A chef shares his perspective on Johannesburg’s food renaissance.
Cape Town-based chef Luke Dale-Roberts talks about his new restaurant in Johannesburg's iconic Saxon Hotel and sheds light on Joburg's evolving culinary scene.
Tell us about your restaurant, Luke Dale Roberts X The Saxon.
I did a pop-up at the iconic Saxon Hotel in 2016, and it was so successful that I opened it permanently. There isn’t much fine dining in Johannesburg, so I’m happy to fill that spot. The hotel’s aesthetic is modern African, and the restaurant’s design follows suit: There are handpainted indigenous flowers on the walls by South African artist Shaune Rogatschnig, and we use crockery by local ceramicist John Bauer. We also added a few grande dame–style touches, such as wood paneling and brass fixtures.
How do you incorporate South African ingredients into your dishes?
I like to experiment with fynbos [vegetation indigenous to South Africa’s western Cape], but you need to be careful how you use it, because it can be very medicinal in flavor. One example of that would be buchu leaves, which I use in cures and oils. We use a lot of wild game, such as springbok, and local seafood, including snoek, which is an ugly little fish that’s not well known overseas. We smoke it and make a pâté out of it.
What should guests order?
There’s a fantastic springbok tartare with leek ash mayonnaise, and we have a sea bass tartare that’s served with lovage pesto. I’ve added a crab, ginger, coriander, and corn ravioli, and bok choy with a light kimchi dressing.
How does the dining scene in Joburg compare to Cape Town?
Cape Town and the Winelands that surround it still offer the most cutting-edge dining, but that’s changing. Great chefs are conquering the Joburg scene. Chef David Higgs, formerly of the Saxon, has opened Marble. EB Social Kitchen & Bar in the suburb of Hyde Park has an Australian chef, Russell Armstrong, who does Pacific Rim–inspired cuisine—quite a refreshing addition.