The Butcher Shop & Grill is an institution. As you would expect from such an establishment, they wow from the outset, says Eat Out critic Hennie Fisher.
Their selection of starters offers something for everyone: fresh oysters with horseradish and lemon; sardines done in a Portuguese style; garlic snails; baked camembert; a Mozambican prawn fiesta (500g or 1kg) served with garlic, lemon butter and peri-peri sauces; prawn cocktail; game or beef carpaccio; smoked salmon; sticky riblets; chicken wings or livers; and gravlax. It’s all there.
The remaining sections of the menu offer salads, their signature steaks (because of their thickness, some steaks may take up to 40 minutes to prepare), signature entrées with sauces and sides in a separate section, lamb, pork, poultry, fish and seafood, vegetarian and venison dishes, and a page of homemade desserts.
Delicious bread, large hand-rolled butterballs and a small dish with juicy pieces of boerewors in a brown gravy appear on a wooden plank as an amuse bouche. Condiments are simple yet very appropriate – English mustard, sundried chopped chillies, red and green Tabasco – and good, old-fashioned mint sauce appears after the lamb cutlets are ordered.
Of course, meat will probably be the main drawcard for most people, and the Argentinian rib-eye steak and traditional steak tartare would appease many a meat lover’s desire for a carnivorous fix. For those whose appetites are a little less bloodthirsty, they do offer a tasty vegetarian burger (made with a falafel patty), and to end on a sweet – if slightly old-fashioned – high, nothing can beat malva pudding, jelly and custard, lemon meringue pie, halva ice cream, or a cheese platter.
A portion of lamb chops ordered medium with baked potato and morogo is near perfection: four thickly cut lamb chops are simply and perfectly grilled with minimal basting and just the right amount of seasoning. A small bowl with thick sour cream accompanies the potato, and the morogo is simply seasoned with onion and salt. A better plate of simple, yet extremely well-cooked food would be hard to find in Johannesburg.
Although prices might seem somewhat steep (there is a basic minimum charge of R200 per head for adults), the portions are large and the quality of the food excellent, and the mix of guests a poster image for what a truly unified South Africa could look like.
Like everything else in this restaurant, the wine list is straightforward and no-nonsense, comprising 14 pages of all the great varietals in South Africa, with listings of many great bottles and credit given to the winemakers – a nice touch. Your attention might be drawn to the Cape Winemakers Guild auction wines, which are available for viewing in their wine cellar. The Pick’s Pick collection are the only wines available by the glass, and even though this must ensure simple stock-taking, it would be nice to see some of the other delicious wines also available by the glass. There is a small selection of high-end champagnes and the list ends with dessert wines in full bottle or 50ml glass portions. Other beverages such as whiskies and cognacs are listed at the end of the food menu.
There are enough waiting staff to run a cruise ship, but as this is a large restaurant that can become very busy, all hands need to be on deck at times. There is a clear distinction between waiting staff and clearing staff. Waiters seem to be allocated to a specific set of tables, which does result in that uncomfortable situation where other waiters pass by an empty glass because that table belongs to another. Despite this niggle, the service is generally good; with a little effort it could be excellent. Doggy bags are done with lovely flair and style, with each portion of food tucked away in its own container with a paper lid.
There are no tricks here; what you see is what you get, and that is old-fashioned quality, style and simplicity. The restaurant offers the entire menu for perusal outside in glass-fronted cases. It’s best to enter the restaurant from the Sandton Square side (close to the statue of Madiba), since the entrance close to the theatre next door will necessitate you weaving your way through the entire restaurant to get to the reception desk. Seats at tables in the outdoor section, which is separated from the square by flower boxes, make for interesting people watching. At around 6pm there’s a wonderful mix of early dinner and late lunch guests enjoying the flow of food and wine. The restaurant also has a few private rooms available, but it is the newer, less formal outside area that offers the best seats on built-in banquettes.
In addition to the restaurant, there’s also a very successful butchery and food shop, which stays open as long as the restaurant does. They offer everything from well-aged hand-cut steaks, roasts, great-looking oxtail, whole ducks and prime goat to salmon, Frenched racks of lamb and many other wonderful pieces of meat. You can also pick up special cooler bags and dry ice if you’re travelling a long distance, and all orders can be placed in advance.
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