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Monarch, where the new old money meets to eat

2009-07-03 16:28
The doormen were all dressed in army cammo, as if guarding an embassy, but had a sense of humour about it when I asked if this was really necessary. Then again, perhaps Joburg was a different village when I lived here in the late 90s. Right on Oxford Road (and currently behind the Gautrain scaffolding), this very boutique hotel is the refurbished old Rosebank post office building – and this is some refurb. Unusual for this bold ‘n brash city, the livery here is very expensive while retaining a great measure of taste. Wood panelling, rich silk curtains, leather-upholstered seats, discreet artworks – you could be in a "branch" of the Rand Club were it not for the very fresh sounds of tastefully clubby house music. Here they have managed to re-create and update while retaining a sense of worn-in comfort.

Your hostess is the east European accented Isidora Pavicevic who welcomed me with true warmth and panache even though I had no reservation, and even though my lunch companion was wearing his journalist's fatigues including a fleece top and looked like he couldn't afford the time of day. From this good start, the service was unflaggingly discreet and well-informed, crowned by a restaurant manager who really knew his menu and introduced it extremely well.

The catch? Well, it is very expensive indeed. You can order the full tasting menu (changes weekly) for R650 without wine or you can proceed à la carte at around R100 for a starter course or R250 for a main. Any dish can be ordered as starter or main. As ever, price is relative, and quality modulates the quantum. The important question is – is it good value?

We opted for four starter courses. "Fennel" (R80) had flavours of apple, rocket and ginger (sushi style) and was free of artifice, in other words, limpidly presented fennel bulb and shoot in a salad-like composition. "Salmon" was a roulade with a brioche crust plus some caviar (R140) and had a bold and salty flavour. "Duck breast" (R120) was the most innovative with its almond, cherry, fig and rosemary complements; while "Springbok loin" (R120) came with poached sweetbreads, onion and light flavours of whole-grain mustard.

The food is fresh, light and clean. Flavours are clear, far from earth-shaking – there's a certain lack of artifice which walks the tightrope of being a lack of artistry for the prices charged. The thing is, Johannesburg has so few modern fine dining options that this really stands out as an option in terms of look and intent, so I really want to be convinced – but would like more seduction on the plate. This is however an excellent choice for anyone who likes modern, light food in a most beautiful setting, and who has no pocket-pain. (Happily my parking fee was R6 though!).

For more on restaurants go to – the independent guide to eating in South Africa. The full Rossouw's Restaurants 2009 guide is available at leading bookstores and deli's, and from the website. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

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