Review: Hip bar food and zwakhala vibes at The Immigrant in Braamfontein

Eat Out critic Marie-Lais Emond visits The Immigrant, a drinking hole in Braamfontein, to see how the food measures up.

A sharing platter at The Immigrant. Photo supplied.

A sharing platter at The Immigrant. Photo supplied.

Fast facts

Price: Average main course is R85
Serves: Sociable meals washed down with drinks
Parking: Nobody needs to park in Braamfontein except those showing off flashy sportscars. People explore on foot and arrive by Uber, tuk tuk, taxi and bus.
Best for: Zwakhala* with people from around the world, sharing the experience with them.
Star rating: Food 4, service 3, ambience 3

The Immigrant in Braamfontein is attached to a poshtel (posh hostel) called Once, which has a twin establishment in Long Street, Cape Town, with its own suitably hip and trendy bar attached in the form of Yours Truly.

The name tells of Joburg’s history but also its present, where people arrive from all over the globe for long or short parts of their lives, and are welcome to socialise, drink and eat here. Co-owner and manager Matt Beckett is the man who made The Artisan in Greenside such a comfort zone for interesting souls. It is likely due to him that all the food at The Immigrant is made the right way, deliciously from scratch.

The bagel breakfast. Photo supplied.

The bagel breakfast. Photo supplied.


Sharing – whether with a new friend, a group, or a date – is the prime idea here. Breakfasts are the good-for-you kind, and include the likes of fresh South African fruit, muesli, yoghurt with fresh fruit coulis, bagels and spreads, wonderful coffee or juice.
The New-York-style bagels are all freshly made right here. Try the poppyseed one filled with cream cheese, cured local trout, juicy capers and red onion, or build your own with good hard and soft cheeses, guacamole, hummus, homemade pickles and fresh vegetables.

Boards are the thing for sharing, with almost all the elements made on site. Try all of the wares at once by ordering the Jozi board. Beautifully laid out, the selection includes what you’d get on the rump board (chargrilled, moist slices of beef); the chicken board (roasted, tender, pulled chicken) and the veg board (magnificent falafels, cheddar, olive tapenade and hummus). They all come with roasted peppers and home-baked flatbread.

The roast veg salad. Photo supplied.

The roast veg salad. Photo supplied.

If you have a choice between potato chips, sweet-potato chips with aioli, or aubergine chips, go for the latter; they’re proven standouts. There’s a choice of sauces like red pesto, chimmichurri and delicious homemade chakalaka, and an interesting selection of salads, too, the bacon one called Carne being the most popular.

Fresh corn nachos can be ordered, with mozzarella, cheddar, sour cream and salsa. The food is so good because it’s fresh and cooked from scratch cooking. It makes a helluva difference.

The Immigrant doesn’t do desserts for now, but there might be something in the works soon involving Oreos. The bar snacks are as good as the other foods on the menu.


The bar is very central to the space: a huge circle, full of flashy action and jokes. Icky Mbele is the man behind the counter, saying The Immigrant is more a bar with a restaurant than a restaurant with a bar. The drink of the day might be something like It’s been a Long Week, a herby and luscious version of a Bloody Mary. Fresh herbs and fruit accompany the cocktails, and flavoured G&Ts come in jam jars. They’re trying a concept of allowing guests to be their own mixologists, getting a bottle of Skyy plus all the botanicals, tonics, cut fruit, freshly picked herbs and glasses to play with. This is a student area, too, so buckets of beers and ciders are attached to tables and there’s draught, including Mad Giant from down the road. Wines range from dirt cheap to impressive and are all available by the glass. Don’t be surprised if the bartenders mention the booze prices in kazi talk: so many tigers (R10s), chokos (R20s) or clippers (R100s). It’s a kind of talking point, especially for visitors from afar.

The outdoor deck. Photo supplied.

The outdoor deck. Photo supplied.


Waiting staff wear tees with zwakhala on the backs. The bar is slick, though the table service can be a bit sluggish.


The deck by day. Photo supplied.

The deck by day. Photo supplied.

The ambience is thanks to more than just an interesting and well-designed space: The Immigrant shares trendy Grove Square with 86 Public and Velo. People hang out by day or by evening; it’s very close to Doubleshot, the Neighbourgoods Market and Juta street with all its coloured metal trees and bright little shops. There are busker musos performing and people clapping. Inside is a graffiti feature and a long wooden wall being transformed into a 3D work. It’s a light-hearted, bright and fun space and, of course, there’s the big circular bar around which people revolve.


*Zwakhala can be loosely translated as an invitation to come hang out, in kazi flow.

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


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