“Coobs sources their (sic) produce from local suppliers and organic farms to create unique modern bistro-style food. Close to 75% of ingredients come from our organic farm ‘Brightside’ in the Magaliesburg.”
South African restaurants are not big on provenance in an authentic, through-the-line way. Here and there, menus make reference to a few farms but they as often slip in the name of a supplier or a feedlot (e.g. Karan beef) in the qualifier place, as if that’s proof of provenance. Well it is, but it’s a bit like saying they buy their lettuce from Woolies to make you feel like you’re getting the close to origin. It’s not the same as going all the way back to the farmer.
As is argued in the essential book by Dan Barber, The Third Plate, being vigorously authentic about origin is both the future of interesting food as well as being the only way it was in the past. By “interesting” he means thought-provoking – but he also makes the case that this is food with more original and true flavour, since great ingredients are the result of a network of decisions and interactions that start with care for the soil or the water, and then move up to pervade the whole ecosystem. “From the ground up” authenticity then ultimately creates a way of cooking as much as a style of assembling dishes and menus. It creates a food culture.
So Coobs sets out its stall as a restaurant that is quantifiably (75% plus) about provenance. That’s a whole lot more than most, and in itself a great reason to support Coobs. For a farm to supply the (now three) restaurants in chef-owner James Diack’s “family” is a great synergistic relationship that keeps the farm energised and with a direct route to market, while the restaurants have first claim on fresh ingredients with a back-story.
Of course, the proof is always in the eating. Any nascent or long-held belief that provenance is ultimately good for the earth is really fired up when the results taste better than usual.
I’ve eaten here a number of times and have always enjoyed the energy of the place, as well as the great wine list with its selection of less obvious producers and modern wines. It’s definitely got the “organic” feeling going in the wood textures, plant walls and large images of vegetables and a snouty pig. Waiters are upbeat and attentive (even if the manager was a little too eager to give a repeated thumbs-up when asking how everything was) plus the space has that fun inside/outside flow that’s a hallmark of the 4th Avenue Parkhurst places. By no means fancy, it’s definitely in the “comfy casual” category.
Keen to try dishes that would showcase the “farm to table” ingredients, the starter was the “Coobs Caprese” which was billed as “confit cherry tomatoes, roast tomatillo, fresh mozzarella, crispy basil, parmesan chips and pine nuts drizzled with olive oil and aged balsamic” (R80).
Any particularly complex flavours, inherent sweetness or remarkable freshness that the tomatoes may have had was suffocated by the oil, the plate not so much drizzled as drenched. Nor did the oil strike me as high quality, or very fresh. Add to this some rather acrid parmesan crisps and the whole became a tart but far from lively beginning. Pity, as a Caprese is all about the primacy of fresh ingredients and this time the ingredients were sadly moved backstage.
For mains, the Brightside free-range roast chicken was served with edamame purée, steamed organic vegetables, tempura zucchini flower and sherry jus (R160). The image tells you all you need to know about the zucchini flower. The chicken itself was well cooked and tasty enough, the sherry jus exceedingly sweet, the purée unremarkable. But the “veg” on this plate really made the statement. They were barely cooked. I like my veg as much as the next person, but some more time wrestling with heat would have helped – they took what is a comfort dish for any restaurant deep into the realms of being overly rustic, more homemade than befitting a restaurant price tag.
Coobs Milk Tart with dulce ice cream (R70) was ok, if jelly-like in consistency, instead of custard-like. The ice cream was great, and the espresso good.
A likeably honest eatery with a good pantry to draw from, but there’s plenty more room to make the ingredients sing.
4th Ave, Parkhurst, Johannesburg. 011 447 0710