Browsing Tag

jozi top fives

Fish and chips from Tiberius Fish Emporium in Sandringham, Johannesburg

Five Great Places for Fish and Chips in Joburg

It was a Monday and it was my birthday. I had a photography assignment in the morning and then I went to Cresta Mall to do some shopping. After shopping, I thought I should buy myself a birthday lunch. What could I treat myself to for lunch on a random winter Monday? Suddenly I had it: Fish and chips.

I drove to a fish and chip shop in Randburg that I had heard was good. I ordered a “small” fried hake and chips for R52 (about $3.50) and salivated during the 10-minute drive home. Once home I devoured half the fish and chips (it was way more than I could eat in one sitting) at my kitchen counter. It was the best birthday lunch imaginable.

At that moment I decided to do a Jozi Top Fives post on fish and chips.

Fish and chips has been a cheap, popular meal in Joburg since the early gold-mining days. (I touch on that history in this post about slap chips.) It’s not really possible to do a definitive “top five” ranking of fish and chip shops: Everyone has their own favorite for their own reasons — nostalgia or taste or a combination of both. But here are five fish and chip shops I’ve enjoyed. Thanks to everyone who provided their own fish and chip recommendations when I posted a question about this on Facebook.

1) Solly’s Corner (Fordsburg)

I’ve blogged about Solly’s Corner before and it appears in my #Gauteng52 book.

Inside Solly's Corner
Inside Solly’s Corner, which is always busy.

Solly’s serves many South African fast food specialties in addition to fish and chips — Russians, Viennas, fried polony, frikkadels, etc., all halal of course — but the fish and chips is notable for the Indian masala seasoning sprinkled on top. Solly’s gives fish and chips a particularly South African flair and that’s what I like about it. Plus Solly’s is such a fun place to go and absorb the vibe.

Solly's fish and chips with seasoning
Solly’s fish and chips with masala seasoning.
Man eating in Solly's Corner
Customer eating fish and chips in the tiny Solly’s dining room.

Solly’s Corner is at 30 Lilian Ngoyi Street in Fordsburg.

2) The Fish and Chip Shop (Victoria Yards)

Victoria Yards is a funky arts hub in Lorentsville. It’s not the kind of place you’d expect to find a fish and chip shop tucked among the organic vegetable gardens and art galleries. And yet there it is — the Fish and Chip Shop. (That’s its actual name.)

The Fish and Chip Shop in Victoria Yards
The Fish and Chip Shop in Victoria Yards.
Inside the Fish and Chip Shop
Inside the Fish and Chip shop. It’s a little hipper than an average fish and chip shop, as are its customers. But that doesn’t make the food any less cheap and tasty.

This shop is so pleasant and it has a very sweet origin story, which I just read about now on the Fish and Chip Shop website. I love the fact that the fish and chips are still about R50 even though the clientele is more affluent than that of an average fish and chip shop. Also these fish and chips are really, really good.

Hake and calamari combo
I decided to spring for the slightly more expensive hake and calamari combo the last time I went to the Fish and Chip Shop, although I’ve also enjoyed the plain fish and chips on previous visits. The chips are particularly fresh.

The Fish and Chip Shop is right inside Victoria Yards at 16 Viljoen Street, Lorentzville.

3) Tiberius Fish Emporium (Sandringham)

Tiberius Fish Emporium is in a shopping center in the heart of Joburg’s biggest Jewish neighborhood. Hence, this is probably one of the few places (maybe the only place?) in Joburg selling kosher fish and chips.

Tiberius Fish and Chips
Always Fresh, Always Kosher.
Stacks of kosher baked goods.

The fish and chips at Tiberius is a bit fancier than at the other shops — it’s the only place on this list where the fish is served on an actual plate and not in paper. Tiberius is also more expensive — R100 ($6.70) for a platter, while the others are all around R50 or slightly less. I thought my meal was worth the price though and after all, this fish is holy.

Tiberius fish and chips
Lunch at Tiberius.

Tiberius is a deli and bakery as well as a fish shop, selling all kinds of kosher treats. I also love the people-watching in this part of Joburg.

Tiberius Fish Emporium is at 74 George Avenue, Sandringham.

4) MaxBox Fish and Chips (Sophiatown)

The other day I saw a post on the “I Love Melville” Facebook page asking for local fish and chip recommendations. Someone suggested MaxBox in Sophiatown (which is very close to Melville) and I was intrigued. “MaxBox” is such a cool name.

MaxBox sign
MaxBox in the Sophiatown Shoprite Centre. It’s MaxCeptional!
Inside MaxBox
I like the logo.

MaxBox is a franchise, with locations all over Gauteng province. I don’t normally blog about fast-food chains but I think this is a fun one so I’m making an exception. Also MaxBox wins the prize for cheapest fish and chips, at R34 ($2.35) for a generously sized portion.

Fish and chips from MaxBox
Not the prettiest picture but you get the idea.

I ordered my MaxBox fish and chips with salt and vinegar, as I always do. The salt and vinegar tasted so good that I didn’t even add ketchup. I’m so glad Sophiatown is close to my house because the smell nearly killed me on the way home.

MaxBox is in the Sophiatown Shoprite Centre on Gold Street.

5) Fish Hook (Darrenwood)

Fish Hook is the place I went on my birthday — the fish and chip shop that motivated me to write this post in the first place.

Fish Hook entrance
The name is a play on words — Fish Hoek is a seaside town in the Western Cape.
Fish Hook
Great signage.

Fish Hook is tucked into a nondescript little building in Darrenwood, between Cresta and Linden. The owner is Welman Son, who was born in Joburg after his parents immigrated here from China in the 1940s.

Welman Son, owner of Fish Hook
Welman Son, owner of Fish Hook.

I had a very brief conversation with Welman that day as we waited for my fish to fry. I’m not sure why but it had a big impact on me. Welman seems like such a kind, genuine man. I had been feeling melancholy when I came in, contemplating my advanced age, but I left Fish Hook with a spring in my step.

I mentioned offhand to Welman that it was my birthday. He refused to let me pay.

Fish Hook fish and chips
Welman’s fish and chips. I’m not sure what he puts in the fried coating but it was fantastic. I reheated the second half in the oven the next day and it still tasted great.

As I said, we all have our favorite fish and chip shops for our own reasons. Fish Hook is my favorite now, because of Welman.

Fish Hook is in Darrenwood Centre on Republic Road.

Read all of my Jozi Top Fives posts.

Cheese on display at the Cheese Gourmet in Linden

Five Great Jozi Cheese Shops

I love cheese. I just ate a toasted cheese sandwich like 30 seconds ago. And while Joburg is no Paris, there are a few really good spots to buy cheese in this town and I thought I should profile them as part of my Jozi Top Fives series.

Maurine slicing cheese at Patisserie de Paris
Maurine, the brilliant cheese lady at Patisserie de Paris.

I’ve written about most of these places before, but as with all my Jozi Top Fives posts I think it’s nice to sum them up neatly together in a group.

There are a lot of shops selling cheese around town, although not many with a specific focus on cheese. While the first few choices were easy I had a hard time rounding out the last couple of places on the list. In the end I went for geographic diversity, accessibility, and a range of different cheese nationalities.

1) Cheese Gourmet, Linden

I’ve blogged about the Cheese Gourmet more than once (see here and here) and it is undoubtedly the best place in Joburg to shop for a dinner party, book club meeting, or any other kind of event that could benefit from a selection of cheese.

Cheese counter at Cheese Gourmet
The endless counter at Cheese Gourmet.

There are many dozens of cheeses to choose from, all made in South Africa, as well as a selection of bread, meat, jams and sauces, and an incredible olive bar. Cheese Gourmet also has a delightful adjoining café serving cheesy dishes like grilled baby camembert and the ploughman’s platter.

Cheese Gourmet is at 71 7th Street, Linden.

2) Patisserie de Paris, Blairgowrie

Patisserie de Paris, which was part of my #Gauteng52 series, is an authentic French café with a full-on bakery and restaurant. The Patisserie also has an entire room devoted to imported French (and a few Spanish) cheeses.

