Marie-Lais Emond heads to POP, the new champagne bar in Greenside that has everybody talking. Surprisingly, it’s not only the bubbly that got her attention.
Average main course: R145
Parking: On the street outside
Best for: Tasting champagnes and bubblies, and exciting food
Star rating: Food 4, service 5, ambience 4
Greenside’s restaurant scene looks bright. Many looked forward to POP as a wonderful concept for trying more local and French bubblies, but the food has taken us by surprise. Chef Daniel van Niekerk is a man hell-bent on a South African Michelin star. He joins the owners, Zak Jansen and Danie Herbst, in riveting the crowds with a whole new experience in Joburg.
The food is bistro fare in the main, but with special attention to taste and detail. POP hasn’t been open a long time, but the menu was long in development. ‘Raw bar and snacks’ are on offer alongside the many champagnes and MCCs, and on the flip side are ‘main pleasures’, followed by three ‘sweet aftermaths’ and some wines.
You can make a meal of the raw bar offering, which includes two perfect tartares, each topped with house-pickled red onion and fresh gremolata, and accompanied by garlic-rubbed bruschetta. The beef is exquisite in its egg-bedecked glory; the rich and silky salmon is perfect with champagne.
Oyster options are very affordably priced and go oh-so well with the champagnes, especially the version with wasabi, ginger and touch of rice-wine vinegar aioli. Then there are salads, carpaccio, dusted biltong, and marinated olives – the herb-and-garlic jumbo green ones arrive with bruschetta dolloped with dill-and-caper crème fraîche. Nothing is ordinary.
As for mains, the prawns look grand but there’s a beef dish called Lomo al Trapo that really appeals. It’s a traditional Colombian salt-crusted tenderloin that’s grilled inside a cloth; ours is served rare and tender, with a tomato, olive and herb butter, crispy roasted butternut and chips. For the fish cake fans, POP’s offering is moreish to the extreme, made with the fish of the day, snoek in our case, with sweet potato and delivered on a beautiful plate with a bacon-and-pea purée, lightly shaved green apple, fennel and mint.
Because of the dedication in the POP kitchen to from-scratch ingredients, accompaniments tend to be features in themselves. The charcuterie platter is just beautiful – full of all the desirable things. Vegetarians would appreciate the journey plate.
Comforting yet trendy desserts of Oreo cheesecake and sticky banoffee pie bow to a superior champagne jellied fruit terrine that knocks it out of the park with presentation and tastebud-bursting splendour.
Champagne and MCCs rule, of course, although there are 15 still wines, six of them whites, including the luscious Jean Daneel chenin. Of the reds, there are some Asara wines and a 2012 Highlands Road pinot noir that can be ordered by the glass.
On the champagne and MCC side, there are even more by the glass, including the gorgeous organic Avondale Armilla and another beauty on the tongue, the Genevieve Blanc de Blanc. This is the place to taste-test bubblies and compare with the French. Most of the French champagnes are Louis Roederer, with utterly divine Billecart-Salmon and some Liébart-Régnier. The SA ones are from all over and diverse in style, including a few faves like Pongracz and Krone and the respected 2011 Clos Malverne Ellie, but there are some wonderfully unusual discoveries too. It’s an irresistible come-back lure, especially since the MCCs in general are so affordable.
At POP you can choose to drink from three kinds of flutes, two kinds of coupes or Riedel champagne glasses. Part of the fun is trying different glasses with different bubblies.
The glam waitress in her special doe-coloured capelet turns out to be so fascinating we want her to join the table. Eunice Khumalo has us trying things we’d never planned – and then thanking her that we did. The service is thoughtful and seemingly unhurried.
POP takes the posh out of champagne and introduces the fun. It’s immediately engaging and amusing, from the moment you arrive outside and see the gold bunny and ever-bright astroturf and then notice people sitting on swings. Inside it has a French look, made a little more local with a row of gilded bokkie heads with chain necklaces above black-glass café tables. The unisex loos have champagne buckets as hand basins – it’s no surprise that the chief sound is laughter. Rim & Rubber is around the corner, however, so if you don’t care for big-bike street sounds, get a table inside.
The crowd seems mixed, from trendies to big rugby okes, only slightly more women than men, and no-one very young or very old.
When you choose your glasses, you’ll also notice a lime-green opaque flute. That one’s for swigging your champagne, from the swings.
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