The life of Hyde Park
The best thing about Life Grand Café is the menu: you can stare at it for what seems like hours while you wait for your food.
It is also a suspiciously long menu, which leaves you wondering whether everything will be in stock. There are lovely antique illustrations of cutlery, fruit and vegetables breaking up the text, and everyone will find something they like – tapas, pasta, steak and fish, both raw and cooked.
The café offers some of the best dining one can find in a Johannesburg mall. Life used to be in Sandton City, but now this restaurant in Hyde Park Corner offers two dozen or so tables stretching past the expensive design shop Generation all the way to the specialist drink shop Whisky Brother.
Gentle daylight filters on to the diners from a skylight. A piece of art designed by Willem Boshoff, called Words in the Sky, is etched on to the glass. It has long tendrils of text that curl over the glass and the effect is not unlike being outdoors, under a shady tree.
On any afternoon, you'll see housewives meeting their friends or businessmen laying waste to swaths of sushi.
Mistakenly thinking that everything would be fresh, I ordered the tarte fine (R58): pieces of aubergine, a mound of olive tapenade, basil vinaigrette and toasted pine nuts, stacked on a piece of puff pastry. When it arrived, after a long wait, the pastry was stale and old: as old as a piece of volcanic rock and with what I imagine to be a similar texture. I blunted the knife trying to hack into it and so gave up.
After sending the tarte back to the kitchen, I ordered a sandwich, or what they call a "gourmet loaf". The Capri (R58) – buffalo mozzarella, rocket, marinated red peppers, olive tapenade, pesto and baby tomatoes – was deeply comforting and was all that a sandwich should be: the cheese was beginning to brown, and the bread was soft and pleasingly contrasted with the smooth texture of peppers and juicy tomatoes.
You can also construct a decent lunch at the salad bar. There is a Life Salad (R46) of greens, tomato and cucumber and a wedge of bruschetta, with another four ingredients that are on display in glass containers.
I always choose the roasted beetroot and the Danish feta, but there are plenty of other good things such as grilled zucchini, chunks of butternut, sweet potato crisps (good to have something crunchy) and then something sharp, like capers, sun-dried tomatoes or olives. What you end up with is quite a full plate, perfect for a light lunch.
The salmon fishcakes (R80) are good and I can recommend the Mediterranean breakfast (R58) of a mini loaf stuffed with feta, caramelised onion, tomato and porcini mushrooms.
There is also a sushi station situated amid the tables, with plenty of slicing of fish and rolling of seaweed going on. There is nothing unusual in the selection. But proof of its reliability could lie in the fact that it was this counter that served Johannesburg's top socialites when they gathered at Hyde Park for the opening of Khanyi Dhlomo's over-funded store Luminance earlier this year.