David Higgs, chef and co-owner of Marble Restaurant, is a man who takes meat seriously.
His restaurant is grounded in a love for it. The name is as much an ode to the delicate strands of fat running through a perfectly aged piece of steak as it is to the luxurious polished stone which features extensively throughout the Rosebank hot spot. The next step in this carnivorous infatuation is the addition of a new premium offering which sees some seriously special cuts of beef featuring on the menu.
Higgs and business partner Gary Kyriacou’s desire to constantly innovate and bring international culinary experiences to Johannesburg has seen them venture far and wide to source some of the best beef South Africa and the world has to offer. “From day one Gary and I have always spoken about getting bigger cuts in but it’s been a process,” says Higgs. He says it took the better part of three years to find the best suppliers to provide cuts that would work well on open flame. The difficulty was that South African meat has very little marbling and without it the bigger cuts tend to dry out when cooked on open flame. The marbling process is affected by everything from feed to ageing and the fattening process and is incredibly cost intensive. South Africa, of course, has amazing cattle farmers and the quality of meat is next level but to achieve marbling is very expensive and there’s no market for it in South Africa - yet. It is not that the producers can’t do it, it’s just that it makes little sense financially.
The search for the perfect beef continued and, finally, three producers were chosen - two local and one international. Chalmar beef, which already supplied Marble, was an obvious choice. The cattle are grain fed and Higgs believes they supply one of the most consistent products on the market. The second, he says, is one of his absolute favourites - Migo’s Jersey Beef, a small-scale, family-owned and run producer in Eastern Cape. It is a family who, over three generations, have dedicated their lives to handrearing hormone- and stimulant-free, pasture-fed, open-roaming cattle. The meat is beautiful - the grass feed gives a yellow tinge to the fat which is almost buttery, resulting in prime cuts which are succulent and flavourful.
The most ambitious undertaking is, perhaps, the international offering, sourced from Double R Ranch in Washington State, which is US Department of Agriculture-certified as “prime” - a title only a small portion of American producers can claim. The meat has incredible marbling that ensures it is flavourful and tender. It obviously comes at a price but the duo hope to provide South Africans who can’t or don’t travel to places where such meat is available with an international dining experience right here in Johannesburg.
The cuts are beautiful across the board and Higgs aims to show them off to the best of their ability. Brushed with butter, olive oil and beef dripping, the meat is sprinkled with coarse salt before being cooked in the Josper - a wood-fired oven perfect for these bigger cuts of meat. They’re served simply with a bit of butter and sides of veg and fries, allowing the prime protein to take centre stage.
DAVID HIGGS’S TIPS FOR BRAAING AT HOME
1. When cooking at home, you have got to go for something with a bit of fat. When you cook on fire, temperatures are very high and you need the fat to prevent the meat drying out. Lamb works wonderfully because it has that fat. Rib-eye is great too.
2. People talk about eating meat straight from the fire as being the best and it’s true. Take the meat off the braai, let it rest a little bit, and then eat it while hot - that next brandy and Coke can wait until later.
3. Use a combination of wood and charcoal; while I prefer cooking on wood, charcoal helps keep the heat consistent and even.
4. It’s okay to flip the meat. If you don’t, what essentially happens is the top starts getting cold. Be sure to move the meat around on the grill, though, because that’s where the colour and caramelisation comes from, it’s that contact with the metal.
ON HIS GO-TO BRAAI
I love soutribbetjie (salt rib), lamb ribs cooked slowly next to the fire for 3 or 4 hours. Lamb chops and rib-eye are always great too. My go-to sides are an avocado, red onion and “whatever cheese I have in the fridge” salad and then always just fresh tomato. I’ll also often make my potato bake with seaweed – it’s such a firm favourite I even included it in my book Mile 8.