According to the British, a “hole-in-the wall” is an ATM, according to everyone else it’s a small – possibly dingy – bar, shop, or restaurant. In Johannesburg it’s more likely an old time gem birthed out of an immigrant’s dream or the only space a new passionate kid can afford. More often than not it’s the tiny yet delicious, hard to find heart at the centre of this crazy, sprawling mining town.
The Dumpling Shop
Known to white devils as “The Nameless Dumpling Shop,” this corridor-like establishment in (new) Chinatown is known to the locals as a “work restaurant” as it is seen as a daytime quick stop eatery between jobs. Consisting of 6 tables, an assortment of pickling tupperwares, and back kitchen, this tiny place is responsible for the best steamed dumplings, shredded cucumber and tofu salad and soupy noodles on the strip. Make sure you also order a batch of “barbeque sticks” from the mini braai outside, the chilli option is definitely advised. But be warned, if you want to go there for dinner go early as it closes around 8pm or whenever grandma, seated at the back table, is done hand-making the dumplings for the next day.
13A Derrick Ave, Cyrildene
King Arabic Sandwiches
Owners Hanan Ahmed and her husband, Mohammad Sultan emigrated in 2013 from the al-Shati refugee camp in war torn Gaza after their restaurant, of the same name in Ramallah, was lost to the Israelis. They then made their way all the way down south to Mayfair, a Muslim based community tucked between Brixton tower and the Oriental Plaza, and have since been serving a plethora of enticing delicacies from back “home” in their corner store bakery to myriad of passersby or to hungry and eager regulars at their stall at various weekend markets. It is also home to the best steak pie in the city packed full of a variety of flavours not to be found at any of its service station cousins.
Corner of Hanover Street and 9th Avenue, Mayfair
What started out as a drunken idea between a chef and a banker has turned into one of the city’s all time favourite market staples and now the newest food spot in Norwood’s bustling Grant Avenue. They are most famous for their Gujon Chicken, a pile of chicken strips on a bed of fries and sweet chilli sauce completely covered in a snowy blanket of Parmesan cheese with a wedge of watermelon as a palette cleanser. The recipe is from co-owner Chef Andrew Leeuw’s grandmother that he insists she still makes better than he (and his mother) can. When not in Grant Avenue you can get your two-hour brined fried chicken wing fix from a traveling double decker bus that makes stops around the city.
79 Grant Ave, Norwood
Sin and Taxes
More of a “door-in-the-wall” than a hole per say, but this “speakeasy” is the hottest place to have drinks in town, if you can get in that is – not because it’s exclusively reserved for the rich and famous but because it’s so small. Due to their strict headcount policy you may be stranded outside in an alley for the night but luckily if you do get in, it’s never overcrowded and you don’t have to wait hours to order a drink, which are infamous for being as delicious as they are expensive. But it’s not every day that you get treated to infusions of avo or several different types of cinnamon sourced from throughout the African continent even if you sometimes have to pay R178 a glass for the pleasure.
Down the alley behind “Bolton Corner”, Corner of Bolton and Jan Smuts Avenue, Rosebank
Legend has it that in the 1970s the owner moved here from Italy and set up shop in Emmarentia and the only thing that has changed since then are his lovers – and most recently the plates, which now sport a curious African tribal design. Expect old time regulars devouring crisp oven-baked pizzas, big fresh salads and fresh hand-cut chunky veg sides accompanying their saucy veal. The real gem of this place, however, is its pasta; generous and homey, it will beckon you back for more. What’s more it’s one of the few places in town that refuses bookings and corkage is free, so it’s the perfect destination for any pesky holiday or last minute date night.
39 Greenhill Rd, Emmarentia
Black Forest Bakery
Chances are if you live in Joburg and have a penchant for rye bread you have unknowingly had your fair share of gluten from this classic establishment. Strangely, even before wheat was labeled as the devil, you would be amiss to find any of Braamfontein’s usual hipsters this far up its most famous street. It’s their loss as tucked away in one of the precinct’s slightly more dilapidated corners is a haven to every imaginable form of European bread and a sizeable spread of treats too. Take cash or you will find yourself running around the streets looking for an ATM. Or don’t and make it a spritely jog as you will find yourself needing to burn off a calorie or two to make up for the many R12 raspberry fruit slices that you most definitely do need to have.
102 Juta St, Johannesburg
Sylvia McKeown is possibly the most awkward lifestyle journalist and illustrator in Joburg. You will most likely find her eating some form of breakfast food (at any given time of day) while staring at the closest plant available.