Cheese counter at Patisserie de Paris
Cheese counter at Patisserie de Paris.
Kwanza at the cheese counter in Patisserie de Paris
Kwenza, the manager at Patisserie de Paris, below the board listing all the cheese in stock.

I’ve been to the Patisserie many times and I never get tired of chatting with the staff and tasting the different cheeses. There is something about French cheese…I don’t necessarily want to say it’s better than all other cheese in the world, but it’s definitely special.

Roquefort cheese at Patisserie de Paris
Maurine shows me a strong Roquefort cheese.
Beautiful cheese from Patisserie de Paris
I don’t remember what this one is called but it’s very photogenic and tastes great.

Patisserie de Paris is at 9 Mackay Ave., Blairgowrie. 

3) Cremalat, Elandsfontein

I wrote about Cremalat, an Italian deli and café in the East Rand, recently. Cremalat started many years ago as a small Italian cheese stall at the Bryanston Organic Market and eventually expanded into a deli with a restaurant attached.

Cremalat deli
The Cremalat deli. In addition to cheese, Cremalat sells Italian meat, bread, olive oil, and a variety of other Italian products.
Cheese counter at Cremalat
The counter.

Cremalat sells tons of cheese, some of which is imported from Italy and much of which is made in the on-site factory, visible through a glass door next to the deli. I have a confession: I’ve eaten lunch at Cremalat twice, and while there was cheese on my pasta both times I did not actually buy any at the deli. But I know for a fact, due to many second-hand accounts, that Cremalat cheese is delicious.

Cremalat is in the Greenhills Industrial Estate, Sam Green Road, Elandsfontein.

4) Pilaros, Ferndale

Pilaros, in the Carriera Centre in Ferndale, specializes in Mediterranean soft cheeses like halloumi, ricotta, and feta. Pilaros also sells local milk, cream, cream cheese, and other dairy products.

Outside Pilaros cheese shop
My visit to Pilaros was worth it for the cow alone.
Feta for sale at Pilaros
Feta cheese, which I bought and enjoyed immensely.
Cream cheese at Pilaros
Cream cheese, which is difficult to find in Joburg. This cream cheese is different from the dense, creamy cream cheese I’m used to — it’s much lighter and fluffier. I enjoyed eating it on toast.

I wanted to buy milk and halloumi — a South African staple cheese — from Pilaros but I showed up on a Monday morning and they were still waiting for their deliveries. I did have a nice chat with Mzukhanye, a long-time Pilaros staff member who was waiting for the milk to be delivered from the Pilaros factory in North Riding.

Milk tanks at Pilaros
Mzukhanye waiting for the Pilaros milk.

Incidentally, the Carreira Centre is a great place to shop for all food. There’s a bakery, a pet supply shop, a fruit and veg wholesaler, a spice shop, and a butchery, all selling their stock at incredibly low prices.

Pilaros is at 250 Pine Avenue, Ferndale.

5) Super Sconto, Orange Grove

I had a hard time choosing my fifth shop. I really wanted it to be a place that specializes in cheese but I also wanted it to be a real retail shop and not a factory/wholesaler or market stall.

Super Sconto, on Louis Botha Avenue in Orange Grove, is a huge Italian grocery store and cheese is only a small part of its offerings. But these Italian cheeses are legit and virtually everyone I encountered in Super Sconto was actually speaking Italian. So I think it deserves a spot.

Super Sconto in Orange Grove
Super Sconto.

Almost everything in Super Sconto is imported from Italy. The cheese arrives in humungous rounds about three times the size of my head and is then cut up and packaged for sale.

Super Sconto also has an eat-in café.

Super Sconto cheese counter.
Cheese fridge.

I took a mini tour with Super Sconto manager Roberto, who himself speaks with a heavy Italian accent, and he showed me all the different cheeses. I bought myself a chunk of creamy fontal, which is great on sandwiches but so strong my whole refrigerator smells of it. Totally worth it though.

Super Sconto is at 171 Louis Botha Avenue, Orange Grove.

Go forth and eat cheese.

Cathedral of Christ the King

5 Beautiful, Secret Places in Downtown Joburg

I was on a walking tour today, talking to someone about Joburg. It suddenly occurred to me there are so many insanely beautiful places in downtown Joburg that Joburgers either: a) don’t know about because the places are really hidden; or b) are afraid to visit, or would never consider visiting because they think the place is too dangerous or too trashed or just not worth the trouble.

I talk about some of these places until I’m blue in the face, but I still get the same responses: a) blank looks; or b) questions like, “But is it really safe to go there?”

So I thought I’d write an article like this, with a really click-baity title, to get your attention. Here are my five favorite beautiful, secret places in downtown Joburg. If you like beautiful, secret things (and who doesn’t?) you should visit them all.

1) Cathedral of Christ the King

Yes, it’s in Hillbrow and Hillbrow can be a little daunting. But the Cathedral of Christ the King has a parking lot with 24-hour security and it’s really not very hard to drive to. Inside, the cathedral is pristine and it’s without a doubt the most beautiful church in the city. I’m shocked by how many people don’t know about it.

Pulpit of Christ the King Cathedral in Hillbrow
Pulpit of Christ the King.
Cathedral of Christ the King
Guys, sorry for the cliché but this church is breathtaking. The outside is also really pretty but somehow I’ve never photographed it.

I recommend visiting the cathedral in the morning, as it always seems to be open then. It’s at 1 Saratoga Avenue (technically in Berea but everyone thinks of it as Hillbrow).

2) The Johannesburg City Library

Most locals don’t realize the Johannesburg City Library, on Beyers Naudé Square in downtown Joburg, underwent a massive renovation from 2009 to 2012. It’s stunning inside and always full of people studying and reading, as every public library should be. (Read my previous post about the library.)

Outside Johannesburg City Library in downtown Joburg
The library.
People studying at Joburg library
The library’s prettiest hall.

The library, located at the corner of Albertina Sisulu Road and Pixley Ka Isaka Seme Street, has safe underground parking accessible from Albertina Sisulu Road (formerly Market Street). Just tell the parking attendant you’re going to the library. This library is also accessible via the Rea Vaya bus and the area is very safe for pedestrians.

3) Inside Ponte City

Okay, Ponte City is no secret. It’s that giant cylindrical building — the tallest residential building in Africa — with a Vodacom ad on the top.

Ponte from the outside.

Many Joburgers still believe Ponte is a high-rise slum filled with garbage and drug dens and criminal gangs. Not true.

View of Joburg from the top of Ponte City
View from the 52nd floor of Ponte City.

In fact, Ponte is fully legally occupied and 100% safe to visit. There is a public events venue on the 52nd floor, run by social enterprise Dlala Nje. Dlala Nje also runs a youth center on the ground floor and leads tours of the building and surrounding areas. (Read my previous post about Ponte.)

Looking up at Ponte from inside its hollow core, accessible from the building’s parking garage. I’ve looked at this view 100 times and it still makes my head spin.

Ponte City is on Lily Avenue in Berea. I recommend visiting as part of a Dlala Nje tour.

4) The Old Johannesburg Stock Exchange

There have been several Joburg Stock Exchanges but I’m talking about the building where the stock exchange lived from 1979 to 2000, at 17 Diagonal Street.

The atrium at 17 Diagonal Street. I love the disco-style elevator and the plentiful public art.

This building was a surprise even to me until a few months ago. I knew it existed, but had no idea how beautiful it was until I visited on a tour with JoburgPlaces.

I had thought the Diagonal Street building was closed up and abandoned, like many grand old downtown Joburg buildings. In reality the building is in great shape, with a stunning atrium, and there are lots of businesses operating there.

The old JSE trading floor is closed to the public. But if you’re lucky enough to get in you’ll see the lovely stained-glass windows at the back, which were brought from the previous stock exchange and perfectly preserved.

Stained glass on the old JSE trading floor.

The best way to see the old JSE trading floor is on the JoburgPlaces Money, Banks and Vaults tour. Contact them for more information.

