For the love of the pub

Raising the bar: Minimal décor, gourment grub and craft beers at the Griffin.

Raising the bar: Minimal décor, gourment grub and craft beers at the Griffin.

The corner of Oxford Road and Corlett Drive in Johannesburg has a string of restaurants and, surprisingly, most were empty on a recent rainy afternoon; but not the Griffin. There were whole tables of office workers, and the balcony was full. The place is loud, perhaps because of the minimal décor: raw brick, wooden tables, benches and exposed copper piping.

Owners Thom Hughes and Martin Jakoby have had a string of popular places (spot the naming convention), the Loft in Melville, and then the Attic in Parkhurst. They still own the Office in Greenside, and settled on the Griffin because “it sounded like a real gastro pub name”. That, and because Jakoby liked the name so much he planned on using it as a name for a son (but probably won’t now).

It’s also probably a good idea to book a table, if you’re planning on sitting down.

The place is on the first floor, and dominated by the bar. There are plenty of those tasty craft beers (Darling Brew, Naked Mexican and Jack Black, to name a few) as well as what they call “craft whisky” in their distinctive green bottles, selected by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. How this works is that the society selects a single malt from a single cask from any one of 129 distilleries on their books. So you’ll find a bottle ­cryptically labelled 27.6 (the first ­figure is the distillery, the second the number of casks), which the society then renames “Salty Old Dog, ­Westering Home” with a nose of “melon, tequila, bacon, seaweed, old fag packets”, turning to “oilskins, pipe tobacco”, a single tot of which costs R75.

What you’re going to get here is comfort food, with a few excursions off the beaten track. Risotto? In a bar? Hughes dries out zucchini in the oven, it’s puréed and then stirred back into the rice with lemon zest, basil, dill, parsley, mascarpone, pine nuts and Parmesan (R70).

There’s duck (roasted, then shredded) and shiitake spring rolls with a dressing of Kikkoman, sesame oil, rice vinegar and spring onion (R45). Squid is thinly sliced and deep fried with a savoury crust, and served with a little ginger, chilli and lime aioli, finished with a few slices of pickled cucumber (R45).

For the more prosaic, there’s the “gourmet” burger, a giant patty made from sirloin, oxtail and brisket, with bacon, Emmental, pickle and chips (R80).

The crab fettuccine with dhania, lime and chilli (R90) sounded good on paper, but was not assertive enough for my taste.

There is no shortage of non-meat items on the menu. They do a good bruschetta: a thinly sliced disk of bread, and a matching piece of slightly melting goats’ cheese and crushed hazelnuts (R48). It comes with a sharp rocket salad and balsamic dressing. Order the slice of vegetable tart, which has asparagus, artichoke and sundried tomato, with basil and goats’ cheese, encased in a delicate short crust pastry, with a rocket salad (R75). They also have crystal spring rolls (wrapped in raw rice paper), with bean sprouts, ­shiitake, radish, carrot and spring onion, with a good dipping sauce of lime juice, palm sugar, ginger and fresh chillies (R44). As Hughes says: “Vegetarians have suffered for a long time.”

Illovo Junction, corner of Corlett Drive and Oxford Road. 011 447 9842

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