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johannesburg

Somerset House, Fox Street entrance

JoburgPlaces and the Restoration of Somerset House

About three years ago, I was roaming around downtown Joburg on a drizzly Sunday afternoon with some photographer friends. As we walked along Fox Street near the corner of Rissik Street, just behind Gandhi Square, we noticed an open doorway and walked inside. I didn’t know it then but this doorway led to Somerset House. What I saw when I first walked into Somerset House, sometime in 2015. The Fox Street entrance is behind me. The building’s staircase is somewhere behind those metal grates. I had no idea what I was looking at but I could tell this building was special. My eyes went immediately to the dazzling black-and-white checkered floor and the bright green tiles along the walls. I looked up; the building was three stories tall and the two stories above were painted in various shades of red and blue, with ornate wood and iron railings lining the balconies overlooking the atrium. I now know the vaulted ceiling is made of glass, but the ceiling was covered in metal sheeting back then so I couldn’t see it. One end of the building was closed off so I didn’t know Somerset House was actually an arcade, with one side […]

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Oldest house in Johannesburg in Bezuidenhout Valley Park

The Oldest House in Johannesburg

A few weeks ago I visited the oldest existing house in Johannesburg. I’m a little confused as to exactly how old the house is. The house standing beside the oldest house was built in 1852. At least that’s what the historical plaque on the house says; this article by the City of Joburg says it was built in 1863. This second house (not the oldest one, but the one standing beside it) is referred to as the Bezuidenhout Farmhouse. It was built by the Viljoen family and later taken over by the Bezuidenhout family when a Viljoen married a Bezuidenhout. The Bezuidenhout Farmhouse, built in 1852 (I think) and currently used as a Rotary Club office. Blue plaque on the Bezuidenhout Farmhouse. But the actual oldest house, which the Viljoens presumably lived in before building the larger house next door, doesn’t have a plaque. Isabella Pingle, the heritage activist who showed the houses to my friend Marie-Lais and me, says it was built around 1850 — more than 35 years before Johannesburg itself became a city. The oldest house in Johannesburg, built sometime around 1850.  The most interesting thing about this house, to me at least, is that there are a bunch of regular people living […]

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Staff at NGC Blairgowrie

July Restaurant of the Month: NGC Blairgowrie

NGC is not what you’d expect to find at the busy intersection of Barkston and Conrad Drive in Blairgowrie. There’s a tire store across the road and a lawnmower repair shop next door, and it just doesn’t feel like the right place for a classy restaurant. And yet here it is, amidst the Joburg sprawl: a little bistro that could pass for a Paris pavement café. Outside NGC: The man in the photo is the chef, Gareth, who owns NGC with his wife Emma. In case you’re wondering, NGC stands for “Neighbour Goods Café”. I had lunch at NGC on a Saturday afternoon when I was really, really hungry and busy catching up with friends. So I don’t have many photos and this will be a short post. But I don’t want to delay writing it any longer. This is a restaurant not to be missed. Saturday Lunch at NGC In many ways the NGC menu is standard 2018-style bistro food, with a selection of “small plates” and larger main dishes and burgers. All very classy and what a lot of nice Joburg restaurants are doing. But NGC stands out because it’s particularly unpretentious, and because the food is So. […]

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Zietsies dining room at night

A Beautiful Place to Eat and Sleep in Auckland Park

People are always asking me for recommendations on places to stay in Joburg, and I never know what to say because in Joburg I tend to sleep in my own house. But here’s a place I can recommend for sure: Zietsies Guest House, which is technically in Auckland Park but I call it Brixton. View from the porch at Zietsies. I’d been hearing about Zietsies over the years and had done a one or two pickup/drop-offs of friends who stayed there. Technically Zietsies is in the suburb of Auckland Park, but it’s on Brixton Ridge just across from the Sentech Tower. I heard Zietsies had an amazing view of Melville and the northern suburbs, and that while it’s primarily a guesthouse you can also have dinner there upon prior arrangement. Then a few weeks ago I met Elzabé, Zietsies’ owner, while having coffee at Breezeblock, and she invited me for dinner. I asked if I could bring my mom and nice-guy-Kevin along and she said yes. Two weeks later we were there. Dinner at Zietsies I feel that my photos do a very poor job of conveying the atmosphere at Zietsies, especially at night. But just imagine a house perched […]

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blowtorched cocktail at Mooteebar in Melville