5) The Wilds

Maybe this is cheating a little because the Wilds Municipal Nature Reserve is just outside the area I would define as “downtown Joburg”. But I have to include it in this list because the Wilds is so, so, so lovely — in fact I think it’s the most beautiful park in Joburg, by far — and I’m tired of trying to reassure people how amazing and safe it is to visit.

The now-famous kudu sculpture by James Delaney, with a view of Joburg behind it.

I’ve written about the Wilds multiple times. See blog posts here and here and this longer article for the Different. Yes, the Wilds once had a serious crime problem. But it no longer does.

Park in the parking lot on Houghton Drive, and as an extra safety precaution stay in the northeastern half of the park. (In other words, don’t cross over the Houghton Drive pedestrian bridge to the southwestern section because there isn’t as much security there.)

Then go explore this glorious park with abandon, admiring every indigenous flower and plant, every colorfully painted bench, every piece of public art, and every brilliant Joburg skyline view. Listen to the trees rustling and the frogs singing and the kids laughing.

You won’t believe you waited so long.

Greenhouse at the Wilds Municipal Nature Reserve in Joburg
Even some Wilds enthusiasts don’t know about the retro-style greenhouses at the western edge of the park — a beautiful secret place inside another beautiful secret place.

What’s your favorite secret Joburg place? I’m always looking for more.

I’m going to revive my Jozi Top Fives series in 2019. Consider this the first post of the revival.

Like this? Pin it using the image below.

In tourism circles, Joburg is not generally considered a "beautiful" city. But the beauty is there -- you just need to find it. Here are five places to look.

Read This: Jozi’s Five Best Bookstores

I’m still trying to get back into the swing of things post-Trumpocalypse. I know that blogging about Joburg is the best thing I can do to pull myself out of this mental morass, but the struggle is real. For the first time in a while, I woke up today with no idea what to write about.

In desperation, I opened up a list of potential blog topics I made several months ago when my brain was less encumbered. There, I found my inspiration: Jozi Top Fives, bookstore edition.

Joburg has tons of great bookstores — new bookstores, used bookstores, small bookstores, huge bookstores — so narrowing down the field to just five is kind of unfair. I have many other favorites that didn’t make the list. But anyway, here are the five I came up with:

My Five Favorite Bookstores in Joburg

1) Bridge Books
85 Commissioner Street, Johannesburg

I’ve written about Bridge Books tons of times and you’re all probably sick of hearing about it. Really though. Bridge Books is great, and if you have any affinity for books whatsoever you will love it.

Bridge Books and author
Bridge Books on its opening weekend.

Bridge Books young readerCute kid reading at Bridge Books.

In addition to selling a fascinating selection of new and used, mostly African books, Bridge Books hosts lots of interesting events, including poetry readings, storytelling hours, and my #2SummersBlogClass. They also recently opened a beautiful outdoor roof deck. Stay up to date on what’s happening by following Bridge Books’ Facebook page.

2) Love Books
Bamboo Centre, Melville

I love Love Books (haha, look what I did there) because: 1) It’s in Melville; 2) It’s connected to the Service Station, which appears in my Jozi Top Fives breakfast post; and 3) It’s such a peaceful, pleasant place to browse for books. Love Books sells all new, mostly local books, which means they tend to skew toward the expensive side, but for me it’s worth the cost knowing that I’m supporting a local business and local authors. Love Books has a particularly great selection of children’s books.

love books
A very old photo of Love Books.

Love Books hosts regular books launches with very tasty free wine and snacks.

3) Kalahari Books
2 Duntottar Street, Orange Grove

Kalahari Books, which I’ve also written about before, is a special Jozi place, for its amazing used and rare book collection, its quirky atmosphere, and its charming proprietor, Richard Welch. Kalahari is a true booklover’s bookstore, with stacks and stacks of used books piled floor to ceiling and that wonderful old-book smell.

Kalahari Books stacksStacks and stacks of books at Kalahari.

Richard Welch at Kalahari BooksRichard himself, surrounded by books.

It’s worth taking an entire afternoon off to visit Kalahari, so you have plenty of time to browse the books and sit down for a cup of tea with Richard.

4) Skoobs Theatre of Books
Montecasino, Fourways

Skoobs is an unconventional choice for this list, due to its location in the center of the fake Tuscan monstrosity that is Montecasino. Bear with me though. Skoobs is an independently owned bookstore with an interesting theatrical vibe that matches Montecasino in the most charming possible way. Skoobs is, by far, the best thing about Montecasino, and if you happen to be going there for dinner or a show then a quick stop into Skoobs is a must.

Looking down on Skoobs Theatre of BooksLooking down on Skoobs. The upstairs part has a grand piano and a wine bar.

My favorite pastime at Skoobs is to find a good book or magazine (the selection is similar to what you’d find at Exclusive Books), go upstairs to the fake-outdoor balcony overlooking the fake-outdoor Tuscan street, and recline on the hammock. I know it sounds weird but…just try it.

5) Collector’s Treasury
244 Commissioner Street, Johannesburg

I must admit that the Collector’s Treasury, which I wrote about in my Quirky Joburg post, is a bit too much for me. Located a couple of blocks from Maboneng, the Collector’s Treasury purports to be the largest used bookstore in the Southern Hemisphere with more than a million books, records, and other collectibles. The Collector’s Treasury is eight storeys tall, housed in an old downtown office building, and filled to the brim with stuff.

Collectors Treasury stuffBooks and other stuff in the Collector’s Treasury.

Vanessa in the Collectors TreasuryA girl called Vanessa, holding an ancient camera called Vanessa.

I confess that I’ve never made it past the first floor of the Collector’s Treasury. But even if you don’t buy anything (I never have), it’s a store that everyone should see at least once. It deserves a place in this list simply for its weirdness.

[UPDATE: A reader pointed out to me that the Collector’s Treasury has recently received complaints of racial profiling on its Facebook page. I checked out the Facebook reviews and there are several troubling complaints, and I’ve heard before that the Collector’s Treasury owners are pretty salty characters. I’m not going to remove the store from the list because I still think the place is too amazing not to check out. But I do want to say that racial profiling — i.e., following people of color around the store and acting like they might steal something — is not acceptable.]

Speaking of weird, there has never been a better time than now to break from reality and lose myself in a good book. Let me go do that.

Got any other favorite Jozi bookstores? Leave them in the comments below.

Lindfield tea scones

My Five Favorite Spots for Afternoon Tea in Joburg

Afternoon tea is very popular in Joburg and I’ve tried quite a few different ones over the years. I’ve been meaning to do a Jozi Top Fives post on this topic forever.

Side note #1: Most of the fancy hotels in Joburg refer to their afternoon tea as “high tea”, I think because high tea sounds more grand. But I was recently schooled on this issue by the brilliant Katharine Love of Lindfield House (read more about Lindfield below), and learned that “afternoon tea” is the correct term for a fancy afternoon meal with tea and cake. High tea evolved as a lower class version of afternoon tea, which is the opposite of what these fancy hotel teas actually are. Read more on the distinction here.

a waiter pours tea at 54 on Bath HotelA waiter pours hot water to make tea at 54 on Bath Hotel.

Side note #2: I’m really picky about my afternoon teas, which is one of the reasons I’ve put off this post for so long. Sometimes even the most glamorous teas don’t meet my expectations. I want every afternoon tea to be exactly like my first one in 1994, at Fortnum & Mason in downtown London. That tea was served by a frowning elderly Englishwoman in a black maid’s costume and included the fluffiest scones, the richest clotted cream, and the daintiest cucumber sandwiches I’ve ever tasted or ever will taste. No afternoon tea will ever measure up to that one, but I’m on a never-ending quest.

Side note #3: In case you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned the the Four Seasons (formerly the Westcliff Hotel) in this post, it’s because the Four Seasons has recently, inexplicably, stopped offering afternoon tea. What a bummer, as the view is amazing and the Westcliff’s afternoon tea was legendary. Boo.

With that, here are my five choices.

