Amid the literary oasis of Hyde Park’s Exclusive Books lies EB Social Kitchen and Bar, a hidden gem that shouldn’t be so hidden given the pedigree of its executive chef, Russell Armstrong.
A Brisbane native, Russell was classically trained in Europe before earning his stripes at restaurants like the Connaught and Le Gavroché in London as well as the three Michelin-starred Les Frères Troisgros in Roanne, France. After several years back in Australia, Russell’s new role is a complete departure from anything he’s done before.
The Hyde Park restaurant is the vision of Exclusive Books CEO Benjamin Trisk, who sees food – like reading – as one of life’s great comforts that also allows the mind to traverse continents. This is realised in a truly varied menu of some of Armstrong’s favourite dishes inspired by local flavours and using the best quality produce. Highlights include the cracked wheat “burghal” with roast sweet corn and artichoke, the squid ink linquine with seared scallops, and the coal-grilled organic lamb with goat’s cheese gnocchi, lemon and anchovies.
Don’t leave without sampling some of the book-themed cocktails, such as the mint and bourbon-based Catcher in the Rye, or the Great Gatsby with Johnny Walker Gold, Pinot Grigio and sherry.
I don’t like ‘architectural’ food. I like simple dishes that aren’t over-garnished or over-sauced.
We chat with Russell to find out more about his 14 months in the city.
How are you finding Joburg so far?
It’s a beautiful city and I’m enjoying it, but I think it’s challenging in terms of finding good people in the hospitality industry. We need to stop letting our chefs go to Cape Town, which they’re doing because of the opportunities there.
Do you see that changing?
When I was here in 1998, Cape Town was much like Joburg is now, but these days it’s so much bigger and more international in terms of the food scene. I think Joburg will get there; it’s already changing with places like DW Eleven-13 and Marble.
What’s been your biggest challenge so far?
It’s been teaching my guys how to cook at another level. A lot of the time I’m correcting basics – such as tasting the food before they plate it! As I get older, though, I do love teaching people more and more. Where my team were 14 months ago is completely different to where they are now, and that’s satisfying.
What’s your secret to good food?
I cook what I like to eat. I don’t like “architectural” food. I like simple dishes that aren’t over-garnished or over-sauced. Jean Troisgros taught me a lot about how to let the ingredients say a lot on their own, where they’re the hero of the dish.
EB Social Kitchen and Bar