Marble (Rosebank, Johannesburg, South Africa)

Both on our outbound trip and returning trip, we tried to get reservations at Marble, which is considered one of the best restaurants in South Africa, and were not able to secure at table. On our last evening in South Africa, however, we got lucky and I managed to secure a 7pm reservation, so we found ourselves heading out to the Keyes Art Mile, a part of Johannesburg’s Rosebank neighbor known as a newer restaurant and gallery district.

Marble is one of the restaurants we encountered that focused on actual South African cuisine, in particular the history of both African and Afrikaner cuisine of the region to focus on cooking directly with fire (in Afrikaans, the “Braai”, the art of roasting over an open fire). In short, that makes Marble much like a steakhouse, with their top-floor restaurant built around a large open kitchen featuring a giant twin forged wood grill from Grillworks in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with two large crank-adjusted grills over beds of open flame.

Around that, they’ve built a very large, open restaurant, with a large central wine cellar and expansive views over Johannesburg (although we arrived right at sunset, so we were quickly looking at the relative darkness of Johannesburg; I suspect the view is phenomenal during austral summer). It’s quite the great space: open, nicely appointed, and great views into the kitchen.

Cooking over flame (vs the more usual flattop) is definitely a bit of an art form, but the kitchen staff here had it down pat: there’s a central firebox generating fresh coals, that they periodically rake over the active bed, while carefully adjusting of the grill level for the current items being grilled. It’s actually a pretty good show, and I wish more places I went had a nice setup like this.

When we arrived, our table wasn’t quite ready, so they gave us a temporary seat in their lounge by the large central wine cellar by the bar. Interestingly, in our travels around Durban and Johannesburg we hadn’t encountered a lot of craft cocktails, but Marble was a distinct exception, with two pages of house-made custom cocktails. As we were shifted to the main dining room as our table become available, I ordered up a Nembro Rosato: Don Julio Reposado, Johnnie Walker Gold, Papaya Oleo, Citrus, Jalapeño Syrup, Aromatic Bitters. This was a nice, well-rounded cocktail, and a great way to relax on our last evening in town.

There was much tempting us on the menu; several of the diners over the in bar section all had ordered the same item, the “selection of grilled meat for two”, a generous platter of fillet, sirloin, lamb, and sausage, which at R950 (~$50 on our visit) was not a bad deal. But several other items on the menu ending up drawing my eye instead. For our first starter, we ordered a fillet tartare. As I’ve mentioned several times here at Offbeat Eats, I adore a proper tartare that respects the overall taste and texture of good raw beef. This was perfectly executed, with moderately large slices of very flavorful fillet, still tender, and lightly dressed with just a bit of yuzu mayo, salt, and a light bit of green chilli. These complemented the beef without burying it, and this is one of the best tartares I’ve had since Belgium.

We also got a pair oysters. These were nice and refereshing, served with Thai water dressing, a citrus granita (this is new to me, and this worked quite well, although it’s on the edge of numbing your tastebuds with the colds), and mint. Enjoyable, and the oysters were top-notch.

Then, the main course. Having previously been quite impressed with much of the beef quality we had experienced in South Africa, we both ended up going for the same item, the Silent Valley Wagyu Ribeye. A 400g rib-eye, this is sourced from Silent Valley, one of Gauteng’s better-known beef sources. The presentation here was a simple one: wood-grilled to a perfect medium-rare, with house-made crisps and broccolini on the side. This was, essentially, about as close to a perfect ribeye as I’ve had in quite a few years. Cooked to a reddish-pink and moist on the inside, with the fat softening but not yet liquid. The outside nicely seared and crisp (which takes some skill to do right on open flame). And allowed to properly rest so it doesn’t leak out when you first cut it. Overall, I was thoroughly satisfied with this. By South African standards, this was a really pricey main course (R890, around $45 US), but for this American tourist that was a really good deal.

While I barely had room for it, the dessert course was good, too. My choice, simply titled ‘banana’ on the menu, this was a glazed banana with doughnuts, orange gel, maple cream and candied pecan. In many ways the banana, while quite good, was just a garnish: the star of the show was the pair of doughnuts: perfectly crisped, and tying the whole dessert together.

Carol opted for one of the “ice cream sandwich” desserts: a cocoa biscuit with toasted marshmallow ice cream. This was good (and wonderfully plated) but the cold shortbread-style cookie a bit tough.

Overall, we adored Marble, and can see why it was a bit hard to get reservations even during one of the slower periods of the year. Everything worked here: the ambiance was great, the cocktails nicely-crafted, the starters and steaks cooked to perfection. I’d happily come back, especially if I could come back during the summer and get a nice seat by the window, gazing out over the city.

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