My Favorite Jozi Afternoon Teas

1) 54 on Bath Hotel

I’ve had afternoon tea twice at 54 on Bath in Rosebank, and to me this is the best hotel tea in town. The setting is great (although they won’t seat you outside if there’s even a hint of rain), the service is great, the tea is great, and the food is authentic and delicious. The tiered tea platters are traditional, with large scones accompanied by jam and clotted cream, decadent cucumber and smoked salmon finger sandwiches, and well-crafted tiny desserts. If you really like one particular thing, the servers are happy to bring you more.

54 on Bath afternoon tea scones and sandwichesTraditional scones and finger sandwiches from 54 on Bath.

54 on Bath afternoon tea dessertsDelicious afternoon tea desserts. The mini cheesecakes are my favorite.

54 on Bath’s afternoon tea costs R245 ($18), or R295 ($21) with a glass of champagne. Read more about my first tea at 54 on Bath in this 2013 post.

2) Fairlawns Boutique Hotel

I blogged recently about the Fairlawns afternoon tea so I won’t repeat myself. But the Fairlawns tea is much along the lines of 54 on Bath’s tea — traditional, luxurious, and comparatively well priced. I love the setting at Fairlawns; it feels like you’re out in the country even though the hotel is just a few minutes from Sandton City.

High tea room at FairlawnsThe quirky tea room at Fairlawns.

tea sandwiches at FairlawnsFinger sandwiches, just the way I like them.

Fair lawns high tea plateMy Fairlawns tea plate.

The Fairlawns tea costs R235 ($17) per person.

3) De Hoek Country Hotel

The De Hoek afternoon tea is what motivated me to finally write this post — I was invited to De Hoek for tea this past weekend. De Hoek is in Magaliesburg, about an hour outside of Joburg, and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend driving all the way out there just for tea. But this afternoon tea is a great add-on to a full day or weekend in Magaliesburg and/or the Cradle of Humankind, or to an overnight visit to the De Hoek hotel itself (read about my 2013 weekend at De Hoek).

Afternoon tea champagne at De HoekPre-tea champagne at De Hoek.

The De Hoek tea is a little less traditional than 54 on Bath or Fairlawns, with fewer scones and finger sandwiches and more experimental stuff. In fact, my only complaint about the De Hoek tea is that there weren’t enough scones — our platter only had two very tiny half-scones with a small dollop of cream and jam already applied. But I especially liked the tea itself, which comes in traditional varieties as well as interesting fruity flavors.

Pink tea in a pink cup at De HoekMy friend Michelle ordered this beautiful pink wild berry tea, served in a perfectly matching pink cup. 

De Hoek afternoon tea trayThe beautiful tea tray served to us at De Hoek. I particularly loved the bottom tier — tasty balsamic salad jars, rye bread heaped with smokes salmon, and spinach spanakopita. Next time I want more scones though — they did say we were welcome to order more but I was too full after eating everything else.

The De Hoek setting can’t be beat — the gardens are so pretty and relaxed. Going there was a nice excuse to get out of town, if only briefly.

Afternoon tea at De Hoek costs R325 ($23) per person. De Hoek also serves spectacular dinners — I wouldn’t recommend doing both in the same day because your stomach might explode.

4) The Saxon

The Saxon is the fanciest hotel in Joburg, and its afternoon tea needs to be on this list simply because visiting the Saxon is such an experience. Where else in Joburg will a chauffeur meet you at the parking garage in huge white BMW, to drive you 100 meters from the parking area to the hotel?

Saxon lobbyThe opulent Saxon lobby.

ChampagneChampagne on the Saxon pool deck.

The Saxon is known for its gourmet food and the afternoon tea is no exception, with high-end leaf teas and delectable savouries and sweets. The cuisine and presentation veers a bit too far from traditional afternoon tea, in my opinion, but it’s hard to complain about food that tastes so good.

Saxon plateSaxon savouries. 

Lady at the SaxonMy favorite all-time photo from the Saxon. Read more about it in this post.

The Saxon tea is R325 ($23) per person Tuesday through Thursday and R395 ($28) on Saturdays, when you can listen to live piano music.

5) Lindfield House

I’ve saved Lindfield House for last because I think it’s the best. I’ve blogged about Lindfield twice before (read here and here) because it’s one of my favorite tourist attractions in Joburg. Katharine Love, the owner and curator at Lindfield, gives incredible tours of her Victorian house and she serves a fantastic, home-cooked afternoon tea at the end of the tour. (Note that the full afternoon tea must be booked in advance.)

Lindfield afternoon tea, 2011
My first tea at Lindfield House, with my mother in 2011. (Photo: Jon Hrusa)

Lindfield tea 2016
Return to Lindfield House in July 2016, with Fiver. 

Lindfield House is the best deal in Joburg for afternoon tea. A full tour plus a full tea costs R120 ($8.50). Just keep in mind that Lindfield House is a museum, not a hotel/restaurant, and the tea is an add-on rather than a main event. Nonetheless, I love it.

Got any other Jozi afternoon tea recommendations? Bring’em on below. In the meantime I’m going to make a cup of tea.

I’ve received complimentary afternoon tea at Fairlawns, the Saxon, and De Hoek. Opinions expressed are mine.

Craft Coffee cappuccino

My Five Favorite Coffee Shops in Joburg

I woke up this morning with a sudden desire to rejuvenate my Jozi Top Fives series with a post about my favorite coffee shops. I’ve held back on writing this post for a long time, because Joburg has so many great coffee shops and I was hesitant to pick just five. I also know that there are lots of great Jozi coffee shops that I haven’t been to yet, and once I publish this post I will receive many suggestions and feel compelled to drive all over town on an extended caffeine binge to try them all. But so be it.

As I wrote in my first Joburg coffee post many years ago, I was surprised by the strength of the Joburg coffee culture when I moved here in 2010. And that culture has grown tremendously since then — this city has become a legit coffee mecca. So if you’re new in town and craving a great pour-over or macchiato, here are five suggestions to get you started.

Beans roasting at Urban Grind
Beans roasting at the Urban Grind, one of my top five.

My Top Five Jozi Coffee Shops

1) Bean There

Bean There, located in 44 Stanley in Milpark, is the godfather of Jozi coffee. Bean There was — as far as I know — the first single origin African coffee roaster in Joburg, and its delicious beans are now available in coffee shops and markets all over town. Bean There is probably the first place in Joburg where I ordered a cappuccino, and the first place where I purchased single origin beans from places like Tanzania and Burundi. The shop itself has a clean, comfortable vibe and plenty of space to hang out.

Cappucino from Bean There
One of the first Joburg cappuccino pictures I ever took. Shot at Bean There, circa 2011.

Beans roasting at Bean There
Beans roasting at Bean There.

2) Father Coffee

When Father Coffee first opened its shop in Braamfontein in 2013, I described it as The Pinnacle of Caffeine Hipness. It still is today, and the coffee drinks there are my favorite in town. I’ve had many coffees there and every single one of them has been perfect.

Father CoffeeFather Coffee in 2013. It looks the same today.

Coffee drinks from Father CoffeeMy first americano from Father Coffee. I can’t remember what Anita was drinking.

Father’s Braamfontein shop is great, but it’s very small and packed to the gills on Saturdays. Never fear though; rumor has it that Father will soon open a second location in Rosebank.

3) Urban Grind Roasters

Urban Grind, which opened a year or so ago in Parkhurst, is my most recent coffee discovery; Ray took me there for a celebratory coffee on our two-year anniversary last month. This place is serious — I mean SERIOUS — about coffee. The baristas are extra friendly and they love doing pour-overs and explaining how to do one (they also will sell you all the equipment you need to do a proper pour-over at home). I had a pour-over and a cappuccino while I was there, and both were delicious. Urban Grind also sells great beans in very fashionable packaging.

Pour-over at Urban GrindA pour-over in progress at Urban Grind.

Urban Grind cappuccino and beansCappuccino and beans from Urban Grind. It was raining the day we went but the shop has a really nice outdoor seating area.

