Johannesburg is the city of gold. Built in the 1880s on the back of South Africa’s gold rush, some of the wealthiest people on the continent reside and do business here. Affluent leafy enclaves are studded with both understated and over-the-top mansions, posh private schools, top hotels and fine-dining restaurants.
If you are spending the night in Johannesburg when arriving for or departing from a safari, check into a great hotel and skip room service in favour of an excellent dinner. Your Africa Safari Expert can make all the arrangements, right down to an English-speaking driver-guide who will ensure you are delivered doorstep to doorstep. The exchange rate is very favourable for international visitors so you can splurge in one of the city’s top restaurants without any guilt. On top of that, South Africa is renowned for its excellent wines so ask the sommelier to suggest good pairings with your dishes.
In no particular order, here are some of our favourite places to eat in Joburg:
Winehouse at Ten Bompas, Dunkeld West
If the contemporary art and laidback atmosphere aren’t enough, then the double-storey wine cellar at the aptly named Winehouse is sure to impress. The restaurant opens up onto a sun-drenched patio; Johannesburg has a dry winter that coincides with peak safari season so if you’re taking lunch here, you’ll be able to soak up the African sunshine.
The menu is designed to be savoured over three courses with contemporary and French elements making themselves known. Although it changes often, dishes might include celeriac tortellini with truffle and parmesan; barramundi with squash, basil and an aubergine caviar; or quail with walnut stuffing, cauliflower and sherry caramel. A 9-course tasting menu is also on offer for special occasions like honeymoons or anniversaries.
DW Eleven-13, Dunkeld West
Ignore the fact that this gem is located in a shopping centre: the sublime food will quickly transport you to much more exciting locales. The chefs here pride themselves on ‘experimental cuisine’ but don’t despair that that means ‘weird’ or ‘inedible’. All dishes use fresh seasonal ingredients and vegetarians are specially catered for with a proper 4-course meat-free menu.
Dishes aren’t really named but are more a list of ingredients, such as ‘Scallop / duck / foie gras / jerusalem artichoke / porcini / shiitake’ or ‘Octopus / potato / seaweed / olive / nduja’. DW Eleven-13 is a regular on ‘best of’ lists.
Qunu, The Saxon Hotel, Villas and Spa
Named after former president Nelson Mandela’s home village, Qunu offers contemporary twists on traditional South Africa cuisine. While live music is played in the background, enjoy the subtle African touches like traditional ebony masks, woven lampshades and gigantic earthenware pots.
Qunu will appeal to a broad swathe of diners and there are special menus for vegans, Sunday brunch and breakfast (The Saxon attracts a lot of businesspeople who need a good start, ideal if you also have a plane or transfer to catch). Produce comes from Sarapana, the dedicated kitchen garden, and is crafted into unusual dishes like mushroom and hemp; duck with tamarind, butternut and cherries; and guava sorbet.
Grei, The Saxon Hotel, Villas and Spa
Grei - a Portuguese word that translates as ‘a society of people’ – is The Saxon’s flagship restaurant and the last word in elegance and sophistication. The menus (including non-alcoholic, pescatarian and vegetarian) are distinctly herbaceous and every plate of the six courses is gorgeously composed.
Again, dishes are not named but ingredients more listed to give you an idea of the flavours to expect. Consider ‘ostrich, red cabbage, sorrel’; ‘kabeljou (a local fish), aubergine, licorice (sp)’ or ‘langoustine, sweetcorn, coriander’. There is also a wonderful wine cellar with top South African vintages as well as French champagnes to savour.
The name gives you the clue: Marble refers to the very best beef that is marbled with fine fat, giving you unsurpassable tenderness and flavour. The focus here is on a traditional Argentinian grill with twists of the Mediterranean or South-East Asia. Perched on a rooftop in Rosebank’s trendy Keyes Art Mile, the special flame-grill is used to cook everything from classic rib-eye and giant prawns to springbok loin and tuna. For pudding, take into earl grey tea ice-cream, whiskey mousse or pickled pumpkin.
