Johannesburg may be less famous than Cape Town, but what it lacks in White Sharks and table mountains, it more than makes up for in opportunities to indulge your inner foodie.
Where to go in Johannesburg
In recent years, Joburg has received a ton of cash investment from the government to tidy up its city centre. From smart and contemporary Maboneng, to cool and quirky Melville, the capital city of South Africa has some delicious treats hidden up its sleeve not to mention, some unique and characterful places to rest your head! We've put together some top insider tips for the best places to eat in Joburg; you can thank us later ;)
We arrived in Joburg a little tired, a little grumpy, and a LOT hungry after a month of backpacking through Mozambique.
As anyone who has used the local buses in Mozambique will know, it can get pretty clammy and access to great food is limited.
Naturally, we’re not going to complain too much as, our trip included close-up meetings with bull sharks, leatherback turtles, hippos, snakes and hammerheads. You can read all about that here.
But what lacked at times, was a little relaxation and easy-going days.
For travellers like us, luxury doesn’t always mean barefoot in a 5 star paradise island (like we experienced at Azura Benguerra) but some simple things; such as access to Coke Zero, a touch of air-conditioning, good quality wines and notably, slap-up meals.
For our epic trip down through Mozambique, there were indeed some very long buses and the cuisine was, well…let’s just say lacking.
The Food Scene in Johannesburg
Luckily for us, South Africa – particularly Jo’burg – has created a bit of a name for itself. It’s not just Braii and slabs of tender meat that keep diners’ bellies full here.
From the new hipster joints of downtown Jo’burg to a micro-brewery scene on the rise, it wasn’t hard to pass a few days in wonderful Jo’burg resting up and filling up.So, without further ado, our very top picks for where to eat, and where to sleep in Johannesburg.
Where to Stay in Joburg
So, to start us off, every weary traveller needs a lovely place to rest up those achey bones and with only a touch of research, we came across Villa Simonne.
Now, Joburg has approximately ten million different places to sleep (slight exaggeration there) all catering to different budgets and styles.
But with so many of them falling under the ‘over-priced and bland’ category and ‘moderately priced but fairly soul-less chain’ category, Villa Simonne ignited something in us that was pretty unique.
Our Stay at Villa Simonne, Johannesburg
Words can’t quite do it justice, so you should just take a look at their website. But as I’m supposed to be writing about a place to stay in Joburg, I shall have to try.
Set around large gardens in a safe compound only minutes from the Killarney Mall, Simonne has built itself a bit of a reputation for being THE place to host an event.
Whether its film screenings, weddings or corporate functions, this hotel with a distinctly Deco vibe has garnered a lot of buzz since its opening just a few years ago.
The enormous hotel has 15 rooms and suites all squirrelled away on different floors, and each of them is styled after famous cities of the world.
I am really not a fan of the term ‘theme hotel’ what with it being synonymous with ‘Hello Kitty’ themed pods in Downtown Japan. However, Simonne has created a theme venue whilst still retaining a lot of charm.
Our room is on the top floor and is the New Orleans room. Old maps of the Bayoux are framed on the walls and vintage prints of streetcars and jazz pamphlets hang above our bed.
It’s really quite something. After so many corporate white boxes or grubby beach huts in Mozambique, it was gorgeous to stay in a hotel with so much flair.
Naturally, we couldn’t spend our entire time in Jo’burg lounging about Villa Simonne’s lovely pool or playing with their onsite giant tortoises (yes, they have giant tortoises roaming the grounds). After our big breakfast at Simonne each morning, it was off for more food adventures.
The Best Places to Eat in Joburg
The nearby Killarney Mall provided us with chain coffee shop Mugg and Bean while perusing glossy travel mags (I live for that stuff) and in quaint Melville, the Crème De La Crème café was an opportunity to pig out on homemade cakes, bread and pastries.
But it was an afternoon visit to a little place next to the Killarney Country Club that gave us our first proper foodie outing in Johannesburg.
Our Time at KCC La Vie En Rose, Joburg
If you’ve never been to KCC La Vie En Rose, we urge you, with all our might, to get in touch and book a table!
Not only was the little cafe/events space a total surprise, but it also provided some absolute firsts on our foodie bucket list (is that a thing? Well, it is now).
La Vie En Rose is a passion project for creators and owners Rony and Yanky and this place exudes class.
THE place for a food event in Johannesburg
From its enviable location in leafy gardens to the on point service that we receive for our visit, it’s hard not to love this place. Of course, we were only food tourists looking for some excellent grub on a summery afternoon, but the real business here comes from events and group bookings. Weddings, birthdays, stork parties and everything in between are taken care of by the fabulous catering team they have here.
On our visit, one lucky family was tucking into a stunning buffet complete with extravagant birthday cake and fancy table dressings.
For us fly-by visitors however, we were just happy to be off that 45 hour bus journey through Mozambique (read about that here).
Our nibbles of olives and homemade bread were quickly demolished before starters of carpaccio of ostrich and baked camembert came along. For people who enjoy a cured meat, it’s surprising now that this was our first Ostrich. Less gamey than its wild boar equivalent, the Carpaccio they serve up at La Vie En Rose is meltingly good.
The same must be said of their baked Camembert. Wrapped in crisp pastry and served with lightly macerated strawberries, it was the rich cheese sensation we’d been craving through Mozambique!
Open for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner, La Vie En Rose is the kind of place we can imagine ourselves spending a lot of time in were we Jo’burg residents.
