Good news for book and food lovers: EB Social Kitchen & Bar has opened at the Exclusive Books Hyde Park branch, with Russell Armstrong, an Australian chef with experience at three-Michelin-starred restaurants in France and the UK, including Le Gavroche, taking on the job of executive chef. The other big name is Benjamin Trisk, the finance whizz who bought Exclusive Books with a group of investors two years ago and believes customers deserve a fully rewarding experience rather than merely being sold a book.
Benjamin once described Kindle as the Microwave of reading. Now he goes on to say, “Food is one of the great comforts of our lives in much the same way that reading and the feel and touch of books permits the mind to traverse continents… This is where dreams are encouraged.” He calls EB Social Kitchen & Bar his ‘experiventure’: “The idea is to lure people in who may never have stepped into a bookstore before. Whether we sell more books, we’ll see…”
The menu is a reflection of Russell Armstrong’s credentials; the most photographed dish seems to be a barbecued eel with crab meat, warm sushi rice and Japanese dressing, but his version of beef short ribs, slow-cooked for 72 hours and served with coriander pea purée and delicious smoked potatoes, is going to be a winner, as are the well-designed tapas dishes. A dish that makes the most of responsibly grown, good produce is the charred heirloom carrots with grilled peppered peach, fire-roasted Spanish onion and baked saffron ricotta. This philosophy is also demonstrated in a dessert of almond panna cotta and handmade dentelle with minestrone of summery fruit. Service is breezy and drinks include cocktails, all of which are named after books.
On opening day, shoppers are tentatively inquisitive, warming to the extraordinariness of it all, slowly finding seats and ordering tapas and drinks. By nightfall, many happy diners will keep the kitchen buzzing. The decor is intended to be industrial, but it has a certain ready-worn Byzantine gloriousness, with gold leaf rubbed into specially cracked tiles and Middle-Eastern designs. The view is the main wonderwork: the restaurant’s wall of glass shows a grand view of Joburg’s thousands of trees, swaying in the breeze.
EB Social Kitchen & Bar in the Hyde Park Shopping centre is open from 12pm to 10pm.