Cube Tasting Kitchen, Johannesburg.

October 2014.

I’m not sure how I did it but I overwrote my comment on this place ten days further into the holiday and so I’m reconstructing it from memory. It was a well-reviewed item in TripAdvisor and elsewhere. Making a reservation was an e-mail conversation including what appeared to be the choice between bringing one’s own wine, and accepting their flight of wines to accompany the many courses.

Off we went chauffeured by our solicitous guesthouse host Dave, to arrive for what we thought was a 7 PM reservation only to be confronted by bewilderment at the door, and eventually to be redirected three doors to the right. It appears there are two locations for this fancy spot almost but not quite next door.

Two further surprises once we sat down: they don’t serve any alcohol at all so we would have to settle for soft drinks, and 7:30 was when dinner started. Dinner isn’t going to start for us at all, I let the waiter know, if there wasn’t any wine.  So he made a show of checking with his manager but promptly produced a bottle each of red and white, and said he would make an exception.

Once our glasses were filled, looking around left no question that young wealthy Johannesburg was gradually converging for the 7:30 start, and away things went. There were 11 courses, and every one of them was a masterpiece of detail and conceptual creativity, showing off all sorts of culinary and kitchen-skill infrastructure. Not going into detail (partly because I can’t really remember very many of them) there was one overriding problem with all this. Although the appearance on the plate and at times the food consistency sparkled with contrast, the opportunity to showcase lots of interesting flavors side-by-side just wasn’t taken. A blind tasting here would I think have left you with a bit of a shrug. Lots of nice little bites but not a whale of a lot of sweet, sour, salty, etc. let alone an epiphany of anything brand-new or even familiar but very well done. Springbok carpaccio tasted like chicken and dressing overwhelmed it… Damn, I can’t think of any other specifics having erased my original comments. You’ll have to trust me on this one.

The wine was fine. This city is full of culinary and enologic bargains, it’s almost as if somebody from the rest of the civilized should turn up and around do it just a wee bit better and charge a lot more. Here the price was obviously princely by local standards, but I think ended up somewhere around C$160 for two of us with two bottles of wine. For an 11 course extravaganza! If the food had been really good (like the old Lumiere say) our expectation would have been for a bill four times that.

I know intellectual foodies who could have been pretty impressed, at least more impressed than I was. The chefs and owners have obviously hit the mark as far as filling the room and attracting the People Magazine crowd is concerned. The young couple next to us looked like they had walked in off Rodeo Drive or Hollywood Boulevard and although they were elaborately amorous with one another and recipients of covert glances from all directions throughout the evening, they responded like perfectly cheerful unaffected kids when we engaged them  on the topic of whether the food was any good, once  dinner was over.

Next time I’d be looking for the place where their parents and other rich old farts go for a routine or slightly better night out. Not a bad strategy if you can get the attention of somebody like that.

Food 7.4, service 7.8, ambience 7.6, value (for what they say you get 9.5; for what you really get I’d say around 8.1).

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 30 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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