Jozi's buzzing about La Boquiera, but does its food live up to the hype?
Andrea Nagel heads to Parktown North to sample this trendy eatery's Spanish-style street food
The Randlords' poor relatives were established in the shadow of the grand mansions built along the Parktown/Westcliff ridge after the Johannesburg gold rush of the late 1800s.
From their vantage point the lordly looters, whose fortunes were made mining subterranean rivers of gold, could look down upon their less privileged brethren while they feasted on venison shanks and giddied themselves on wine and heavy English puddings. Their colonial arrogance made them disdainful of Asian, African or Andalusian food, in essence the street food of the early 1900s.
They probably wouldn't have ventured down the hill to sample the less conservative but certainly more exotic tastes that would eventually flourish in the foodie haven of Parktown North a century and a half later.
Now the area teems with restaurants serving anything from sushi to steak to spaghetti.
The latest one on the block offers wealthy suburbanite Joburgers what they would have disdained back in the early days of the city.
Inspired by markets and street food from around the world, the latest restaurant on the "it-set" hot-list is La Boqueria - an offshoot of the Foundry a little way up the drag. They're cashing in on the kind of food that's on everybody's lips - street food has never been more trendy.
The first part of the menu is Tapas-like, split into Para Picar (which, roughly translated from Spanish, means ''to pick" or ''nibble") and features things like blistered edamame (R44) and hot fried olives (R46); Toast - fire-roasted market bruschetta; Raw + Cured, featuring oysters, ceviche and cured meat; Fried - zucchini fingers, croquettas and Patates Bravas; and Skillet - cooked in a cast-iron pan over a flame.
The Spanish are on to something with tapas. It makes great business sense to feed hungry patrons tiny plates of food, which they're encouraged to share, and to charge them a good hearty price for it.
Nobody seems to complain, but then you do expect the food to be up to top Barcelona-restaurant standards.
Our Ceviche De Pulpo (octopus tentacles in citrus, tomato salsa, R98), was rubbery and tasteless. The Don Ceviche (raw white fish in chilli lime with tropical fruits R85) was sliced far too thickly. The chorizo toast was, well, a few slices of chorizo on a piece of toast for R44.
The main part of the menu - far more filling, but also pretty highly priced - is split into Soul Bowls (a concoction of ingredients, almost like a dry soup); Coals - dishes cooked over live fire; Kabobs - meat on a skewer; and Paellas.
The Drunken Pork Belly (R145) - marinated in rum, paprika, fennel and soy - was moist, flavourful and delicious.
The Market Bowl (R98) - zucchini, artichokes, Fior Di Latte, peas, fennel, mint and baby leaves - was a fresh counterpoint to the pork.
Out of the three desserts we tasted, the churros with chilli chocolate hot pot (R48) were the best - but I've heard that whoopie pie is worth coming down the hill for.
The real drawcard of the place is the great atmosphere in the double-volume space. Like the food, it's a mixture of many elements that hang together well: mid-century modern furniture, a wall of macrame plant hangers, polished parquet flooring, an enormous manga-style Spanish girl mural, and a bar made from reclaimed post office boxes. It all combines to create a warm, comfortable and interesting space perfectly suited to the cosmopolitan society that Joburg's become.
If those Randlords had known what the City of Gold was going to become - a wonderful melting pot of flavours - they would have certainly come down from their mansions on high to get a preview.
What to eat: Head straight for the pork belly and pair it with a fresh market bowl if you like healthy greens.
What to drink: The wine list is worthy of a Randlord's acquired tastes.
Who you'll see: The cream of Joburg.
Could be better: We'd have preferred plain umbrellas outside instead of branded ones.
Be sure to notice: The wonderful bar made from old post boxes.
You'll love: Candy, our waitress, was just perfect - and trust her suggestions.
Address: 17 3rd Avenue, Parktown North, 011-325-0011.
• This article was originally published in The Times.