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Review: tapas and drinks at Workshop 55 in Parktown North

The first good thing to know about this restaurant is that even though there are none of the foams and gels that feature at their famous Cube Tasting Kitchen down the road, the more playful, more casual Workshop 55 is run by the same well-known trio – Dario d’Angeli, Jessica Whitford and Darren O’ Donoghue. We’re truly in magic hands.

The next good-to-know snippet is that their staff were the reason the trio started this restaurant. Cube has employed so many promising kitchen staff keen to expand their experience, who went on to become cooks themselves, mixologists, front-of house hosts and sommeliers. These are the people in the stripy blue shirts who attend to us.

A third ‘goodie’ is that Worksop 55 is also a gin, whiskey and tapas bar. It’s hard to know whether the food or the drinks are the prime feature of 55. I’d say both.

Food

To begin your R180 entrance fee per person allows you to each choose three tapas from the 14 taster options. If your fingers and eyes take you over to the speciality section, that’s okay. You can share those, or gobble them solo, for R40 extra per item. One of the specialities, the ostrich fillet with black bean paste and strawberries and black pepper, is well worth working towards. It’s one of those perfect dishes you’ll want to enjoy with your eyes closed, just to concentrate on the layers of tastes.

The counter at Workshop 55. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

The counter at Workshop 55. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

But before you get there, you and your partner still have six your little bowls of things to taste, if you’ve both ordered differently and plan to share. The 14 tapas dishes on the menu may keep changing. But I bet that the Pasteis de Queijo – a creamy gruyere tart with caramelised onion and balsamic compote – will remain an eternal favourite. What may change because of the seasons is a delicately aromatic curried lentil dish with artichokes. The 55 version of duck pancakes will likely be demanded permanently. There are also almost as many fish dishes as there are meat, so too for vegetarians.

Getting back to the R40 specialities, a rather moreish and good-looking beef shin croquette features. It comes with avo salsa, and black or purple corn grown specially (among other interesting restaurant items) by the local school.

Dessert can be had as four dishes for R100 and, mercifully, also for R30 an item. There’s an unforgettably textured caramel tart, made in South American style, with a very light pastry and a delicate crunch of toasted nuts. But who could resist the nostalgic taste of home-made fruit jelly sweets?

Drinks

Everyone had told us that the G&T made here – using The Botanist Islay Dry Gin mixed with Swaan Dry Cape Tonic and served with pomegranate rubies, fennel seeds or lime zest – is the best thing they’ve had since they sucked dummies. But on this steaming summer evening, the suggestion of a granita of iced rum and coconut water sounded idyllic – and tasted paradisiacal. Expect more fantastic drinks, such as the deliciously aromatic fynbos Inverroche gins from Stillbay. And the selection of whiskeys is displayed like trophies.

I’d never heard of a wine called The Blacksmith Vin Noir, but it was the meal suggestion “to go with the place”. The rest of the wines are just as rare and boutiquey, specifically selected to rock you.

Service

Energetic is the word. The feeling of it is everywhere and everyone seems keen to impress you with their choices of food and their advice on drinks you’ll love. Wherever there’s blue shirt, there’s a feeling of trust.

The waiters at Workshop 55. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

The waiters at Workshop 55. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Ambience

Down dressed to look, well, like a workshop, with distressed walls and old cogs. The restaurant features a long bar down one side. The food prep is done behind the same bar, so it’s food-as-theatre that’s more gutsy than the approach at Cube, especially with the added drinks part of it. The staff are integral to the ambience.

The restaurant gets really full after six, though people start trickling after four, even. At four-seater tables, up to 20 of the bespoke tricorn Workshop 55 bowls can be counted. It’s super-convivial: this new restaurant thrums. So does the soon-to-be-expanded patio.

The interior at Workshop 55. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

The interior at Workshop 55. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

And…

I’ve long thought about a place to go late afternoons to relax and watch the traffic go home, where I can drink something nice and then decide to have “a few little things” to eat, even if they turn out to be lots. My last good thing about Workshop 55? Someone else has created it for me.

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

Have you been to Workshop 55 in Parktown North? Let us know what you thought of the experience by writing a review.

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