High-end restaurants in Johannesburg are offering $6,700 Chateau Petrus and fresh lobster for big business spenders.
Chefs in Africa’s richest city say expense accounts are still holding up with mining companies profiting from soaring prices and banks from interest rates at 30-year lows.
Here are our 10 choices, in alphabetical order, for business dining in the city.
1. Annica’s: Michelangelo Towers, Maude Street, Sandton, Johannesburg. Information: +27-11-884-9445, http://www.annicas.co.za
What: Mediterranean-styled deli.
Why: The menu ranges from eggs hollandaise to pasta, ‘designer burgers’ served with straw potato cakes, salads for the health-conscious, shellfish, steaks and a great stack of desserts. According to one investment banker, who works just down the road, it’s “discreet.”
Where: In a new section of the Michelangelo Towers Mall complex, close to the FTV Fashion Bar and the Mercedes Benz Boutique for people who want to wear their car labels.
When: It’s always open for breakfast and lunch and serves dinner from Tuesday to Saturday.
Bar: Yes, it bills itself as a cocktail bar. While it has a clinical look, it serves classics such as mojitos and margaritas and offers signature cocktails including rose-petal Martini.
Private room: Yes, one that can seat up to 25 people.
Sound level: An even babble.
2. Assaggi: Post Office Centre, 30 Rudd Road, Illovo, Johannesburg. Information: +27-11-268-1370.
What: Northern Italian.
Why: Subtle pastas, zucchini fries, lots of fresh herbs, an exceptional asparagus and brie lasagne and even rabbit.
Where: Not a swank area. Parking is off Rudd Road behind the Thrupps Centre, next to the Trafalgar apartments. Head for the Post Office sign in the nondescript mall, take a left and you may be pleasantly surprised.
When: Summer lunchtimes with crisp Italian wines.
Private room: No.
Sound level: Busy, still easy on the ears.
3. Browns: 21 Wessels Road, Rivonia, Johannesburg. Information: +27-11-803-7533, http://www.browns.co.za
What: Refined dining with game, South African fare and an eclectic mix of dishes.
Why: The wine cellar is well stocked. It used to be very popular until Sandton, which is just down the drag, attracted more restaurants than diners knew what to do with. Nonetheless Browns remains a favorite for year-end parties and out-of-town guests trying South African food such as bobotie or kudu.
Where: At the top of Rivonia, close to the N1 highway and on a quiet backstreet.
When: Lunch on days when it’s not raining and you can sit outside pretending you don’t really work at all.
Private room: Yes, a number of rooms seating from 18 people to 100. There are also many seating areas, some relatively private.
Sound level: Cocktails and conference crowds can get rowdy but the main dining areas are quiet without being reverential.
4. Le Canard: 163 Rivonia Road, Morningside, Sandton, Johannesburg. Information: +27-11-884-4597, http://www.lecanard.co.za
Why: The setting is peaceful, even with it being in the heart of traffic-mad Sandton. The use of mobile phones isn’t allowed. The service and food haven’t had rave reviews this year. Nonetheless, on the menu you’ll find classics such as lobster bisque, vichyssoise, steak tartare and the signature dish -- a free range duck breast with honey and pepper.
Where: On Rivonia Road, opposite the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
When: Business guests might find it a tad too romantic in the evenings, so best go for lunch. Unless someone is harboring other intentions, that is.
Private rooms: Yes, seating from 10 to 40, and there’s a smoking section.
Sound level: Pretty hushed.
5. The Grill House: Shop 70, The Firs, Hyatt Shopping Centre, Corner Oxford Road and Bierman Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg. Information: +27-11-880-3945, http://thegrill.co.za
Why: This staple of the Johannesburg dining scene never goes out of favor. The service is good, the wine cellar is fabulous and the steaks are a carnivore’s dream. If you’re trying to get into the newspaper, this is where editors from Avusa Ltd.’s Business Day and the Sunday Times hang out at lunch time.
Where: In The Firs mall as you exit from the Hyatt Hotel.
When: Lunch or dinner and it’s always good to book. Late-night revelries can always be continued at the owners’ bar next door, Katzy’s, where live bands play. And if you really can’t get enough, the proprietors have also opened meat.etc across the way, a butchery which caters to braai-mad (read “barbecue”) South Africans.
Private room: Many. Call well ahead to book them.
Sound level: A comfortable buzz.
6. Koi: 24 Central, corner Gwen Lane and Fredman Drive, Sandton, Johannesburg. Information: +27-11-883-7247, http://www.koirest.co.za
What: Contemporary Asian.
Why: Soft, sticky dim sum, DIY crispy Peking duck pancakes, fresh sushi and hot sake on a cold day are all good reasons.
