Eating out in the Jacaranda City

If you think the only difference between Pretoria and yoghurt is that yoghurt has live culture, you’re way overdue for a visit to the capital city.

There might have been a time in the city’s dark culinary history where (but for a few exceptions) the closest thing you could get to a gourmet dinner was a T-bone with monkey-gland sauce and onion rings. But those days are long gone. Pretoria now has enough truly fine restaurants, bistros, coffee shops and eateries – so you’ll never again have to face another depressingly unimaginative meal.

Perhaps one of the citys most respected eateries, the always impressive La Madeleine in Lynnwood Ridge needs little introduction. Here Daniel and Karine Leusch have been delighting diners with their authentic French cuisine for more than twenty years, and we probably don’t need to tell you that in the notoriously fickle restaurant business that’s the stuff legends are made of. The interior is charming, the service is impeccable and the menu changes frequently – and every item on it is prepared with exquisite care and superbly presented.

Ritrovo in Waterkloof Ridge is another of Pretoria’s well-known and much celebrated establishments. Father and son owners, Giovanni (arguably the biggest pioneer of Italian cuisine in SA) and Fortunato Mazzone opened Ritrovo in ’95 and in the last twelve years accumulated a host of raving fans and prestigious awards. Their Prawns alla Giovanni will have you weeping with joy into the champagne garlic sauce it’s served with. They also boast a working wine cellar with over 20 000 bottles of wine. (Not too shabby for Gauteng!)

Relatively new in town is the quirky, stylish Li-Bel (call 012 343 8277). This brainchild of well-known stylist Lientjie Wessels and her husband Robert Denton is a delightfully different restaurant in the middle of Sunnyside – one of Pretoria’s oldest and, lately, coolest suburbs. Everything served at Li-Bel has been beautifully hand-crafted. The ingredients are fresh, the menu innovative and ever-changing, and the ambience laid-back. By the way, their scrambled egg infused with truffle and served with roasted asparagus might just get you to rethink everything you thought you knew about breakfast.

Carlton Café (call 012 460 7996) is a tiny daytime eatery in Menlo Park specialising in beautifully prepared wholesome food. Chef-owner Rachel Bothes’ focus is on fresh, seasonal ingredients and exciting flavour combinations. There is very limited space, so its essential to book to avoid disappointment. You’re also welcome to bring your own wine since they’re not licensed, or to buy your drinks at the conveniently located liquor store next door. Breakfast includes unusual items such as anchovy toast with real anchovies, lemon and rosemary, putu pap and biltong, sweet corn fritters with Parma ham and stuffed chillies. For lunch the options range from a light and fresh tomato and strawberry gazpacho to leg of lamb, slow roasted in coffee and mustard.

Tucked away deep in the leafy suburban area of Rietondale is Toni’s Fully Furnished Pizza Co (call 012 329 9000). Co-owner and chef Toni Sime started her little pizzeria with just eight chairs almost two years ago. Now Toni’s seat 120 and has been fully booked for the last thirteen months. The spirited twenty-five year old Toni only uses the freshest seasonal ingredients and her pizza crust is perfect – thin, crisp and just slightly chewy. And while she makes delicious traditional pizzas you’ll also find unique toppings such as salmon, caviar and crème fraiche or marshmallow and hazelnut chocolate. Toni’s is always bustling, so be sure to book.

Part of the Jacaranda City’s charm is the huge coffee shop culture. Young and old gather to eat, drink and chat away all hours of the day and night. You’ll find coffee shops everywhere and there are way too many to mention. Most serve decent fare and even better coffee. Pop in to enjoy the city’s unique vibe together with its widely diverse clientele. Trendy teens, hung-over students, rather alarming boere types and heavily bejewelled society matrons, all rub shoulders over tramezinnis, commiserate about crime and order cappuccinos – with foam, please. Those looking for a touch of sophistication can try Tribeca Lounge  in Brooklyn Square for their New York-style cream cheese bagels and maple pancakes, or visit Boabab Café in Menlyn Park shopping mall for a breathtaking view of the Eastern suburbs koppies.

Bon appetit! Or rather, as the Pretorians like to say, smaaklike ete!

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