TGIFOOD

POSH STOP

The hybrid Pantry that purrs

The hybrid Pantry that purrs
Part of the fabulous Aladdin’s counter of pastries by chef Megan Meikle. (Photo by Marie-Lais Emond)

It’s not a supermarket. It’s not just a petrol station. It must be chef David Higgs’ and the Marble group’s hybrid luxe-convenience stop: the Pantry.

When you park quickly and dart inside at a garage stop for a quick pee, snacks and a bottle of water, how the place feels is not necessarily top of mind. But the Pantry by Marble is a bit of a different thing. 

It’s the first thing I contemplate in a new environment, no matter how it looks or what it provides. A little lime trolley is neatly tucked next to my table this morning and I’m tarrying just behind the barista, having been chatting to the man from Morrico Coffee in Parkhurst about my brew, specially provided for the Pantry, a single origin of Honduras.

On my shopping list for the Pantry at Marble was “coffee and a pastry”. It’s been the constant item, the one that’s remained on my shopping list for a few days, even though some of the other items changed. The opening day kept moving and so the things on the list kept changing too, as I acquired some of them in the meantime.

“It’ll be worth the wait,” I read yesterday. I was almost here, when the opening day was postponed just one more day. I’ve been waiting and watching since last year. The months and then finally the days were delayed. I see petrol is not yet for sale, the Sasol bowsers still under dusty pink and sage green Pantry covers.

Good presentation in oodles. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

Funny to think that, from now on, it’s not going to close. The Pantry will be available to us 24 hours, seven days a week. This morning, just before the doors first swung open, a queue developed at the wide window serving hatch, dispensing coffees and good old soft serve ice cream. The first staff were on first duty before infinity started and looked a little careful and concerned. 

“I need 20 lattes, 40 cappuccinos, 12 with oat milk! Only kidding,” said one of the floor staff women to three gaping mouths at the coffee machines.

I’ve made a kind of plate on the table, using the cardboard box in which I received my pastry made by chef Megan Meikle, who creates the exquisiteries for Marble upstairs and Saint in Sandton. The restaurants are also part of the Marble group that includes chef David Higgs, one of SA’s very best. Despite the cardboard, I seem to be dropping delicious bits of Basque cheesecake all over the lap of my earlier more immaculate, cream trench coat: wonderfully gooey interior bits and juicy peach and nectarine exterior bits. 

I’d originally planned to ask for a mille feuille with its little triangle of gold leaf but finally blurted for this Basque cheesecake, a baby version of a big one at a lower level in the fabulous Aladdin counter of pastries. They range from the savoury asparagus tartlets, also with gold leaf, and the vegetable quichelets, to sublime fruit tarts and pistachio swiss rolls.

Savoury pastries include asparagus tartlets with gold leaf. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

The Pantry feels eagerly friendly, unusually welcoming and kind of thrilling in a low-key way. Good presentation is part of the thrill, as is the confidence of knowing, just knowing there’ll be food things to find that I didn’t even know I needed. 

Though the world’s worst clothes-and-stuff shopper, I turn into an all-senses-tingling hunter at an interesting food outlet. Aha. It can be an offal butchery, a teeny deli selling only olives, a goats milk cheesery, a bean farm, a French-African produce market, a Jewish bakery or a fresh fish shop. I’ll emerge with an embarrassment of goods to try, to cook experimentally, to devour and with which to surprise others.

Good presentation is here in oodles, from the glass jars of goodies to the way things are folded and displayed, piles of baskets and a couple of sage green panniered bicycles to represent the cycling side of chef David Higgs. One of the Marble group partners is Irene Kyriacou, interior designer and wife of big partner, Gary. She’s done the exterior décor too, stretching onto the forecourt and above it, in the wavy and green-growing ceiling, the choice of colours. Outside is bicycle parking to one side, oh and a place to recharge electric cars. By the way, Gary Kyriacou once owned a petrol station and also opened a Superspar 22 years ago so he’s revisiting some turf. 

The things I didn’t know I needed are inevitably finding a way into my trolley along with the ones I did know about, like spinach, mixed-colour tomatoes, baby green beans and pancetta. While I food-shop-dawdle, I notice David Higgs walking around with a lollipop in his mouth, looking at the ordering and till systems, closed off in concentration. 

‘Refreshingly unusual sides.’ (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

Then, behind the fresh accompaniments section, he opens up, explaining to me about how, when people have been past the refrigerated meats (including quite a bit of South African wagyu supplied through Silent Valley, Molare pork and Neil Jewell’s charcuterie), they would pass this way and “Here they can get the stuff to go with the meal – the sides.”

