The powerhouse four behind The Gin Bar (half of which are also behind Honest Chocolate) have expanded beyond Wale Street, to serve broth in a small corridor of an establishment just a few blocks down.
The spot used to house a long loved vegetarian restaurant called Zucchini’s and it was important to owners Dennis Williams, Jeanne Marais, Michael de Klerk and Anthony Gird to pay respect to the space that came before.
“It’s actually one of our principles that we do when we open a place is to try and pay homage to its roots,” explains co-owner Dennis Williams. “So we decided to keep it healthy and also in terms of the name going from Zucchini to Marrow just made sense.”
Marrow was also inspired by a trip Williams and Marais took to Japan where they ate their way through the country’s many broths and ramen bowls but decided to nix the noodles and focus on the watery bone base. But it would be a trip to Wolfgat where Williams tasted the complexities of Chef Kobus van der Merwe’s Green Broth that showed him that there were no limitations to the practice and with some play you can broaden the bases, colour and texture. Just two months later they were open.
“I keep telling the chefs that I want to be the first Michelin level take away place in Africa,” quips Williams. “Where you eat something that is surprising, looks amazing, is affordable and quick.”
Working together with head chef Danielle Smith, they created a narrow menu along these lines, specialising in 4 different broth offerings: Clear, green, white and brown – with the occasional specials such as their golden rice bowl and the promise of a possible gazpacho in the increasing warmer months.
The bases are flavoured with a cacophony of bones or a bevy of veg and boiled down for 20-40 hours or so, to then be topped with a fresh selection of ingredients from venison to turnip strips. If you want more bang for your buck you could always spring for an additional soft boiled egg, some chopped up bits of chorizo, or a sticky rice ball for a nominal R5 extra. The prices really are indeed fair even for a specialist “cool kid” Cape Town establishment. A bowl will only set you back R65.
They also sell it by the cup and have hopes that the growing overseas custom of replacing coffee with broth will make it down south. The word custom and not trend is used, as it is one of the oldest cuisines on earth.
“We found in our research that every culture has such a deep long history of bone broth, it’s the elixir of health,” says Williams. “It’s a shame that it may go the way of most trends that have a spotlight on them because people are fickle. And I know Cape Town: We are going to have to keep reinventing ourselves for people to continue to find us interesting but luckily the sky is the limit when it comes to reinterpreting this medium and we are excited for the challenge.”
Speaking about challenge, it has to be said: Brave are those who make water-based food in a drought crisis. Luckily it is so delicious that not one drop is wasted.
Here’s what we thought:
Broth ingredients: dashi broth, broccoli, parsley, kombu
Topped with: Steamed fish, steamed leek, tenderstem broccoli, fresh orange segments.
The clean dashi gives an ocean flavor and speaks of fish without being overtly fishy - even with the addition of soft steamed white fish. The broccoli colours the dish and adds clean green hits. Definitely has the cleanest taste of the bunch.
Broth ingredients: clear bone broth, soy sauce
Topped with: roasted chicken, chorizo, spring onion, julienne carrot
-Although actually more brown in colour than "clear", the broth has a soothing depth to it from all the bones and veg that made it so. The broth is the hero but when you snack a sneaky piece of chorizo, the meaty flavour explodes in the best possible way.
Broth ingredients: vegetable broth, coconut milk, lemon grass, miso
Topped with: roasted aubergine, tofu, turnip strips, basil oil
-The most surprising of the lot; I don't normally trust vegan options. Sweet from the coconut but balanced with the introduction of the basil oil with the miso and lemongrass. The roasted aubergine is so moreish that meat is definitely not missed.
Broth ingredients: bone broth, harissa, red wine, gochujang
Topped with: venison, lentils, flaked almonds, Turkish apricots, zucchini
With the base of clear elevated with spicey richness you get a lot of bang for your buck. The introduction of Turkish apricots is sensational yet not over powering thanks to the grounding flavours of the additional lentils and almond textured crunch.
Each bowl brings a different dimension to the table and invariably would take the hot spot based on your mood but if I had to choose then those sneaky vegans may be on to something – but don’t let them hear me say that. I easily could make time for White even outside of meatless Monday, several days of the week in fact. But in first place by the flake of an almond is the Brown, whose flavours are just too radically good for words. All in all, Marrow’s offerings are lick the bowl good, but not, because your mother gave you manners.
• Find your favourite at Marrow, 83 Loop St, Cape Town.