Avant-garde Cocktails at Melville’s Mooteebar

My mom came to South Africa and we spent two weeks traveling around the country doing fabulous things and it was amazing and I didn’t blog the whole time she was here. I think this is the first time in eight years that I’ve gone two weeks without posting, and now I have a huge backlog and I feel totally overwhelmed and I’m finding it hard to start. So before I dive into all the mother-daughter activities here is a quick post about Mooteebar. Outside Mooteebar on a very cold evening in Melville. You might recognize the building as the former home of Café Mexicho, Melville’s now-defunct mediocre Mexican dive.  Mooteebar needs a place in this blog because: a) It’s in Melville; and b) It’s the most unique and innovative bar in Johannesburg. If you are remotely interested cocktails, no matter where you live in this city, you need to give Mooteebar a try. You will either love it or you will hate it — there are few in-betweens when it comes to opinions on this place. But Mooteebar is worth a trip either way. Cocktails at Mooteebar Inside Mooteebar. The bar also has a lovely outdoor courtyard and roof deck, but […]

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Bread from Croydon Bakery

This Is the East: Croydon Bakery

Welcome to an occasional blog series called “This Is the East”, featuring hidden spots on Johannesburg’s East Rand. First up: the Croydon Bakery. Some background: A few weeks ago, a nice guy named Kevin presented me with a takeaway container of peri peri chicken livers from O’ Peri Peri in Edenvale. I had been expecting a small portion — maybe four or five livers — with some sauce and a few chips (fries) on the side. Instead I received: 1) A plastic tub the size of an unabridged dictionary containing the livers of at least a dozen chickens swimming in half a gallon of sauce; 2) A large bag of “slap chips” (South African term for soggy french fries — oddly delicious) too big for me to hold in one hand; and 3) two large rolls combining to the size of a small baguette. All for R70 (about $5). I stared at the pile of food. “How will I eat even HALF of this?!” I cried. Kevin cocked his head, spread his hands wide, and said: “This is the East.” If you’re from Joburg then you know what he meant. If not, let me explain. “The East” is the East Rand, aka Ekurhuleni, […]

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Hot air ballooning at Bill Harrops

Hot Air Ballooning Over South Africa

I have a terrible cold, my second in a month. (How is this even possible?) The last thing I felt like doing this morning was waking up at 4:30 a.m. and driving more than an hour through the cold winter darkness. I did that anyway though, because one can’t pass up a chance to go hot air ballooning through the Magaliesburg Mountains at sunrise. This week the South African National Hot Air Balloon Championships are happening at Bill Harrop’s Original Balloon Safaris in Skeerpoort, near Magaliesburg. I was invited as part of a media contingent to photograph part of the competition — from the vantage point of our own media balloon. Balloons prepare for the air at the start of this morning’s competition. I took a Bill Harrop’s balloon safari once before and blogged about it. I won’t repeat myself now, other than to reiterate that taking a balloon ride over the Magaliesburg is one of the coolest tourism experiences in this area. It’s worth the price — around R2000-R2500, or $150-$185, depending on the package. Anyway, today I just want to show you this morning’s pictures. Up in the Air at Bill Harrop’s Waiting for the balloons to inflate […]

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Johanna and Sunday in their food truck

A Tour of Johannesburg Food Trucks

Lonely Planet recently asked me to do some research about Jozi food trucks for a book about food trucks in different cities around the world. Dream assignment! Once I started investigating the Joburg food truck scene, I realized they’re everywhere and there are all different kinds. There are the hipster food trucks, brightly painted with clever branding and usually selling some kind of ethnic food with a twist. There are the basic South African food trucks — which are technically trailers, not trucks — usually plain white, selling down-home South African staples at rock-bottom prices. Then there are the trucks that fall somewhere in between. A collection of what I call “hipster food trucks” at the Hoods in Sandton. Tselane’s Kitchen, a traditional South African food trailer in Midrand. This post is by no means comprehensive. But here is a selection of delicious Jozi food trucks I’ve come across in my recent travels. Note some of these trucks move around so you might not find them in the same places I did. Hangry Chef: South African/Indian cuisine (Joburg CBD and elsewhere) I discovered the Hangry Chef, which at the time was called the Chilli Chef, in the parking lot next […]

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Andrew, owner of Sumting Fresh

