Van Der Linde brings refined dining to the Linden food scene
A last-minute decision to put on heels turned out to be a good idea when we tried out Van Der Linde, the newest addition to the popular Linden restaurant district.
It was a Friday evening after a long week, and knowing the chilled vibe of eateries in this Johannesburg village, you might think jeans and flats would cut it. They don't.
This smart space deserves cashmere and perfume, because it certainly brings polish to the area's food scene.
While neighbouring Brian Lara Rum Eatery and Choo Choo Junction are wonderful, quirky after-work drinks spots with amazing casual food, and The Whippet and The Fat Zebra are relaxed breakfast spots, Van Der Linde is aiming, but not quite, in the fine-dining direction.
The decor is straight out of a design magazine with rose gold, bamboo furniture, aerial plants and wooden floors, plus digital art and posh personalised crockery and napkins.
A small, slightly pricey menu suits a special night out. But I am pleased to say the food is big on taste and low on pretension.
This season's menu is all about hearty winter food with a bit of imagination - think lamb and gnocchi that were both melt-in-your mouth with warming spices and a hint of lemon for umami.
"It is simple food, we try to make it well and it is inspired by the world, English, French, Indian ... but it is about fresh ingredients sourced as close to us as possible to keep the carbon footprint down," says chef Amori Burger, who many will recognize from Greenside's Trio Cafe and the Op die Spyskaart TV show.
"We are an every-day eatery. We are smart but not Michelin smart," she adds.
We are an every-day eatery. We are smart but not Michelin smartChef Amori Burger on Van Der Linde restaurant
Starter options include marrow bones, herby salad, burrata or a bread basket. If you are a chicken-liver pâté fan, this version with hazelnut butter was served with fennel jam and hearty multiseed bread.
I didn't want to share the vegetarian harissa paneer and pumpkin "breyani" that I ordered for mains.
The breyani was slightly mushy, almost a risotto with bold heat, bulked up with sweet and baby potatoes. But the star was not the paneer, which missed the harissa at times. The pumpkin slices were roasted, caramelised and flavoured into something special.
This was no poor cousin to the meaty mains. Often veggie diners feel like they are served a bunch of sides. This time I wanted to hug the chef for the well-thought-out dish.
The fillet au poivre was well received by other diners and a dill-butter sea bass with leeks and asparagus could not be faulted.
Musi Moyo and team on service were awesome. We were easily upsold on wine; there are popular, more affordable options available alongside treats like an Optima for R500.
For dessert, stone fruit with sabayon lost out to chocolate pudding, baked in its bowl. It was dark, powdery and not too sweet. The toasted cream was subtle and the pudding was a rich bite or two to end off a satisfying meal.
The venue lends itself to adult nights out, but the children present earlier in the evening were well taken care of. They were expecting that a wood-fired oven might deliver pizza, but it is used for the artisanal bread sold at the deli.
In fact, alongside the restaurant and deli, Van Der Linde boasts a gin and juice bar and a wine shop. There are also completely different menus for breakfast and lunch, so you may have to go back a few times to explore all the options.
Van Der Linde has brought refined food options to the village, which must decide if it loves it.
I vote "yes" despite misgivings about it being named after founding father Johannes Van Der Linde — it's a spot for anyone who loves good food.