Restaurant Review

Farro restaurant celebrates two years with a menu of its greatest hits

The small, unassuming Joburg eatery run by husband and wife team, Alex and Eloise Windebank, is all about incredibly clever cooking, writes Steve Steinfeld

11 March 2020 - 14:47 By Steve Steinfeld
Farro restaurant, Johannesburg.
Farro restaurant, Johannesburg.
Image: Supplied

Joburg's Farro is somewhat of an enigma on the South African dining scene. So out of place is its quiet confidence among the many oft louder and flashier eateries that seem to dominate our restaurant guides, it may seem easy to overlook. So here’s my public service announcement: it would be a terrible shame for you to do so.

Farro is not defined by a particular cuisine, nor is it aiming to be something that it’s not. It’s not a bistro or trattoria, nor is it fine-dining or a fly-by-night attempt at some off-the-wall fusion concept, it’s simply a restaurant and a damn good one at that.

The space is small and intimate, tucked away in a corner of Thrupps Illovo Centre. Though convenient and central, its shopping centre location is perhaps its only downfall — however considering Joburgers seem drawn to places offering thrilling dinnertime views of car parks, busy roads and towering office blocks, it could hardly be considered a deterrent.

Once inside, the restaurant is minimalist with simple wooden tables, deep green leather couches and unfussy wooden chairs contrasted by the industrial look of the exposed ceiling and grey walls adorned with black and white photographs by Michael Myersfield. It’s cool, casual and contemporary.

The menu is usually seasonally driven and ever-changing, with a few signature dishes adapted based on the produce that’s available. If you have to label it, go with Modern European, but I’d suggest just forgetting about trying to put it in a box and just enjoy what chef patron Alex Windebank has on offer.

This month marks two years since Alex and his wife, Eloise Windebank, first opened Farro and to celebrate they brought back a few dishes that have been clear fan favourites over the years, creating a menu of their “greatest hits” if you will.

Alex and Eloise Windebank.
Alex and Eloise Windebank.
Image: Robyn Davie Photography

Start with snacks: tangy house pickles — they’ve got that perfect sweet, sour balance with just the right amount of crunch; sumac beignets, which are the most moreish bite-sized puffs flavoured with sumac and paprika; and croquettes with cheesy fillings, lathered with truffle mayo. 

Their legendary chicken liver parfait served with prune jam and hot, thick slices of brioche is also not to be missed — it’s a killer combination of sweet, savoury and salty.

The braised garlic cappelletti should be next; these delicate pasta parcels are plated atop an umami-rich mushroom sauce.

Truffled cauliflower, risotto and egg yolk.
Truffled cauliflower, risotto and egg yolk.
Image: Steve Steinfeld

The main course of truffled cauliflower, risotto and a water-bath egg yolk is an incredible study in texture; it's a showcase of the beauty and simplicity that allows great produce to shine. It was one of the best dishes I had when I visited last year and I am thrilled they have it back on the menu.

Those looking for a more carnivorous calling should go for the pork belly with a classic combination of apple and mustard sauce; rolling the pork ensures the balance between crunchy crackling and succulent meat is spot on.

Dessert calls for the almond cake with vanilla parfait or the in-house coffee ice cream with cocoa and creamy chocolate.

Make sure to leave space for the peanut butter truffles, a glorious combination of peanut butter, dark chocolate and cream dusted in coco and best enjoyed with a double espresso.

Drinks are the speciality of Eloise who, in between running front of house service and curating an exceptional wine list, mixes up some seriously stellar classic cocktails — they're the perfect pairing partners for their snacks offering.

Their wine list is a thing of beauty, featuring an exceptional array of local wines. Ask for the “off-list” where you’ll find the likes of limited releases — some of which only 70 bottles were produced — as well as exceptional allocation wines and select vintages. There’s a focus on the renegade winemakers and I’d encourage you to take Eloise’s lead and try one of those hard-to-come-by, weird, wonderful and obscure offerings.

Farro’s beauty lies in its simplicity. It’s all about friendly, unpretentious service and incredibly clever cooking: Alex delivers the most mouthwatering of flavours though his less is more approach to what’s on the plate. It may not be a typical “Joburg restaurant” but it’s a restaurant Joburg should embrace nonetheless.

Visit Farro at the Thrupps Illovo Centre, 204 Oxford Rd, Illovo, Sandton. Call 071 618 4352 for bookings.