Chic dining in Jo’burg’s Nelson Mandela Square

By Peter Muiruri | Thursday, Nov 17th 2016 at 08:28
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Sandton, the exclusive suburb in Johannesburg, South Africa, carries the enviable tag as Africa’s richest square mile. This is not a cliche meant to raise its profile unnecessarily. It is Jozi’s chief business hub. All major banks in the country have a home in Sandton, so do global hotel chains as well as the busy Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

But Sandton is also home to great dining. The piazza known as the Nelson Mandela Square is hemmed on all sides by renowned eateries catering for tastes from all over the world.

The Butcher Shop and Grill is perhaps one of the most famous eateries here with a rich history to boot. The joke in South Africa is that a visitor comes to the country for three things: climb the Table Mountains, see the Big Five and eat steak at the Butcher Shop and Grill. It stocks an average of three-and-a -half million bottles of wine at any given time for its 30,000 monthly patrons.

The Butcher Shop was established and run by the Pick family who have had experience running meat business for decades. Alan Pick, 68, the proprietor, started handling meat from the age of five, tutored by his butcher father, Dave, and his business-savvy mother, Fay, the first female butcher in South Africa.

My favourite pick here is the beef biltong, the salty, aged meat that reels in meat lovers from far and wide. In addition, the Butcher Shop serves an array of game meat, including ostrich, kudu, and springbok.

Then there is Trumps. Before you go hammer and tongs at me, there is no relationship between this eatery and America’s President-elect Donald Trump. I, too, was taken aback by the name, never mind that I was visiting the restaurant for the second time. “No, it’s Trumps, not TRUMP!” a young waiter reminded me with a note of finality.

Like the Butcher Shop, Trumps too is a family-oriented business, started by the Martin Brothers – Dennis, Michael and Allen in 1994. They term their ‘beer and beef’ establishment as a “destination, an experience, a lifestyle”.

Directly overlooking the water feature at the centre of the square, Trumps is a favourite dining place where Karan beef, prime cut steaks, succulent ribs, seafoods and other gourmet options delight the palate.

Big Mouth

I am not sure what inspired this restaurant’s name but it must attract people with a big appetite. Big Mouth is a blend of colours – from the black, steel shop fronts, a white marble sushi bar and a deep blue seating area that again leads to the big square.

The vast repertoire of culinary treats range from grilled seafood to gourmet burgers to a selection of sushi and sashimi. For an African theme, look out for the oxtail pot with red wine, chicken wings and livers or the maple-glazed pork ribs. Wash down your meal here with Lichi It To Me, a classic cocktail unique to the Big Mouth.

Still, in this lovely square, is Cilantros, with a lovely ambience and a private dining experience set the newly-opened Cilantros apart from the crowd. Gold colours flood your eyes, heralding a foretaste of ‘meals to come’. Evergreens form a canopy, further whetting your appetite.

No hurried meals here, as I found out. A pre-booking will give time for the waiters to lay your table just the way you like it. And don’t expect every meal to come with the flavor of cilantro, the spice after which the hotel is named. It is the sautéing of vegetables and the flambéing of the meats that leave lasting impressions here. A glass of Meerlust Rubicon is all you need to wrap up a busy day in Sandton.

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