TGIFOOD

OFFAL, ELEVATED

Ground-level offal challenges underwhelming cuisine on high

Ground-level offal challenges underwhelming cuisine on high
Mavis Nkosi’s astounding offal dish, at street level in Johannesburg. (Photo: Anna Trapido)

You might expect the promise of posh nosh at the high end of Johannesburg cuisine to trounce anything to be found at street level. But surprises await in the unlikeliest of places.

Elevated offal is currently Johannesburg’s flavour of the month. The tasting menu at Chef Moses Moloi’s Waterfall Corner restaurant, Gigi, includes beef tongue with chakalaka and truffled pap purée. Chef Wandile Mabaso’s Les Créatifs in Morningside serves tripe with jugo beans and a coconut espuma. At Eziko in Midrand, Chef Andile Somdaka’s inhloko (ox head) with umhluzi gravy is the talk of the town. And yet, none of the dishes served at these suburban palaces of posh nosh comes close to matching the magnificence of Mrs Mavis Nkosi’s Faraday Muthi Market epicurean offering.

Chef Nkosi is the offal queen of Egoli. Her teeny tiny, inner city street stall is at the entrance to the market, under a bridge, in the triangular nook made by a support pillar and the descending freeway. She keeps things simple with a giant cast iron pot, a wood fire and a few upturned beer crates for tables and chairs. Those wanting liquid refreshment can buy from the adjacent sorghum beer shack. 

Be warned, demand is high. Fans are legion and even a big pot can only hold so much stew. My friend and I know of old that she sells out fast, so we arrived at 12 midday. Even at that hour, we were the last people to get a proper portion of pap with our stew. To be on the safe side, those wishing to dine chez Nkosi should probably arrive by 11.30am. Even if you book your plate and then go off to browse in the market for half an hour, secure your spot.

The pot had the caramelised, seasoned quality that only comes from an apostolic succession of stews past. All the meals made in the pot before are part of what comes after. People tend to refer to Mrs Nkosi as “the liver stew lady” but actually her pot contains a variety of internal organs — all are from a cow, but the combinations vary. 

Our dish had liver, heart, and various other intestines. The stew had a dark, umami-laden, meaty gravy. The collagen in the tendons that are part of the offal mix had melted down into the thick, rich sauce. Because different organs have different functions, they have different textures. Everything we ate was super tender but the tenderness had a range of distinct mouthfeels. There was a glorious smokiness to the stew but beyond that there was no attempt to hide tastes or bury them in heavy spicing. The flavour was reduced, long and slow to create an intense best version of the core ingredient. Unmistakably bovine. Literally and figuratively visceral. Portion sizes are extremely generous. We paid R45 for one portion which we shared between the two of us. Our plate came with pap and chillies. It was delicious and we ate heartily, but try as we might there was plenty left over.

Having indulged our desire for internal organs, cocktails were calling, so we set sail for the Hallmark Hotel in nearby New Doornfontein. Travelling between the stall and the Hallmark Hotel should have been simple but it wasn’t. I last made the trip pre-lockdown and where previously potholes crept across roads like smallpox they have now joined up into sinkhole-sized, street-wide craters. I also nearly hit a pedestrian pushing a shopping trolley full of cows’ heads. To be fair, there was fault on both sides. Neither of us was paying proper attention to the road. The informal butcher stepped out onto the Johannesburg inner city avenue without looking left or right and I had only one eye on the task at hand. The other was raised upwards and outwards admiring the area’s layered jumble of colonial gentlemen’s clubs, 70s skyscrapers, strip clubs that were once synagogues, and burnt-out office buildings.

The Hallmark was once a diamond polishing factory but it has been transformed by Ghanaian-British superstar architect Sir David Adjaye into residential apartments and a stylish hotel. The outside might charitably be described as having a downtown gritty city vibe — see potholes and trolley-based butchers above — but inside is an oasis of Afro-positive hipster chic with designer graffiti on the walls and soft furnishings from Maxhosa by Laduma. Plus, safe parking. The 15th-floor Rooftop Bar competes for customer attention with a basement restaurant and live jazz venue, the Marabi Club. We chose the former with its unparalleled city views. As did Jay-Z on his 2019 visit.

The wraparound outdoor terrace has magnificent views. Looking out I was reminded that Hillbrow is so named because it is set atop a beautiful brow on a glorious hill. The prettily garnished drinks make it all extra Instagrammy. Maybe that’s why most of the other patrons seemed to be more interested in staring at their iPhones than taking in the sights. If you don’t post a selfie and spend the next hour checking for lots of ‘likes’ did you ever really make it up onto the roof?

The wine list is sensationally splashy. Replete with single malts and bling bubblies. Should you so wish you can sip on R17,500 per bottle Armand de Brignac. Having dined so recently chez Nkosi, I only ordered a small snacky plate of overly garlicky, buttermilk-basted chicken wings. My friend tried a perfectly pleasant but unremarkable chocolate parfait. 

Chicken wings atop the Hallmark Hotel. (Photo: Anna Trapido)

I didn’t care about the underwhelming eats. I had champagne cocktails. And the glorious skyline. No matter how infuriating daily dealings with street-level Joburg are, basking in the golden light of the golden city is still special. DM

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