Hidden above the Bamboo Centre, surely one of Joburg’s teeniest malls, overlooking a street and the koppies in Melville, Great Eastern Food Bar serves a delightful mix of the Orient and the New World – think kimchi, dumplings and tacos with gentle crossovers – in an ever-popular venue. It remains one of the city’s most consistently outstanding eateries.
The open-plan bar-kitchen is in full view of the guests, and the kitchen produces made-from-scratch dishes in plain sight. Start with the delicate sashimi tacos with slivers of preserved lemon or the fresh banh mi rice paper rolls before moving to the pickled shiitake steamed buns with cucumber and hoisin sauce. Split a flavoursome bowl of ginger-and-scallion or spicy kimchi-and-ginger noodles – the ramen is thick and the broth fragrant.
The main delight, however, must surely be the Korean or the Bangkok fried chicken, served as a meal with sticky coconut rice. These are perfect for sharing, which is greatly encouraged here.
Instead of the dessert of chocolate mousse or mini pavlovas, share the crispy scallion pancakes served in triangles.
It’s an excellent, well-curated wine list that you wouldn’t expect at a place of this size. Local and Asian beers, sake, soju, cocktails or wine – you’re covered. The lime-and-coriander cordial and the home-made drinking vinegars with flavours like lemongrass and tamarind are the showstoppers.
Service is warm and efficient, but can be scattered when the restaurant is packed.
Industrial exposed brick and high wooden benches keep this small space looking fresh. While families are welcome, it’s best for quick lunch dashes when it’s quieter, or catch-ups with friends.
Nab a table at the window overlooking the street and don’t forget to order an extra bowl of superb kimchi.
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This is adventure eating, probably best described as World Food, with lots of Eastern flavours and influences. It’s certainly one of the most unusual and valuable restaurants in Gauteng today. Carolina Rasenti is at the helm, and her food is a game changer. The food is perfect for sharing and tasting off your companion’s plates.
Starters include a green papaya salad layered with tastes like coconut, tamarind and pickled pear. Another could be crispy taco folds filled with a local trout or shelled prawns, home-cured, with delicate pickled lemon. By all means order the fried cubes of fresh tofu in a hot agedashi sauce, with shavings of daikon. The dish will change your perception of tofu entirely.
Mains include a veritable party of tastes, too. Opt for one of the mussel dishes, like the miso mussels, a lovely smoky and rich combo of miso and dashi. Double-fried, deboned chicken wings are coddled in unctuous coconut rice to balance the palate. People love the kimchi ginger noodles, so they are another must, with home-infused scallion and garlic oil, ginger and daikon flakes. But you also have to try ddokboki, which is homemade gnocchi with a thick sauce, red-hot in every way, but packed with flavour. Vegetarians will find plenty to get stuck into here, and vegans and banters will also feel at home.
The desserts are glorious. Cinnamon-sugared churros are made from wonton wrappers and crisped, served with a warm salted caramel dipping sauce. A brûlée trio is served in little matching custard jars, one traditional, one with chocolate, chilli and roasted coconut, the other a granadilla flavour. But then the lemon and coconut rice pudding is worth weeping over, as well. The dishes aren’t expensive, unless you over order, which is not unheard of. The presentation is delicate and lovely; seemingly simple dishes are made up before your eyes in a wonderful form of food theatre.
Drinks are a big thing here. Apart from the very interesting wine list with its rare wines, the drinking vinegar combinations are a highlight. They are delicate and homemade, and typical flavours include granadilla, pomegranate or tamarind combined with lemongrass. These can be drunk as is in tall glasses or with Soju, a Korean liquor. There’s also a changing range of cordials, with combinations like ginger and lemongrass or lime and coriander. The apple, cinnamon and blackberry version is served warm, mostly in winter. Finally, a few interesting imported and local beers, beautiful teas and magnificent coffee, always with a cube of deliciously fudgy palm sugar, round off the list.
If you want zippy service, this is not the venue for you, because the combinations and fresh-frying are done to order. It’s a different way of eating and consuming. Watch the counter to see what goes into your food and you’ll understand.
