An oasis in a gourmet wasteland

2012-01-20 14:17

Philippe Wagenfuhrer has a lot of guts. To open a fine dining establishment in the gourmet wasteland known as the East Rand is not for the faint-hearted.

But a year ago the former chef of one of Joburg’s top restaurants, Roots at the Forum Homini hotel, packed it all up and headed for Boksburg to team up with maverick Sean Shipalana.

Shipalana, the owner of a Boksburg Harley Davidson dealership, had been a regular at Roots and had become a huge fan.

He challenged Wagenfurhrer to successfully launch a gourmet restaurant on the East Rand where patrons love Dros and Spur.

On the flipside, Ekurhuleni desperately needed a good restaurant, but to survive in the wallet-conscious area it would have to present excellent value for money.

Gray, next to Shipalana’s dealership in a business park near the East Rand Mall, is not your run-of-the-mill fine dining establishment.

Wagenfuhrer himself is not head chef. He pinched fellow Roots chef Raymond Kokota for that job.

At first glance Gray does not inspire confidence of harbouring culinary delights. Inside, the dealership spills over into the restaurant, with funky motorcycles, sculptures and paintings at every turn.

It certainly is different and edgy. But there is little romance lurking beneath its harsh lights.

Gray serves a set menu every day at R195 a pop, which changes daily. The R195 might lift the brows of local patrons, but it is probably the best value for such a menu in South Africa.

Included is a four-course meal that usually starts with a salad and ends with a dessert. It is Gray’s food partners that give the restaurant an edge.

Its coffee comes from coffee super-hero Bean There and all its beers come from a small microbrewery called the Dog and Fig Brewery near Parys.

Only four wines are served at Gray including that of Creation and the wines are paired with the set menu.

The wine or the beer is excellently priced and the mark-up is minuscule.

Gray also boasts a cheese room with speciality cheeses from Italian cheese-maker Giovanni Scarcella’s Lucania Dairies outside Johannesburg.

Wagenfuhrer’s gamble was apparent on the Friday afternoon we went for lunch.

The empty tables stripped it of much of the atmosphere that is needed. But then the food started arriving.

The bread, baked fresh on the premises, was a bit of a disappointment and the salad was solid, but not a culinary masterpiece.

But then Gray started delivering. The orange-glazed eisbein had me excited, but it was the wild mushroom risotto that had me licking my plate.

And the portions cater for the hungry.

I was ready for dessert, but the highlight was still to come. Good grass-fed steak.

Chargrilled and served with parsley pomme puree, and a splash of mustard sauce it was so lovingly prepared you could hold its hand on a beach and ask it to marry you.

But I had prematurely lost my heart to the steak. When the sweet-and-sour chocolate tart arrived, I broke the bank and actually finished it. It was just too good not to.

I left the restaurant feeling a bit like a grey-stuffed goose, but I knew I’d return. Soon.

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