Its extraordinary location, the full-of-goodness food and beautiful products make Grain in Maboneng a real treat. The name refers to two types of grain – food and wood – with the focus on sustainable eating and décor.
Woodlady’s beautifully designed shelving systems and furniture are made from recycled wood, and part-owner Gerrie de Haas, who originally trained as a butcher, creates the full-pleasure, full-goodness fare.
The food here is free of MSG, preservatives and the harmful methods that make things fat-free. Dishes are also made without sugar, using natural fruit sugars or beech-juice (xylitol) for sweetness in uniquely presented cupcakes, utterly perfect brownies and other bakes.
The breakfasts and lunches are freshly created in the small, efficient kitchen. Meat, vegetables and fruit are carefully sourced and many of the herbs are grown right here. The dairy is full fat, and the eggs and meats free range. The food tastes farm-good in this mightily urban part of Johannesburg.
The menu changes daily according to what’s fine and fresh, so the standards will change seasonally. It’s all chalk-written on a board and generally includes a delightful quiche with organic coconut or nut-flour pastry. Sandwiches are made with Grain’s own special beetroot bread (thin slices of beetroot toast are a little like rye in texture – quite delicious) or others of ground macadamia and sunflower seeds. There’s a range of sandwich options, with bacon featuring frequently. The Good Ol’ Grilled Cheese is a toasty sandwich of cream cheese and melted white cheddar, served with chunky basil and parmesan pesto alongside a golden heap of wedges (a choice of potato or sweet potato) dredged with cayenne, cumin, coriander and salt. A Julius Salad is also popular, full of generous helpings of contrasting crisp and creamy ingredients rather than leafiness.
Breakfasts, served all day, smell and look heavenly. Buttery scrambles and soft, stuffed omelettes float sunnily across my gaze until my own food comes along.
Gerrie says there’s nothing fanatical about the food at Grain. If people want wheaty breads, he’ll serve them along with his own. The same goes for sugar. I laugh when I see a wooden service crate stocked with all types of sugars and sweeteners, artily arranged, for those who insist on them. Vegetarians and even vegans can be accommodated; the Banting folk will be especially chuffed.
Homemade fruity teas in pitchers or rich hot chocolates in pots are made on site, but the little fridge also offers bottled organic juices, like my bottle of mango, orange and aloe elixir.
Wines are welcome and the corkage fee is R40. It’s already a popular party area because of the funky Common Ground outdoor areas.
Coffees are Roast Republic and come with a donation to education included – appropriate, given that you can see Maboneng’s Spark School if you sit outside under the wild olive trees. It’s good coffee, of course, presented in a kind of zen-arty way in comforting bowls on wooden blocks with wooden stirrers.
The staff members form a fascinating band. It seems as though all five ‘service’ people also produce things in the kitchen they’re really good at (when they’re not waiting tables). Their conversation is intelligent, helpful and cheery.
It’s so very, very convivial that I’d recommend this place to anyone new to Johannesburg. You’d make new friends in five minutes over the food. Everyone seems to discuss it.
Under the well-known mural of a boxing Mandela on the side of the tall building, Grain is within an extraordinary space reclaimed from a recycling tip that once spilled onto the road. Now it’s a kind of park, with an amphitheatre and adjoining Spark (a brand-new concept school). The park’s walls are painted black with lime-green spaza doors, behind which are curated artsy products. You can have parties or parade around on the wide walls, accessing it by metal ladders. Grain, fitting into a sunny corner, features saffron colours, indigenous flowers and blonde wood. Roped crates overflow with herbs and the wall art is desirably graphic. Sit inside the little space at wooden counters or bask in the sun outside. The food is beautifully set out on blocks of wood and in glass jars.
You can also take your food away in cute paper boxes. If you want to make your own bakes, the coconut flours, xylitol, nut butters and such are for sale on the arty shelves (which are also for sale).
Eat Out critics dine anonymously and pay for their meals in full. Read Eat Out’s editorial policy here.