Sandton City, Johannesburg. Picture: Supplied
Sandton City, Johannesburg. Picture: Supplied

Last Sunday morning, I had the misfortune of driving through Sandton. At this particular juncture of our pandemic-soaked history, it’s enough to plunge you into a deep void.

Largely, I think it was the sight of billboard after billboard plastered with “To let” signs covering every office block from Grayston to West that did it.

According to the latest SA Property Owners Association stats, office vacancies are at 16.1% in Sandton.

That’s higher than the national average of 12.7%, and my goodness, it’s evident.

Maybe it was the plants that finally tipped me over the edge. Bolstered by December rain, they’re creeping over verges, through cracks — uncontained, as if they have designs on the empty chair where Cyril Ramaphosa should be, and they’re steeling themselves to take outright control.

Or perhaps it was the couple trudging up to the Gautrain station, trying desperately to pull a suitcase over bits of red earth and uneven pavements.

Besides this tragic trundling tableau, the place was practically deserted, and it all just seemed off, like a piece of fruit starting to turn.

It was all overripe: the hodgepodge of a skyline with its dated blue reflective glass jutting out alongside unsightly brushed metal balustrades, the Tuscan pastiche of the Michelangelo, and the bizarre new hotel that has replaced ENS with its leopard print-adorned balloon back chairs scattered across a balcony at 9am. (That new hotel, I hear, has a humanoid robot to help guests — I am not surprised.)

I felt as if I was in some equatorial city, long gone off the boil, clinging to former sepia-tinged triumphs, the buildings looking like jaded relics of capitalist boom times. How could this be the economic heart of the country?

And then I sat down at a poolside table at the new Pablo Sandton restaurant. It even (and gird yourself for this) has a street-level rim-flow pool that looks directly over the traffic of Katherine Street, with its concrete bollards dividing the road — an ill-planned remnant of Parks Tau’s Corridor of Freedom. Taxis were speeding past outside as two young things chatted, feet in the water, sipping on Savannas, neon blow-up pool toys bobbing alongside their legs.

It was 9.15am.

Had I stumbled into the twilight zone? Pre-Covid I’d go to Pablo when it was still in Melville, specifically for the Yemeni flatbread. Its charming corner space was always spilling over with hipsters and people working on MacBooks. But that’s closed now and they’ve set up shop at the Mint Hotel in Sandton instead.

With its rim-flow pool.

I was already two shots into disillusionment when our waiter swung into action. In a nanosecond I had a perfect double espresso and bacon, slowly roasted tomatoes (always judge a restaurant on how they handle a breakfast tomato), poached eggs and hollandaise sauce in front of me. With flaky flatbread, obviously. That shut me up.

My friend ordered a new addition to the menu — one that couldn’t be more Sandton if it tried. Well, Sandton before a recession, that is.

It was the Lobster Benedict. For R390 you get two lobster tails, caviar, hollandaise and bacon bits on English muffins. It smelt too briny for me, but he pronounced the fancy surf-and-turf combo to be excellent. He also said that he’d order it again in a heartbeat — if Pablo weren’t in Sandton, because he’s definitely not schlepping back there.

Clearly, that isn’t a universal sentiment because, by 10am when we left, the place was pretty much full (socially distanced, but full). Evidently, loads of Joburgers are happy to pull in for a bit of weird pool/road action.

Pablo’s new iteration isn’t my vibe, but I wish the team well. The staff are great, the food is tops and it’s a relief to know that at least one place in Sandton is busy and making cash. It’s one less “To let” sign, at least.

RATING:
Pablo Sandton ★★★★
Mint Hotel, 84 Katherine Street
Tel: 078-206-4463

★★★★★ First UK vaccine recipient

★★★★ New Zealand Covid level

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*Buitendach is the FM's Life editor and editor of Wanted magazine.

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