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A tale of two Jozi pâtisseries

TGIFOOD

SWEET INDULGENCE

A tale of two Jozi pâtisseries

My mille crêpe matcha cake needs the protection, I see when I strip it. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

Almond, jasmine, matcha, chocolate, brown sugar, coffee… The ingredients or recipe for a delicious day, spread across two neighbouring Rosebank pâtisseries, in the middle of this Jozi winter.

I am here solo, mustering as much appetite as I can for what could be a delicious mission. This is Cradock Avenue and before me are the entrances to two pâtisseries, both of which have already piqued my curiosity, saliva glands and for which I’m prepared to sacrifice the blood sugar levels. 

Who wouldn’t be curious about a place called the Iris Garden? Far from being anything horticultural, it’s a very urban sliver of a joint, next door to a cool men’s clothing place. I dashed in a couple of weeks ago, en route somewhere else, and espied the shimmering glass counter containing what looked like an astonishing array of mostly slices of cake. I was smitten. There is a mother branch in Rivonia where I’d hoped to go and spend some time with the owners. There’s a fab bookshop next door and I’d had a vision of sitting in sunshine, appreciating such beautiful pâtisserie and paging through second-hand book finds on my table. The appointment was cancelled and now I’m not sorry. This place in Rosebank is what my then newspaper column’s Polish photographer used to call “a something else”.

The coffee and cake presentation that surely followed. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

In the little sliver, within this counter, are unbelievably good looking examples of pâtisserie, mostly cakes and many of these are crêpe cakes, many layers of fine-fine crêpes, mille crêpes in fact, sandwiched with creams and icings. Others are Swiss roll style cakes, filled with pineapple and other fruit fillings with loads of cream. I choose a matcha crêpe-cake slice. There are cases of shelves against the other wall. The path between them and the counter leads to a blond-wood staircase. As I ascend, knowing my coffee and cake will surely follow as promised, a door opens to one side and, fleetingly, I see it’s a small room packed with very fresh, juicy fruits.

This suspended wooden floor above the shop feels a little like something in Copenhagen, filled with low, cloud-shaped tables in the same blond wood and cunningly designed, comfy folding chairs with rattan seats. The window is the whole of the end wall, looking silently on to the busy pedestrian street below and the entrance to the African Arts Market building. It’s a room that was intended to be quiet and peaceful, it’s easy to tell just by standing here. It’s also blessedly sunny and warm on this icy day.

He plumps, as they say, for an Iris Garden chocolate cake slice with a load of fruit on top. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)  

Two young digital nomads are at one end, on laptops of course, a streamlined water bottle between them and no sign of cake. A young businesswoman is electronically busy at another cloud table. My breakfast coffee is a perfect cappuccino and the matcha crêpe cake has its own slice-sized, not-plastic covering over it. It needs protection, I can see when I strip it. 

This confectionery is all apparently halaal. I believe butter, cream and eggs qualify so I’m going to be alright. I’m not expecting any booze inclusion or pork fat here. Matcha is indeed an interesting taste, sweet green tea in flavour and this pale green cream sandwiches the 20 or more fine crêpe layers that make up the whole. It is a thing of exquisite wonder. 

The Iris Garden is Chinese owned. It wouldn’t be Jozi if everyone were not from everywhere else. I met one of the two owners downstairs on the pavement, Harry Zhwang, stylishly all-cashmere clothed in a classy caramel, against the cold. Harry is young, with round, black-rimmed trendy specs. His partner, Joy, the pâtissière, is apparently in Cape Town today. 

After I’ve slowly and appreciatively demolished the cake and coffee, I honour a recommendation for the Iris Garden’s bubble tea and their jasmine ice cream. It turns out that those shelves below are packed with large envelopes of loose-leaf teas as well as a couple of bubble ones. It’s a bit late now and I’m already going to the other pâtisserie just a door away. But I do waver for a minute.

