Eat Out critic Hennie Fisher gives us his recommendation of the best restaurants in Laudium, a suburb south west of the capital known for its authentic Indian cuisine.
A long-time favourite of locals and visitors alike, Al-Amin is probably one of the quirkiest restaurants around. It’s cavernous and filled with chairs (often used for large celebrations and weddings, as evidenced by the glitzy chair covers), and you have to pass petrol pumps to gain access what probably housed a motor-repair shop in days gone by. But the food is super tasty and the bevvy of staff always makes an effort to ensure that you have an outstanding meal. Time has taught those who visit regularly to steer away from ordering too many of the delicious breads to snack on, because by the time your piping-hot cheese paratha is finished, there’ll be no space left for anything else. Their plain tandoor roti costs R3, so it’s easy to understand why a table might have a plate of breads piled high. The aloo palak, dal makhani, chooza masala and mutton with cream are all beyond delicious.
Al Noor Restaurant
Another longstanding favourite of Laudium residents, Al Noor is located on the main drag, but the signage is so discreet you might easily miss it. This is another rather large, cavernous space which can be divided into two for functions and events. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday to Sunday, it always seems to have guests, regardless of the time of day. The menu offers a selection of dishes like chicken cheese masala, chicken bhindhi masala, chicken Afgani, chicken Delhi-style, dahl sagh (with baby spinach and sagh masalas), dhal curry, mutter paneer, lamb achar, lamb nihari (deboned and cooked in a special broth) and many more.
This small and privately owned business takes its food and interior decorating seriously, and also has a sister branch in Fordsburg, Johannesburg. Vibrant, friendly and inviting, it’s a must visit. The menu offers a little bit of everything, ranging from a prawn rissois starter to Greek salad, Thai soup, American steak sizzler, chicken chow mein and a half beans bunny. You’re here for the real deal, though: cholley masala, bhindi bajia, chicken jatpat and a simple papor or poppadum. The restaurant has an adjacent function venue area that can be separated from the main restaurant, and a small private courtyard parking area outside.
Bismillah’s street-facing aspect might not inspire much confidence – you have to pass some boarded-up shop fronts to reach it – but inside it’s spacious and usually filled with patrons having a meal at any time of the day. They are open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, and the menu offers an extensive range of Chinese dishes, but the tandoor chicken tikka specials, the kebabs and their meaty sizzler dishes sets them apart. Try their chicken or beef Manchurian for something slightly different. There are also some special dishes on the menu such as kingklip biryani and brain masala. They have a number of branches in Johannesburg and two in Cape Town.
Sulemania Bakery and Confectionery
Situated in the Laudium Hotel building, this is not a restaurant in the true sense of the word, but a bakery where the extended business hours allow you to pop in after dinner elsewhere for something sweet. The Indian sweetmeats are indescribably good, with overwhelming variety, texture and colours. The selection is displayed behind an old-fashioned glass counter, atop a batch of deliciously fresh potato samoosas and Western-inspired glazed bread rolls with a spicy chicken filling that beckons you to indulge even further. Apart from the usual milky or nutty sweets, both white and the more traditional and slightly richer gulab jamun, you can find yellow ladoo, orange jalebis and squares filled with glacé fruit or sprinkled with nuts, and some unusual and elegant offerings containing date or dried fig.
You might be mistaken for picking up a hint of island style at Thali – perhaps something to do with the vibrant orange walls, and a selection of fresh fruits which they use to make delicious drinks such as lemon and mint, ginger and lemon, and pineapple and mango. (They also sell lassis and a to-die-for Bombay crush.) Their chilli bites have no equal, but the cauliflower in a crisp red batter (called gobi 65) and the eggplant fingers are outstanding too. The kerala porotta – a flaky disk of goodness that looks like a croissant that was driven over a few times – is so good that people invariably fall silent when they have their first mouthful. This food is rich and deeply flavoured, yet it has a freshness that promises health and wellbeing in loads. For those who might be new to Indian food, the thali (a large tray with some paratha and a number of small bowls of tasty dishes) allows you to sample a variety of flavours without having to commit to just one dish. The food is certainly good enough to warrant an exploratory trip from anywhere in Gauteng.
Even though you can see that this was once a typical suburban home that has been changed into a restaurant, the experience is serene and restful. The chef/owner exudes a sense of calm from behind his stove, which you can observe through the large hatch that links the dining area and kitchen. The food is unmistakably South Indian, comprising a selection of dosa and uttapam. These and the idly (a steamed rice bun) are all made from a mix of rice and urad dahl flours, for which pulses are soaked and fermented and then home ground. The dosas come with a selection of condiments, most notably a deliciously savoury peanut-and-chili sauce. Do not leave without having chai tea – milky with just the right amount of sugar, and delicately flavoured with cardamom and ginger.