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Review: The green walls are alive at Living Room in Maboneng

Living Room is one of the loveliest, most beautiful-smelling restaurants in South Africa, reminiscent of Babylonstoren in the Cape and David Higgs’s rooftop garden at The Saxon. The place lives and grows around you – and yet you’re a part of the Johannesburg city skyline. The idea is to incorporate the slogan, ‘for the love of plants’, into the menu and the food.

The Living Room. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

The Living Room. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

A showroom for three days of the week, the retail space shows off its vertical gardens and indoor-outdoor options from Mondays to Wednesday. From Thursday to Saturday, the restaurant area opens from early afternoon through to teatime, sundowners and supper. Sundays mean music, food and drinks from midday.

Food

The menu changes with the seasons and occasions. It’s easy to see why this place is booked for a huge number of events. Whatever time you pop in, there will be something interesting on the menu. The main section is all about tapas and platters. The Bunny Rabbit vegetarian platter is a selection of freshly made tapas, crispy-hot falafels and homemade hummus to share – no boring carrot and lettuce in sight, although it is prettily festooned with green herbs. Vegetarians, vegans and banting people will all find plenty enough to eat here. A pretty meat platter defies the stereotype, as does the generous cheese plate with figs. People love Living Room’s hummus so much, they order it by the bowl with various breads and grissini.

The Living Room. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

The Living Room. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Something simple – always a good test – is the all-in-one winter soup, which is made with a base of roasted tomatoes and red peppers and includes fabulous crunchy textures of fine slices of carrot, fresh spinach and spring onions. Another tomato-based dish, the Spanish salad, arrives on a long wooden plate with basil greenery and pockets of taste surprises like pesto, halloumi, toasted almonds and parma ham. The homemade coconut samoosas are so popular they daren’t remove them from the menu. Also recommended are sandwiches like the one with layers of pan-fried camembert and salami, or an open chicken Caesar on toast. A surprising number of ingredients is homemade right here, including sauces like the teriyaki that goes with roast chicken and sweet potato wedges.

There’s always a fulfilling meal of the day, like a comforting stew in winter, or a fresh new take on some familiar ingredients in summer. Poutine, a dish of fries topped with gravy and cheese, remains firmly on the menu. For dessert, tuck into a boozy peppermint hot chocolate or brown fudge pie.

Drinks

The popular drink here is called Minty Magic. It involves the herb with juiced strawberry and lemonade, with the optional boozy addition of Southern Comfort and vodka. Other beautiful drinks seem to flower out of gorgeous green chalices, many of them including herbs like basil or featuring bases of aloe juice. Marie Lourens, one of the managers, says coffee makes way here for delicate fruit teas and warming chai to go with the lush and verdant surroundings. (Aptly, Michelle van Straaten, a manager on the plants side, looks like a forest nymph.) As for bubbly, there’s always Veuve Clicquot and Pongracz ready and chilled. The interesting wine offering includes Fernskloof, an organic boutique winery in Prince Albert that specialises in merlot, pinot noir and a pinotge rosé. There are also the usual spirits and craft beers.

The Living Room. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

The Living Room. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Service

Order for yourself at the counter and collect your meal there. Chatty management is always on hand to make suggestions.

Ambience

This is deep inside designer territory in Maboneng. Living Room is like an extraordinary world where the walls are alive, as are wooden tables that house mini gardens. Heavy-metal lift doors are interesting, but tricky for lightweights to manoeuvre. The scent of the floral forest floats here above the city thanks to little crystal vases of blossoms between the trees and foliage.

The crowd varies from young families to lovers of living things. Part of the restaurant is open to the sky and live birds often come to visit the pink plaster flamingos nuzzling each other. The roof is translucent and sometimes has a canvas pull-over ceiling for the more intense Highveld days.

The Living Room. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

The Living Room. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

And…

On Sundays, live music from cool DJs fills the unique forest with sound. There are hammocks as an option from which to dangle as you nibble.

Eat Out critics dine anonymously and pay for their meals in full. Read our editorial policy here.

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