Arts and Culture

Dine another day

Lisa Van Wyk

Some readers were not impressed by M&G editor Nic Dawes's negative take on the Jo'burg restaurant scene.

“Get the fuck over yourself.”

That’s the sentiment of at least one commenter, and many on Twitter, who were not impressed with Nic Dawes’s negative take on the Johannesburg restaurant scene that appeared in last week’s Mail & Guardian.

It was never going to go down easily. We knew there would be an uproar when he stated: “For all its creativity and cosmopolitanism, for all its monuments to material consumption, this town is a culinary desert or, perhaps more accurately, parking lot—which is what you will find yourself looking on to from most of the very few places I do feel able to recommend”.

It was inevitable that some readers would jump to defend their city, while others would agree wholeheartedly, and still others would nod smugly while reading the article over a coffee at a pavement café in Long Street.

That said, there were many readers that agreed with the piece, and, despite the few recommendations for alternative eating spots that were tweeted at us, many Jo’burgers complained that they are starved when it comes to fine dining options.

One online commenter lamented that, when it comes to Jo’burg restaurants, “none of them have had the passion and amazing flare that Cape Town has in so many of its restaurants”. Another suggested that “plastic, franchised, noisy, expensive and full of poseurs” was the standard for restaurants in the city of gold.

Unwritten rules of taste
But those who disagreed did so loudly. There was an unhappy commenter who attacked the food snobbery that they thought was at the heart of the piece. “Food is fucking food, man. People going about their wines — turning down the most tender cuts of steak because they don’t conform to some unwritten rules of taste, are just trying to find some intangible value to hold over the unwashed masses.”

A particularly angry blogger went as far as to state that “Restaurants are not about the food”, and suggested that being a good restaurant was really about being a good business. At least, that’s what we think he was saying.

So where does the truth lie? It’s all very well to despair at the state of the Jo’burg culinary scene, or to despair at the unbelievable pretentiousness that some accused Dawes of.

But where are all the restaurants that could make Dawes change his mind?

Wine writer Neil Pendock responded with a blog post in which he invited Dawes to join him at all the great spots our editor may have missed since arriving in Jo’burg. “How about lunch at Tartufo in Hyde Park where Luciana Righi wields the ladel? Or Saigon Pho in Milpark? Or the Troyeville Hotel for a blind tasting of Mozambican versus Indian prawns? You bring your editor’s credit card (cash in the case of Saigon) and I’ll bring the wine.”

Bloody amazing prawns

There are more recommendations for our hungry editor. Nechama Brodie, editor of The Joburg Book, and one of Jo’burg’s cheerleaders, also thinks Dawes might have missed a few gems, and is looking in the wrong places.

“You head out of the suburbs, away from the north… You go to the city centre to places like A Palhota (Mozambican), or trawl the blocks around Rockey Street in Yeoville to find Ghanaian or Ivorian cuisine. You go to Parreirinha in the south, to eat bloody amazing prawns and langoustines. You drive down Rifle Range Road and find Vera Vita, housed in ... a house. It’s not the prettiest spot, but they serve proper Italian food. They have things like rabbit on the menu. There are also a growing number of township restaurants—not just Wandie’s and Sakhumzi - serving traditional fare to locals (who’ve moved to the suburbs and miss shis nyama) and tourists (whiteys, coconuts, foreigners, etc). And, of course, there are the fabulous curries Mr Dawes mentioned”.

And, on email, Twitter, and the online comments box, suggestions included the Thomas Maxwell Bistro in Parkmore (recommended enthusiastically by many), Greek restaurant Parea in Illovo Drive, Salvation Café in Milpark, and Picollo Primadonna in Norwood. There were many who were pleased that hidden Chinese gem North’s in Cyrildene (hidden no more, judging by the number of people eating there the weekend after publication) had been given the thumbs up.

It’s very clear that the debate is not over. There is much more talking, and much more eating, to be done.

Continue this discussion on Twitter, using the hashtag #MGfood. Or suggest a restaurant or make a comment in the comment box below.

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