The Royale

The Royale
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R100 avg main meal
Bar scene, Groups, Local cuisine
Contemporary fare, Light meals, Tapas
Mastercard, Visa

Critic's review

Marie-Lais Emond

Forget about real Cuban food and the flavours and ingredients you’ve tasted there. Royale is Cuban-ish in the widest sense, but it’s such fun feasting in this cool place.

The menu is short and confident. A bowl of crisped, spicy potato skins arrives as a table snack at menu-reading time. There are no starters as such, but you could have the house salad or the cheesy beans and rice to begin. The mojo-rubbed pork belly sports lots of fat that has been slowly rendered and slow-cooked, with orange juice to caramelise and crisp the skin. It’s utterly delightful by itself, or with the coleslaw. The Cuban Sandwich, a USA dish, delivers a satisfyingly savoury combination in fresh, crispy bread, good-quality ham, cheese and a sweetish mustard sauce. It’s drippy and good; quite a meal.

On the bar part of the menu are snacks like sliders, skewers sticky riblets and cheesy jalapeño fries. The Sloppy Joe empanadas are treats, too: little pastries of beef and caramelised onion with a superb chutney. The croquettes also make hearty snacks.

There are three desserts, an almond waffle, banana bread and fried ice cream. You can’t go wrong with the aromatic waffle, served with rum and wickedly sweet caramel. The fresh banana bread is served with a rum-caramel dip.

The Cubans are fussy about their rum, but this is not Cuba and Bacardi does the trick in all its different hues. The mojito is excellent; the Tormenta Negra features the dark Bacardi with bitters and and ginger beer; and the El Floridita 3, named after Hemingway’s favourite Havana bar, where a bronze version of him is ensconced at a table, features pale Bacardi with maraschino, grapefruit and lime. Maybe more to your liking would be a strong Rum Martinez, classic Daiquiri or Cuba Libre? The Espresso Martini looks good, too. There are eleven wines available, three of them by the glass.

The service is as pleasant and easy-going. Marcel visits tables to make suggestions.

The mix of pastel walls, lamps, and even the entrance desk are reminiscent of paladares (restaurants run out of Cuban homes). Steps lead down into the main room, an evocative space, and the outdoor patio is charming. The very best, however, is the bar itself. It’s a tall, wooden, old-fashioned affair styled with typical and even not-so-typical bottles. The Cuban-inspired music is perfect for this setting and its people.

Pssst – there’s a secret speakeasy bar being constructed on the premises. It will be suitably tricky to gain access.

(December 2017)

Eat Out critics dine anonymously and pay their own way. Read our editorial policy here.

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  • Food

User reviews

  • We were very excited when The Royale opened up almost next door. I've been there for a photoshoot or two, and it's been widely popular on Insta, so it seemed worth a proper visit. My partner and I went there a few weeks ago. As many of the reviews reveal, there's nothing Cuban about The Royale. There are a bunch of guys in tropical shirts, some cool lighting on the walls, but no Cuban rum or any Cuban cuisine. This also had a negative impact on my prospect of a proper Mojito. Service was not warm and welcoming, and we were far from feeling Warm & Glad. We struggled to get our waitress' attention, as she befriended someone at a table nearby (and spent most of her time there). Our request for a menu was also received with snark. Now, I'm from Cape Town, so I understand when waitresses aren't so friendly, or like to make you feel out of place, but there's no need for that in Jozi. The menu is fairly simple, and fairly priced. I ordered the prawn curry, which came with rice. There was nothing wrong with the prawn curry, but the rice was undercooked. It's a nice place to meet your film industry/ad agency/model/creative/musically inclined friends for a drink, but the food is bang-average, at best.
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  • This is by far the best new restaurant opening in Johannesburg. In a city that has limited fine dining options and typical either our options are franchise food like Tasha's or Life Grande. This spot is a touch above the ordinary food is great , service is warm and friendly although sometimes a little slow. But atmosphere is what really makes this place you feel transported to another place. Everything from the plants to the colors to the music make this the best restaurant Jo'burg has seen in a very long time and what I like pherhaps most is how diverse the crowd is from young to old (Mainly young) and all ethnic cultures and backgrounds. I met a guy from Korea and Angola here. That's what going out in South Africa's biggest city should be like. Lastly this Resturant doesn't rest on it's laurels their not too cool to work harder and get better. I've been at least six times since it opened and they keep improving little things and adding new ones. If you haven't go treat yourself but call ahead the place is usually packed.
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  • Food: I had the rump steak, cuban chicken, cheese croquettes and chorizo rice. My first impression of the food was, "what makes this Cuban?" - on the assumption that this was a Cuban restuarant and that meant there would be Cuban food on the menu. So without critiquing what constitutes Cuban food at all, I can only comment on the quality of food served. To this end, I don't believe anything I ate constituted restaurant quality food. There was generally a dearth of flavour and imagination. Each dish reminded me of what I could have easily made as a student, especially the chicken which I couldn't help but feel was previously frozen solid. The food certainly did not justify the price I paid. Service: I guess there were people to bring you your food. As far as any knowledge of the menu or any underlying ingredients, there was none and the guys aren't shy to admit that. You'll also need to forage on the restaurant floor for your the one or two salt and pepper shakers that the restaurant has. Ambience: I think the price of the food prices in the guarantee of a stylish neon light wall, quite obviously designed for the purposes of instagrammers and ultimately a marketing springboard. I think the cost of the food prices in the guarantee of being in the same place as Johannesburg's most enthusiastic scene-sters. My impression is generally that it provides a space for people to easily transition towards Melville, Hell's Kitchen in particular - and I think that's a good function for the restaurant. As for any Cuban atmosphere, I swear the soundtrack of the movie Chef was playing on repeat, either that or Putumayo's "sounds of Cuba" or something else generically Latin American. So I would say, it's a bar first, with stuff on the menu to eat later. Disclaimer: It goes without saying that this review is from my perspective alone.
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  • Accepts credit cards
  • Beer served
  • Cocktails
  • Dinner
  • Food
  • Licensed
  • Lunch
  • Parking
  • Serves food

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