 4) Craft Coffee

My favorite thing about Craft Coffee is its unlikely location: tucked amidst industrial warehouses and underground art studios on GwiGwi Mrwebi Street in Newtown, almost under the M1 Highway near the graffiti pillars. The first time I discovered Craft Coffee I was beside myself with delight. The shop, which also houses a large roastery, is huge and airy with great light.

Ray and Fiver in Craft CoffeeRay and Fiver in Craft Coffee.

Craft Coffee cappuccinoA sunny Craft Coffee cappuccino.

Fun fact about Craft Coffee: It’s the only local coffee shop I know of that sells its own Nespresso capsules.

The only thing I don’t like about Craft Coffee is that it’s not open on weekends. I’m hoping that will change someday.

5) Cramer’s Coffee

Cramer’s is the only coffee shop on this list that doesn’t roast its own beans; it serves Bean There coffee, which is great. But Cramer’s still deserves a place in my top five because it’s such a Jozi institution. It’s right in the center of the Joburg CBD, near Gandhi Square amidst all the big banks and mining companies, and has been there for as long as I’ve lived in Joburg. Cramer’s has a bustling, friendly feel to it, especially during the week when the area is full of office workers. (Cramer’s is also open on Saturday mornings.) I stop there every chance I get.

Outside Cramer's Coffee
Cramer’s Coffee, circa 2011.

Vacuum brewing at Cramer's CoffeeA special coffee demonstration at Cramer’s during the 2013 Joburg City Festival. A coffee expert named Matt Carter was showing us how to do a vacuum brew. I think this is my favorite Joburg coffee photo.

Thus concludes my Jozi Top Fives Coffee Edition. Please feel free to provide your own Jozi coffee shop suggestions.

And if you’re looking for a great Jozi-based coffee blog to follow, check out manmakecoffee.com. He featured me last year in his “Humans of Coffee” series. Manmakecoffee also has one of the world’s best coffee Instagram accounts.

Ray coffee foam smile
Coffee foam smile.

Breakfast in the Jozi ‘Burbs: My Top Five Picks

I’ve been meaning to write a breakfast installment of my Jozi Top Five series forever. It’s a tricky one though because there are so many restaurants to choose from. Breakfast is big here and a huge percentage of Joburg restaurants open for breakfast. (On the flip side, a large percentage of Joburg restaurants are closed for dinner.)

I don’t make it out for breakfast very often, as I’m hungry in the morning and usually too impatient to leave the house, go to a restaurant, place my order, and then wait for the food to be served. And when I do commit to going out for breakfast it’s usually somewhere close to home.

So my list of top breakfast spots is unabashedly biased toward my own neighborhood: I’ve included picks in Melville, Milpark, Parkview, Parkwood, and Parkhurst. The list is by no means comprehensive, but hopefully helpful for those who frequent Joburg’s inner suburbs.

1) Salvation Café
44 Stanley Avenue, Milpark

I can’t believe I’ve never written about Salvation Café before. It was one of the first Joburg restaurants I ever ate in — I had lunch there on my maiden visit to Joburg in 2008 — and I’ve been at least 25 times since. Salvation Café is in the courtyard of Milpark’s renovated 44 Stanley complex, with great indoor and outdoor seating, and many locals argue that it has the number one breakfast menu in town.

My only complaint about Salvation Café — which is actually a problem for all of the restaurants listed here — is its opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday until 4:00 p.m. (kitchen closes at 3:00) and breakfast served only until 11:30 on most days. For some reason breakfast ends at 11:00 on Sunday, which I find maddening because I always seem to arrive at 11:02.

But I digress. Salvation Café’s food is fantastic. I went for breakfast last Sunday (with my blogger friend Vincent, who also wrote about Salvation Café recently) and ordered the breakfast duo — a combination of French toast and eggs Florentine. It was the best breakfast I’ve eaten in months.

Salvation Cafe breakfast

The Salvation Café breakfast duo. You can also have it with eggs Benedict.

Salvation Cafe sandwich

I’ve been looking for an excuse to post this photo of a haloumi-chickpea sandwich, from the Salvation Café lunch specials menu in March 2012, for years. So I’m doing it now even though it’s off-topic. 

2) The Service Station
Bamboo Shopping Centre, Rustenberg Road, Melville

The Service Station is a Melville institution and my go-to breakfast spot, less than two blocks from my house. I love the Service Station for its corner location in the Bamboo Shopping Centre, its big glass windows, and its sunny, locals-only vibe. The Service Station has expanded recently, alleviating the crowds that used to plague it on weekend mornings.

I usually order a veggie omelette — stuffed with fresh produce — in an effort to be healthy, although the French toast and the flapjacks with banana and bacon are spectacular. The Service Station is also known for its coffee although I find it just okay.

Service Station breakfast

Scrambled eggs with salmon, another Service Station favorite.

3) Nice on 4th
37 4th Avenue, Parkhurst

I usually find Parkhurst too trendy; its restaurants are always packed to the rafters with impossibly well-dressed people. Nice on 4th is an exception though — it’s toward the end of the 4th Avenue strip and has a quaint, quirky vibe that I like.

Nice’s signature breakfast dish is its egg basket: a basket made of toast and filled with poached eggs, bacon, and other yummy things. I can’t find my photo of the Nice egg basket but trust me, it’s adorable and delicious. Nice also has an independent book store next to the restaurant where you can sit and order food.

Nice restaurant coffee

I wish I knew what happened to the photo I took of Nice’s breakfast. Anyway here’s a shot of a cappuccino in the bookstore.

4) Croft & Co
66 Tyrone Avenue, Parkview

Croft & Co used to be an upscale clothing shop and the website still indicates this. But don’t be fooled; Croft & Co is one of the best restaurant/coffee shops in Joburg. I don’t know what the Croft & Co chefs do to their scrambled eggs but I hope they never stop doing it. Croft & Co also serves delicious fruit juice — the “green juice” is my favorite.

Croft & Co has a really nice atmosphere (a bit Parkhurst-like but not too bad) and fast, free wifi, although I’ve heard they just changed to one of those hourly internet voucher systems. (Boo.) The eggs will keep me coming back though.

Croft and Co scrambled egg breakfast

Croft and Co’s signature scrambled eggs, mushrooms, and tomatoes — simple but scrumptious.

Croft and Co Green juice

Croft’s mysterious green juice.

5) Park Café
Corner Jan Smuts and Wells Avenue, Parkwood

The Park Café is hidden on the lower level of the Parks Shopping Centre, a tiny complex on Jan Smuts Avenue. You have to make a conscious effort to find this place, which is why it took me so long to go. But Park Café is such a nice little secret. Despite being in the bottom of a shopping centre, it’s bright and cheerful — busy but not too busy. Park Café has the best coffee of all the places I’ve profiled here, and a unique breakfast and lunch menu. There’s also a small spa next door (a pair of sisters own the café and the spa) that does great manicures and pedicures.

Park Cafe bacon breakfast

Park Café’s “Bacon and spicy tomato express”.

There you have it: the best breakfasts in my corner of Joburg. If you have a favorite (or favorites) that you’d like to share in your own Jozi neighbourhood, feel free to comment.

Five Secret Spots for a Romantic Dinner in Jozi

I’ve had the privilege of eating at a lot of nice Joburg restaurants over the years, especially around Melville and the northern suburbs. For some reason, I’ve found that the best restaurants tend to be the ones that are trickiest to find. The best restaurants also tend to put little focus on publicizing themselves (or simply don’t know how to), and hence not many people know about them.

For the past few weeks I’ve had a list of romantic, hidden Jozi restaurants bumping around in my head. Here are my top five favorites. (I like to present my lists in fives.)

UPDATE (OCTOBER 2017)

I wrote this post two-and-a-half years ago and as anyone in Joburg knows, the restaurant scene changes fast in this town. I need to do a complete overhaul but in the meantime, as an alternative to some of the places that have closed, I’d like to recommend Urbanologi.

Inside Mad GiantUrbanologi’s stunning interior.

