Review: Garden-to-glass cocktails at Sin + Tax in Rosebank

Eat Out critic Marie-Lais Emond slakes her thirst at Sin + Tax, the speakeasy-style bar adjoining Coalition pizzeria in Rosebank, Johannesburg.

Fast facts

Price: The average cocktail is around R95
Serves: Sustainable, seasonal mixed drinks with snacks
Parking: Find a spot at Elephant Corner, off Bolton Road, behind the Bolton Rd Collection
Best for: Social gatherings and cocktails as you’ve never had them before
Star rating: Food 5, service 4, ambience 4


A man two tables down exclaims, “This is the best cocktail I’ve ever had in my life!” He hasn’t even drunk half of it yet. Everyone nearby cheers because, well, it seems they are thinking exactly that. Every drink is extraordinarily delicious and also generously portioned, not, as a friend remarked, “a smoking spoon of spume.” Actually, the first drink you have at Sin + Tax is likely to be water. There’s an attractive carafe and glasses on every table, which are filled throughout the evening to assist with stamina.

Julian Short changes the menu according to the seasons and what’s fresh. His brand-new menu is called Gardena and he’s been planting and planning the ingredients in pots and in his own garden. He says the flowers are fullest now and the vegetables and fruits, like figs and rhubarb, are at their best, so he hopes we enjoy the harvest.

We order two drinks (Julian prefers not to use the term ‘cocktails’) from the new menu and one from the renewed house classics menu, which includes recognisable mixed drinks like a French 75, a daiquiri and an old fashioned. A negroni is also there. Surely, you think, nothing can improve a negroni – it’s just gin, rosso vermouth, Campari and twist of orange.

This version has not a twist but a teardrop shape of orange that reaches all the way to the bottom of the glass, and instead of clinking ice cubes there’s a geometrically cut square block, so that with each sip, vermilion candle-lit liquor slips across it like water across the bow of a boat. We find that you can also improve on a negroni by using your own barrel-aged gin, so that the spicy earthiness of the wooden barrel seeps into the mix. Phenomenal.

My drink from the new menu, On the Beet, demands another from the very first sip. It’s a rush of freshness, finished with dark-opal basil and a beetroot shrub containing both tequila and mescal. Black pepper and the overall mouthfeel remind me slightly of a bloody Mary – if she were reborn. We shake our heads in disbelief on passing it around. When Leaf Litter is pronounced as the name of the next pale offering, I remember that it contains fresh celery juice. This time we all laugh with utter delight. The frothing of South African MCC belies the integrity of a mix of such balance and deliciousness; you can’t tell where the other ingredients, the gin and dry vermouth, begin or end. More, more.

For people who don’t drink alcohol, the drinks can be beautifully mixed without any. Soft drinks are available, but the waiter would probably talk you into ordering something as refreshing but in a mix that’s kinder to the palate.

Beer is not a big thing here but wine is; there’s a little glass room dedicated to it. Wines are chosen for outright deliciousness, not due to any obligations or routine. Bottles from teeny-tiny wineries in the Swartland, for instance, could be on offer until they run out, because there’s always something bright and new or old but also limited, like the last case of AA Badenhorst 2013 Brakkuil Barbarossa.


If you don’t eat before or after at haute pizzeria Coalition, you can opt for a full snack platter on a wooden board, which holds three white bowls of excellent, moist biltong, olives and very lightly salted South African nuts. They can be ordered individually as well. When you arrive, the water is delivered to your table with a pewter holder of fresh popcorn.


The mixologists and waiters are swift and incredibly knowledgeable. The place seats precisely 45 only, so book ahead. Sin + Tax is open Thursday to Saturday from 5pm onwards. It’s always full.


The idea is of a secret speakeasy, so gaining entrance might be tricky. We manage by asking everyone we know – and perhaps that’s the way it should be. Down the step it’s dimly lit by lovely metal lamps. There’s a private section of pale-blue velvet couches and a discreet chandelier, but the rest is black leather, with the warm glow of lamps and candlelight.


The best part is that there is no waste. Sin + Tax is probably the most sustainable bar, where the provenance of every ingredient is known, and every part of every ingredient, be it stem, skin or pip, is used by smoking, steaming or added to infusions or shrubs. Then, if all the goodness has finally been used, Julian will turn it into salt for the popcorn.

Eat Out critics dine anonymously and pay in full. Read our editorial policy here.

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