Hidden Gems: Daydreaming in Braamfontein

When I think of Braamfontein I think of The Orbit, Kitchener's, The Joburg Theatre and the horrendously overpriced, but admittedly enjoyable tourist trap: The Neighbourgoods Market...but I also think of love food and Olives & Plates: two charming and refreshingly affordable daytime restaurants that somehow fly beneath the radars of most locals.

Olives & Plates

This is fast climbing my list of favourite Joburg restaurants. It has everything: an idyllic setting with outdoor seating under giant oak trees, plush interiors with sumptuous furnishings, fantastic service and great food at exceptional prices. There's something for everyone with every kind of pocket.

It's located at the Wits Clubhouse on Wits Campus, meaning you need to drive into Wits to get there (the entrance on Yale Road). This may sound like a bit of a trek, but it really isn't - it's a quick drive through the boom and a further 200m to your destination.

I spoke to one of the owners, about their story, "We started at Wits 16 years ago running a canteen at the medical school and the business slowly grew: they then gave us another canteen and so on..." Six years ago Wits came to them and said they were renovating some of the historic buildings, hoping to transform them into a restaurant and conference rooms. Seeing the potential Jimmy and his partners bid for the tender and won. The idea was to provide a restaurant to which the staff and heads of department could bring their guests: somewhere they'd be proud of, something upmarket but affordable. And it's exactly that.

Jimmy's wife Andrea devised the menu, she's a self-taught chef with an eye for detail; a total perfectionist (and it shows).

"We offer wholesome, beautifully presented dishes that taste fantastic because they're made with quality ingredients. Everything here is made from scratch." Jimmy Neophytou

The menu has Mediterranean overtones, mostly Greek, Middle Eastern and Italian, but it's more than that; it's an ode to their family recipes, to their travels and to celebrating all things delicious.

And when I say they offer something for every pocket, I mean it. The breakfast menu has a number of items under R50 including the mini breakfast, simple scrambled eggs and 3 egg omelette. Most of their homemade granola and fruit bowls cost around R60 as does one of their best sellers: the ricotta hotcakes with honeycomb-butter, banana, fruit and maple syrup. For lunch you'll find a selection of toasted sandwiches, tramezzinis, burgers and pastas all for under R70 and, for a fraction more, you can get anything from gourmet wraps to generous yet refined salads, traditional spanakopita (Mama's recipe) to fillet tagliata. Few dishes cost more than R100 and the wine list is similarly affordable.

At the entrance there's an enormous table tiered high with a fantastical selection of voluptuously over the top cakes. Jimmy tells me this was Andrea's first idea for the restaurant, she wanted to welcome guests with the kind of cake display that would assure them that whatever they ordered, it would be delicious.

It's become one of their main attractions; at any one time you'll find 16 or more decadently adorned cakes on display and every single one is delectable.

Since opening a new Olives & Plates in Sandton Andrea's left her consummate and longstanding kitchen team in charge at Wits. Jimmy reiterates that their success and all they've achieved comes down to teamwork, he grins and says "We've got the best staff; we're a family, we work together as a family and we treat our customers just the same."

Olives & Plates is open for breakfast and lunch Monday-Saturday (excluding public holidays), but booking is essential.

love food

It's a picturesque neighbourhood deli-cum-cafe on Ameshoff Street (Ameshoff is just off Jan Smuts as you enter Braamfontein, to the left of the Eland sculpture). It's not hipster, it's not trendy - simply put: it's warm, welcoming and understated.

"We're about offering healthy, homely food that people want to eat during the week; it's the kind of food you'd love to cook at home, but never find the time to." Jamie Lorge, owner of love food

It's a breakfast and lunch spot that's only open on during the week and is best-known for its lunchtime harvest table. Their main clientele are business folk from neighbouring offices; love food provides a relaxed and inviting environment in which to have a meeting, a quiet coffee or a quick bite, Jamie explains, "It's quick and easy; even our breakfasts come out in about five to ten minutes so business people in the area can walk to us, sit down, have a meal and be back at their desk in 40 minutes."

The restaurant runs rather like a family business; in fact, most of the team are related: Jamie's head chef Margie works alongside her niece and nephew in the Kitchen, "Three of team, including Margie, started with me from the beginning. We keep it simple and small and we make it work."

Breakfasts are served until 2.30pm and include yoghurt, muesli and fruit bowls, farm-style French toast with an array of toppings and a selection of breakfast stacks and toasties all made with artisanal bread from Black Forest Bakery.

The harvest table, which changes daily, is made up of 6-7 salads (think crunchy coleslaw, green beans with feta and olives and spiced roasted carrots and seeds), 2-3 proteins (anything from fishcakes to pulled gammon) and a meal of the day (chicken curry with rice, lasagne, stew, pasta etc.) The meal of the day will set you back R52 or you can choose between 3 and 6 salads for R50 or R67 respectively and you can add a protein for R24.

The food is exactly as Jamie describes it: flavourful, wholesome and made with love - they're not trying to win awards, but they're not trying to rip you off either.

It's a comforting sanctuary amongst the hip freneticism of Braam, a pit stop to refuel and refresh.

For more information and the daily menu, visit love food's website.

Words and images by: Kate Liquorish