Where: In the heart of Sandton’s bank-land, nestled next to Deutsche Bank AG, and surrounded by FirstRand Group Ltd., SBG Securities and Johannesburg’s stock exchange in the popular restaurant complex known simply as 24 Central. The restaurant has also opened a branch in Rosebank, attached to a mall called The Firs. It offers outdoor seating, ideal for summertime.
When: The dining room during lunch service is when it’s most likely you’ll spot a rival talking to a company you’d like to bag for yourself.
When we asked 10 of Johannesburg executives for their top choices for business dining in the city, Koi came second. It was top choice for a relaxed meal by Sizwe Nxasana, chief executive of FirstRand.
Bar: Yes, and there’s a sushi bar.
Private room: No.
Sound level: Chatty.
7. Mastrantonio: Illovo Square, off Rivonia Road, Illovo, Johannesburg. Information: +27-11-268-6754, http://www.mastrantonio.com/mastrantonio
Why: If you’re friendly enough, or famous enough, the owners will ask you what you feel like eating and tailor a dish to make you feel at home. Choices include veal, chicken, pasta and seasonal salads laden with Italian cheeses. The fresh garlic, chili and parmesan served with every meal are also winners. Cabinet ministers such as Trevor Manuel have been spotted.
Where: Tucked at the back of the Illovo Centre, on the second floor and well out of sight.
When: In winter or summer. When it’s raining or when it’s sunny. The only prerequisite for going to this restaurant is a love for delicate, flavor-loaded Italian food. This place is a top pick for Absa Capital’s chief executive, Stephen van Coller.
Private room: There is a semi-private room which can seat up to 25 people.
Sound level: Calm.
8. Pigalle: 4th Floor, Michelangelo Towers, Maude Street, Sandton, Johannesburg. Information: +27-11-884-8899, http://www.pigallerestaurants.co.za
What: Fine dining with a leaning toward Mediterranean fare and seafood.
Why: This is the place for people who need to impress people. Skills required include the ability to wield an escargot fork, slurp down bouillabaisse, lap up lobster thermidor and utterly blow the budget on a bottle of Chateau Petrus at 48,000 rand a pop ($6,110).
Where: In Sandton it’s tucked around the corner from Nelson Mandela Square with its own entrance off Maude Street. In Melrose Arch, home to the newest Pigalle, the restaurant is upstairs from the most recently built piazza.
Pigalle came top in the informal Bloomberg survey of Johannesburg executives. The head of Old Mutual Plc’s South African business, Kuseni Dlamini, is a fan of the Melrose Arch eatery.
When: The Sandton branch is buzzy at lunch. The Melrose restaurant is more conducive to evening dining.
Bar: Yes, though heading out into the square may be more enjoyable.
Private room: Yes, in Sandton, and it can double up as a smoking room. It seats 40 people.
Sound level: Quiet.
9. Tashas: Shop 14, The Piazza, Melrose Arch, Melrose, Johannesburg. Information: +27-11-684-1781, http://www.tashas.co.za
What: Boutique cafe.
Why: It’s a place for executives in their pinstripes to feel a bit more hip while enjoying an array of menu choices.
Where: In Melrose Arch’s new piazza. It’s right on the square allowing for loads of people watching -- essential for a business lunch gone boring. Tashas has also opened in Rosebank. Tashas came third in our informal survey of executives.
When: Pretty much anytime. With 35 choices for breakfast, a range of quesadillas, Turkish flat breads and pastas, salads, light meals, coffees and cocktails, this place is open from early till late. If you make it to breakfast in Melrose Arch you may spot First National Bank’s Chief Executive Officer, Michael Jordaan, who lives nearby.
Private room: No.
Sound level: Noisy inside, a bit quieter outside.
10. Ten 2nd Avenue: No. 10, Second Avenue, Houghton Estate, Johannesburg. Information: +27-11-853-2400, http://www.houghtonestate.com
What: A fine dining restaurant on an estate that also offers accommodation and boardroom facilities.
Why: Very private and a favorite of Tito Mboweni, former governor of the South African Reserve Bank, current chairman of AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. and an adviser for Goldman Sachs Group Inc. The chefs know his top choice for lunch is a boiled, free-range chicken, which thankfully isn’t on the menu.
Where: Nestled behind big walls and down a long driveway hemmed in by luscious plants and trees in Johannesburg’s most affluent suburb. It’s just a couple of blocks away from Nelson Mandela’s house.
When: Breakfast, lunch or dinner are all catered for. Call ahead.
Private room: Yes, loads of them.
Sound level: As loud or quiet as you want your room to be.
(Renee Bonorchis is a reporter for Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are her own. This report is the 10th of the 2011 series of Bloomberg Dine & Deal. The articles survey top cities and offer informed tips on good restaurants for business and pleasure. For more Dine & Deal reviews, click here.)