A few months ago I was in Parkhurst and a bustling corner restaurant called Craft caught my eye. Last night, accompanied by two work colleagues, I finally made my way back to 4th Avenue to try Craft. When we arrived, every table was occupied and we squeezed into a small space at the bar and ordered some beers while we waited to be seated. I tried the 11 Shiling Ale, a beer that is purportedly only available in Parkhurst. According to their website, visitors and residents alike voted in favor of an English style bitter ale to be the neighborhood brew. English ales are not normally my favorite, but I throughly enjoyed the bright and hoppy beer.
Craft occupies a beautiful corner space. The windows open on two sides and tables spill out onto sidewalk making this an ideal place to spend a cool summer evening. A black tiled wall, copper wood-fired pizza oven, and large bar dominate the hip space. As promised when we put our names down, our table was ready in 20 minutes. We were escorted to a sidewalk table – an ideal vantage point for people watching and observing the parade of hawkers selling their fairly garish wares. All talk of work was banned allowing us all a bit of a respite from an incredibly busy period that has us working most Saturdays. It was actually difficult to steer the conversation to travel, relationships, other restaurants we should try, etc., instead of focusing on our work but we managed.
To start off our meal, we ordered a veg board that was piled high with pita, feta, sun dried tomatoes, hummus, tzakiki, marinate artichokes, falafel, dolomas, and other Mediterranean nibbles. My healthy colleagues ordered poached salmon on a bed of quinoa and steamed vegetables that looked nice, while I dug into a huge burger to which I added avocado and bacon. I have been looking for a burger that reminds me of the ones back home. I think burgers are like mac and cheese and chocolate chip cookies. It’s comfort food and we want it to taste the way mom and grandma make it. Burgers in South Africa are good, they are just different and I can’t put my finger on why they are different. I think it’s the beef, but I can’t figure out if it’s the cut, fat content or something else. Then there is the fact that nearly every burger is cooked medium well even if you ask for a bit of blood oozing out the middle. To all of the original members of my NYC and later DC all-girls burger clubs, I wish you were all here to help me select the best burger in Joburg! This burger, while not the same as the ones at home (and to be fair it doesn’t hold a candle to my favorite, now shuttered, DC burger spot Palena), it is the best burger I have had in South Africa. It was served in a cast iron skillet and accompanied by deliciously fried potato wedges.
To accompany the burger I ordered a Smack Republic Hillbrow Honey, but the restaurant was out and suggested another Smack Republic beer, a Saison called Maboneng Maverick with hints of Naartije peel (I think it’s tangerine) and black pepper. So far, Smack Republic is my favorite small batch craft brewery in Joburg, but they have limited distribution. If you want to sample their beers, head to Market on Main where the brewery is located or one of the few restaurants that stocks their beer.
We ended the meal with a salted carmel cheesecake, a chocolate ganache cake, and three spoons. I also ordered a decaf cappuccino that was decadently delicious in itself and could have been the only dessert I ordered. I saw Origin beans behind the giant espresso machine that occupied more space on the bar than the beer spigots, but I didn’t ask what they used for their espresso. Whatever it was I would love to have some beans for home.
Besides the service at high end restaurants, this is some of the best service I have experienced in Johannesburg. It didn’t matter if you flagged down a manager, your server, or another server, they were happy to oblige. When we asked one of the managers what desserts to try, he admitted he didn’t have much of a sweet tooth and called over another server who unabashedly and without hesitation named the two desserts we needed to try. Early in the evening, another server walking by and noticed that one of my colleagues was taking a photo of me and my other colleague. He volunteered to take a photo of all three of us. This is the kind of attention to patrons and detail that more restaurants in South Africa need to emulate.
If you are visiting Johannesburg and looking for a place for dinner, I highly recommend being dropped off in Parkhurst a strip of restaurants, bars, and shops. You can easily walk up and down the four to five blocks even at night and select a place that strikes your fancy. That being said, I don’t think you can go wrong at Craft. Just get there early or be prepared to wait for a table.