By BRUCE DENNILL
Café Del Sol Botanico, Bryanston Shopping Centre, Johannesburg
The Café Del Sol brand has always had a good reputation – the original restaurant, Café Del Sol Classico, opened in Olivedale in 2007 and I still haven’t been able to get a reservation (not least because I generally forget to phone more than a week in advance, by which time all the tables are booked).
The Café Del Sol Botanico in Byanston is a later edition, with a décor theme in keeping with its name – a living moss wall (carefully cultured, note, not rising damp) behind the reception counter and similarly botanical motifs on the wall art, upholstery and screens that separate different areas. If you’re walking past the entrance without paying too much attention, you might glance in and suspect the place is a high-end day spa, but its other major feature should soon disabuse you of that notion.
The Landmark bar lives up to its name, too, its interior immediately striking, with copper-framed lighting, leather booth seats and floor-to-ceiling shelving behind the bar, filled with both popular and exotic tipples that are expertly manipulated by the staff. Across the top third of one entire wall is a cocktail menu that demands close perusal and is a major factor in encouraging return visits (along with the place’s elegance and the warm ambience).
Enjoying an aperitif before a good meal is a wonderfully civilised thing to do, but even if top dining establishments, there can be a feeling that you’re more shunted into an annexe for a drink than prioritised during this part of your evening. The Landmark is a destination in itself – the food will be great if you get there, but if for some reason you don’t, you’ll have had a great experience regardless.
A suggestion, provided you’re not married to more traditional wine pairing or similar: have an unusual cocktail before you’re guided through to your table in the restaurant, adjacent to the bar, and then have another with mains, tempered by a glass or three of water and perhaps a coffee to finish. That’s not the established protocol, but that hardly matters – the cocktails are fantastic.
For a fine dining establishment, Café Del Sol Botanico has a relatively large menu – a boon for those who don’t like to be too heavily prescribed to simply because the trendy thing to do is to charge more for less. And the document itself is festive, illustrated with still more plant-based designs.
There’s an array of lovely dishes to choose from – salads, pasta, risotto, gnocchi, pizza, beef, chicken and fish mains and delectable desserts. We go with duck spring rolls and a halloumi stack to start; Wellington con pancetta and a brandy peppercorn fillet steak for mains and a berry pavlova and coffee crème brulée for dessert. There are fancy culinary terms to describe the clever, creative things the chef has done with each of these, but the short, sharp endorsement is this: this is extraordinary food, with the steak perhaps the best I’ve ever had. It’s the sort of meal that has you making slightly inappropriate noises to express your delight, flurbling and haffleblabbing as you chew, while your wife looks at you with a creased brow, wondering if there’s a medic in shouting distance.
The prices, while making a visit to the establishment a milestone event for most, rather than a once-a-week ritual, are entirely worth paying for what you get, which is perhaps the best thing to be able to say about a fine dining restaurant. And even if you can’t splash out too often, you’ll want to book your next milestone evening – make one up if you need to – before you leave the building.