Glass has a peach of a time in Jozie, South Africa

REFERRING to the city of Johannesburg as Jo-burg is merely convenient, reducing its four syllables to two, but calling it Jozie seeks to soften the syllables and bring a feminine touch to its harsh reputation.  Not surprising, perhaps, in view of bad press that turned the city’s name into a synonym for disorder, the place where scars of past injustices were writ large and plain to see.

The garden at The Peech HotelThe garden at The Peech Hotel

The scars are still there but it’s a sign of changing times that a Johannesburg Day Tour brings you to neighbourhoods like Hillbrow – once evocative of Baltimore street scenes from The Wire – and to the part of the township of Soweto that has developed into a tourist attraction. The tour also covers the searing Apartheid Museum where your randomly assigned ticket allows entrance through either a whites-only or a non-whites turnstile.

A bedroom at The PeechA bedroom at The Peech

Emblematic of Jozie’s fresh appeal is the boutique hotel that Blacklane will smoothly deliver you to from the airport: built in 1948 as a family home, rooms have been added to either side of a lovely garden where a grand oak, olive and birch trees, African lilies and buddleia lend the kind of natural grace that so many brand-name hotels palpably lack. Breakfast in this garden setting is a relaxed affair – melt-in-your mouth croissants, waiter service –and when you add in the stylish bedrooms and friendly service then staying here is a stress-free pleasure. In a city where names resonate with significance, The Peech (the owner-manager’s surname is Peech) is a most aptly named hotel.

Close to The Peech is Moyo, an adventurous example of new culinary trends in the city. The restaurant’s location, Melrose Arch, is a generic shopping complex of little interest but Moyo’s offerings include a starter of the protein-rich and edible caterpillar that feeds on leaves of mopane trees and which is eaten daily across southern Africa. They are off-puttingly called worms on the menu but, fried to a crispy surface and wriggle-free, they serve as a tasty hors d’oeuvre before Senegalese line fish, prawns from Mozambique or Nigerian meat kebabs.

Chico RestaurantChico Restaurant

The importance of names is again in evidence at Cafe de Sol Botanico, a restaurant that is airy and edifying as a botanical sun ought to be. Its adjoining bar, The Landmark, provides a shady oasis for cocktails while the dining area is blessed with natural light and pastel colours. The food is Italian, hence the obligatory pizzas and pastas, but the finessed starters and salads are what steal the show: prawns wrapped delicately in angel hair share a plate with beetroot tartar and a homemade mayonnaise; a bacon and pear salad with Gorgonzola may confusingly mention Dolcelatte on the menu but this does not distract from the heavenly taste. On the restaurant’s walls, adorned with botanical prints, appears the da Vinci-attributed quotation, ‘simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’. It could serve as a motto for Café de Sol Botanico’s approach to good food in a sunny climate.

Lots of space at Marble Restaurant in JohannesburgLots of space at Marble Restaurant in Johannesburg

Johannesburg’s dining-out scene is developing at a fast pace and a visit to Marble Restaurant bears this out. Cool and contemporary in its appeal – art work by Krisjan Rossouw, open kitchen, steel girders, plaster cornices – Marble looks like a new London restaurant somewhere in the City – though nothing could match the length of its long bar and huge glass-fronted space that makes it feel like an extremely posh refectory. The menu is cosmopolitan: a starter featuring kudu with a truffle dressing; super salads; Cape Malay curry; seafood and steaks; and a wine list that goes well beyond the borders of South Africa.

Style and comfort at Clico BoutiqueStyle and comfort at Clico Boutique

Like the Peech, the Clico Boutique Hotel is a small suburban hotel, once a family home now extended to consist of nine large rooms, all with balconies overlooking the pool and a garden filled with jacaranda, grape vines and lush flowerbeds. The bedrooms are stylish and sophisticated and its dining room looks out over a manicured courtyard garden. Clico Restaurant distinguishes itself with an evening tasting menu with accompanying local wines.

Line-Fish-with-pea-lemon-wood-fired-celeriac-grilled-green-vegetables.Line-Fish with pea lemon wood-fired celeriac grilled green vegetables

Johannesburg’s new shopping scene is well represented by Nelson Mandela Square and its collection of  fashionable, upmarket stores. There are numerous places for food and, judging by the queues outside, Tashas is proving the most popular of them all. One section of it, The Flamingo Room, is lavishly decorated with pink walls, curved pink velvet seating, gorgeous inlaid marble floors, extravagant lighting and a quiet buzz of waiters flying about. Every guest is greeted with a glass of prosecco and the extensive menu features a stylish mix of modern European with African touches: springbok tartare served with pickled waterblommetjies, a common dish made from the cape pondweed plant, is certainly new to me.

Nelson Mandela SquareNelson Mandela Square

Nelson Mandela Square is dominated by a six-metre-high bronze figure which, when unveiled in 2004, became the first public statue of the hero himself. He is depicted in a dance pose which became iconic of the man’s spirit – a side-to-side jig with his elbows held up– a positive jive that accords perfectly with the on-going and exciting transformation of Johannesburg into Jozie.

 by Sean Sheehan



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