There’s a fun and adventurous atmosphere to things. High, design-y bench tables match the tone of the food. The view from the venue, through the Mellville koppies across to Silkaatsnek, is part of the charm. The balcony boasts a herb-wall, maintained by The Kitchen Gardener, and it just the place to take in the sun with friends. Lots of regulars collect here and Carolina, who has a child of her own, does not mind children.
Take note of their fantastic pop-up breakfasts! Dishes include a mini nasi goreng, steamed Chinese buns with freshly scrambled egg, classic slow-poached eggs and even pickled eggs in a miso honey. They do not host parties here but Carolina is willing to bring the food to you: She will pre-prep, take it with her to do the final cooking and then serve it at your house.
This is a very special eatery, delivering groundbreaking food in a delightful, responsible manner. In no time at all, this has turned out to be one of the most exciting places to eat in Gauteng. Here, self-taught owner-chef Nick Scott invents and plays with ingredients, tastes and techniques, with the guidelines of healthiness and freshness guiding the way.
The menu changes all the time and quality and super-freshness are key, with some of the herbs growing up the balcony wall and even beyond the railing. The produce, which is as organically produced as possible, is sourced from some favourite local farms.
Essentially, the idea is a new-style ramen restaurant. It’s not Japanese or even necessarily oriental, though many of the freshest tastes do smack of an Eastern origin. You willl find no red meat here. Instead what features is an array of fresh, smoked or pickled vegetables and often trout, freshly brought in from unfarmed sources.
A Kimchi Chilli Ramen, for instance, is a glorious taste experience of homemade dashi broth with freshly pulled beansprouts and a slow-poached farm egg, served with home-pickled kimchi. The noodles are made right there; many of them are wheat-based, others are the traditional rice, and Scott has been experimenting with chickpea, too.
The menu changes according to what’s growing. People often order nori pieces or endamame beans as snacks while the starters arrive. When they do, they could be smoky green pepper dumplings (exceptionally good) or sashimi tacos. Scott’s partner has South American heritage, which accounts for the latter – very popular – dish’s presence on the menu. There might also be steamed buns with smoked trout and a homemade wasabi mayo, or fresh shiitake and homemade hoisin.
The choices of the main ramen dishes change regularly but there have been Vietnamese mussel versions, a Tom Yum option and a really brilliant roasted sweetcorn ramen, with Scott’s own miso and a dusting of hard cheese, freshly harvested mushrooms and sprouts with that creamy, slow-poached egg. Often you will find Thai-braaied trout on the menu. The braai is right there on the balcony, and the dish can be enjoyed with ginger scallion noodles, or perhaps a delicious grapefruit and papaya salad.
Desserts are of the unctuous sort, for example, the ever popular chilli-chocolate mousse and a quirky custard jar.
The wine list is short but very interesting, featuring boutique wineries that produce less than 5000 cases, like Vondeling, Anura and Tamboerskloof. All wines can be ordered by the glass and there are some trendy beers to be had. From there on, things get more interesting thanks to the homemade element. A not-too-sweet pomegranate and grapefruit juice is gorgeous and tremendously satisfying. Scott puts his own cordials together, too: for example, elderflower and coriander. He then uses these to concoct inventive cocktails. He even makes his own sake and sometimes serves a yummy ginger, sake and spritz combo. Coffees and teas are served super stylishly, with a perfect little cube of fudgy palm sugar.
This is not meant to be a formal, white-cloth dining setup. Instead, Scott wants to share homemade food with people in a convivial atmosphere. He is happy and enthusiastic and it shines through in all his dishes. The service is bright and delightful, generally in the person of Scott’s partner, Carolina Rasenti.
Located on the roof of the trendy Bamboo Centre, the eatery offers a view north between the Melville Koppies. The restaurant makes full use of the balcony. Black and slick wooden touches are offset by pops of glitzy gold and an oriental feel. The atmosphere is fun, and there is the thrilling feeling of being caught up in new food experiences. Already the eatery has a bevy of regulars, whom Scott calls his 'community'.
Sign up for one of Scott’s cooking/science of food adventure classes on Mondays, or book for the tasting menu on Saturday evenings.