Ironically, but quite happily so, it transpires, I managed to get to La Boqueria for lunch on the day we were planning to have dinner there, but then didn’t, because my dinner party had concerns over: a) the potential noise levels at La Boqueria (we wanted to catch up over an old-fashioned conversation); and b) reports from a few diners that the food still needed to find its footing.
Well, on both counts, we would have been better off at La Boqueria than at our second option, Café del Sol Tre. At Tre, the jammed-up tables and pumping scene were as noisy as it gets, and the food was uniformly drab and lacking in almost any flavour – the pastas were a world apart from the very good ones I’d recently tasted at Gemelli.
I have heard that La Boqueria is completely transformed at night and pulsing with energy, while at lunch the pace is far more sedate, by which I do not mean sleepy – our service was both warm and attentive, particularly from Jaco, the wine steward, who has the pleasure of working off a very good wine selection (quite possibly one of the best in Johannesburg if you like newer labels and interesting wines).
The space is charming. Firstly, there is a palpable feeling of expanse in the high volumes, enough to also fit a mezzanine level where more private tables also reside. There is also the much-photographed postbox bar counter. The Latinate interior is full of just-ornate-enough touches of raw wood and leather to give it a relaxed upmarket feel. I liked the parquet floors and particularly the macrame pot hangers, haven’t seen these in years… and of course the glassed-box wine cellar that takes a prominent position and conveys just the right message.
The menu leads with plates to share, and here we polished off the excellent “hot fried” olives (served with a caper and parsley aioli).
Then the oxtail marmalade toast (with flavours of coffee, red onion, horseradish and lime).
Staying in a sharing mode, we ordered a couple more plates from across the menu. Butter clams with mussels were off the pace, nothing very interesting here (and my companion dissuaded me from ordering the coal-fired octopus from the same menu section for that reason also). Back to resounding success was the Poke bowl, a delicious Hawaiian raw fish, fruit and vegetable salad that screams good health.
The coal-fired aubergine was just as good as well-roasted eggplant can be, marinated in garlic, parsley, lime and honey. Our last main, the “crying tiger beef kabob” (soy, chilli, lime and oyster sauce) was in the class of whimpering rather than balling eyes out, and a little overcooked.
To end, the “Gintonic tart”, a lemon tart with gin, tonic and citrus, was good, as were the coffees. So in all, more hits than misses, and I’d happily get back here to try some of the other plates – the drunken pork belly and the rock shrimp burger sound proper fun – plus it’s a great place simply for snacks with cocktails, or some of that great wine.
17 3rd Avenue, Parktown North, Johannesburg
011 325 0011