To reach the other one, almost next door, the entrance is the dashing doorway into the Voco Hotel, part of The Bank building. Inside, the central space is shared with Proud Mary restaurant and is called Proud Coffee. There’s pavement seating for Proud Coffee for much warmer weather days. Inside it’s deliciously warm, something like entering the warm caffeine-cocoa fug of an Austrian coffee shop. It’s a lot sleeker in design though. I’ve been here before with a friend for coffee. We sat on the patio of Proud Mary and I went in to explore and saw this side of the room with its pâtisserie. I told her then I’d be back for their pain au chocolat, a perfectly buttery-flaky example of obvious excellence. 

A croissant that’s buttery, airy and flaky with swoony almond paste wound through it. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

It’s “off the menu”. The man at the counter looks as kind as possible when he tells me that the pastry and the chocolate of the chocolate croissant are exactly the same as my long-desired pain au chocolat and he’d suggest I have one. Looking carefully at it, I can imagine it’s true. These croissants are very desirable. The coffee here is superb, I already know, supplied by Father Coffee, one of the best coffee places in Jozi, on the other side of the Rosebank block. I tell him I’ll try an almond croissant with my coffee. Somehow, it seems just perfect for the gusty cold today and to end my now-late double breakfast.

It is such a wonderful croissant, just as buttery, airy and flaky as that imagined pain au chocolat, that I ask if the pâtissiere is anywhere about. The manager, Langa Sivela, comes to chat instead. Yes, the head pastry chef of Proud Mary and Proud Coffee is Ané Botha and he thinks I might know of her. She’s just not free right now. It appears it is already approaching lunch time for most. I realise it’s not just the fabulous pastry of this croissant, it is the swoony almond paste wound though it. I don’t think there can be any better.

As well as cakes, croissants and muffins there are bonbon chocolates, macarons, different brownies and canelés. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

In a dream I stand up to see more of her wares. All the stunning chocolate bonbons on display are not made by Jack Rabbit as I’d thought, but by the very Ané Botha. With flavours or fillings of rooibos gin or Amaretto, they’re not at all halaal. Here are real, cakey cakes, some superior chocolate brownies, masterly macarons like lemon curd and butterscotch, canelés, even muffins.

Going past the panes behind the pâtisserie counter is a bundle of sheepskin. It seems to be walking like someone I know from these parts. I dash out and hail him. It is indeed the person I thought I’d recognised through the wool and, since he’s off to Woolies, presumably for a coffee and midday snack, I invite him in to Proud Coffee. It doesn’t take long to persuade him to try something lovely by chef Ané, like a chocolate brownie and the coffee of course sells itself just by aroma. He marvels at the quality of the chocolate so I have a taste too. It’s probably Callebaut, I reckon. It’s not as though I haven’t ordered something more for myself as well. With my following cup of coffee I have a canelé. I gulp when I think that this very special pâtisserie is my third breakfast today.

I know it’s not a thing I admit to doing easily but I ask my lunch convert back to the Iris Garden. I tell him about the lovely upstairs and the astonishing cakes. I know I’m about to have a fourth breakfast but I see it as food work and research. All the cakes, including my matcha one, seem to feature a little crisp of gold leaf. He is impressed by them and plumps for chocolate cake with a load of fruit on top. He’s not sure this is the best choice since the previous chocolate brownie contents are probably peerless. 

The jasmine ice cream tastes slightly malty and perhaps that’s a good thing on a wintry day. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

I have ordered tea with brown sugar ‘bubbles’ and jasmine ice cream. Even on a day like today. I’m sure brain freeze happens when the rest of you is relatively warm. I have no symptoms. The ice cream is slightly maltier than mere delicate jasmine and perhaps that’s a good thing on a wintry day. There’s a kind of fudgy satisfaction coming up from the brown sugar bubbles in the milky tea and I start feeling warmly happy with it, from within my thick coat, looking out at the sunlight.

No more mysteries about the two pâtisseries a few metres away from each other, I’ve experienced almost all their delicious flavours. Though rather ridiculously overfed, I’m pretty satisfied with what my research has taught me. DM/TGIFood

Iris Garden, entrance in Cradock Avenue part of The Zone (shop G26) in Rosebank. 081 860 0752 

Proud Coffee, 26 Cradock Avenue in The Bank building in Rosebank. 010 023 3316

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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