Urbanologi opened in 2016 and has fast become my favorite fine-dining spot in Joburg. You can read a brief review in this post.

As you were. The original list appears below.

1) Eatery JHB
Corner 11th Street and Victoria Avenue, Sandton

UPDATE (OCTOBER 2017): I recently learned that Eatery JHB has closed. I’m so sad about this.

I’ve written about Eatery JHB before, but I’d like to reiterate that this is one of the best restaurants in Sandton and way better than anything you can find at Nelson Mandela Square, which is only five minutes away.

Eatery JHB is hard to find because it’s around the corner from the other restaurants on 11th Street, in a rather dark spot on Victoria Avenue. If you don’t see it right away, just walk a few steps further. You won’t be disappointed. I love the unpretentious atmosphere as much as I love the food.

Eatery JHB outside

The glass entrance to Eatery JHB.

Eatery JHB meal

My first-ever meal at Eatery JHB: a mussels and calamari dish. The menu changes regularly.

2) La Luna of Melville
9 7th Street, Melville

UPDATE (JULY 2017): Sadly, La Luna was forced to close suddenly last month due to a sudden hike in rent. Let’s hope this excellent restaurant is able to re-open soon in another location.

La Luna is the least physically hidden of all the restaurants listed here; it’s actually in quite a prominent spot in the middle of Melville’s main drag. But La Luna gets lost amidst all the more boisterous bars and restaurants surrounding it. I’ve been meaning to write about it for ages but somehow never have until now.

La Luna was founded by the former chefs of the Westcliff Hotel, after the Westcliff closed a couple of years ago to become a new Four Seasons Hotel. Chefs Klaus Beckmann and Lindy Pretorius, besides being great cooks, are friendly and hilarious people who bring an interesting energy to the restaurant.

The menu is mainly Italian but also diverse and eclectic. Like all the restaurants on this list, La Luna is the perfect place to go to impress a date.

La Luna steak small

I recently attended a lunch at La Luna after an exhibition at the new Mzansi Gallery across the street. I couldn’t believe how delicious and fun our meal was. This grilled steak dish was the main course.

3) The Great Eastern Food Bar
Bamboo Centre, 53 Rustenberg Road, Melville

While I’m on the subject of romantic restaurants in Melville (I’m biased toward Melville because I live here), the Great Eastern Food Bar is another one of my favorites. I wrote about it last year when it first opened but I’ve had several romantic meals there since. Ray and I go whenever we can afford it.

The Great Eastern Food Bar — or GE for short — is easy to miss because it’s on the top level of the Bamboo Centre, at the back. Just park in the lot behind Bamboo and walk across the footbridge to the top left corner of the centre.

GE serves an ever-changing Asian fusion menu and the open-air balcony looks right out over the Melville Koppies. My only complaint about GE is that I think the portion sizes are too small for the prices. That won’t stop me from going back again and again.

Great Eastern Food Bar view

The view from GE.

Phat Thai

I love GE’s noodle dishes.

4) La Vie En Rose
Killarney Country Club, 60 5th Street [NEW ADDRESS AS OF 1 JUNE 2016]

As with several of these restaurants, I first discovered La Vie En Rose while doing research for SandtonPlaces. La Vie En Rose is homey and charming and the owners, Yanky and Rony, add to the charm. The restaurant’s seating is mostly outdoors in a pretty garden — perfect for summer. The food is tasty and creative; I particularly love the iced tea menu.

I had a great lunch at La Vie En Rose last year, and Ray and I went again last month for dinner with a group called Come Wine With Us. We’re planning to go back as soon as we can for dinner by ourselves.

La Vie En Rose meal

A wine and steak dinner at La Vie En Rose. This particular meal was more raucous than romantic but I still loved it.

5) The Winehouse
10 Bompas Road, Dunkeld West 

The Winehouse is the most secret of all these secret spots. Located at the Ten Bompas boutique hotel in Dunkeld West, there is no way to know that there is a public restaurant inside. (Again, no sign.) I suspect that the owners are intentionally trying to keep the place a secret for some reason, but I’m going to foil their intent. The Winehouse is one of my favorite high-end restaurants in Joburg and I think the world should know about it.

The Winehouse is named for an arresting painting of Amy Winehouse, which presides over the entire restaurant, that the owners bought a few years ago in Paris. The restaurant also has a lovely terrace that overlooks the hotel’s gardens and pool.

But atmosphere aside, the food and service are the best things about the Winehouse. I just ate there a few nights ago with my friend Erin (we were both celebrating something) and we had such a good time with Abby, our waiter. The food and wine were great too, and comparatively affordable.

Winehouse Abby

Abby presents our wine.

Winehouse interior

The Winehouse namesake.

These are only five of a countless number of hidden romantic spots in Joburg. There are many more so keep your eyes peeled. Just like every other city, Joburg’s best places are its hidden places.

Dinner at these restaurants will cost R200-R300 per person, possibly more. Looking for something more affordable? Check out my cheap eats post.

Jozi Top Fives: Walking Tours Edition

I wrote a feature about Joburg walking tours for the February 2015 issue of BA High Life magazine. I’m really excited about the article but you’ll only be able to read the full feature if you’re flying on British Airways in Southern Africa this month.

JoburgWalks1 resized

Here’s a screen shot of the first page of the article. 

I posted screenshots of the article on Facebook and it garnered so much interest that I’ve decided to do a shortened version for the blog. And since five walking tours were featured in the article it provides a perfect excuse to revive my “Jozi Top Fives” series from last year.

So here are my five favorite Joburg walking tours, in no particular order.

1) JoburgPlaces: Regenerated Inner City Tour
www.joburgplaces.com

I’ve written about Gerald Garner’s JoburgPlaces tours many times before: See here and here and here. I like his Regenerated Inner City tour the best because it provides a great overview of how Joburg was born and how it became the city that it is today. Gerald has a special way of telling Joburg’s story and he also has access to many of the best rooftops in town.

Cat looking down

A feral cat outside the Anglo American building on Main Street, spotted during a JoburgPlaces evening walking tour.

2) Dlala Nje: Taste of Yeoville Tour
www.dlalanje.org

I love Dlala Nje, first and foremost because they are based in Ponte City, my favorite building in Joburg. Also Dlala Nje is one of the only companies doing tours in Hillbrow and Yeoville. Read some of my posts about Dlala Nje here and here and here. Their Taste of Yeoville tour is my favorite because it revolves around food but you can’t go wrong with any of Dlala Nje’s tours.

Yeoville at night

Yeoville by night.

3) Past Experiences: Inner City Graffiti Tour
http://pastexperiences.co.za

Past Experiences leads all kinds of interesting walking tours in downtown Joburg — shopping tours and historical tours and public art tours. But as far as I know they are the only company in town doing graffiti tours. I have a soft spot for Past Experiences’ Inner City Graffiti tour in Newtown, as I met my boyfriend on that tour. (He works as a part-time guide for Past Experiences.)

The best thing about a graffiti tour, in my opinion, is that you can do the tour over and over again. The walls are always changing.

Bias mural

The first photo I ever shot of Ray’s graffiti.

4) Sophiatown Heritage and Cultural Centre: Heritage Tour
http://sophiatown.net

I featured the Sophiatown Heritage and Cultural Centre in my Jozi Top Five post about museums and galleries, but the affiliated Sophiatown Heritage walking tour also deserves a mention. I first did this tour a few years ago and then again late last year. I loved it both times. This tour is the only way to fully comprehend what happened during Sophiatown’s brutal forced removals of the 1950s.

Sophiatown Mielies

The mielie lady of Sophiatown.

5) MainStreetWalks: Underground Pub Crawl
www.mainstreetwalks.co.za

I blogged about the MainStreetWalks Underground Pub Crawl recently so many of you might remember it. If you want to experience Jozi nightlife from a totally new perspective, take this tour. MainStreetWalks also does unique daytime tours of downtown Joburg, including picnics at the top of the Carlton Centre, and partners with Dlala Nje on the weekend-long Jozi immersion tour.

