The Great Eastern Food Bar is a place for adventurous eating, probably best described as ‘world food’, with lots of Asian flavours and influences, says critic Marie-Lais Emond.
This is certainly one of the most unusual restaurants in Gauteng today. Carolina Rasenti is at the helm, and her food is a game changer. It’s perfect for sharing and tasting from your companion’s plates.
Starters include a green papaya salad layered with tastes like coconut, tamarind and pickled pear. Another could be crispy taco folds filled with a local trout or shelled prawns, home-cured, with delicate pickled lemon. By all means order the fried cubes of fresh tofu in a hot agedashi sauce with shavings of daikon. The dish will change your perceptions of tofu entirely.
Mains include a veritable party of tastes, too. Opt for one of the mussel dishes, like the miso mussels, a lovely smoky and rich combo of miso and dashi. Double-fried, deboned chicken wings are coddled in unctuous coconut rice to balance the palate. People love the kimchi ginger noodles – they are another must – with home-infused scallion-and-garlic oil, ginger and daikon flakes.
But you also have to try ddokboki, which is homemade gnocchi with a thick sauce. It’s red hot in every way and packed with flavour. Vegetarians will find plenty to get stuck into here, and vegans and banters will also feel at home.
The desserts are glorious. Cinnamon-sugared churros are made from wonton wrappers and crisped, served with a warm salted-caramel dipping sauce. A brûlée trio is served in little matching custard jars, one traditional, one with chocolate, chilli and roasted coconut, and the last a granadilla flavour. The lemon and coconut rice pudding is worth weeping over too. The dishes aren’t expensive, unless you over order, which is not unheard of. The presentation is delicate and lovely: seemingly simple dishes are made up before your eyes in a wonderful form of food theatre.
Drinks are a big thing here. Apart from the very interesting wine list with its rare wines, the drinking vinegar combinations are a highlight. Homemade flavours include granadilla, pomegranate or tamarind combined with lemongrass. These can be drunk as is in tall glasses or with soju, a Korean liquor. There’s also a changing range of cordials, with combinations like ginger and lemongrass or lime and coriander. The apple, cinnamon and blackberry version is served warm, mostly in winter. Finally, a few interesting imported and local beers, beautiful teas and magnificent coffee, always with a cube of deliciously fudgy palm sugar, round off the list.
If you want zippy service, this is not the venue for you, because the combinations and fresh-frying are done to order. It’s a different way of eating and consuming. Watch the counter to see what goes into your food and you’ll understand.
There’s a fun and adventurous atmosphere to things. High, modern bench tables match the tone of the food. The view from the venue, through the Mellville koppies across to Silkaatsnek, is part of the charm. The balcony boasts a herb-wall, which is just the place to take in the sun with friends. Lots of regulars collect here.
Take note of their fantastic pop-up breakfasts. Dishes include nasi goreng (fried rice), steamed Chinese buns with freshly scrambled egg, classic slow-poached eggs, and even pickled eggs in a miso honey. They do not host parties here, but they do offer catering.
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