Beyond the Braai: What’s Hot on the Johannesburg Food Scene

By: Keith Bain

January 29, 2014

Impressions of Johannesburg as Africa’s economic powerhouse live large in the South African psyche. But the city’s cultural diversity also means that there’s wide-ranging culinary influence. Which makes it difficult to pinpoint dining trends beyond the fact that Jo’burgers are keen socialisers who eat out regularly. Cape Town may rack up most of the accolades, but Jo’burg’s restaurants are buzzing. They range from neighbourhood taverns with more character than flair, to über-chic celebrity haunts such as Five Hundred at The Saxon Hotel, where David Higgs, hailed as one of the country’s best chefs, made his mark before moving on to a new venture opening in Rosenbank in May. Under his protegé Candice Philip, Five Hundred serves experimental dishes in a modern, beautifully designed interior.

To feel the pulse on the city’s dining scene, we spoke with two of its prodigious culinary stars, Andrea Burgener and Marthinus Ferreira, who each run award-winning restaurants in Johannesburg.

Andrea Burgener’s Melville restaurant, The Leopard, was voted South Africa’s top bistro in 2013’s annual Eat Out Awards. She’s known for her imaginative and eclectic approach to cooking, and has also written a cookbook, Lampedusa Pie (Macmillan).


How do you describe the food you serve?


“I quite like the term mongrel food. It’s mixed up, but the word “˜fusion’ gives the wrong idea. I think a lot of the city’s food is mongrel (which are always the best dogs). Maybe “˜all-over-the-road’ is another way of putting it. Our food is quite casual and simple. My influences come from food I ate as a child (South African Cape dishes, German food, 70s retro cuisine), plus much time cooking with my friend Braam Kruger, who was known as Kitchenboy. And, of course, I’m influenced every time I eat out, especially in Johannesburg””I’m greatly influenced by food from the Chinese, Indian/Pakistani, and Portuguese parts of town.”


The Leopard Food Montage | What's Hot on the Johannesburg Food Scene

Andrea Burgener has a reputation for creative and eclectic food © Andrea Burgener

And The Leopard’s atmosphere? 


“Hmmm”¦! Noisy, busy, hopefully cosy, ramshackle and mismatched”¦I guess it’s rather Jo’burg-like in that it’s quite mixed-up.”


What kinds of recipes will we find in your cookbook?


“My recipes are also mongrel. All over the place. Like most chefs and cooks today, I am influenced by a huge variety of cooking from all over the world. That said, many recipes in the book are nostalgic childhood recipes, and recipes that are inspired by old-school “˜colonial’ restaurants in the city, many that aren’t around anymore. There are also recipes from the immigrant communities in the city””both older (British, Portuguese, Cantonese and Pakistani) and newer (Congolese, Ivorian, Ethiopian) communities. There are parts of it that present a sense of the city’s culinary imagination, which is to say the sense of it being ever-shifting, of a melting pot, but also of a fractured society. My next book, which should be ready towards the end of the year, is even more focused on Johannesburg; the city as point of departure and inspiration.”


The Leopard Winter Caprese | What's Hot on the Johannesburg Food Scene

Winter Caprese Salad © Andrea Burgener

What other restaurants do you enjoy?


“I like The Dosa Hut in Fordsburg (48 Central Road, +27 11 492 1456) for (surprise!) brilliant dosas; and Shun Dek in Cyrildene (23 Derrick Street, +27 11 025 2979) for dim sum””it’s the finest way I can imagine to spend a Sunday morning. Also, some surviving haunts in old Chinatown (Commissioner Street). The best Japanese food is at Japa in Rivonia. Almost all Jo’burg’s Japanese eat there. Jo’burg’s food landscape is hard to encapsulate. It’s also mongrel, perhaps?”


The Leopard | What's Hot on the Johannesburg Food Scene

Plated fish at The Leopard © Andrea Burgener

What dish are you dreaming up right now?


“I always have many dishes racing around in my mind and annoying me until I serve them up for a while. This week I’m planning to test a fish-dish – white fish steak baked quasi-portuguese style with green peppers, olives, onions, fruity olive oil and lemon rind. Also a traditional old-fashioned South African sago pudding. I’m mad for sago and rice puddings. Mad. Then I want to return to a curious Middle Eastern coconut, lime and mint salad, which is blow-your-head-off delicious and refreshing. Ideas come from everywhere: recipe books, eating out, a meal at a friend’s, trying on a pair of shoes, getting burned while cooking; wherever and whatever. And often, happily, making one dish leads to another.


Marthinus Ferreira | What's Hot on the Johannesburg Food Scene

Marthinus Ferreira does his research © dw eleven-13

Marthinus Ferreira heads up two side-by-side restaurants, dw eleven-13 and The Grazing Room, situated in an anonymous-looking shopping centre in Dunkeld West. Marthinus has worked with such luminaries as Heston Blumenthal, and since opening in 2009, dw eleven-13 has regularly been referred to as Johannesburg’s best restaurant””it remains a favourite amongst local diners for beautifully-plated taste-centric dishes, such as seared salmon with cucumber ketchup and oyster coulis. The Grazing Room, meanwhile, serves up other playful variants””definitely sample his smoky springbok tataki.


Artisanal Plating | What's Hot on the Johannesburg Food Scene

Bijoux portions made for sharing © dw eleven-13

How do you describe the food you serve?


“My food is modern South African with a strong French connection. South Africa’s cultural diversity makes it easy to incorporate various ethnic foods in my cooking. I use these ideas especially in The Grazing Room, which has a strong international influence, and the food is all about sharing””most dishes are for two or three people. dw eleven-13 offers a la carte and degustation menus. We try to give you a food experience which you have not had elsewhere.”


Innovative Menu | What's Hot on the Johannesburg Food Scene

Artisanal plating © dw eleven-13

What other restaurants do you enjoy?


Yamato for great sushi””they also do this pork belly in miso noodle broth which is spectacular. For steaks, I like The Local Grill, and Luca’s Ristorante Italiano in Sunninghill is always a big hit. Johannesburg has great diversity in ethnic food””we probably have the best Italian, Indian, and Asian food in South Africa. And also its best steak houses.”


Plating | What's Hot on the Johannesburg Food Scene

Dishes are inspired by a variety of cuisines © dw eleven-13

What dish are you dreaming up right now? 


“I’m working on a Greek salad, broken down into different cooking methods. So, instead of whole tomatoes I make a tomato jelly; I’ve turned the olives into spheres; the cucumber is transformed into pasta; and I smoke the feta. Then I put the dish together like pasta so it plays with your mind a bit. I’m also working on incorporating vegetables into desserts””but that’s very much a work in progress.”


Dessert Plating | What's Hot on the Johannesburg Food Scene

Marthinus Ferreira dreams of incorporating vegetables into desserts © dw eleven-13

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Have you visited these top Johannesburg restaurants? Where to you like to eat when you’re in town? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.


Written by Keith Bain


Keith Bain

Cape Town-based writer Keith Bain has co-authored guidebooks to India, South Africa, Eastern Europe, Kenya & Tanzania, Ireland, and Italy. He also co-wrote A Hedonist's guide to Cape Town, and is the co-founder of Best Kept (, a bespoke trip-planning company that tailors holidays in India and Africa.

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