Jonathan Liebmann is doing a brilliant job, turning a number of abandoned factories and warehouses into a trendoid’s paradise. The Maboneng Precinct has just about everything — studios and exhibition halls, a hotel/apartment building with mini art galleries on every floor, a small cinema and an alternative market every Sunday.
What it hasn’t got is a really good restaurant, although that was the role Pata Pata was expected to play when it opened next to the 12 Decades Hotel in November 2010.
Justice Malala, who knows a thing or two about food and writes about it in the Financial Mail, dropped in soon afterwards and was not impressed. The service was awful, both the barman and waitress were clueless, the tables were wonky, the restaurant opened before it
was ready — but the food was very good.
It has been about six months since Malala’s visit and — guess what? — on the coldest day of the winter, they had run out of gas for the high-beam gas heaters. The tables are still wonky — we tried three before giving up. The service has improved — presumably there’s a new waitress and a new barman — and some, though not all, of the food is very good.
But one is still left with the impression that Pata Pata is not quite ready to open.
The decor is super-appealing. It might be described as eclectic industrial — industrial being the raw cement finishes and the eclectic everything else. Nothing matches: there are chairs covered with red velvet, or brocade, or jute; banquettes run along one wall; there are little conversation groups. Hanging lamps are covered with old hessian coffee sacks.
The venue is divided, with one half a bar area and the other the restaurant and it is likely the bar area wins. Pata Pata looks like a party venue, with high ceilings designed to bounce noise back at revellers.
And perhaps that’s what it is. Here’s the evening line-up: comedy night on Wednesday, live bands on Thursday and Sunday and DJs playing everything from lounge music to funk on Friday.
Sort of blah
It’s a party venue with food, however, so let’s talk about that. The chicken curry is very, very good and the seafood soup, a sometime special, is nearly a bouillabaisse. The chefs try to serve vegetarians something besides pasta (the usual cop-out) and, although they haven’t yet hit the V-spot, there’s potential there — they even make spinach interesting, with enough chilli to blow your head off. Spring rolls are first-rate, with a brilliant dipping sauce of sweet chilli and coriander. What doesn’t seem to work are the veg curry and the lamb curry — the first sort of blah, with the vegetables julienned, and the second too tough.
The plates aren’t warmed, so you have to eat quickly before the curry congeals.
The malva pudding is good, however, with custard made while you wait, and wait and wait.
That’s the main restaurant in the Maboneng Precinct but there are others. Walk past the hotel during the day and drop into the Chalkboard Café. It offers the usual half-circles of stodge masquerading as croissants but its homemade muffins are really good — and one can draw on the tables while waiting for the muffins to come out of the oven. Chalk is supplied for the purpose.
Carry on to the Canteen at Arts on Main, where the croissants are marginally better, breakfast is good and inexpensive and lunch ranges from beer-battered hake and chips and a roast beef baguette with dipping gravy to an array of salads and two platters — one Italian, one vegetarian.
Hustle and bustle
But for really good food, one has to wait for Sunday. That’s when a bunch of interesting chefs converge on the Market on Main. You’ll find Ethiopian food from Little Addis, really good raw food from Jozi Uncooked and chocolates from Fine & Raw. There are delicious soups on offer, different sorts of olives (including roasted), tacos, dolmades and rotis, coffee (including the Ethiopian coffee experience, complete with couches) and, of course, good food from the Hare Krishnas. And there are long wooden tables to sit at, if you can find a place.
Pata Pata and the Chalkboard Café are at 286 Fox Street, City and Suburban.
The Canteen and the Sunday Market on Main are a block away at 264 Fox Street, City and Suburban.
Websites include directions, a map and GPS co-ordinates: