Not quite New York: the cool kids on Jozi’s newest culinary block

A cluster of new gastronomic offerings are shaking up Rosebank’s staid drinking and dining scene.

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When a friend said a bunch of mates we were joining for dinner had chosen Bolton Road Collection, I groaned. I had been a few weeks before, and definitely wouldn’t have chosen to go back.

Its very name grated – why does a single restaurant have the word “collection” in its title – what’s it a collection of… tables? On the menu, there were more bird illustrations than in an entire episode of Portlandia. The ambience was not unpleasant but yawningly unoriginal – reminiscent, with its exposed brick, incandescent bulbs and industrial fixtures, of a North American nowhere-land: Vancouver, or Austin, or downtown LA.

These were the forgivable offences. What was far less so was the mediocrity of my R95 short rib burger, which had been ordered medium but arrived verging on the well done. Some of the supposedly triple-cooked chips seemed stodgy in the middle. And my friend E’s West Coast mussels were blandly underwhelming, with an aioli so oily it would’ve received a “fail” in a home economics class.

When I came back to the restaurant, of course the birds were still splattered all over the menu, and the décor was still Sex and the City circa 2004. But the experience was different – the food was great, and that made all the difference.

This time I had the hay-baked cannon of lamb (I didn’t know what a cannon of lamb was either – turns out it’s the lamb’s loin, sans bones or fat). It was perfectly cooked – succulent and tender and slightly charred at the edges, with little lamb tortellini parcels I doused in the spicy harissa sauce that came with it.

My friend to the left had the pork belly with barley and beer jus – crispy-topped, fatty without being too fatty, salty without being too salty.

And on the right, another mate had ordered the burger, and this time it was cooked to order – medium rare. I pinched a few of his chips and those were vastly improved too.

I was glad this time the team in the kitchen had brought their cooking A-game, glad too that I’d given the Collection a second chance. Because Rosebank sorely needs something like this – an eatery offering upmarket comfort food with a creative twist, served with proper cutlery and proper crockery and a dash of charm.

And great drinks. Although the decent range of beers includes internationals (such as Vedett Extra Blond Ale from Belgium), most are South African craft brands, with four on tap; I had the very pleasant Scallywag IPA draft from Woodstock’s Drifter Brewing Company.

The wine list has been thoughtfully edited, with a few surprises such as the Bosman Fides Grenache Blanc Orange. I opted for the Force Majeure, a Chenin Blanc from the Swartland which had summery lashings of crisp apple.

On the spirits front, you’ve got the pick of 17 whiskies (in various degrees of interestingness, including one from Taiwan); there’s a selection of gins, tonics and garnishes for you to make a custom G&T (a nice touch) and a bunch of cocktails – classics like the mojito, along with experimental oddities like the Potted Plant (rum, Drambuie, chocolate liqueur, peppermint crisp, vanilla crisp). The five under “The Bottle Store” are pre-prepared, served in little medicine bottles. I found this a tad gimmicky. It tasted fine, but is it old fashioned of me to want my Old Fashioned freshly prepared?

Speaking of booze, the new Park Corner complex is also now home to Proof, a new liquor store focused on offering alcohol that is interesting and tricky to get elsewhere. They’re still getting their fridge installed, so are a bit light on wines (in a couple of weeks from now you can expect a juicy line-up of effervescent foreigners – Champagnes, Proseccos, Cava and the like).

“Our local wines are spectacular and are promoted very well by other liquor stores,” Proof’s Tyrone Cocks told me, so the local ones they do select will be “small batch, artisanal and aren’t necessarily stocked in other stores.”

In the meantime, there’s 19 local gins, whiskies (including three from the iconic Japanese distillery Nikka) and a range of cognacs. They’ll soon be taking delivery of one of only six bottles of the Chateau de Montifaud 150th Anniversary to be imported into SA (a blend of six eaux de vie representing each generation of the Vallet family that has owned the distillery – including one from a cask from 1850).

Things are no less exciting in the beer department. You can get an empty 2.2L Growler bottle filled with one of several craft choices on offer; at the moment the line-up includes Aces Lager from Midrand, Mad Giant The Guzzler Pilsner from Joburg’s CBD and Durabn’s Poison City Punk Rocker Pale Ale. Cocks is hoping to offer a different selection from the taps every month.

Proof also offers Brewdog’s Tactical Nuclear Penguin uber-imperial stout which, at 32% ABV, was the world’s strongest beer upon its release in 2009 (which is, not surprisingly, from Scotland). Also from up north are several Innis & Gunn barrel-aged beers which have been aged in oak barrels that were previously used to age whisky and bourbon.

This range would’ve come in handy the night I decided to try Coalition, the Neapolitan pizzeria next door, which wasn’t yet licenced. It’s a beautifully low-key space: gleaming varnished tables, muted lighting and white walls (including one with a Roald Dahl quote: “The greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places”).

Feeling thirsty I popped around to Bar Ber Black Sheep, which is wedged between Proof and the Bolton Road Collection. By day, it’s a self-consciously hipsterish barber shop (think of a gentleman’s club crossed with a Subway station); as the day progresses it evolves into an unabashed watering hole. There were only two red wines on offer, both from Indaba; we risked the Mosaic Red Blend – a ripe, underwhelming choice as it turned out – but not the worst thing to have with pizza. E and I shared the very nice Cedare (starring spicy salami, olives, roasted garlic and blue cheese), made with homemade mozzarella, OO flour that’s risen over two days and cooked for 90 seconds. You’d have to ask someone with a more discerning palate than my own as to whether fancy flour makes any difference, but I think I did detect a lighter, chewier quality to the singed dough.

We also shared the slow-cooked short-rib, which was ridiculously tender and decadently fatty (as good short rib should be) but rather petite. Had I ordered this as a main for myself only, I’d have felt rather short-changed by the size.

There’s a “speakeasy” hidden behind a door at the back of Coalition called Sin & Taxes (a working title, apparently) but although I had read online that it’s meant to be open every day except Sunday, it was mysteriously closed on the Wednesday night we visited (how very Cape Town). I felt rather disappointed – I’ve heard good things about owner Julian Short’s mixology skills.

And so E and I, in search of a post-pizza nightcap, actually ended up where it all began – at the Bolton Road Collection, sharing a bottle (OK, two if we’re being honest) of Force Majeure, yakking away until we were the last to leave, all the while marvelling that we could be sitting outside on a balmy summer’s night in Rosebank – yes, Rosebank! – watching the traffic pulse past us along Jan Smuts. It’s not quite the Lower Eastside, but it’ll do.

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