The Better Half (TBH) and I were looking for a holiday – somewhere warm and inexpensive and when I found cheap flights back to South Africa, the decision on where to go was pretty easy. We get to have some sunshine and see our friends and family at the same time = no-brainer! We’re both from Johannesburg originally but it’s a city and not the most interesting or beautiful part of South Africa (or at least not for us anyway as that’s where we grew up). So we’ve spent less and less time in our hometowns on recent visits, preferring to go to Cape Town instead. But this time, as it was such a short and impromptu trip, we decided to spend all of our time in Johannesburg. What a treat it was.
Our good friends, Dan and Tanya had been to The Cube Tasting Kitchen for their wedding anniversary recently and absolutely raved about the place, so when they knew we were coming, they booked us a table. I make it sound so easy – but it did take a couple of pleading emails from Tanya to secure us a table! It’s a great restaurant and deservedly busy.
So what is The Cube Tasting Kitchen all about? It’s a 10 course tasting menu that changes every month and is priced at R700 (roughly £35 at the current exchange rate of R21/£1). The restaurant is unlicensed so it’s “Bring Your Own” alcohol, which I loved. South African wines aren’t that readily available on most menus here in the UK, so it was nice to be able to enjoy some of my old favourites with our meal. The website states that the restaurant is purposefully stark to allow guests to focus on the food. They encourage lengthy dinners filled with lots of wine, food and conversation; and that is exactly the experience we had.
Let’s talk about the food. I won’t go into lengthy detail about each course because you may be here all day. Some courses I preferred more than others, but lets just say that the overall impression was excellent.
We started with a salad inspired by a Mediterranean summer: artichoke, tomato, olive, feta, cucumber, capsicum, red onion. Light, refreshing, lots of different textures and perfect for the extremely hot weather Johannesburg was experiencing.
Next we had Ravioli: egg yolk, spinach, beetroot, truffle, asparagus. This dish was a little hit and miss for me. I loved the richness of the egg yolk and how it created a silky sauce and that the truffle enhanced the dish rather than overpowered it. But I found the ravioli a little thick and chewy. The balance of flavours just didn’t work that well for me.
AVP…? Eel (smoked and glazed), lobster tail, bone marrow, Szechuan pepper, Asian notes, mushrooms, earthy bulbs, nougatine. Chef Darren O’Donovan explained that AVP stands for Alien vs. Predator because that’s how it looks and when serving the dish asked us to be open-minded. The lobster tail (Alien) was buttery and meaty. Eel (Predator) isn’t very prevalent on menus in SA and almost everyone at our table was a little hesitant about eating it, but I loved the fishiness of it and especially loved the nougatine. If I could be so bold I would say to Darren that this is your dish. Don’t feel you need to justify it by telling people to keep an open mind. I didn’t think it was a great way to introduce the dish because it made people weary from the outset. It was a really interesting dish that was packed full of flavour, but our friends weren’t that willing to try all the elements, which is a shame.
We had a very refreshing palate cleanser of green tea gimlet: bubble tea, foam, salted lime, ginger, salted preserved lemons, mint after the very strong flavours of the previous course.
For the first of the main courses we had Street food: beef short rib, black bean, tokoyaki, seaweed, dashi, galangal. The presentation of this dish was excellent. We tried to capture the opening of the colander on video as it popped open and revealed the little morsel inside, but we just couldn’t get it. Another dish that was as pretty as a picture and super tasty too.
Asado: lamb, tzatziki, hummus, dukkah, salad, flatbread was the absolute star of the show for me. It was presented sharing-style, which is probably my favourite way of eating! The lamb was tender and I loved the crunch that the dukkah brought to the meat when I sprinkled it over. By this point almost everyone was full, but knowing that dessert was next and not being the greatest fan of sweet stuff, I just kept eating and eating. It was so good!
Our final palate cleanser before dessert was pineapple, fennel, lime. I wasn’t expecting to like this one because of the fennel, but fortunately for me the fennel flavour was very subtle and didn’t overpower the dish.
Our first dessert was Sydney food: ricotta, rhubarb, Apple, honey ice cream, popped quinoa. Tart, creamy, crunchy. I’ve never had popped quinoa before and what a revelation! I loved the added texture it brought to the dish and will definitely be trying to recreate this at home.
Next up was strawberry, tonic, herbtanicals: strawberry textures, artisan tonic sorbet, French herbs and flowers. Think gin and tonic. Another dish that looked beautiful and tasted it too.
Lastly we had what every chef ends their shift with apparently. #Chefslife: a smoke, a drink, a coffee and some chocolate. (Not pictured). Bitter dark chocolate, which is my favourite kind, that was unfortunately overpowered by the smoke. By this point I was full to bursting point, so just had the tiniest of tastes. An interesting concept but I would’ve preferred to end my meal without all that smoke.
Service as it is in most South African restaurants was relaxed and friendly. TBH had bought some silly “face-mats” from London which we all had great laugh with, even getting the chefs and waiting staff caught up in our tomfoolery. Such fun and I just loved that the staff were only too happy to get involved.
The chefs are all young (head chef Darren is a mere 26 years old!) yet they cook with a maturity beyond their years. The stark restaurant, the innovative cooking reminded me a lot of The Clove Club but at a fraction of the price! If you ever find yourself in Parktown, Johannesburg, then I highly recommend you book a table at the wonderful Cube Tasting Kitchen.
Until we eat again!
Cube Tasting Kitchen
5 Parknorth Heights, 17th 4th Avenue, Parktown, Johannesburg
Tel: +27 82 422 8518