In place of what once was Darren O’Donovan’s* Cube Tasting Kitchen and The Cosmopolitan Bar in Maboneng is Sphere Monk Fine Food Restaurant, a big venue that winds through rooms and spaces. On the menu is a five- or seven-course dinner – but is it worth it? We took it upon ourselves to find out.
Serves: Artful but unpretentious food
Best for: Affordable degustation lunches and dinners with live jazz
Cost: A five-course dinner is R420 (R600 paired with wines)
Star ratings: Food and wine 5, service 5, ambience 4
If there’s one major surprise at Sphere Monk – and there are a few – it’s that Liam Bloy, the talented executive chef, is but 26. He has serious credentials, however, having trained in Switzerland and worked at double Michelin-starred restaurant Didier de Courten and Cube itself, before taking over the kitchen of the new space.
An à la cart menu is being phased out to concentrate on the three-, five- and seven-course dégustation menus Liam puts together with such verve. You chose options from the Start, Middle and Finish sections of the same menu, whether you’re having the three-course lunch or going bigger with five or seven courses. It’s quite an exciting adventure.
The servingware differs per dish to show off the elements on the plate. A perfectly cooked strip of salmon with delicious crispy skin might arrive alongside a rich cauliflower Chantilly with melon-and-mint pulp, papaya gel, and sumac dust delicately powdered over everything. Another starter could be a dish of firm pink prawns with sunny saffron butter and a greatly surprising and outstandingly tart pineapple purée.
On my visit, pineapple reappears as a salt with a crisp squid-ink tuille, alongside ceviche of red snapper with cheerful, peppery nasturtiums from the garden. The gardens also provide succulent herbs for a smoky roasted aubergine dish.
For utterly unbeatable perfection, the raviolo of goat’s cheese and baby peas with a sauce of cream and white wine is something you will never want to forget. So too, is the risotto with gorgonzola – which silences arguments about which risotto is the best. A bright scarlet-and-pink dish of rhubarb gel ice cream with jammy pickle and a dusting of black pepper cleanses the palate.
End on a special note with the likes of delicate but exquisite vanilla crème brûlée with slightly bitter zest, limoncello cream and citrus crumble, or a layout of strawberry edibles with balsamic ice cream and beautiful meringue shards.
Wines are suggested to match your dishes, but if you don’t opt for the pairing, your waiter will happily find an all-rounder for your meal. (The Tugela River chardonnay worked beautifully.) All staff are clued up on the bottles in the cellar downstairs.
Denzel Mtshali is still here, a favourite from Cube days. He knows about everything, pretty much, whether it be food, drink or people, and is humorous and interesting in his own quiet, sparkling way. Service at Sphere Monk has its own confidence-inspiring pace, and is helpful and friendly. Staff might even make fun suggestions about the what-to-do-nexts and transport. Front-of-house Andrei Damane is full of fun and efficiency.
There are four spaces in which to dine. The main room with the kitchen on view is decorated with local fabrics on the walls. The ante room has a lovely feeling of being half in- and half outdoors, and is my favourite. Artworks adorn all the walls. Then there’s the garden, and the jazz bar room, where the vibey bands play in the evenings, though the music is heard throughout. While the food is very fine here, the atmosphere is approachable and not stuffy at all.
Sphere was the nickname of jazz legend Thelonius Monk, whose jazz advice is featured as the motto for the restaurant: ‘You play what you want and let the public pick up on what you’re doing.’
Brought to you by Retail Capital, sponsors of the Eat Out Retail Capital New Restaurant of the Year Award.
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*This has been edited to remove the reference to Dario De Angeli, who was the chef at The Bar at Cosmopolitan but not at Cube Tasting Kitchen.