The much-anticipated opening of restaurateur Nicky van der Walt’s new eatery took place last week — a project, a long-time in the making, that calls the iconic Nelson Mandela Square home.
The opening, of course, included the usual crowd of Joburg celebrities and who’s who, and it may seem easy to write it off as another socialite haunt with all the craze and no substance. However, you’d be doing both yourself and the restaurant a great disservice by doing so.
Van der Walt is set on making sure that, above any of the bells-and-whistles, Tang is first and foremost a restaurant — and a bloody fine one at that.
Enlisting a team of seasoned industry veterans and experts in their fields, he has put together an impressive brigade of experienced chefs and front-of-house personnel to bring his vision to life.
I visit on the Tuesday evening after the launch. The space, which I had last seen as a shell during construction, has been transformed by interior architect Tristan du Plessis of Studio A. His signature, moody aesthetic is evident in the dark wood and sprawling marble slabs that adorn the space with Asian influences woven throughout — most notably in the form of three cherry blossom trees that act as the space’s centerpiece.
The Tang bar, and accompanying Moët & Chandon Champagne lounge, contrast beautifully with its lighter yet equally lush design. It’s impressive and grand in all the ways that Joburg demands a restaurant of its calibre to be.
The food, however, is where Tang really shines. The menu, under the guidance of executive chef Vixa Kalenga, takes patrons on a culinary journey through the Greater Asias, from the traditional Cantonese cuisine of Guangzhou through to the izakayas of Japan. It is a well-considered menu that is sure to have something to entice and excite Joburg’s diverse range of palates.
The izakaya offering takes shape in the form of small plates — order for the table and share, would be my advice. The shiso truffle oysters are a revelation, and a delicious exercise in umami — with the thin slice of truffle simultaneously contrasting and complementing the oyster’s glorious salinity. The tuna tataki is another must-try. Simple and elegant, accompanied by onion ponzu and a citrus soy sauce, it pairs perfectly with a glass of Champagne.
For mains, the signatures are not to be missed. The black cod with miso is an absolute knock-out. Plated simply, it arrives cooked to perfection, and almost melting in your mouth. While the Peking duck served with hot, freshly steamed pancakes and all the accoutrements, invites all at the table to indulge and enjoy — the pancakes, crispy skin and soft tender duck meat, hoisin sauce and the crunch of the vegetables is a classic combination, and one that works so well.
If there’s still space for dessert (of course there is!), the salted caramel fondant is a fan favourite, with Tang’s logo decorating the top, with a molten centre when opened. Those looking for a more unique option should opt for the yuzu mousse crumble — a clever little twist on cheesecake served with a passionfruit sorbet, it’s a refreshing and elegant way to end your meal.
Looking to the wine cellar, it’s clear that no expense has been spared when curating the full experience. The list includes some of SA’s top producers, think Kanonkop, Vilafonté, Hamilton Russell and more. On Van der Walt’s recommendation, we went with Hamilton Russell’s Pinot Noir 2017, a superb pairing for our umami-rich meal. I look forward to watching the wine list adapt and grow as the restaurant does — and the presence of a sommelier would wonderfully round off the wine journey.
Fantastic service completed the experience. Though still finding their feet, the waiters were well-versed on the menu and were gracious, hospitable, and accommodating throughout our meal. Nothing was too much effort, food arrived timeously, and our glasses were always kept full.
Tang, thus far, is proving to be an exciting and refreshing addition to Joburg’s food scene. One that seems set on being rooted in good food, fine wine and stellar hospitality. The biggest challenge they face now, will be keeping it at this remarkably high standard.
• Nelson Mandela Square, Sandton, Johannesburg.