These sides are nice and different, refreshingly unusual, I mention, hardly taking my eyes off a dusky Mediterranean vegetable salad with burrata involved in it. 

“People from the Parks areas round here – it’s what can work for them, what they’ll probably appreciate,” says Higgs, drawing a quick circle in the air to indicate surrounding Parkwood, Parkhurst, Parktown, Parkview etc. It’s all dynamic and organic anyway and The Pantry will keep changing according to needs and wants.

Bread and rolls freshly baked on the premises. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

Got the sides. Here’s the bread section, freshly baked there behind Higgs, where I also see chef Tyler Clayton emerging. And then you get to the wines.

It is interesting to see how the progression through the Pantry works, up to the wines and gifts point. The pace changes too from one side to the other and it’s a big space here, under Marble in the Trumpet building, 1,000 square metres. 

If you race in for the usual petrol station items, you’ll naturally turn left when you enter, where the cigarettes and cold drinks can be seen, the almost usual, recognisable snacks and sweets. At that end, Sasol, which has partnered with Marble, retains its own partnership with Shoprite Checkers for its usual service station goods and a few more unusual additions in this new space. You’ll either run out again or gravitate towards the other goods, still not madly unusual, like Jik and cat food but the choices are a little elevated. 

And then you find yourself facing arrays of different olive oils, many kinds of cans of sardines, biscuits you usually can’t find, the goods for making a Japanese style meal, a Mexican one, an Italian one, arranged and accessible for the purposes. You can’t help but slow in the face of so much attractiveness and choice. It leads you to fridges of dairy products that range from the fairly ordinary to the extraordinary, so too with frozen meals, designed and prepared by pretty classy chefs in this group. The fresh fruits and vegetables have me at a sort of standstill. Suddenly I need to have figs to add to my more practical requisites. 

“We also have imported kiwi fruit. From Italy,” offers the assistant. It’s definitely not what I need but I appreciate the interest. 

So it goes, slower and slower. It’s turned from necessity to pleasure. By the time I get to the gifts, people are very leisurely. They themselves look pretty good. A woman in a palazzo pants one-piece of leopard print, has a soft bag hanging from her shoulder with its own little leopard scarf. 

At the Pantry speed has also become a choice. You can grab and go. Or you can pause and lust.

In the latter regard, it becomes apparent to me that I need a wooden cake stand. What is with me and cake stands? I left Toronto once with two glass ones in my luggage, along with their domes. I needn’t mention how many shards arrived at this end.

“My husband loves wooden bowls…” murmurs another woman with two in her hands.

Chef Tyler Clayton’s greater department is this whole place. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

My friend Jo regards this section as key too. As one of the ways of using the Pantry, she points out that you can run in here at any time, like at eight o’clock at night, get a birthday card, a present, a bottle of wine (oh, okay, the wine needs to be bought by 7pm), also flowers, maybe even the candles and such cool candlesticks.

She has a point. At that stage it’s tricky to try and hurtle into some shopping centre and find a supermarket for some of those things. You also aren’t likely to do that when you run out of good olive oil, for instance, and need some quickly. All perfect for here.

Chef Tyler Clayton is very much in evidence. The fresh breads being shovelled from the wood-fired oven and the other pies and things in marvellous pastry making their way out of the kitchen are his department but his greater department is this whole place. He’s the guy to advise you on your cheffy issues. Do you buy this or that to create what you have in mind? And in any case, what would he advise? And erm, another thing, how should you cook it? It’s a fantastic Harrodsy type of really personal, high-end service. And he’s such fun. He’s also so fabulously experienced, having been with both Marble and Saint as head chef. Who’re you going to trust?

I’ve added real Portuguese sardines to my list along with the pancetta that was on my list. There are three sorts to choose from. Toasted crusty rolls need these sardines. However, the smallish sourdoughs look so good, I got one instead. I now know where to get the entire range of Mooberry dairy products. I have not put the cake stand in my trolley. Not yet, anyway.

Next to me at the checkout is a dapper and elderly man, who notices me admiring his gorgeous bunch of fresh, creamy flowers.

“They’re lovely, aren’t they? I like this place already.” DM/TGIFood

Pantry by Marble Drive in, off Jan Smuts, cnr Jellicoe, Rosebank. 010 594 5550 

Follow Marie-Lais Emond on Instagram @marielaisemond

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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