Neatly nestled between corporate Sandton, cosmopolitan Rosebank and upmarket Hyde Park, Illovo has traditionally been seen as a bit of a thoroughfare. Not necessarily a dining destination. But this residential suburb in Johannesburg is becoming trendy, not least because of the huge array of restaurant options. Quaint little neighbourhood eateries with a splash of nonchalance give way to stylish, upmarket restaurants; gastropubs rub shoulders with romantic, intimate pizzerias, while down the road, revellers knock back cocktails and sample meze dining at its finest. Delightfully irreverent, irresistibly addictive, Illovo is charming and full of character.
Amarcord Osteria Italiana
Classy, upmarket Italian cuisine with a homely and familiar warmth served in a white and elegant space. Proprietor Luciana Righi is also the genius behind Assaggi, and there’s more than a few parallels to be drawn between the two eateries. Come for the superb pasta, stay for the blissful Mediterranean ambiance.
Assaggi has been a formidable presence in the Italian cuisine scene in Joburg for as long as just about anyone can remember. There’s good reason for the restaurant’s extraordinary longevity: despite the unusual setting, the food has remained exceptional over the years. If there’s gnocchi to be ordered, do it.
This Joburg offshoot of the deliciously camp Capetonian burger joint retains all the naughty, tongue-in-cheek humour and theatrics of the original. And the burgers are good too.
While the rest of the menu is more than serviceable, it’s the seafood that sets Bellagio apart. Try the melt-in-the-mouth seafood risotto, great salmon specials and sushi.
Truly unpretentious, genuinely friendly and accommodating bistro-style hospitality here. It’s first come, first served for dinner, but you can make a reservation during lunchtime.
The Boulevard Café
Charming décor and a family feel paired with enthusiastic service, great food and generous portions have quickly made The Boulevard Café a firm favourite among both Illovo office workers and evening diners.
Chateau Gateux Patisserie
The name may be a mouthful, but no more so than their giant choc chip cookies!
A consistent option for seafood. Try the oysters as a starter.
Ambitiously billed as a craft beer gastropub, The Griffin is fast becoming a favourite among the Illovo crowd. It’s not hard to see why: a gorgeously decorated space, a curated selection of some of the finest artisan beers and bold and adventurous food. In true pub spirit, it gets quite rowdy over weekends, which only adds to the appeal.
Situated just off Rivonia Road, with an elegant, upmarket ambience, this is a good place for business meetings. Strong Greek and Portuguese influences on the menu.
For authentic, consistently good Italian cuisine served with style and flair, hed straight here. Mastrantonio is also a great place to eavesdrop on the conversations of moguls, oligarchs and captains of industry.
Oliva Bar & Kitchen
Another fairly recent addition to the Illovo food scene, Oliva Bar & Kitchen is an ambitious project from serial restaurateur Zane de Beer, the brain behind Fino in Parktown North. The decor is eclectic and so too the menu It ranges from risottos to lamb shank to a huge selection of meze and tapas. Our suggestion? Come with friends, come hungry, and sample the wide variety of finger foods before sharing the excellent, authentic Spanish paella.
Unassuming, uncomplicated, and still great value for money, this neighbourhood eatery has long been a favourite among locals looking for their fix of souvlaki. Whether you’re popping in for a quick lunch, or languishing with friends over an extended dinner of meze, lamb kleftiko and their heavenly baklava, Parea espouses the laid back rustic charm of Greek cuisine. The wonderful tavern-style atmosphere makes for the perfect place to enjoy with friends or family.
The delightfully Parisian bistro offers Willy Wonka-style indulgence. Rows and rows of delicious pastries tempt patrons while their salads, soups and pies are simply delicious. A great place to meet up with the girls for tea and scones.
Rabbit in the Moon
This whimsical eatery channels Alice in Wonderland with its trendy and quirky décor. The menu is chiefly Italian: Kick off by pairing a half charcuterie, half cheese board with one of their wonderful wines.
This upstart has all the charm and sensuality of its namesake, Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli. With its stylish decor, beautiful chandeliers and warm ambience, it’s the perfect place to kick back on a weekend with friends or to enjoy one of their weekday ‘express lunches’. The latter, in true Italian fashion, includes a glass of red or white wine. It’s fun and fashionable, but entirely unpretentious.
Bold Mediterranean flavours, best experienced with their excellent meze platter for two, are the calling card of Sophia’s Bistro. The shellfish soup with prawns, clams, calamari, mussels and crab in a fish broth is presciently evocative of the sea, and for a moment, you may just forget that you’re landlocked hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean.
An unexpected lunchtime deli delight, tucked away in the Thrupps centre. The menu is slightly predictable but does include a fantastic cheesecake. Check the blackboard for specials.
Warm ambiance and low-key lighting make for an intimate dining experience at this pizza joint. It gets slightly mixed reviews, but the pizzas are light, crispy and woodfired. Try the pumpkin and feta or the prawn teriyaki if you’re up for something different.
Turn n Tender
Practically an institution in Johannesburg, the meat is top shelf and great value for money at this steakhouse. Great lunchtime specials.
Favoured hangout of hipsters, artists and musicians, Wolves offers an impressive selection of craft beers and great gourmet sandwiches. Be on the lookout for their cute cupcakes too.
Genuine Japanese cuisine is the name of the game at Yamato. If you’re looking for oversized portions or the latest fad in Japanese cooking, you’re going to be disappointed. The minimalist, artfully plated food shows reverence towards authenticity.