June Restaurant of the Month: Sumting Fresh

I can describe Sumting Fresh in one (not so) simple word: South-African-Asian-American-fried-chicken-street-food. Sumting Fresh, on Grant Avenue in Norwood. Inside Sumting Fresh. Really though, Sumting Fresh is hard to explain. It was once a food trailer in Midrand, then became a food truck, then a full-on food party bus feeding thousands of festival-goers, then a brick-and-morter restaurant in Norwood. (Also, the food bus is still going strong today.) Sumting Fresh serves creative and sophisticated cuisine in a casual, fun, almost-fast-food environment. Sumting Fresh doesn’t fit into any particular genre. It’s just delicious. What is Sumting Fresh? The magic of Sumting Fresh can be summed up through its signature dish, Gujon Chicken. Here’s the Gujon Chicken description from the Sumting Fresh menu: “crumbed deep fried chicken strips / asian slaw / aioli / sweet chilli / parmesan / fries / watermelon”. It’s a crazy combination of ingredients served in a big, cheese-covered, deep-fried pile that I wasn’t quite sure what to do with at first. But I was enchanted by the first bite. I didn’t stop eating until I was way too full, even though I hadn’t even come close to the bottom of the dish yet. I asked co-owner/chef Andrew Leeuw — […]

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Downtown Joburg from 120 End Street

On Top of Joburg at 120 End Street

Nothing beats watching the sunset from a Joburg rooftop. Looking down at the crazy evening traffic from the roof of 120 End Street. On Sunday evening, Mark Straw from the Joburg Photowalkers organized a rooftop mission for all of the photographers who contributed their pictures to the recent #JoziWalks weekend. We drove together to 120 End Street, a 26-story residential building in the middle of the CBD, and spent the evening taking pictures there. 120 End Street (center) shot a few months ago from the roof of August House. I’ve always been curious about the view from the top of this building.  On the roof at 120 End. Another Take on the Joburg Skyline I’ve said this a million times before, but Joburg’s skyline is its best asset and I never get sick of looking at it from various angles and heights. Every rooftop provides its own unique interpretation of the city. 120 End Street has a particularly interesting view of Hillbrow and the most chaotic section of the city centre, between Ellis Park and the Noord Street taxi rank. Someone on Instagram asked me which street is in the middle of this frame. I’m pretty sure it’s De Villiers […]

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Pantsula dance group in Orange Farm

Jaw-Dropping South African Dance in Orange Farm

On Saturday and Sunday I participated in the 2018 #JoziWalks weekend. Sponsored by the Johannesburg Development Agency, #JoziWalks invites people/groups from all over Joburg to organize walking tours in their communities. (Read about last year’s #JoziWalks.) On Saturday I joined the walk through Orange Farm, led by the InTouch Youth Development group. The start of our walk through Orange Farm. Photographer Hymie (left) walks with one of the hosts from Orange Farm. Cute kids who demanded a photograph. Orange Farm onlooker. Orange Farm is a township founded in 1988. It’s an hour’s drive south of downtown Joburg — a perfect illustration of the spacial segregation of apartheid. There are very few jobs in Orange Farm so virtually everyone (I mean everyone able to find a job, which isn’t easy) living there has to make the long, costly commute to Joburg for work. I was excited for this walk as I’d never been to Orange Farm before. It was really interesting seeing a new place, and I was particularly blown away by the dancing. Dancing in Orange Farm We watched three dance groups perform: a Tswana dance group called Jascho, a Pantsula group called Killers Entertainment, and a Zulu dance group […]

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Lascaux rock art painting at Sci-Bono

The Wonders of Rock Art: Now at Sci-Bono

The Sci-Bono Discovery Centre is a science museum in Newtown, in the middle of the Joburg CBD. The museum is housed in a cavernous, 110-year-old former electrical workshop. Somehow I’ve never blogged about it before but last week I received a perfect opportunity when I was invited to the launch of Sci-Bono’s “Wonders of Rock Art: Lascaux Cave and Africa” exhibition. The Sci-Bono Discovery Centre during the opening of the Wonders of Rock Art exhibition. The Wonders of Rock Art The Wonders of Rock Art is a collaboration between Sci-Bono, Wits University, the French Embassy in South Africa, and the French Institute of South Africa. There is a lot going on in this exhibition and I can’t begin to explain it all. But in short, there is a life-sized reproduction of France’s Lascaux Cave, which has been nicknamed “the Sistine Chapel of Prehistory”. The Lascaux Cave was discovered in 1940 (by a bunch of teenagers chasing a dog) and is filled with one of the world’s most stunning displays of prehistoric rock art. A reproduction of Lascaux’s “Panel of the Black Cow”. The reproduction was painstakingly created using the same materials the original Cro-Magnon artists used 17,000 years ago. Reproducing the reproduction. […]

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