Vixa Kalenga

“People work really hard in this city,” says Johannesburg chef and restaurateur Vixa Kalenga. “And when they go out, they like to relax.” This laissez-faire approach is everywhere in Joburg, from the city’s fine diners to its street-level eats. It’s also one of the things that distinguishes Joburg from Cape Town, a city Kalenga worked extensively in before relocating to his new home. These are our man’s favourite places to eat, from home-style Italian to modern African.
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Johannesburg vs Cape Town

Joburg is a city that’s all about variety. You can get pretty much all types of cuisines in this town making it a great city for tourists who want a lot of dining-out choices in one central area. If you compare its dining scene to Cape Town, you’ll find it a lot more casual. While Cape Town is known for its fine-dining footprint, Joburg has a more relaxed and fun approach to dining. Restaurants here are never uptight, even if they are fine diners. Most restaurants bring in a DJ on Friday and Saturday nights, inviting guests to explore their beverage offering and stay longer. People work really hard in this city and when they go out, they like to relax.

Fast Asian Food with Care

I love Obento Ramen Bar. It started off doing takeaway during the pandemic, but the food was so good that they opened a very tiny Asian restaurant in Parkmore, a suburb located in the Sandton area of Joburg. It’s an easy-going, family eatery with a small menu: you can taste the family tradition in every bite.

Italian Food That Tastes Like Your Mother’s Home Cooking

Stelle is a family-owned Italian restaurant and one of the few restaurants in the heart of the Sandton CBD that has an outdoor dining experience. Its garden is the perfect place for long lunches that you never want to end. It’s one of the very few Italian restaurants in the city that doesn’t have pizza on the menu. Instead, the owner cooks what she pretty much cooks at home. It makes you feel like your mother is cooking for you. From the pasta to the limoncello, pretty much everything is made fresh in-house. The octopus carpaccio and rabbit ravioli are some of the best dishes I have ever tasted.

African Cuisine: The Simple and The Sophisticated

Vuyo’s is a great restaurant that serves modern African cuisine in the township of Soweto. The flavours are very familiar to South Africans, but the dishes are sophisticated. I had a slow-cooked traditional mogodu: tripe that was made in an amazing gravy and served with pap, which is a traditional mealie (maize) meal that serves as the starch for the dish. The best place to get some pap and ‘wors (boerewors sausage) is actually at the taxi ranks. There are a lot of stores there to accommodate taxi drivers and those who work around the area. I don’t go to one in particular. They all have a nice variety of local specialties for very cheap. It’s easy, traditional food, but it’s really, really good stuff. Most of my staff normally go there on their break. 

Oxtail, Argentine-Style Ossobuco and Further Adventures in Meat 

We Joburg people love our meat. Che Argentine Grill is a restaurant that I’ve been going to for a very long time and it has stayed consistent over the years. It carries an impressive range of meat cuts that South Africans can relate to. It’s local meat but it’s cooked the Argentine way and served with really good homemade sauces. This combination makes the restaurant pretty unique and it’s somewhere I can get some good Argentine-style ossobuco. Oxtail is something I crave when I’m away from Joburg. The way it’s made at Che is very different to anywhere else I’ve had it. It’s very delicious and comes with lots of sauce that’s loaded with local spices.

A 300-Seat Izakaya Where Canton, Japan and Fun Come Together 

I helped open Tang in 2021, a 300-seat izakaya on Mandela Square. We serve fine-dining quality Cantonese and Japanese food in an upscale yet casual setting. It’s something that no one else is doing on that scale. The restaurant opened up the possibilities for this type of dining which is very much about sharing food and mixing fancy dining with a fun vibe. We try to give a true Japanese izakaya style of dining while sticking to our own identity. We’ve managed to manoeuvre around the pandemic and have had a really successful year. We’re opening a second Tang restaurant in late 2022 at the Waterfront in Cape Town. 

My Favourite Fine-Dining Experience

Marble Restaurant is one of the best fine-dining restaurants in Joburg and somewhere I like going for a special occasion. It’s still easy dining considering we’re in Joburg, but everything is very well-plated, very refined and cooked on fire, the traditional South African way. The octopus is one of my favourite starters there: coal-fired and served with a black sesame aioli, green pepper salsa, charred corn and green olives. 

Somewhere For The Morning, Somewhere For Late at Night

The coffee scene in South Africa is quite notorious, not least in Joburg. Father Coffee is my favourite coffee roaster: it has a couple of espresso bars around town serving different single-origin coffees with a special focus on Ugandan coffees. The Marabi Club is where I normally go on a night out. It’s an underground jazz club with a great selection of food and cocktails and a great vibe.

A Garden-to-Table Operation a Short Drive from Joburg

Culinary Table is a family-owned, garden-to-table kitchen, deli and bakery just outside of Joburg. It’s a really amazing spot. Everything the staff cook for you is picked from the organic garden that surrounds the place. There’s also a whole butchery operation which is run with a nose-to-tail philosophy: the team there try to minimise leftovers from the animal by processing cuts and trimmings and donating them to charity. The bones are also recycled and used as compost. The staff there also build kitchen equipment and I have worked with them to set up some of my kitchens in the past. 

Pack Some Spice and Jerky For Home

The spices we use here are amazing. You cannot leave Joburg without taking back some Aromat (savoury seasoning). South Africans use Aromat in everything: fish, meat, corn, soup, you name it. Also pack some biltong, a dried cured meat that’s very distinctive in South African cooking. You can find these at Woolworths supermarkets. They have very good products and the quality of spices is amazing. Jackson’s is my favourite place. I love to shop for fresh produce there. It’s all organic. I even buy my bread from there. They have a little restaurant in the same place as well. Everything they use is fresh. 

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