The great culinary adventure of Duncan (aka Wombles) and Yvette Barker started in Zimbabwe in 1984. In their early twenties, the couple opened a pub called Wombles, where their Zimbabwean neighbours could enjoy hearty pub fare over a drink or two. In the years since, the couple has moved from Zimbabwe to Australia and all the way back to Johannesburg, working in the food and hospitality industry before finally putting down roots in Parktown North, Johannesburg.
They decided to pay homage to their humble beginnings by keeping the Wombles name and the African colonialist décor, but that’s where the restaurant’s resemblance to its flagship ends. Twelve years ago the couple added a veranda-cum-dining area to a Johannesburg house and started a culinary legacy that many locals would never want to do without.
The fare at Wombles is simply exquisite. Diners are welcomed with a basket of warm, fresh bread rolls and three types of butter, including garlic and anchovy. It’s very tempting to fill up on bread, but one look at the menu is reason enough to hold out for other courses. The goat’s cheese mousse is a thing of beauty and wonder. Topped with an olive and caper tapenade, the creamy dish is served with finely chopped sweet peppers and paprika sprinkled on the plate.
Wombles promotes itself as the best steakhouse in Johannesburg, and the menu echoes this sentiment. Meat lovers have a choice between no fewer than eleven cuts of meat, char-grilled to perfection. This is where you take your foreign friends to show off South Africa’s world-famous beef.
In addition to a comprehensive offering of meat, diners are spoiled for choice with poultry, fish and pasta dishes and a fresh salad or two for the weight-watchers.
Stored in wine racks that line the walls of the gorgeous restaurant, the Wombles wine collection is varied and comprehensive. Consisting of a wide variety of award-winning local wines and a few imported French champagnes, the wine list draws much of its inspiration from the Platter’s Wine Guide, with ratings indicated next to each wine featured in the famous guide. Prices range between R110 and go all the way up to R1550, so take your platinum card.
While much can be said for the food and wine at Wombles, the service is the absolute highlight of the experience. Few Johannesburg-based eateries can hold a candle to the restaurant’s well-informed and highly attentive staff. According to Yvette, staff turnover is only an issue when waiters and kitchen staff are poached by other establishments. The diner’s absolute comfort and happiness seem to be the foremost priority of the Wombles team. It’s magical.
The Barkers found a way to make an African theme unobtrusive – not something many can say. Focusing more on textures and colours than prints and animal replicas, the decor is a stylish reminder of the romance of the bush. The African theme is toned down by the restaurant’s red, wine-lined walls and large, baroque-style chairs. This is a restaurant for a special occasion.
By Kristia van Heerden