Pub crawl Fairview Bar

Pool player at the Fairview Inn, a stop of the Underground Pub Tour.

There are many other great walking tours in Joburg, including tours by Ancient Secrets and the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation. And there are probably more that I don’t know about yet. Suggestions are welcome.

My 500th Blog Post: 5 Things I Love and Hate about Joburg

1) What I love about Joburg: The people

This is a cliché and it flies in the face of Condé Nast‘s ludicrous pronouncement (ludicrous, I tell you!) that Johannesburg is the world’s unfriendliest city. But as a whole, people in Joburg are nicer, funnier, more creative, more genuine, and more interesting than people in any other place. Raymond

Raymond, a street vendor in Newtown.

1) What I hate about Joburg: The traffic

Traffic in Joburg sucks. And it’s dangerous. In fact Joburg’s traffic is far more life-threatening than its crime.

Fourways - William Nicol traffic

Overlooking the traffic on William Nicol Drive in Fourways. If you’ve been there, then you know.

2) What I love about Joburg: The skyline

I’ve written about the skyline many times. (See here and here and here.) The Joburg skyline is spectacular. It’s Joburg’s brand, and I love it.

tower shot

A view of the Joburg skyline from a rooftop on Rissik Street.

2) What I hate about Joburg: The poverty

Obviously poverty exists all over the world. But in Joburg it’s not unusual to encounter a barefoot street child in rags, kneeling in the center of a busy intersection at 11 o’clock at night. Joburg’s poverty is terrible and it’s not okay.

Alex Shacks by Jukskei

An informal settlement in Alexandra Township, just a few minutes away from Sandton’s “richest square mile in Africa”.

3) What I love about Joburg: The possibilities

Anything goes in Joburg. There are means of getting around obstacles. There are ways of doing things that can’t be done elsewhere. I’m not talking about bribery, either. I’m talking about flexibility and persistence. Joburgers don’t give up. They make a plan.

Jozi bench

I’m living proof of the statement on this bench.

3) What I hate about Joburg: The bureaucracy

Anything is possible in Joburg. Unless you are sitting in the ghastly waiting area at the Langlaagte Vehicle Licensing Office or the Department of Home Affairs, or waiting in line at the post office, the bank, or the Vodacom customer service centre. In such places it often feels as if nothing is possible. To get an idea of what I’m talking about, read my three-part series on registering a car in South Africa.

Traffic Register Number

See the expression on my face? That’s how I feel about South African bureaucracy.

4) What I love about Joburg: The weather

Joburg’s weather is the best-kept secret in Africa. The days are hot in summer, but there is virtually no humidity and early mornings are always cool. The afternoon heat is usually broken by a brief, intense thunderstorm followed by a stunning sunset. I live comfortably in a house with no fans or air conditioning.

Winter nights can be cold, and central heating is nonexistent, but winter only lasts for two months and it never rains or snows.

clouds and sunset

A typical summer evening in Joburg.

4) What I hate about Joburg: The crime

I hesitate to include this because the prevalence of crime in Joburg is grossly over exaggerated. But loathe as I am to admit it, crime — especially petty crime — is an issue here. I have never been victimized in my four-plus years in Joburg, but I’ve been lucky. I get tired of not being able to park my car on the street for fear it will be stolen, or hesitating to walk alone up the street with my laptop on my shoulder.

Hillbrow Tower and wire

Razor wire, high fences, and armed security guards are unfortunate realities in Joburg.

5) What I love about Joburg: Everything that I hate about Joburg

Joburg has many challenges, many annoyances, and many odd quirks. It’s not easy to live here. But it’s exciting, exhilarating, and fun. Above all it’s never boring, at least not for me. I’ll complain about the traffic, the crime, and the bureaucracy. But I’ll never let it break me and I’ll continue to love Joburg all the more.

Reflections

This photo says a lot about Joburg. On the surface it’s a dirty puddle in a run-down city street. But look more closely and there are many layers of beauty.

5) What I hate about Joburg: Paper towels. WTF.

I’ve been looking for a chance to blog about this for a while but it was hard to fit in. Now is the time.

Can someone please tell me why paper towels in South Africa are only available in packages of two? And why they are so flimsy and non-absorbent, and steadfastly refuse to tear along the perforated line? And why the cardboard roll is usually too misshapen to fit into my paper-towel holder? These questions have been killing me for years.

On the bright side, the dearth of decent paper towels is good for the environment. I am often forced to use a sponge or dish towel when I would otherwise be wasting paper.

paper towels

There’s a great opportunity in South Africa for a smart paper towel manufacturer. Someone seize it, please.

Thus concludes my top-five list of Joburg loves and hates. I may come back to my top five series in the future though because I’m really enjoying it.

Before signing off, I must empahsize that there are many more things that I love about Joburg than there are things that I hate about Joburg. Otherwise I wouldn’t live here. Just for kicks, here are a few more things that I love:

Waking up every morning to exotic birdsong. Flowers blooming all year round. Hadedas. Smiling at people on the street. Driving a car with manual transmission. Highveld thunderstorms. Jacarandas. Inserting the word “hey” at the end of a sentence. Drinking masala tea in Fordsburg. The Hillbrow Boxing Club. Joburg fashion. People wearing white robes, praying in parks on Sundays. Ponte City. Eating avocado (it’s called “avo” here) on pizza. The Melville Cat. My amazing friends. Walking on the Melville Koppies. Referring to traffic lights as “robots”. Ray.

Last but not least, this blog. 2Summers couldn’t exist anywhere else but in Joburg. Thanks to all of you for reading my 500th post.

Panoramic sunset

Speaking of the blog, I’m preparing to make some changes and 2Summers might go down for a few days at some point in the next two weeks. I’ll be back as soon as possible though so stick with me.

Jozi Top Fives: Museums and Galleries Edition

This is my 499th blog post, and the third of my celebratory Jozi top five series.

Upon arrival in Johannesburg, nearly every first-time visitor (myself included) goes to the Apartheid Museum. Don’t get me wrong — the Apartheid Museum is fantastic and everyone should go. But there are so many other great museums and galleries in Joburg, many of which are unknown even to locals. Here are my five favorites.

1) Wits Art Museum (WAM)
Bertha Street and Jorissen Street, Braamfontein
www.wits.ac.za/wam/

WAM outsideThe beautiful exterior of the Wits Art Museum (WAM). I wanted to take photos inside but failed to do so because I went on a Tuesday. Oops. WAM is closed on Tuesdays.

The Wits Art Museum (WAM), part of Witwatersand University, is 100% focused on African art. I love the clean, modern design of the museum (it’s almost brand-new) and the open layout that allows you to survey everything in a short period of time. I also love the fact that the museum is free, and that it’s close to all the action in Braamfontein and therefore easy to combine with other activities.

The exhibitions rotate frequently and are informative without being overwhelming. The current exhibition on the art of African hair is particularly fascinating. It’s on until 2 November so go soon. Just plan your visit carefully; WAM is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

You may remember from my recent Jozi cheap eats post that WAM also has a great café.

2) Constitution Hill
1 Kotze Street, Hillbrow
www.constitutionhill.org.za

Con Hill cell doors

Isolation cell doors in the dreaded Section 5 of the Old Fort Prison.

Con Hill hillbrow skyline

View of Hillbrow from the ramparts of the Old Fort.

I wrote a long post about Constitution Hill a couple of years ago so I won’t repeat myself. But I think Constitution Hill — originally a military fort, then a notorious prison, now a museum and home to South Africa’s highest court — is the most underrated tourist attraction in downtown Joburg. It’s also centrally located with tons of parking, making it a good jumping-off point for the Joburg Red Bus tour.

Constitution Hill is worth a visit for the skyline views alone. The museum has an admission fee but you can visit the stunning court building and the old fort ramparts for free.

3) CIRCA on Jellicoe
Jan Smuts Avenue and Jellicoe Road, Rosebank

www.circaonjellicoe.co.za

Circa outside

CIRCA: The most visually striking art gallery in town.

Circa Gallery

Heading upstairs on CIRCA’s spiral ramp.

