Coobs has moved to Parktown North. This Chalk is a branch of one owned by two romantics in Benoni. I’m already interested. Solange dos Santos and Keyur Lalaram were teenage sweethearts nine years ago, Keyur cooking for Solange on their dates. They’ve now put together a menu intended to represent the rainbow nation of South Africa. As environmentally conscious young people, even a breakfast is crafted consciously.
Next door to Chalk is Coppa, a seemingly odd combination of French and Brazilian cuisines. It is designed by chef Mirlene Souza, a patissiere, so the saloon displays cakes and pastries, with a leaning to high teas. The menu features Moules à Provencale as well as Muqueca under the fish section, for instance.
As I work my way to my final destination, which will be Espresso, for obvious purposes, I simply can’t miss another huge place with a seven-page menu that doesn’t even include the beers and stuff. Its décor is London Underground and the name is The Station. However, the food spans many intentions and cultures, perhaps as London’s people do.The King’s Cross Quesadilla appears on page four of the menu and a spicy Thai red prawn curry on page seven, as random picks.
Espresso has also been here seemingly forever. The coffee has always been good and the owner has always stuck to his own rule about not taking cards, only cash, even through deepest Covid times. He’s softened only enough lately to accept Zapper and to have had an ATM fitted on the premises. I drink two Americanos in quick succession and muse on 4th Avenue. It’s late afternoon and though I can hear some of the beer drinkers up the road, here are couples eating light foods, a mother and her two teeenagers who seem to be fast car fans. They prick up their ears at the engine sounds of any fast Italian cars that go by and even a growling Aston Martin.
Their mother has ordered for them probably because their attention is elsewhere. When the plates arrive, the girl closest to me turns to her mother and says, “But you know I don’t like feta!” DM/TGIFood
The writer supports Nosh Food Rescue, an NGO that helps Jozi feeding schemes with food ‘rescued’ from the food chain. Please support them here.