Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner (on my birthday).

Note: The title of this post refers to an American advertising campaign for beef. I’m no fan of the American beef industry but the slogan fits the post.

I recently had coffee in Rosebank (a shopping district just north of Melville) with my blogger friend Jane. After coffee we popped into The Grillhouse — one of the most popular steakhouses in Joburg — to say hello to Jane’s friend David, the Grillhouse’s operations manager.

David asked me if I’d ever dined at the Grillhouse. “I’m too poor to eat steak,” I told him. “The closest I’ve come since I moved to Joburg is a hamburger at Spur.”

“If you can afford to eat at Spur, you can afford to eat here,” David said.

I told David I had recently written a blog post about Spur. We agreed this was a golden opportunity for a head-to-head comparison: The Grillhouse vs. Spur.

A cigar-store Indian guards the entrance to Katzy’s, a nightclub next to the Grillhouse that is under the same ownership. Turns out the Grillhouse’s similarity to Spur pretty much ends with the Indian.

I’m not a frequent steak-eater. But my birthday was approaching. What better way to celebrate my first South African birthday than with an enormous hunk of South African meat?

Joe and I arrived at the Grillhouse, famished, at 8:30 last Friday evening. (Friday birthdays are the best. I love celebrating in a crowded restaurant.)

Joe chats with another un-politically-correct statue at the Grillhouse entrance.

We sat down and perused the menu. David is right: Grillhouse prices are similar to Spur’s. A 200-gram sirloin is R87 (about $12) at the Grillhouse; the same size sirloin is R80 at Spur (about $1 cheaper). A 200-gram fillet is R107 (about $15) at the Grillhouse; R95 (about $13.50) at Spur. The cheeseburger I ate at Spur cost R56 ($8). Grillhouse’s burger costs R55.

There are a few special items on the Grillhouse menu that are quite a bit more expensive than anything available at Spur. But let’s be frank: Considering the quality gap between these two restaurants, the fact that their prices fall into a remotely similar range is remarkable.

We took the advice of Mendie, our waiter, and ordered the house specialties: I chose the fillet-on-the-bone (R180, or about $26), and Joe had the prime rib (R165, or about $24).

Flames flare on the Grillhouse grill.

Our meals arrived promptly. I was so excited to chow that I didn’t properly photograph the plates. (I was also a bit tipsy. Unlike many Joburg restaurants, the Grillhouse sells good, affordable wine by the glass.)

Joe looks bewildered by the amount of food on the table. You can’t tell in this bad photo, but his prime rib was twice the size of my hand.

The steaks were accompanied by a “mustard tray,” with six different mustards and sauces. The Hot English Mustard was my fave. (Photo courtesy of Joe.) 

We dug in. Both steaks were juicy, tender, and tasty. The spice rub on my fillet enhanced the meat to perfection. The mashed potatoes and veggies were great, too — I loved the green beans with spicy atcha.

There were surprisingly few leftovers considering how much we started with.

Artistic doggie-bag. (Photo courtesy of Joe.)

We were really too full for dessert, but Mendie arranged something special in honor of my birthday. (By the way, Mendie’s service was impeccable. Mendie, I hope you’re reading this. You’re awesome and I’m a little bit in love with you.)

No one uses birthday candles around here anymore. Only sparklers. (Photo courtesy of Joe.)

Can you tell I was enjoying my birthday? (Photo courtesy of Joe.)

So ended the best 37th birthday dinner I’ve ever had.

Our dinner at the Grillhouse reinforced an observation I’ve made frequently since moving to Joburg: Fine dining is affordable here, while fine food-shopping is not. Dinner for two at a comparable steakhouse in the U.S., like Morton’s or Ruth’s Chris, would cost double or triple what our Grillhouse meal cost. On the other hand, food-shopping at high-end South African supermarkets, like Woolworth’s, is as expensive or more so than comparable places in America. Sometimes it’s actually cheaper to eat out in Joburg than it is to stay home. What gives?

Anyway, thanks to the Grillhouse staff for a fantastic birthday meal. I suppose a true food critic would balance her praise with some kind of criticism. But I honestly can’t come up with anything.

I’ll never eat at Spur again.

