Influenced by natural elements, the décor at Urban Moyo is a mix of modern and earthy touches. Picture: SUPPLIED
Influenced by natural elements, the décor at Urban Moyo is a mix of modern and earthy touches. Picture: SUPPLIED

There is an art to blending old with new, to combining tradition with modernity and pulling it off with flair. At Urban Moyo, a new addition to Sandton’s dining scene, this has been done with effortless skill.

Part of the Moyo restaurant franchise, Urban Moyo was conceptualised slightly differently to compliment the architecture of a sprawling city. Urban Moyo owner Gugu Zuma-Ncube says the urbanisation of the Moyo brand came about as it felt it was time for a makeover so that it’s more appealing to locals looking to experience continental flavours in a trendy environment.

Zuma-Ncube says while the ethos of Moyo has been maintained — to celebrate what is beautiful and sophisticated about Africa — the revamp is an up-to-date and modern expression of Africa that focuses on looking ahead.

“My expectations are that anyone who identifies with the modern, dynamic and beautiful Africa we live in will love the restaurant,” she says.

This idea is reflected in the décor, which is influenced by natural elements and a mix of modern and earthy touches. Wooden canes along the ceiling run adjacent to vast glass panels that let in ample light. Grey pebbled walls dotted around the space pick up on the imposing marble slab behind the cosy yet elegant bar. Warm, brown leather seats are set off against the oblong shapes of wooden chairs and a selection of beautiful glassware and crockery.

The culmination is a balance of elements that melt into the glow of fire heaters warming the space on cold winter nights.

The Northern Cape cocktail is a mix of Inverroche gin, chai tea, lemon juice, berry juice and tonic water. Picture: SUPPLIED
The Northern Cape cocktail is a mix of Inverroche gin, chai tea, lemon juice, berry juice and tonic water. Picture: SUPPLIED

An SA-inspired  cocktail list is as worth the visit as the food. Reflecting elements from SA’s tapestry of diverse provinces, the cocktails are served with flair: the pinnacle to an elaborate presentation that, again, draws from natural elements. A personal favourite is “The Northern Cape” — Inverroche gin, chai tea, lemon juice, berry juice and tonic water, served in a gin glass perched in a miniature bonsai garden.

Describing its offering as “contemporary African cuisine”, the menu borrows from palates across the continent, incorporating a variety of flavours — particularly from Morocco. SA flavours such as Rooibos-infused seed bread are featured alongside cumin chapatti with a chilli chickpea dip. To nibble on, options such as paptert, samoosas or braaibroodjies are on offer and slow-roasted dishes are served with a side of putu pap, couscous or creamy maize.

Dark-green retro lamp shades hang over the open kitchen counter where delicacies are stacked and prepared to be served to guests, straight from the open flames fired up by mopane wood coals — a traditional African element that plays a central role in the conceptualisation of the restaurant.

Urban Moyo is a meat lover’s paradise: apart from four salads on offer, the menu only offers two vegetarian options, although there is a slim possibility that the roasted smoked bone marrow may just convert the strictest of vegetarians: it is pure melt-in-the-mouth food pleasure which makes up for the slight lack of flavour from the accompanying biltong potbrood.

Despite the enticing red meat options, including lamb tagine and venison, I opted for the flamed dukkah yellowtail with turmeric cauli-mash, radish, grilled mango, herb salad and harissa lemon butter — a recommendation from every staff member I spoke to, including the head chef. Light yet hearty, the dish is layered with flavours and depth and will perk you up with one small bite. The plating, to my delight, evokes images of the ocean.

The servings are generous and rich and left me in the unfortunate position of having to relinquish dessert for a glass of wine instead — a decision I much regretted the next day. But I plan to make up for it on a Saturday when live jazz is on offer, an element Zuma-Ncube says they are very excited about.

I, for one, am excited to have that option and a second visit. At the very least, I have to try the gin and tonic cheesecake.

• The writer was a guest of Urban Moyo.