Johannesburg used to do posh dining quite well. Even, at times, brilliantly. The Three Ships in the Carlton Centre was the zenith of the city’s fine dining moment, and the closure of the Linger Longer in Sandton was somehow its death-knell.
The few restaurants and hotels attempting to wave this flag over the last decade or so (with a few exceptions) have been at best not-absolutely-terrible. From farcical retro-European and clumsy molecular mimicry to disrespectful Afro-disney fusion, it’s all gone depressingly wrong.
Do not despair though: if you’re looking for a place which fits the haute bill (and at the same time honours rather than insults African food), then Belgian-Burundian chef Coco Reinarhz’s newest venture, Epicure, in Sandton-Morningside is your place.
Hidden inside a swanky – but bland from the outside - apartment building, down the drag from Benmore Shopping Centre, the space is a great surprise. Epicure is super-glamorous. A lavish bar and sumptuous but not OTT dining room, decked out in blue and gold, lead onto an expansive covered outside area set in a walled garden (there’s lots of grass for running, and children are very welcome – it’s glam but not uptight or formal). Sitting outside you have the distinct feeling that you’re somewhere else entirely.
Coco has given Johannesburg other cool dining spots previously, but Epicure seems the fullest expression of this fascinating chef’s work. The menu combines classic French cooking techniques with the ingredients and flavour-sets of various African cuisines. The dishes are truly Coco’s autobiography and personality on a plate. To marry elegant and gutsy is a tricky thing, but he does it with ease and aplomb.
He’s been canny with the way certain lesser-known African ingredients are included: The Congolese muambe dish features kwanga – a sticky, fermented Congolese cassava ‘loaf’. This might be daunting for diners not used to it, says Coco, so he’s formed it into tiny ‘gnocchi’ which you discover beneath the rich muambe (palm nut) sauce and tender guinea-fowl (which very successfully replaces the more traditional chicken).
On the dessert front, don’t miss the fried plantain with subtle bissap rouge (hibiscus) sorbet. And reversing a little, every meal should be started with one of Epicure’s magical cocktails. My favourite is the one featuring sage leaves and ditakh, made from a tamarind-like Senegalese fruit.
Delicious delights at Epicure:
Epicure is also open for breakfast, as it services the lucky residents in the swish apartments above. Find Epicure at Central Square, Lower road Morningside. Booking is advisable, on 011-594-5336.
Strictly on the QT: Looking to play with West and Central African food flavours? The best place to find ingredients, and get hot tips on how to deploy them, is the African Food Market in Yeoville; apart from bursting with plantains, kwanga, dried fish and beautiful vegetables, it also houses the best African fabrics and a bevy of tailors to make up something in said fabric. It’s on Rockey street, just after it stops being Raleigh. If you’d like to try conjuring up African food which is different and modern, but respects its history, get your hands on To the Banqueting House by Coco (Fathi) Reinarhz and Anna Trapido — order online or through book-shops,