Eat and drink the city’s best, all in one Parkwood block
Jozi is big, taking up twice the area of New York City. And it’s spread out. People from other South African cities don’t always get that there are such enormously good food and drink places up here, but they are not all in one spot or down one road. There are many enclaves of excellence.
Two of my favourite restaurants regarded as among the best in Jozi are in the Parkwood enclave that mostly consists of Park Corner. It stretches down Bolton Road for a block, turns into Jan Smuts Avenue and really runs all the way to Woolies on Wells Street. They are Coalition and CHE Argentine Grill, almost at opposite ends, with a wealth of interesting, crazy and fabulous places at which to gorge, taste, be inspired and even get silly in between.
Coalition on the Bolton Street side is pretty tiny for a great place. I like to say that pizza is not real if not from Naples or made by a Neapolitan, except Coalition pizzas. They are neither and yet they are the really real things, in almost every way utterly unlike what the world consumes as pizza. All I can suggest is have it here and judge by looking at it and eating it. Sorry, there’s no bacon and avo pizza a-swim with cheese on a tomato sauce. These are true sourdough, time-risen pizzas and there are only a few toppings.
Owner Shayne Holt is by passion and qualification a sommelier. Near his Coalition in another Jozi enclave in Blairgowrie, he opened the country’s supposedly smallest wine bar, Mr Pants. But now he has an even smaller one, it seems to me, leading from the Coalition we’re talking about in Parkwood, straight into a room with a counter, a hand-drawn map of Italy next to it and a few chairs. It’s called flor and it’s not about sherry. It’s about wine drinking your way around the map of Italy, region by region, by the glass. You can be as fully dedicated to the taste-tour task as you like or simply settle down and eat the pizza and maybe drink some actual wine of the Naples area, the Campania.
You can be spoiled for choice with good bars in between the good restaurant food places. And some of them, like the Streetbar Named Desire, have both, thanks to chef Thom Hughes. The food is excellent.
But I’m already leaping around the corner here and should stick to a kind of route. I should also not forget to mention that we’ll find some very good coffee, breakfast and lunch places dotted along, too.
If you used the big car park in Bolton Road, you’ll have seen why Park Corner is sometimes called elephant corner. There’s always a mural of one or more elephants on the side of the building that contains Sin+Tax and Coalition. You’ll need to be here in the evening or after 12 on a weekend to get into the former.
Sin+Tax is forever on the best bars lists of the world. Julian Short is always winning international bartender or mixologist awards but Julian’s fairly recent partner, Evert de Jong does that too. Sometimes they compete against each other in other countries. The place does not take reservations and the entrance does often change, speakeasy style. It’s especially unprepossessing and a greater surprise when the door reveals what’s on the other side. Either the low-lit gleaming bar or its mighty outdoor area under a spreading rubber tree.
Here I have to own up to the fact that this whole story is because I really wanted a particular cocktail drink on Julian’s new May menu, Rift. I stood there on elephant corner looking at the secret door, knowing I’d need to come back much later and then realising with some pleasure that I’ve not ever spent lots of time exploring this enclave in full.
The drink, I know, is meant as a late night one, given its composition. “It combines the funky flavours of blue cheese (yup) with the rich, fruit flavour from brandied preserved figs. We finish it off with a little fresh smokiness from black cardamom and finally a little tart punch of Japanese plum wine – umeshu.” Yes. But I wanted it. You might laugh, but none of the drinks here is funny after the first sip. They’re balanced in taste and knock-out enjoyable
I could have been less of a fig food collector and wanted an aged Bacardi with beetroot, orange sherbet, toasted cacao and African cinnamon. Unbelievable. Everything is.
The place has more believable food, light foods, often eastern or South American influenced wraps and tacos, many vegetarian. They’re working on a Sunday lunch idea to be launched soon. Sin+Tax is impressively well run.
Downhill, down Bolton, going towards Jan Smuts, from Sin+Tax and then Coalition with flor, is a Buns Out, one of TV star Maps Maponyane’s burgers and bottled beers places. There’s inevitably a stylish group lounging outside on the pavement, eating juicy double cheeseburgers, onion rings and the like.
If you think a barber, even the real cosseting kind, might have little to do with refreshments, it might not have been called Bar Ber Black Sheep. It was interior designed, and rather beautifully appointed to feature relaxing with drinks, especially the clubby whisky sort, or even asking Coalition for one of their pizzas to eat there. It’s an elegant but witty barbers’ with a fine range of drinks.
Right next to it is more eccentricity. A sliver of it. Alex Szabo of the already unusual Anti-Social Social Club in Melville, which has featured almost unnecessarily good chefs and food for what is essentially a bar, is here too, in a relatively small but up-and-down space now. The concept is a tiki drinks bar, something he has always done well and what the Park Corner property owner, Timothy Sammons, calls “a real dive, ha-ha, splash, dive bar”. It’s called The Rising Tide. The psychedelic octopus and electric underwater colours merge perfectly well with Hawaiian fruity and festooned tiki drinks. Alex’s places attract millennials in particular and he works very hard, as one himself, at what looks like easy entertaining.