Alas, having only an afternoon left in South Africa’s foodie capital, we were limited to just the one meal.
A touch of wine came in the form of the fresh and fruity Haute Cabriere Chardonnay Pinot Noir; for people who normally avoid white wines, this was a delicious surprise.
But with a reputation for outstanding desserts and rave reviews for their sugar-based treats, we had to have a little pudding to say goodbye with. What a goodbye it was.
Amazing Desserts at KCC La Vie En Rose, Johannesburg
Our taste-buds were delighted by their deep friend Toblerone bar. It’s funny how a deep-fried mars bar is the height of filthy guilt-food back in the UK, but when served on an elegant wooden platter and wrapped in flaky filo rather than oily beer batter, the fried candy bar is elevated to brand new heights.
Having a tolerance to sweet things unmatched by our peers, we struggle on and try out waffle-battered oreos dipped in milk.
Yes, you read correctly. Oreo biscuits dunked in waffle batter then lightly fried. It sounds so wrong but let me assure you, tasted oh so right.
Our trio of desserts is rounded off by the sharing of a Nutella Tiramisu; it hardly needs explaining really, but with soft sponge, layers of feather-light cream and rich Nutella, it deserves more than just a name on a menu.
Our afternoon indulgence at KCC La Vie En Rose was at an end, so after waving goodbye to our hosts, plus our first taste of the amazing and rather famous #coffeeinacone, it was off to our waiting Uber to unfasten the top button of our trousers, and spend the evening poolside at Villa Simonne.
Now, with just a few days in Johannesburg, and having been thoroughly sugared-out in Killarney, we set about finding a unique place to spend our very last night on the African Continent.
It’s not difficult to find good places to have a slap-up meal in the city, what with the amazing urban re-gen that has gone off recently.
However, we often find that the best hidden little gems are often the ones that get recommended by other travellers or food enthusiasts.
Our evening at Bistro Michel, Johannesburg
Bistro Michel in Melrose North is one such example. Refusing to fit into a pigeon hole, this elegant affair with only a handful of covers is what we’d describe as global classics, with a French accent served in an unpretentiously South African way.
In fairness, we’d expect nothing less from Burgundy born Jo’burg resident Michel Morand. Having spent 25 years making delectable food for hungry Johannesburg folks, Michel knows how they like it.
Luckily for us, that means oodles of choice, baskets of flavour and portions to satisfy the greediest of people! (Myself included).
Open for lunch and dinner, the large menu draws off Michel’s years of experience and caters to many tastes.
Elegant yet Homely Food at Bistro Michel, Johannesburg
A daily specials board also livens things up each mealtime, but for us, a mixture of both is needed. We opt for a duck pate and the French onion soup and yes, I realise it’s a bit obvious for me to go for onion soup at a French place, but what can I say? I love the stuff and it’s been a while since I tried a great version.
We are both impressed with the sheer volume delivered to our plate and thankfully flavour does not disappoint either. The soup is superb and tastes precisely as it should and the duck pate goes perfectly with the wine our host, Vusi, has recommended.
Having places like these serve authentic food, with no pretence is such a breath of fresh air.
It can be really easy to get lost in fads when it comes to eating out, but what Bistro Michel does, is provide a refined setting and a great menu. What more can a foodie ask for?
Our mains of Quail kebabs and slow-cooked lamb shank are a sight to behold not only for how tummy-rumblingly good they look, but just how much there is to eat!
We’ve been lucky enough to dine in some pretty swish places over the years, but there is something wildly disappointing about tiny stacked up food. Call us uncultured if you will, but we rate a perfect night not only by how tasty a meal was, but also by how full you feel.
Call it a throwback to our common upbringing, but I will not apologise!
Even having completely devoured our main courses, Vusi still suggests we have pudding and frankly, who are we to argue? It’s our last night in South Africa after all; why not?!
The classic restaurant dessert of Chocolate fondant served with crème anglais is a delight on Bistro Michel’s menu. Being such a sweet-tooth person, I often rate a place by how many of the sweet offerings I would go for.
On this occasion, we would happily have hoovered up everything on the menu. Alas, a level of respect for ourselves kept us to ordering only one each, and with cherry and almond tart served with snickers ice cream also on the cards, it was pretty clear what I would get to enjoy.
Our evening at Bistro Michel over, it wasn’t long before we had waved a warm goodbye to our lovely host Vusi and Michel himself (he may be the owner but you’ll usually find him cooking away in the kitchen).
What strikes me as we are driven back to Villa Simonne, is that while both the places we had dined in over the weekend were incredibly refined and tasteful, there is nothing ‘grabby’ or ‘false’ about either of them. Read here about our foodie journey of the world at the Intercontinental, Cairo.
The spirit of well cooked food served in a delightful informal setting runs through both of these two very different places. Perhaps that’s what made them extra enjoyable; we needn’t feel ashamed of our less-than-designer clothes or sunburn from too many hours spent on dive boats. That’s the best kind of dining in our opinion.
Our Last Night in Africa
Our flight was due to depart very early the next day, and with a lot of packing to do, the clever thing would have been to get an early night.
But the greedy traveller in us had been awoken thanks to some fantastic days in Jo’burg. We debate calling it a night, but the saloon-style bar at Simonne is calling; well, one last drink in Africa couldn’t hurt could it?
Have you had amazing meals at any of these places? What were your thoughts? Planning an event and want any further info? We would love to hear from you, if only to swap food-porn stories! Get in touch below.
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