For the past four years, I have been documenting the dawning of Joburg’s culinary Golden Age. In fact, I am so passionate about the local food scene that I emailed Pulitzer prize-winning food critic, Jonathan Gold of the LA Times about this. Why? It was partly inspired by a new restaurant being constructed in Linden. Excited beyond belief, I dug around, chatted to locals and found out what’s potting. The first thought was, “I have to get the international dudes to pay attention to what’s happening in Joburg!” Besides, the restaurants flanking the streets of Linden deserve as much attention as they can get. Which brings us to this neighbourhood’s latest eat-out experience, Van Der Linde.
Named after the suburb’s founder, this quasi-fine dining spot takes up shop where the old Linden bottle store used to be. Now, before we dive head first into this comprehensive review, let’s get one thing straight. Whenever I review a restaurant, I give it some time to settle in. There is nothing worse than rushing into an eatery that’s barely removed the plastic wrap from its steam table – it takes time for a place to find its footing, run smoothly and fine-tune its service.
And that’s what’s lacking at Van Der Linde. The food, the decor, the lighting – all on point. But the service… Oh dear.
At first I was going to turn a blind eye, but after hearing the same feedback from two different sources about the achingly slow (albeit friendly) service, I cannot put it down to just a “bad night”. When it comes to dining out – at a price slightly what you’d pay at Marble in Rosebank – you expect the service to be on point. In fact, dining for any amount of money deserves decent service. Van Der Linde will need to iron out their service kinks as soon as possible or they will lose out on repeat visitors.
Let’s move on to the menu – Van Der Linde’s saving grace. The bar menu, of course was put together by the talented Jody Rahme (check Jody’s Instagram account below). The thing I love about Jody’s work is his infatuation with bourbon, which surpasses my infatuation with bourbon… which takes some doing.
Breakfast At Van Der Linde
Every meal of the day is the most important meal of the day, but for the sake of tradition, let’s start with breakfast. VDL offers a unique “build your own breakfast” where patrons construct plates of ham, eggs, bacon, banana, and even morcela (a Portuguese take on the traditional European blood sausage). Each entry is charged individually. Table d’hôte items include curried tofu scramble, farm loaf french toast served with stone fruit and thyme, quinoa granola (an interesting take on a light breakfast classic), and the Instagramer’s favourite, avo toast. All breads are baked in-house, including the sourdough – which takes weeks to make (well, the initial starter at least). The restaurant also has a wine shop which stocks some interesting vintages.
Our Choice: Sourdough flapjacks with mature cheddar, bacon and maple syrup topped with a knob of butter… yes, it is as good as it sounds!
Lunch At Van Der Linde
Life is too short to lunch alone. VDL takes this into consideration as their lunch menu sings songs fit for two. Above and beyond the usual rib-eye steak (on the bone – NEVER have a rib-eye off the bone), 200g beef burgers, and fish and chips, the restaurant offers a 500g flat iron steak served with chips to share. The country chicken roast sees a lemon and herb high-heat cooked bird served with roast veg and gravy. Here’s one for the vegetarians – leek and potato baked in white wine and topped with manchego cheese.
Our Choice: Let’s go back to the rib-eye. Now, I’ve had rib-eye done sous-vide and blasted with a blow torch in Paris, I’ve had it baked and seared in a knob of butter and olive oil at the Maslow in Sandton, and I’ve dropped it on the floor after a couple of single malts by the fire, but I’ve not had it done the way Van Der Linde does it. I am convinced they follow tradition (crust in the juices -which is a myth, by the way – get the center to 55°C and dress with thyme) but somehow their rib-eye is beyond melt-in-your-mouth beautiful. Someone mentioned that it’s too expensive but to them I say, why don’t you go have a Steers burger instead? Life is too short to Scrooge McDuck your wallet when it comes to good steak.
Dinner At Van Der Linde
The coup de grace to any three-meals-a-day kitchen is their dinner. With entries such as bone marrow served on toasted sourdough and filet au poivre dressed in a cognac sauce, Van Der Linde is not prancing with the puppies, so to speak. Night brings with it a dining crowd that’s cut its teeth on the finest fair in the city. Fortunately for us, Van Der Linde finds itself successful both in taste and presentation when serving their dinner menu. It is as if they discard the fine dining mantle and just do food… good food at that. Without listing the entire menu, the intimacy of the grilled harissa introduced to fluffy yet stern paneer served with roasted pumpkin is what vegetarian dreams are made of. The mushroom and truffle ravioli is as good as it reads and should be ordered with a glass of white wine. On the wine tip, double check the prices before ordering as those grapes don’t come cheap. If you feel adventurous then try the mustard pork chops. For you big eaters – like me – order a side (baby potatoes, roast veg, that type of stuff) as the portions aren’t the biggest. The crème brûlée is worth the order even though you’ve had something similar at least a dozen times before. I’d like to see a bit more adventure in the dessert menu. As safe as baked chocolate pudding or a cheese board may be, I feel that this restaurant has the ability to shine when it comes to the sweet stuff.
Our Choice: In fact, this is the biggest reason why I will give Van Der Linde a second shot: the mushroom and truffle ravioli tossed with Grana Padano, the common cousin of Parmigiano Reggiano.
For the rest? Well, I recommend you go check out Van Der Linde for yourself. Maybe give it another month or so before you visit – give them time to find that illusive service rhythm they’re missing.
Breakfast: R20 – R95 (excluding Build Your Own Breakfast)
Lunch: R75 – R320
Dinner: R65 – R240
Address: 50 4th Ave, Linden, Randburg, 2195
Social Media: www.facebook.com/vdlrestaurant/
Contact: 010 594 5443
By Shawn Greyling