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10 of Illovo’s best restaurants

Eat Out critic Kate Liquorish gives her recommendation on where to eat in Illovo, Johannesburg, whether it’s for Greek meze at a neighbourhood gem, sociable tapas with the squad, or a quiet morning coffee and cake.

Arbour Café & Courtyard

The courtyard here is one of Jozi’s most exquisite secrets, dappled in creeping jasmine, lollipop trees, ferns, lavender, a water fountain and fairy lights. It’s romantic at night and sun-kissed on winter afternoons, and breakfasts here are always a delight because of the excellent, fresh produce they insist on using. When it comes to lunch and dinner, there’s a host of rich and sumptuous French delights, fresh and crunchy salads, and the signature galettes (gluten-free, savoury buckwheat pancakes). Highlights include the creamy wild mushroom or duck-and-cherry galettes, and the aged prime-rib steak with garlic butter. And, to celebrate being open in the evenings now, the café is giving away a complimentary bottle of wine with every dinner for two until the end of April 2017.

Arbour's aged prime rib. Photo by Kate Liquorish.

Arbour’s aged prime rib. Photo by Kate Liquorish.

Bellagio

Fresh, seasonal and clean are three words that perfectly sum up the Bellagio philosophy. Quality ingredients are respected and elevated in dishes that are conceptually classic, whilst still being packed full of fresh, herbaceous flavour. The specials here are renowned for being special indeed; they change weekly according to what’s seasonal and available, and always impress. Favourites amongst the starters include fresh mussels in white wine, tomato and herbs, and the salmon tartare tower with creamy avocado and watercress. For mains you won’t be disappointed by any one of the superb pastas and signature fish dishes, but do yourself a favour and indulge in the rich seafood risotto with plump fresh prawns, clams, calamari and mussels, or for something a little lighter, the fillet of beef served on a bed of artichokes, roasted tomatoes, asparagus, new potatoes and freshly made pesto. It’s owner-run, the service is fantastic, and a comprehensive, well-priced wine list seals the deal.

Bellagio's seafood risotto. Photo by Kate Liquorish.

Bellagio’s seafood risotto. Photo by Kate Liquorish.

Château Gâteaux

Did someone say cake? Yes, please. Pop in for great 100% Arabica coffee, all-butter croissants and pastries in the morning, and serious spoiling for afternoon tea. Patrons go nuts for the Mozart cake, an insanely rich layered confection of soft and nutty meringue and hazelnut praline cream; also noteworthy are the apple crumble tart with a crumbed biscuit base and French custard, and the walnut-truffle gateau, a walnut torte layered with chocolate sponge, marzipan, mocha cream and chocolate ganache. Don’t go near this place if you’re on a diet.

Chateaux Gateaux's toffee apple pudding. Photo by Kate Liquorish.

Chateaux Gateaux’s toffee apple pudding. Photo by Kate Liquorish.

Escondido Tapas and Wine

The biggest draw card is the buzzing atmosphere: great music, soft lighting, casual but thoughtful design, and they’re always full. Escondido is the place for a fun night out paired with a stellar wine list – in fact, you’d struggle to find more options by the glass anywhere else in Joburg. There’s also a solid selection of craft beers on tap. On the food front, sample from an eclectic and extravagant range of tapas. It may not be the very best in town, but people seem to love it. At any one time you’ll be able to pick and choose Asian-, Italian-, Indian-, American-, German- and Mexican-inspired dishes from the ever-changing boards. If the chocolate fondant is on there, it’s a must!

Tapas at Escondido. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Tapas at Escondido. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Fishmonger

Consistency is a magical quality that’s exceedingly hard to come by in restaurants these days, but The Fishmonger offers patrons exceptional fish cooked to perfection every time. The kingklip in simple lemon butter or served with a chickpea-tomato salsa and topped with olive relish and toasted nuts are both superb. The fish platters, especially the King Platter, whilst being rather decadently priced, is also decadent in size. There’s also great sushi and slick service to boot.

Mastrantonio

This is classic, old-school Italian food at its best. The décor and ambience echo this with white linen on the tables and comfy wooden chairs that lend themselves to languorous lunches. They keep it simple and clean with a range of antipasti, salads, pastas and unpretentious but good secondi. Go-to dishes include the rich and comforting melanzane and the pan-fried porcini mushrooms in a garlic, herb and white wine sauce to start, and the panzotti (artichoke- and ricotta-stuffed pasta parcels in a butter, cream and sage sauce) or the saffron-and-prawn risotto for mains.

Mastrantonio

Pasta at Mastrantonio. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Parea Taverna

Enjoy simple and authentic Greek food in an amazing atmosphere at Perea. It’s been around for over 20 years and in all that time the menu has barely changed … but why should it? People love the unpretentious and delicious Greek meze as well as the souvlaki, sardines and pitas. It’s welcoming, relaxed and lively.

Perron

The vibrant turquoise-and-pink décor is enough to put you in the mood for a fiesta, and the wonderfully imaginative and lively tapas proves that Mexican cuisine needn’t be bland nor boring. If you haven’t yet tried the tacos, you haven’t lived. The fish tacos with lightly battered hake goujons, Mexican slaw, guacamole, radishes and lime are delectable, and the slow-cooked pork tacos with pickled pink onions and guacamole are just as moreish. There are also great options for vegetarians, and hearty bowls for those in the mood for something homely and substantial. The jalapeño and coriander margaritas are dangerously good, as is the selection of fine tequilas.

The interior at Perron. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

The interior at Perron. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Teta Mari

Personal is Teta Mari’s middle name. This is an exquisite example of an owner-run establishment where everything is made to order from scratch. (The only thing outsourced is the bread for sandwiches.) You’ll struggle to find a better brisket sandwich anywhere in Joburg, and the Candice Sandwich with halloumi, hummus, za’atar and an onion, tomato, mint and coriander salsa is delicious. In the same vein, the Tadbilli, a laffa topped with tahini, spiced mince, pine nuts, herbs and pomegranate syrup and served with shoe-string fries, is the perfect showcase of stunning Israeli flavour fusion. The shakshuka omelette topped with grated halloumi, and Middle-Eastern fava beans on toast are a must on the breakfast front, plus you have to try the baked cheesecake, carrot cake or lemon meringue pie, for which melted white chocolate and cream cheese are mixed into lemon curd, giving the most sumptuously rich texture.

Teta Mari's lemon meringue pie. Photo by Kate Liquorish.

Teta Mari’s lemon meringue pie. Photo by Kate Liquorish.

Yamato Japanese Restaurant

What is lacking in ambience is made up for in quality. The sushi is some of the best in Joburg, and the agedashi dofu is outlandishly good. Also topping the list of things to try are feather-light and picture-perfect tempura and ramen-noodle bowls, the dumplings are great, and there are daily lunchtime specials for those wanting to dine and dash at a discount. Don’t forget to order sake to wash it all down.

Dinner at Yamato Japanese Restaurant

A spread at Yamato. Photo supplied.

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