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27 Comments

  • Reply thirdeyemom July 12, 2011 at 12:22 am

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Liked your post! 🙂

  • Reply Tommy July 12, 2011 at 12:31 am

    We were in Jo’burg on my birthday. Johnson and Anita took us to the Grillhouse. Excellent choice!

    • Reply 2summers July 12, 2011 at 10:53 am

      Anita was actually the first person to tell me about the Grillhouse and how good the steaks are there. She was definitely right.

  • Reply Clare Appleyard July 12, 2011 at 1:13 am

    *Gasp* You ate at Spur? I can’t believe Joe led you down the garden path like that….!

    Funnily enough, Davina and I ate at The Grillhouse for my birthday last year, one of the best steaks I’ve ever had.

    Great post H 🙂

    • Reply 2summers July 12, 2011 at 10:52 am

      Thanks! Well, we kind of went to Spur as a joke, mainly so I could blog about it. Thanks for reading!

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough July 12, 2011 at 1:47 am

    The meal sounds fabulous! I rarely eat steak, but sometimes it is wonderful for a change! And you post title is perfect!

    By the way, we had similar expereinces in Vietnam (not Haiti, where EVERYTHING was expensive). But in Vietnam it was often less expensive to eat out–a wonderul excuse for not having to cook and not having to clean up afterward, either!

    Happy birthday, Heather.

    • Reply 2summers July 12, 2011 at 10:55 am

      Thanks, Kathy. I love cheap Asian food! Vietnam must have been heaven.

  • Reply Pule July 12, 2011 at 7:41 am

    Happy belated girl…

  • Reply janeyfromjoburg July 12, 2011 at 8:04 am

    Happy Birthday!

    • Reply 2summers July 12, 2011 at 10:56 am

      Thanks Jane. Hope your trip was great. See you soon.

  • Reply Joburg Expat July 12, 2011 at 11:53 am

    Ah – now I have a plan for my birthday dinner on Sunday – thanks for the timely post! It was my husband’s birthday yesterday and we were planning on something nice, but when traffic was standing still just outside of our neighborhood we turned around and went to Piatto – not something I’ll waste time blogging about!

    By the way, you are so right about your “restaurant vs food shopping” comparison. I don’t get it either. Yes, it is sometimes cheaper to go out than to just buy a few things at Woolie’s (though I LOVE their quality and am not sure I ever found the same in the US). How can that be possible?

    • Reply 2summers July 12, 2011 at 11:58 am

      I’m glad I’ve provided you with a birthday plan. When you go, find David (the manager) and tell him I sent you 🙂

      You’re right about Woolies. I keep telling myself I won’t shop there anymore in an effort to save money. But I can’t stay away!

  • Reply leeschmidt July 12, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    You should try Turn n Tender in Parktown North. It’s the best place to eat steak in Johannesburg. And they have a variety of decadent meats to choose from. Like ostrich or a hunk of tender lamb. Too good.

    • Reply 2summers July 12, 2011 at 3:12 pm

      You’re the second commenter to recommend Turn n Tender. It must be legit. Next stop on my Joburg steak tour.

  • Reply Ra'ees July 12, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    I would also recommend Wombles in Parktown North 🙂

    • Reply 2summers July 12, 2011 at 5:38 pm

      I need more than one birthday a year to try out all these restaurants!

  • Reply Far Away Books July 13, 2011 at 1:54 am

    Ok, I may have to give up vegetarian life — now.

    Loved the sparkler!

    Hope your best birthday turns into your best year yet.

    • Reply 2summers July 13, 2011 at 10:02 am

      Thanks! I have high hopes for this year.

  • Reply Joshi Mukard July 13, 2011 at 7:13 am

    Belated Birthday Wishes, Heather. May you have a wonderful, wonderful year ahead.

    • Reply 2summers July 13, 2011 at 10:02 am

      Thanks Joshi. I hope you and your family are well.

    • Reply 2summers July 13, 2011 at 9:23 pm

      Thanks Lisa. That’s really nice to hear. I guess I should do more eating out!

  • Reply eremophila July 14, 2011 at 1:38 am

    A very belated Happy Happy Birthday Wishes♥

  • Reply clouded marbles July 16, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    I’m back to prolong the celebration again, Heather.
    Happy birthday – hope you have a fun-filled year ’til the next one!

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