CIRCA on Jellicoe is a private art gallery, under the same ownership as the prestigious Everard Read Gallery behind it. CIRCA puts on interesting contemporary art exhibitions but the gallery itself is what grabs me most. The entire building is a work of contemporary art, with its sloping ramp surrounded by towering vertical steel slats. I love walking up and down the ramp and watching the light change.

CIRCA’s roof offers a beautiful view of the sunset, so try to go on an evening when there’s a public exhibition opening. CIRCA’s upcoming exhibition on Madiba shirts opens on 6 November.

4) Liliesleaf
7 George Avenue, Rivonia

www.liliesleaf.co.za

Liliesleaf 2011

Liliesleaf is a museum now but it used to be a farm. It still feels like one.

Liliesleaf memorial

An outdoor monument to the armed struggle against apartheid.

Again, I’ve already written a long post about Liliesleaf — the former headquarters of the armed wing of the ANC and a hideout for Nelson Mandela before his 1962 arrest — so I won’t ramble on. Liliesleaf, like Constitution Hill, tells the story of apartheid from a unique perspective and is a great compliment to the Apartheid Museum.

Most Joburgers don’t know Liliesleaf exists and I feel this is an injustice. Go check it out — it’s worth the schlep to Rivonia.

5) Sophiatown Heritage & Cultural Centre
Edward Street and Toby Street, Sophiatown

http://sophiatown.net

Sophiatown dr zuma house

The entrance to the Sophiatown Heritage & Cultural Centre, which used to be the home of former ANC president Dr. AB Xuma. It was one of the only homes to survive the destruction of Sophiatown’s forced removals in the 1950s. The entire suburb was razed and rebuilt as a whites-only suburb called Triomf.

Sophiatown we wont move

Visitors read a placard inside the museum.

The Sophiatown Heritage & Culture Centre is virtually unknown to pretty much everyone, which — I know I’m becoming redundant — is a shame. The museum tells the story of Sophiatown, a mixed suburb and legendary jazz music center that was destroyed during the forced removals of the 1950s. (Read more about Sophiatown in this old blog post.)

Although it’s tiny and has strange opening hours (probably due to its shoestring budget), the Sophiatown Heritage & Cultural Centre tells Sophiatown’s story in a poignant, powerful way. The Centre also hosts walking tours and special jazz evenings, which are really fun. The museum is open Monday to Thursday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., or by appointment.

Sophiatown jazz

A jazz band called the Young Lions performs at Sophiatown Heritage and Cultural Centre.

Two more museums worth mentioning:

1) The Johannesburg Art Gallery (Klein and King George Streets, Joubert Park), or JAG, is Joburg’s preeminent and most historic art museum. (Read about it in this very old blog post.) I didn’t include the JAG in my top five because hectic traffic makes it extremely difficult to get in and out of there. Nonetheless, the JAG has an amazing art collection and puts on good exhibitions, despite huge financial and logistical challenges. I highly recommend it; just have your wits about you when you go.

2) Museum Africa (Mary Fitzgerald Square, Newtown) is a bit run down but puts on fantastic historical exhibitions. The current exhibition, the Rise and Fall of Apartheid, is one of the best collections of photography I’ve ever seen and it’s been extended through April 2015. I’ve been twice and may go again.

Post #500 is coming soon.

Jozi Top Fives: The Best Parks in Town

In the second installment of my “top five” series, I present my five favorite parks in Joburg.

An editor once asked me to review a description of Joburg for an expat website. The description said something like, “It’s difficult to spend time outdoors in Johannesburg because there are no safe parks in the city.” I nearly laughed aloud when I read this, as it’s such complete nonsense. There are so many lovely parks in Joburg that I struggled to narrow my choices to five. All of the parks listed here are safe in my opinion, as long as you don’t go alone or at night.

1) Sandton Field and Study Centre
Corner of Louise Ave. and 14th Street, Parkmore

Parkmore - Field and Study dog

A swimming dog at the Sandton Field and Study Centre.

Parkmore - Field and Study trees

I don’t think the trees are indigenous but I love them anyway.

I first visited the Sandton Field and Study Centre while researching for the SandtonPlaces book. Sorry for the cliché but the Field and Study Centre is Sandton’s best-kept secret. It’s just minutes from downtown Sandton and yet it feels so relaxing and rural. The Braamfontein Spruit runs right through the park, its grassy banks lined with huge trees. The Field and Study Centre has its own restaurant, the River Café, as well as a beautiful historic house and horse stable. Read more about the Field and Study Centre in my previous post. 

2) The Johannesburg Botanical Garden/Emmarentia Dam
Olifants Road, Emmarentia (multiple entrances)

yellow rose

The most beautiful rose at the Johannesburg Botanical Garden.

trees and dam

Dog-walking at Emmarentia Dam.

The Johannesburg Botanical Garden/Emmarentia Dam is two parks in one: the manicured botanical gardens on one side, where dogs are not allowed, and the larger, wilder Emmarentia Dam on the other side, where dog-walking, mountain-biking, etc. are permitted. The dam also has a boat house for canoeing and rowing.

The Rose Garden is my favorite place to hang out (especially on Sundays, when the garden is filled with wedding parties) but I also like walking around the dam and watching the dogs. This is my go-to park for picnics and a good place for running, too.

3) James and Ethel Gray Park
North Street and St. Andrews Street, Birdhaven (multiple entrances)

Dog-walkers

A family at James and Ethel Gray Park.

People walking in park

This park has a fantastic view of the Joburg skyline.

I also found James and Ethel Gray Park while researching for SandtonPlaces (see my previous post about James and Ethel Gray). I love the layout of the park and also the location — Birdhaven is such a tranquil suburb and there is a nice shopping centre nearby with good restaurants. James and Ethel Gray has a great community vibe and is one of the best places in the northern suburbs to watch the sunset over the Joburg skyline.

4) Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden
Malcolm Road, Roodepoort 

Walter Sisulu waterfall

The iconic waterfall at Walter Sisulu.

Walter Sisulu clouds

Sunset over the wildflowers in Walter Sisulu’s indigenous plant section.

Not to be confused with the Johannesburg Botanical Garden, which is a Joburg city park, Walter Sisulu is Joburg’s only national botanical garden. (There are nine national botanical gardens nationwide, run by the South African National Biodiversity Institute.) Getting to Walter Sisulu requires a bit of a drive out into the West Rand but it’s worth the journey. The grounds are massive with miles of hiking trails, the indigenous garden is a plant-lover’s dream, and the huge waterfall is stunning. Walter Sisulu also has a bird-watching hide and a musical performance area where big-name artists play concerts.

5) Melville Koppies Nature Reserve
Multiple entrances around Melville, Westdene and Emmarentia (see website)

blog2

Sunset from Melville Koppies East. I took this photo a week after I moved here, on my old point-and-shoot.

Koppies sunset

Another sunset from the Koppies.

I’ve saved the best for last. The Melville Koppies are directly behind my house — I’m looking out at them as I type this. I’ve blogged about the Koppies many times (see a few examples here and here and here and here). The Melville Koppies will always be my favorite park in Joburg and my favorite place in town to gaze at the Joburg skyline.

What I love most about the Koppies, beside the fact that they’re in my back yard, is how wild they are while also being so accessible. I could go on and on but the best place to learn about the Koppies is the Friends of the Melville Koppies website. The site also has a schedule for guided Koppies group walks, which I highly recommend. (Melville Koppies Central, which contains significant Iron Age ruins, is closed to the public except for guided group walks.)

Note: I’ve heard some rumors about recent muggings on Melville Koppies West, on the Westdene side of Beyers Naude Drive. I rarely visit Melville Koppies West but I walk on Melville Koppies East all the time — always with a dog or another person — and I’ve never felt in danger. I haven’t heard about any crimes on Melville Koppies East during the four years I’ve lived in Melville.

lady-and-dog

A moody Instagram shot from the top of Melville Koppies East.

Summer has arrived and Joburg has one of the best climates on earth. So print this list and get out there. More top five posts are on the way.