Melville’s new fine dining star, NCW Restaurant – reviewed

The restaurant’s name, NCW, is a play on the name of owner-chef, Ence Willemse, previously of fine dining heavyweights, Overture and Roots. After the three years of restoration to this landmark Melville property, he has filled it with superb art and intends to use the space to delight us with culinary journeys.

One of chef Ence Willemse's dishes at NCW Restaurant. Photo supplied.

One of chef Ence Willemse’s dishes at NCW Restaurant. Photo supplied.

Fast facts

Serves: a thrilling six-course dinner
Best for: cheering occasions
Cost: R525 per person, which includes a welcome glass of MCC and pre-first course of an out-of-the oven ciabatta-style loaf with cultured butters
Star ratings: Food and drinks: 5, Service: 3, Ambience 5


Faultless is a difficult food standard to maintain. Nonetheless, this is the experience at NCW. When the perfectly crusted, steaming rustic bread comes out, you already know you’re in exceptionally good hands. The menu changes every week to a large extent, though dishes do sometimes carry over into the next week. It’s a pity to say goodbye to any of them.

Dessert at NCW

One of the desserts at NCW. Photo supplied.

Each course has a simple title, like ‘Tomato’ or ‘Sardine’. ‘Tomato’ is a densely constructed and deeply flavoured soup of roasted and reduced tomato with a subtle hint of chilli. It’s served with a basil ice cream quenelle, artful balsamic gel studs, and a sliver of toasted ciabatta. ‘Sardine’ is a West Coast creamy oyster served on a sparkling glass dish alongside a crispy noodle-wrapped, smoky sardine on a citrus-spiked salsa that includes fine slivers of chorizo and careful dots of roe emulsion. It combines the tastes of Iberia and South Africa seamlessly.

Just mentioning highlights is impossible because every dish is one, but one that really stands out is a folksy South American-influenced plate. It’s made up of pulled chicken in a melt-in-the-mouth pastry; a delicate oxtail dumpling, served with red corn, beans and a tart orange mayonnaise; a juicy sirloin supporting a frill-fried quail egg, shoestring fries with a thick gravy and pea puree; and a perfect slice of gold-bedecked chocolate tart with salted caramel and chunky pralines.

When you think you cannot manage anything more, the cheese course called Pecorino and Pears delivers the finest taste experience in the form of crisp shards of pear, a puree, delicious sponge made of parmesan, and pieces of crispy bacon cured in maple syrup. It’s all finished off with a dust of pecorino.

The dining room at NCW in Melville, Johannesburg

The one of the rooms at NCW in Melville, Johannesburg. Photo supplied.


Manager Justin Tombo also acts as the sommelier, pointing people to good matches for each course or the full menu. The cellar is a growing collection, much like the art, ranging from the top-end classics to surprises like Klawer’s Villa Esposito. Wines are available by the glass as well. There is a wide selection of local MCCs and French champagnes. The mirrored cellar is within strolling distance across the restaurant floor.

Piano room at NCW

One of the social rooms at NCW. Photo supplied.


The service is very courteous and delivered by pleasant people. At the moment they lack the skills, however, to engage fully with interested diners and explain the menu confidently.

A dramatic prawn dish at NCW. Photo supplied.


What a beautiful series of spaces, unfolding into one another with gorgeous artworks and antique furniture. Some are clubby, leathery sitting spaces, while others are for listening to either live piano music or recorded jazz and wandering among the art. The kitchen is open to the restaurant, and it’s a joy to see Ence and his team at work. They are surprisingly quiet, with Ence in a zen-like beatific concentration. The artful presentation of the food is as excitingly successful as the taste.


Lunches  at NCW follow the same six-course menu, except on Sundays when real Sunday roasts are wheeled around the restaurant or lunch patio, accompanied by all the comfort foods you can imagine.

(October 2017)

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

Brought to you by Retail Capital, sponsors of the Eat Out Retail Capital New Restaurant of the Year Award.
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