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DINING OUT: JOHANNESBURG  

 

 

By Alan Behr

JOHANNESBURG, 14 JUNE 2010 — Rare are the living legends who get monuments built in their lifetimes, but in the Johannesburg suburb of Sandton, a made-to-order shopping square is anchored by a colossal statue of Nelson Mandela. It presents the hero of the resistance and future president as a towering, somewhat quizzical figure — a cross between Chairman Mao and an anthropology professor about to hand you a bad grade.

Johannesburg at night is not for the faint hearted. Even though the area outside the square is patrolled and our hotel sat diagonally across the street, the doorman urged my colleague and me to take the guarded skybridge. Sandton is effectively a fortress, and the square is its castle keep, so once you are there, you can relax.

The most often recommended restaurant on the square (and the surrounding area) is The Butcher Shop and Grill. With its green walls, wooden floors and market-like corridor, to say nothing of its secondary role as a working butcher shop, the restaurant announces "steak house."  In South Africa, that has a different meaning: our steak was ostrich. Specifically, we had fried ostrich filets, heeding the waiter’s advice to have them prepared medium to medium well. The result was enjoyable; it looked like beef but was tangy and gamey. And for once at a steak house, our plates weren’t overloaded.

If the crime rate is a consequence of freedom in South Africa, so too is the quality of the nation’s wines.  Indeed, the wines at restaurants tend to outdo the food, and that held true for The Butcher Shop. It served the wine that was the standout of our visit, Vin de Constance, a dessert wine made by Klein Constantia Estate. The menu warned that it was subject to availability, and it is easy to see why. Made from Muscat de Frontignan (Muscat blanc á petits grains) grapes shriveled to raisins, it is honey colored, not as sweet as a German Eiswein, but offers a splash of lemon and a surprisingly spicy finish.

If you like ostrich or perhaps develop a taste for kudu,  just give the butchery forty hours advance notice, and the meat will be delivered for pickup by you at a shop at the airport.  After a long flight fueled only by airline food (though, if you are flying South African Airways, it’s better than average), you can reproduce a night at the restaurant in the privacy of your own kitchen.

The Butcher Shop and Grill
Nelson Mandela Square,
Sandton, South Africa
Tel: (27) 11 784 86 76. 

Dinner for two with South African wines by the glass: about U.S. $110.

Alan Behr practices intellectual-property law at the New York office of Alston & Bird LLP.  A regular contributor to Culturekiosque,  Mr. Behr last wrote on the Museum of Modern Art's retrospective Henri Cartier-Bresson: the Modern Century in New York. 

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