Spilling the Beans

Old & new: Joburg's shifting culinary scene

Andrea Burgener pays homage to one of the city's culinary icon as well as a new kid on the block well worth checking out

13 December 2017 - 12:11
The Troyeville Hotel is celebrated for its Lusitanian food.
The Troyeville Hotel is celebrated for its Lusitanian food.
Image: The Troyville Hotel

Johannesburg is ever shifting. Mine dumps rise and disappear, malls go up and are considered wrecking-ball fodder a decade later, old Chinatown is now hipsterville and new Chinatown is almost old Chinatown.

In all of this, the South African Lusitanian communities and food joints have stayed curiously unchanged. Perhaps the most iconic is the Troyeville Hotel.

Operating since the late 1930s, this has for many decades been a place that hosts a delicious brew of outliers in its eating and drinking zones (I've not yet had any truck with the actual hotel rooms).

Sodden writers drink cheek to jowl with rugger-buggers in the near-seedy sports bar; political activists, cabinet ministers, lauded musicians and (comparatively) sedate families share the eccentrically decorated dining areas happily. It's been this way ever since I can remember. If you're one of the 10 people who's never been there, then read on.

When brilliant Australian chef Laurence Jones took over the place, more than a decade ago, the very clever thing he did was to not reinvent the wheel. There was no nod to any current food fad at all, save the fact that Jones brought with him an awareness of really great ingredients from his home country's competitive food scene.

As a long-time patron who loved the Troyville vibe, he took what was there - no-nonsense Afro-Lusitanian stuff - and made it even better: more succulent calamari, crisper chips, fresher fish and, okay, one or two cool new ideas which meld perfectly with the very traditional dishes.

View from the Troyeville Hotel.
View from the Troyeville Hotel.
Image: The Troyeville Hotel

It's the sort of no-nonsense menu that makes you wonder why anyone would bother with anything else: grilled calamari, a great steak and chips, plus a salad with good olives, might be all the world needs. I have my own reasons for skipping the prawns, but they are famously good in these parts and beyond. 

Menton Road in Richmond, down the drag from Melville, is a good example of the shifting sands syndrome. The buildings too, have morphed repeatedly.

Somehow it's always remained borderline skanky, but the newest kid on the block looks set to change that.

Usually things getting swankier makes me nervous, but The Richmond Studio-Café, at no 14, is hard not to like. It's an all-day coffee-sandwich-meet-up spot which has felt, from its recent outset, as if it's always been there.

The feel is clean, cool, considered, but not annoyingly hip, and it's almost instantly become everyone's local. The sandwich melts and Malay-style doughnut-koeksusters are great, and the coffee is damn good.

I know it sounds like just another coffice, but something about this place tells me it'll avoid the wrecking ball for longer than most. The Richmond is open seven days a week.

This article was originally published in The Times.