They’re good mates. Both SA Top Ten chefs and both internationally acclaimed. Oddly enough, they’ve both had wow restaurants at the Saxon. And they’re both avid Instagrammers. What’s happening now?
Superchefs Luke Dale-Roberts and David Higgs have new endeavours of unusual kinds here in Jozi, in Rosebank. Separate endeavours, it needs to be emphasised.
Luke Dale-Roberts has been coming up to Jozi a lot recently, in preparation for a new, relocated, reimagined Ethos that will open to the public in early September 2021.
In September is to close The Test Kitchen in Cape Town, the only one remaining of his various places that he hadn’t shut at lockdown 2020. His wife Sandelene’s TTK Fledgelings is still open there and they live in Cape Town. But Luke is spending more and more business time up here now that he has the freedom to devote to Jozi.
Already, he and Executive Chef Ken Phuduhudu have been conspiring, planning and materialising the rather beautiful looking 150-seater in the spanking new Oxford Parks development, at the other end of the same chic, open ambleway as the just-opened Radisson Red (Chef Genghis San rises brightly at helm of Rosebank’s new Radisson Red).
Well respected restaurateur Chris Tsatsakis started Ethos at the end of 2019 in Morningside. I loved the wondrous Mythos restaurant he established 15 years ago, with its “island cave” seating and classy Greek fare.
Ethos’ offerings and décor would position itself as even more luxurious than Mythos, the menu more grand than exciting, featuring smart Mediterranean (Greek, Italian and Spanish) dishes. It wasn’t long at all before Covid-19 affected all our restaurants in early 2020.
Things changed crazily and rapidly as we know. People like restaurateur Heinz Rynners who’d had the gorgeous Greenhouse at Oxford Parks when Radisson Red was just being built and had engaged chef Ken Phuduhudu as executive chef at the time, was behind the introductions of both chef Luke Dale-Roberts and chef Ken to Chris Tsatsakis and Ethos. Phuduhudu and Dale Roberts had known each other anyway, Phuduhudu having worked at The Test Kitchen for a few years.
“Over these last two years,” says Dale-Roberts, “I’ve been getting away from over-thought and over-worked food. The actual main ingredient should be super-tasty and this new Ethos menu of ours is really very natural and healthy.” It will still be Mediterranean food. “I’ve been focusing more and more on European flavours rather than Asian ones. I was French-trained anyway. But Mediterranean also includes middle eastern tastes and Arabic ideas. Spanish food can often lean towards the Moorish.”
Chef Ken is excited about the new techniques that will influence the menu. “Duck legs can be confited of course but what if they are cured first, then cooked sous vide, sealed and finished on the Josper? It does so much more for the taste of the duck – it could be the best duck you’ve ever tasted.
“A kleftiko lamb shoulder can be used differently, rolled something like a sausage. Things don’t always have to be the same. We’re doing modern food, the magic is modern with tons of style and we‘re using different techniques.”
Chef Luke Dale-Roberts concurs in that he thinks that “the classics can be repackaged in a way, recreated”.
He makes sure I get the message that this Ethos is going to be quality-driven. “If I get involved with my name, it’s got to depend on quality.”
It’s going to. Dale-Roberts’ involvement in this Joburg restaurant project is in the designing of the new menu with Ethos’ newly appointed executive chef, Phuduhudu, consulting on the new direction, which is casual fine dining. And that means it may seem casual but the food quality is the very finest sort. Of course, Luke Dale-Roberts will be involved in the opening too.
The two tall chefs enjoy being together in the kitchen again. Chef Ken is “very, very Joburg as a person and grew up here”. As a chef, he’s more worldly. Actually, as a chef he’s been in the Cape quite a bit. Apart from The Test Kitchen there, he was at Terroir, at Kleine Zalze in the winelands. In Jozi, apart from The Greenhouse, he’s done stints at Glenda’s and at Coco Reinharz’s Épicure. He founded and owns The Private Dining Experience, based in Jozi, which became a media darling during the direst of Covid times.
“I’m looking forward to seeing David Higgs, as always,” says Dale Roberts happily, about spending more time in Jozi.
David Higgs has been doing great Jozi chef things for the large part of his life. He is the lauded chef part and the owner of some of the parcel that includes Jozi’s famed Marble and Saint. He says what people don’t understand is that he worked in retail once upon a time. Food retail, for companies like airlines. Gary, his business partner, was also once in retail and even opened a petrol station.
I was a great fan of the Marble Butchery, downstairs from the restaurant, because I liked lunching on delectable, nowadays-style cold meat platters at lovely café tables with a glass of champagne but also because the less usual butcher pieces and cuts and could be had there, along with advice from a chef. I mourned its demise.
The new Pantry by Marble, at the back of the Trumpet building that houses the great restaurant and other interesting places like the MESH Club, a working and networking space with a very cool Jozi sunset bar, is still a hole in the ground at present. There we will, from mid-October be able get advice from a chef once more, although no real on-premises sitting down.
“You’ll sit down at home,” says Higgs. “It’s a fuel station too, remember.” With real Sasol petrol pumps, new ones.
There used to be another unrelated filling station there and once, at the very back, BGR burgers, the heavenly pure ground beef burgers without all the silly trimmings that pulled fans from all over the city.
David Higgs, his partners, Gary and Irene Kyriacou and Dino Constantinou are setting up a morph of a petrol station with top-class supermarket, deli, takeaway and retail store.
“You can sit down for the coffee, if you like, with the bites to go with it,” says David. “Or have it in your car. There’ll even be a charging station for electric cars and bikes.”
The Pantry will offer grocery items, very good fresh produce, fresh flowers even, wine that’s hopefully not fresh, frozen dishes, salads, sushi and some fun things to order or take-away, like Friday boxes of ingredients and cheffy advice for creating the meals from those. As David says, people are able to cook a lot better now and know a lot more about food than before Covid. He also, being the braai fan that he is, will offer Braai Boxes, everything you need for the gourmet braai master.
“People love our wood-fired Marble breads and those will be available at The Pantry.”
There are plans to take it all online too and an app is being developed for local deliveries by Constantinou.
There’ll be a personal grocer in attendance at The Pantry.
“We can say it’s fancy but easy. Everything is service related,” says David Higgs in a satisfied sort of way.
By the way, that’s not all folks. The same team busy with The Pantry is also busy with Zioux, a kind-of outre and extravagant champagne and cocktails play-place next door to Saint later, this coming summer. We’ll see what it’s like. DM/TGIFood
The Pantry will be just off the corner of Jellicoe Avenue, on Jan Smuts Ave, Rosebank. Follow The Pantry by Marble on Instagram.
The writer supports Nosh Food Rescue, an NGO that helps Jozi feeding schemes with food “rescued” from the food chain. Please support them here.