Sometimes all you want is something familiar, which is perhaps why people keep finding themselves back at the Ocean Basket. It’s a case of dad loves the crumbed calamari and mom can have the salad without onions.
And that is why Jo’burg is franchise heaven. The city is not known for its culinary adventurism and Jo’burgers just love knowing what they’re going to get — that’s if they get there in the first place.
But in an effort to keep up with world trends, some establishments are going the way of invention, even if it means reinventing the tried and tested. The gastro pub is one such creature. Trendy yet retro, it hovers somewhere between drinking hole and tapas bar.
There are literally tens of thousands of mentions of bars, pubs and restaurants called the Foundry — that’s what you find if you google the name, at any rate. There are Foundries in San Francisco, London and Perth — and Parktown North now has one of them.
Johannesburg’s Foundry is sandwiched between a Turn ’n Tender steakhouse and a Vida e Caffè, around the corner from the Local Grill and two down from Wombles. This is clearly steak country, judging by the number of blue shirt-wearing businessmen slicing into thick cuts.
The place has been packed since the day it opened and it’s hard not to see why. As my waiter said: “There’s something for everyone: pasta, seafood, meat ...”
On the lunch menu, the starters appear more interesting than the main plates: bruschetta with grilled diced artichokes, salsa verde (which has a preponderance of diced green beans) and almonds, olive tapenade, and tomato and dhania (which has little of the latter, but plenty of rocket) are served on a board.
The sandwiches are called “Royales” for some reason, perhaps after the meal in Pulp Fiction.
The Caesar salad comes with a poached egg, pancetta, shavings of Grana Padano and, as a twist, anchovies encased in a tempura batter that crack open with a satisfyingly salty crunch.
There is a vast selection of craft beers, both bottled and on tap.
All the Darling brews are available, including the astonishing coriander-infused Bone Crusher, the bitter Jack Black and Van Hunks Pumpkin Ale with notes of butternut and cinnamon.
Some of this finds its way into the menu. For the fritters, the pumpkin is roasted and mixed with a little of the Van Hunk, then coated in a sweet Van Hunk batter and fried. Mussels are cooked in the sour Jack Black beer with olive oil, celery and leek.
The restaurant also has an excellent sliced red chilli in olive oil condiment.
There may be a rough wooden ceiling, but there’s also a tiled floor, so the place begins to echo as the tables fill up. A manager hissed “menus! menus!” to waiters as a table sat waiting.
Lightly battered sea bass, balanced over buttery potatoes, green beans, tomato and olives with a lemony Pernod-infused sauce was pleasant enough, but perhaps not worth R125.
You would, possibly, be better off with the butter chicken, served as a bunny chow (R68) or on a pizza with a curry sauce base instead of tomato, with pineapple, pieces of poppadum, yoghurt and coriander (R80).
This may be one of Johannesburg’s first gastro pubs, but unlike Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck in Bray, the food is cooked without adornment.
The Foundry is situated in Parktown Quarter, Third Avenue, Parktown North. Tel: 011 447 5828