The yellow place, on the very corner of Bolton and Jan Smuts, brightly called Edge of Glory, is being used by the people who have Morning Glory, the uber-cool, pink painted breakfast, coffee and the rest place next door, as a party space, a cool events locale. I see the curtains drawn today, midday, and party music is belting out inside. What I remember most about it, since the days when it operated as an interlinked collection of restaurant spaces, are the pink flamingos, not real of course.
Impressing friends, lovers or clients publicly or wanting to be seen as an independently successful nomadic worker? Morning Glory is very visibly here, with flirtatious, attractive staff serving unusual fare and excellent coffees. Breakfasts and brunches are what it’s known for, though it’s open at the times the surrounding bars are. It features unusual items like posh oats with apple crumble, an astonishing mimosa pancake stack with orange, nuts and champagne syrup. There are many varieties of smashed avo and bacon, eggy type things and the food presentation is jazzy and cool.
Saigon Suzy lives on and on right next door. What is it? A bar to a degree, a fun food place to a degree, known for its “motel” rooms where karaoke can be inflicted on anyone you choose. The things I like most about it are the lovely space out back and the purposely silly-girl drinks that I can watch others making something giggly of. The Lotus Flower of lavender syrup, vodka, litchi and bubbly always works. Asian dishes of street food and table food are good and work well with small parties. By the sober sunlight of day the place even works as a WiFi office space, looking slightly at odds with the décor.
Next, I get back to A Streetbar Named Desire. Now I like this place for a whole lot of reasons, the chief two being the bar stools that are like lampshades with long fringes and the green wall tiles. A bit of Tennessee Williams never goes amiss, or pen-and-ink Brando sketches. I feel comfortable here. I like the people, especially downstairs. There’s an enormous balcony overlooking the art gallery stretch of Jan Smuts. The food is Middle-Eastern and Turkish. Somehow I end up eating fried artichoke hearts with a sweetly roasted garlic and za’atar aïoli, among all the other choices.
There’s an explanation of the name somewhere inside (“It’s a bar. It’s on the street.”) though the cocktails read like stories, like The Kindness of Strangers. It’s the one I always think I’ll have because of the rhubarb in it, with gin, lime and bitters. But then I seem to be holding an Aperol Spritz instead or a Negroni that assures me I won’t walk properly after two. Oh and I like the selection of chenins by the glass on the wine list, including Gabrielskloof and Bosman Gen 8.
I don’t know why it’s not sported but you really need to know that Toasted is just a small sign on a gate, through which you have to push quite hard, pass an old reception desk, trot over some fab gypsy looking floor tiles, turn right, to find yourself in a quiet courtyard. It’s always wind free and calm, a central 70s looking island of plants surrounded by seating. There’s a list of light dishes on the wall of the little café. Only lately, this morning, did I realise many of the items were vegetarian. I hadn’t noticed before. They are excellent. Today I asked for the Toad in the Hole because it features an egg and it was breakfast time.
Before it arrived I had lots of their great coffee in hand cups, each served with a toasted, buttered wholewheat crust. An ideal coffee dipper. My breakfasty dish had a nest of dark, buttery mushrooms as the toad. I leaned back, happy in the wintry sunshine.
After Toasted is a bit of a food and drinks gap along Jan Smuts before reaching CHE, incidentally also on property owned by the Park Corner people.
A Woolworths food store is next door. I go into the little centre and here’s a Starbucks below, with a bridge over from Woolies. Across the bridge is Angus Fraser of Artisanal Cheeses, in his apron. He personally travels to source our most wonderful local artisanal cheeses and it’s a treat to buy interesting fromagerie wodges like this, personally cut and wrapped. Angus has even started selling unusual relishes, like Amba, with them. It’s not as though there are no cheese sandwiches in his immediate vicinity but it’s easy to see why people lust after the ones he now makes for them. He uses just-baked artisanal sourdough, wide slices of it, sandwiching generous pieces of Emmental, maybe tomatoes, maybe other stuff and can even toast them there. I’m having lunch at CHE, otherwise I’d just love one right now, based on this beautifully cheesy, sourdough aroma.
CHE Argentine Grill first opened its unusual style of South American steakhouse in Maboneng, another Jozi food enclave, and have since moved here. I wait for Adi, my good-meat loving friend, outside at the back, in more sunshine. I’ve always adored the way the rough finishes of the first place, chicken wire included, were used with beautifully creamy lace curtains and small cloths. It’s the same here. There’s even another tier up from our table area, up a raw plank-laid incline. It’s a small platform with richly brocaded armchairs and a sofa, irresistible under a droopy tree. It’s occupied, of course.
Of Adi’s and my meal, including the faultless, famous steak, we also had buttery sweetbreads, something almost impossible to find and celebrate the use thereof. Many Ugandan rather than Argentinean coffees later, I retraced part of the route today, back to the actual Park Corner.
Adi had said there’s so much choice here. That sure is true. DM/TGIFood
Park Corner, Parkview, 2 Bolton Road.
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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