Picture: ROBYN DAVIE PHOTOGRAPHY
Picture: ROBYN DAVIE PHOTOGRAPHY

In a new series, we ask food writers to tell us about their favourite restaurants. Sylvia McKeown kicks off with Farro in Illovo, Joburg.

I hate gels. Small square blobs on a plate masquerading as flavourful brilliance, oft betwixt other rounder blobs of piped emulsions, are my worst.

I no longer care for the "idea of a carrot" and do not wish to taste 16 versions of its essence. elBulli, the famed three-star Michelin restaurant in Catalonia, Spain, voted the best restaurant in the world a record five times, was responsible for this trend — called molecular gastronomy. It has been closed for seven years. If the Adrià brothers, who started elBulli, have moved on, then perhaps it’s time that the local fine dining scene does too.

Thankfully, a replacement, creeping in on the international food front, is the return (or rise, depending on how you see it) of glorious simplicity and consideration. Stuffy airs and put-on graces have been vanquished and in their place are restaurants where your taste buds get spoilt and you can wear t-shirts and sneakers too.

A tiny wedge of an establishment called Farro in Illovo’s Thrupps Centre is the kind of place where I find joy. A delightful touch is the bar counter, made of reclaimed parquet flooring.

Farro has come to life through the collective efforts of Alex and Eloise Windebank, a husband and wife team who worked at fancy bars and Michelin restaurants across the UK. And it shows, not just in the food offering but in the service. I know we are not suffering from a drought in Joburg but the number of times I have had to beg waiting staff for water in this city is astonishing. My glass is always full in Illovo.

The best description of Alex’s food came from a somewhat sozzled friend of mine: "It’s like he thinks about food all the time, it’s so amazing." Though one would imagine that’s how it should work when you own a restaurant, I can assure you it often doesn’t.

At Farro I have never had a mediocre or "fine" experience. I am always delighted. There is always a balance of texture and flavour, in combinations I rarely see.

Moreover, without fail there is always something new and beguiling to try on their tight menu — and that’s saying something, considering I go there weekly. One day I will be having a starter of beetroot, red romaine lettuce, walnuts and "poorman’s blue cheese" only to find that it’s been turned into a dessert the next week, with white chocolate parfait, candied walnuts, chocolate meringue and dehydrated beetroot dust.

If I’m honest, it’s the bar that gives Farro the edge.

Eloise’s encyclopedic knowledge of fanciful cocktails, and the masterful execution of them, is the perfect counterpoint to a long week. Besides making the best old-fashioned in town, they have interesting small-maker wines from all over SA that are as intriguing as they are delicious.

Heed my words when I say you should book ahead, and that you should book today.

• For more information, visit farro.co.za

*Sylvia McKeown is a food writer for Business Day’s Wanted magazine and Elle. She is also a regular contributor to the FM, Chips! and other local food guides