Level Four Restaurant and Champagne Bar, Rosebank
If you’ve got addicted to afternoon or high tea during your safari, then Level Four is the place to have a final cuppa before you leave Africa. This elegant restaurant is known for delicious afternoon tea with blends from China, the Bermuda Triangle and South Africa.
A lovely touch for the evening menu is naming the chef who created each dish, so the ‘soil master’ pork belly is by Chef Lefa Mosana and the dhukka-spiced ostrich by Chef Alvin Nel. For pudding, how about a pumpkin mousse, carrot marmalade and bourbon sorbet by Chef Phumzile Skosana?
View Restaurant at Four Seasons Westcliff
The ‘view’ here is twofold: not only does the restaurant boast lovely views over Westcliff’s abundance of trees (Johannesburg is considered the biggest manmade forest in the world thanks to all the trees that have been planted over decades) but a slot has been cut into the kitchen’s wall so diners can get a view of the chefs as they peel, slice, chop and stir their way to creating outstanding seasonal cuisine.
The ingredients are closely tied to South Africa and may include Karoo lamb, delicate fynbos and foraged mushrooms. Menus are divided by types of diner: for a special occasion, opt for the ‘festive menu’. Foodies will love the ‘tasting’ and ‘degustation’ menus (which come in pescatarian and vegetarian versions) while the ‘jacaranda lunch’ (named after the iconic purple-flowered trees that are found all over the city) is perfect for a weekend.
AtholPlace Restaurant, Atholl
As a member of Relais & Chateaux, the AtholPlace Restaurant holds itself to exacting standards. The dinner menu is carefully curated to offer only the best – instead of pages and pages of bewildering choices, it is pared down to highlight the chefs’ skills and ingredients’ flavours. Tempt yourself with new ideas like stout-infused quinoa, 7-hour sous vide egg and black sesame-seed ice-cream.
Athol Place is part of the Morukuru family so you can have the same incredible service and level of accommodation throughout your South African safari by staying at the Farmhouse or the Owner’s House or even the River House in Madikwe Private Game Reserve, and at Ocean House or Beach Lodge in De Hoop Nature Reserve along the magnificent Whale Coast.
‘Farm-style’ and ‘fine dining’ might be opposites but not at Fermier. Reservations are a must at this elegant eatery where the 9-course set menu changes to reflect the seasons, the produce and the chef’s inspiration. Expect each iteration of red meat, fowl, offal, venison and fish to be accompanied by a carefully selected and often surprising range of South African wines.
This ethos of sustainable nose-to-tail eating is carried through the architecture, décor and even the cutlery and crockery. The walls are made of rammed earth, the furniture was crafted by a skilled carpenter and everything else by artisans from Karoo Yard.
Restaurant Mosaic, Pretoria
Stepping into Mosaic is like stepping back in the Belle Epoque, a glittering age in the early 1900s when Paris was the epicentre of café society. The interiors were inspired by Art Nouveau’s classic tendrils, sinuous lines and decadent glamour. The menu is as whimsical and imaginative, with every dish giving an evocative name.
Sit down to ‘Flavours of Indochine’ (suckling pig in a coconut curry with star anise) or ‘Fishkraal’ (Senegalese sole with a citrus velouté). Finish off with the extravagantly named ‘The Road to Rocamadour’ (a heady combination of dark chocolate and passion fruit) or ‘Heffalumps and Woozles’, which might sound like something out of Dr Seuss but is a delicious mix of almonds, vanilla and ‘snowflakes’.
Where to stay
Pretoria, an older city than Johannesburg, offers excellent proximity to the Rovos Rail station at Capital Park and to OR Tambo International Airport. Once very separate, Johannesburg and Pretoria are now virtually merged thanks to urban sprawl and a system of highways, much like Dallas and Fort Worth in Texas.
Pretoria is packed with history and is home to the Union Buildings, the administrative centre of the South African government. It can be an ideal option if you’re on a budget or prefer to stay somewhere a little more low-key than flashy, high-octane Joburg.