It’s appropriate that a café on the edges of what used to be Johannesburg’s old mining camps is named Gold Mine Café. The restaurant is in Anderson Street in Marshalltown, on the margins of the city’s mining district.
That part of town is home to mining houses — Anglo American and BHP Billiton, as well as the Chamber of Mines — that did more than most companies to shape South Africa’s identity. Gold Mine Café is a restaurant on the ground floor of the Reef Hotel, co-owned by a pair of entrepreneurs: one a Zimbabwean, Isaac Chalumbila, and the other a German national, Gustav Krampe.
Although the hotel was opened in 2010 in time for the World Cup, the café has only been in operation since September this year.
Explaining the mining feel of the restaurant, hotel manager Nooria Wagener said: “This is the Reef Hotel; we have [embraced] the gold theme.” If truth be told, its mining ambience owes more to the city’s postindustrial landscape than to the rough-hewn and uneven realities of actual mining.
Still, it’s quite an intriguing ambience, be it the chipped walls, the waiters clad in black overalls and orange helmets sans the customary torchlights, the giant image of headgear on a wall behind the bar that confronts the diner on entry, or the mining paraphernalia that’s strewn carelessly around. Or even the old kitchen tables that appear to have been weathered in a solution of chemicals. If you last did chemistry decades ago, just try to think of the table your grandmother would have used around 1968.
Lee Messinger, the interior designer responsible for the project, happened to be enjoying her breakfast when I sat down with the manager of the hotel.
“We wanted a canteen-style environment — something relaxed and easy that set it apart from the rest of the hotel,” she said.
Wagener added: “We want anybody from the street to [be able to] walk in.” Outside, women workers in orange overalls, shovels in hand, were walking up and down the street. I half expected them to walk in and demand a cup of coffee.
Open from 6.30am to 11pm every day of the week, this is just not a café in the old coffee-shop sense of the word. Although beverages containing caffeine are served to the corporate brigade (Standard Bank’s headquarters are nearby), one imagines that much later the same clientele will return for sundowners. And if the temperature of the drinks served at that time of day falls noticeably, the ingredients grow more potent.
This explains the wine glasses hanging upside down from a rack that’s suspended from the concrete ceiling using rusted rods. Or perhaps it’s a postmodernist gesture suggesting how one would feel after imbibing copious amounts of beverage from the said glasses.
Part of the vast café is on a platform (perhaps the proprietors are thinking of hosting live gigs) with the bar area in the middle. On the other end there is a kitchen; if you are the fussy type, you could actually watch your food being prepared.
On your table you will find the menu, laid out before you as a place mat. The emphasis is on meat and the wide variety of dishes is reflective of the tastes of office workers in this neck of the woods: burgers and chips, with the Hawaiian option coming complete with a fried pineapple ring on top; ox-liver curry for those who like their fare old-fashioned; a worker’s chicken meal consisting of a whole grilled bird, chips, a loaf of bread and Coca-Cola, as well as a small, unimaginative selection of sandwiches.
The point, I guess, is that this hearty fare is sold at last season’s prices. One will have to travel far back in time or out to the city’s periphery to find a meal priced at less than R40. And, on most days, lucky city slickers can enjoy a lunch buffet comprising the “chef’s choice”. This three-course meal comes at a mere R55.
If you want to explore both Johannesburg’s present and its past, this is a good place to start.
The Gold Mine Café is located at 58 Anderson Street, Marshalltown. Visit reefhotels.co.za for more information.