Gandhi Square offers a great batch of takeaway shops. There are the usual suspects — McDonald’s, KFC, King Pie and Nando’s. There is also the unusual — a gourmet Chinese food establishment, co-owned and operated by Jaco Welgemoed, the restaurateur who brought us the Singing Fig in Norwood, Circle in Greenside, Orient in Melrose Arch and most recently Cité in Dunkeld.
It’s a long way from Dunkeld to the CBD and a giant leap for Welgemoed, but a welcome one. For the first time in two decades he goes home when the sun goes down. And if Lucky Moo is successful, he plans to franchise it.
Customers are people who live in the inner city or work in the square and email or phone in their orders for delivery. Occasionally office workers will drop in, pull up an orange seat and dine in situ.
The menu includes some standard items — the usual spring rolls, chow mein and chow fan, sweet and sour and so on. But the dishes aren’t standard.
Order a spring roll and you’ll get light, crisp pastry, wrapped around a slightly curried filling. And it won’t be dripping in oil.
Ask for prawn chow mein and although the seafood might be more shrimp than prawn, the dish will be completely delicious, with firm, slightly chewy noodles.
Kung pao vegetables — with crisp veggies, Chinese mushrooms, toasted peanuts, coconut milk and, of course, chilli — comes out medium hot; it’s a reminder of what’s good about Thai food (the coconut milk) and Szechuan cuisine (everything else) and it doesn’t quite burn holes in your tongue.
Welgemoed says he tries to make the dishes accessible. People order chow mein and chow fan in the beginning, he says. “Then they come back and order something more adventurous.”
Mongolian beef is a big seller and so are kung pao prawns, beef and chicken, also mushroom chicken with a touch of cinnamon. There’s even a salad — called Missy Moo’s Summer Salad, topped with “wokked tender strips of chicken or beef or fresh prawns” and drizzled with “Missy Moo’s pickled ginger, sesame oil and rice-wine dressing”.
Why a Chinese takeaway? “There’s no Chinese restaurant in this area. And the palate in town is changing. There used to be chicken, chicken, chicken everywhere. People are ready for something new. Our success has been way beyond what we expected.”
And why the inner city?
“Town is just exploding,” he says. “It’s fantastic — I fell in love with it.”
Welgemoed and his partner, Sam Halfon, were wise to open here three months ago because the square has several offices. Olitzki Property Holdings, the works of which are ubiquitous in the inner city, won a Halala award this year from the Johannesburg Development Agency for “creating a business destination” in — among other parts of the CBD — Gandhi Square. The banks are here, non-governmental organisations are headquartered on the square and office blocks that used to be home to vagrants lighting fires on the floor have been renovated and rented.
“The energy is here,” Welgemoed says. “It’s rocking. For me, this has been a big eye-opener.”
There’s one serious drawback to dining at Lucky Moo: parking is a nightmare. But if you’re within hailing distance you can telephone 011 492 0628 or fax 011 492 3668 or order on the website: www.luckymoo.co.za and it’ll deliver.
The rest of us may have to wait until a branch of Lucky Moo opens in a shopping centre.